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Human Rights Casefinder

1953-1969 • the Warren Court Era


Lawyers coming before the Warren Court thought they had a chance of winning on issues on civil liberties, due process, or civil rights. It even seemed possible to raise new constitutional theories successfully. Movement lawyers spent time thinking up innovative approaches to problems and researching precedents from the Revolutionary War and Reconstruction periods when people were winning their rights. The batting average of lawyers for the people improved during the 1956-57 term of the Supreme Court; thereafter attorneys and clients increasingly looked to the Court to resolve basic problems Congress and the Executive had recently created or had long ignored.

In the present period of the Burger Court, a different situation exists. The work done during the Warren Court era will necessarily continue to be a rich source of ideas for people's lawyers. This book, therefore, compiles citations to cases in the state and federal courts between 1953 and 1969 in which one party raised a constitutional question. These citations will lead you not only to reported opinions, but to unreported opinions and to methods of getting copies of briefs, complaints, and other pleadings filed in defensive and affirmative litigation.

It is not yet time to attempt a full-scale analysis of the accomplishments and inadequacies of the Supreme Court while Earl Warren sat as Chief Justice with Justices Black, Douglas, Frankfurter, Clark, Minton, Brennan, Reed, Jackson, Burton, Goldberg, Fortas, Whittaker, White, Harlan, Stewart, and Marshall. It is useful to suggest the breadth of the work lawyers did in posing questions for the Court. Many avenues require furthere exploration in the 1970s in federal litigation, and it now appears that litigation in the state courts may be increasingly important. In addition, unsuccessful arguments to Warren era courts may be turned into winning arguments before legislative and administrative agencies in the era of the Burger Court.

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There seems to be no group of people that might have a grievance against the system who did not sue to define, defend, or expand its rights while Warren sat as Chief Justice. This CASEFINDER provides citations to cases in 290 constitutional categories, from women demanding equal opportunity in employment (listed at 578), to an Indian youth seeking damages for a short haircut administered by his teacher (listed at 24.Calif.33), to a blind professor contesting automatic exclusion from jury duty (listed at 516.1). The CASEFINDER includes the case of a confused government employee fired for incompetence without ever being taught how to do his job. He knew enough to sue for reinstatement (363.2), as did an ex-FBI man, fired for staying overnight at his girl friend's apartment (295.17), and many others.

Although this book contains citations to 8,200 cases, there are only three basic plots: The People v The Government, The Government v The People, and, thanks to the Civil Rights Division of the Department of Justice and the legal service offices, The People and One Branch of the Government v Another Branch of The Government, Big Business, and The Racists.

The people sued the government for many reasons. They sued individually to get back something they had lost—a job (250-294, 571), or a right to attend school (24), a home in a city slum (423, 530), or for privacy lost to some agency of government (295). They sued for damages for injuries by government agents, usually the police (304, 580). They sued so often in groups that "class action suits" have become well-known to media reporters. Such suits were filed to get rid of restrictive laws and regulations, and to obtain fair procedures in administrative hearings and litigation (74). One class of Americans also sued to obtain what another class already had—right to counsel (370-377), to sit on juries (512), to have their votes get equal weight (503).

The government sued the people individually to make them stop doing something, and to put them behind bars. The federal and state governments sued the people jointly for conspiring (314) and individually for contempt of court (40), for many misdemeanors (51, 55, 59) and felonies (54). Sometimes the government sued lawyers representing the people (265, 373). Governments repeatedly sued organizations in the period covered by this book: the Communist Party, Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, Congress of Racial Equality, Black Panther Party. They sued leaders and members for felonies and were sued for direct police assaults (304, 512.Calif.6a).

The people and the government sued the racists to desegregate restaurants (552), transportation facilities (540), other places of public accommodation (550). They sued to secure equal access to government facilities and equal service from government agencies (555, 425.100).

Occasionally one individual sued another for violation of his rights, for violating a fair housing law (535.14) or to desegregate a private institution (553.NC.2).

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There seems to be no constitutional principle neglected by the people and their lawyers in the Warren Court era. Basically they relied on the revolutionary concepts of freedom, fairness, and equality institutionalized in this country in the Bill of Rights and Reconstruction Amendments.

Freedom from government interference with the exercise of civil liberties—speech, press, assembly, petition, and religion, and the right to privacy guaranteed in the First Amendment (and in the Ninth and Fourteenth Amendments), reported here at 10-299, pages 11-59.

Fairness in procedures throughout the judicial process guaranteed in the due process clauses of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments (and in the specific provisions of the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh, and Eighth Amendments), reported here at 300-499, pages 60-94.

Equality required of state, local, and federal agencies by the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment (and the due process clause of the Fifth Amendment), reported here at 500-608, pages 95-141.

One of the exciting aspects of constitutional litigation is the interweaving of the three basic concepts in many cases. The reason it is difficult to put each case in its proper category is that one incident often gives rise to a cluster of legal cases. For example, when people are arrested by state officials while demonstrating for civil rights (500-608), they may be charged with anything from disorderly conduct (51) to sedition (54) or conspiracy (314). They file motions to dismiss the criminal charges in state court. They may also file actions in the federal courts for injunctive relief (63), declaratory relief against the state prosecutions (74), or they may remove the case to federal court (73). Occasionally the federal government intervenes or files a criminal charge against the police officers (590). The defendants may file a damage suit against the arresting officers (304). Sometimes a legislative or administrative agency also instigates some action—an Internal Security Committee (245), a Fair Employment Practices Commission (570), or a draft board (120). Each of these cases may raise several issues. Each case may be fought out over a period of several years. For this reason the CASEFINDER provides citations giving the full history of each case.

The mosaic pattern of constitutional litigation almost defies the use of computers. Still, lists of cases under significant categories, with innumerable cross-references, can suggest relationships between seemingly disparate fields of law. (We are learning that procedural protections for civilian prisoners and court-martial defendants in the 1970s can be based on work done for aliens in the 1940s, McCarthy victims and civil rights demonstrators in the 1950s, students, juveniles, and draftees in the 1960s.)

The practice of political constitutional law is an art form demanding the highest skills of the advocate. The HUMAN RIGHTS CASEFINDER is one tool for the lawyer's briefcase.

Ann Fagan Ginger
Adjunct Professor
University of California—
Hastings College of the Law
San Francisco