The cicadas are particularly loud tonight, especially when joined by a chorus of tree frogs. Perhaps their song was louder because my evening walk started later in an attempt to avoid the muggy heat of Georgia. While I walked, my thoughts turned to the Warren Court, a liberal court diametrically opposite the current Roberts Court. I even remember the “Impeach Earl Warren” billboards that lined the highways, mainly those on the roads headed south.
The Warren Court did not overturn a precedent per se, but it did erode a long-standing pillar of the American sense of justice: no criminal should live better than the worst off innocent man. At a visceral level, this made sense to many, if not most Americans, particularly during the Great Depression. At least three factors led to the abandonment of this principle:
- Studies found that inmates given marketable skills and rehab were less likely to recidivate; thus, society was safer when they left prison.
- The rise in the number of inmates was making long prison sentences unrealistic, or at least less affordable.
- Other research, spurred by the civil rights movement, revealed the discrimination in arrests, sentencing, and incarceration gave rise to more scrutiny of arrest and prison practices and policies.
The liberal court had gone too far; it was out of balance. The scales of justice were tilted, the pendulum had swung too far left, and so the slow but steady swing back to center began. But now it has swung right, far right of center, and like the housing bubble or an overheated stock market, it needs to readjust. We are not strong if we are extreme in either direction, polarized and politicized.
On the 4th, we celebrate E PLURIBUS UNUM: out of many (states or colonies), one (nation).