Your right to remain silent

“You have the right to remain silent….”  Anyone who has seen a cop show in the past half century knows the rest.  This phrase is called the Miranda warning, and it comes from a Supreme Court opinion that was announced 51 years ago today.  Miranda v. Arizona established the idea that criminal defendants must be informed of their rights to an attorney and against self-incrimination prior to interrogation in order for any of their statements to be admissible in court.  

In 1963, Ernesto Miranda was arrested and charged with kidnapping, rape and armed robbery.  After he was picked out in a police lineup, Miranda was subjected to a prolonged interrogation, after which he confessed.  Miranda, a 9th grade dropout, was not informed of his constitutional rights.  Based largely on his confession, Miranda was found guilty and sentenced to 20 to 30 years in prison.

Miranda appealed, and in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled that Miranda’s rights had been violated.  The language of what would go on to become the Miranda warning was taken nearly word-for-word from the Supreme Court opinion authored by Chief Justice Earl Warren.  “He must be warned prior to any questioning,” wrote Warren, “that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that, if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.”

Learn more in our film The Right to Remain Silent: Miranda v. Arizona.



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15 years later, Guantanamo remains open

Nine years ago today, the Supreme Court handed down its opinion in Boumediene v. Bush, which granted habeas corpus to Guantanamo detainees, allowing them to challenge their detention in US courts.  Today, of the 779 people who have been held in Guantanamo, only 41 remain..  However, despite pledges to close that facility, former President Barack Obama failed to get congressional approval to shut down down the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.  Rather than close it, President Donald Trump has pledged to “load it up with bad dudes,” and once even suggested that he might attempt to send American citizens there.

Learn more in our film Habeas Corpus: The Guantanamo Cases.

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The Supreme Court rules against North Carolina gerrymandering… again

The Supreme Court earlier struck down gerrymandering in US Congressional Districts 1 & 12 (USGS)

The Supreme Court today ruled that North Carolina had violated the 14th Amendment when it used race to redraw several state legislature districts.  In North Carolina v. Sandra Little Covington, the Court upheld a Federal District Court ruling that the Republican-controlled state legislature had redrawn 28 state house and state senate districts based largely on race, violating the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution.

Two weeks ago, in Cooper v. Harris, the Court overturned two U.S. Congressional districts in North Carolina for the same reason.  And a week earlier, the Court let stand a Federal Court ruling that a North Carolina voter law had adversely targeted African Americans with “almost surgical precision.”

Learn more about the history of racially-based gerrymandering in our film One Person, One Vote


“Freedom of the Press” wins a Platinum Hermes Creative Award

Freedom of the Press: New York Times v. United States has won a Platinum award in the Educational category at the Hermes Creative Awards.  The film tells the story of the ongoing fight for a free press in the United States, one that acts as a check on government, from the drafting of the First Amendment to one of the greatest challenges to press freedom, the fight over the publication of the The Pentagon Papers.

Click here to watch the film online.

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The danger of being Japanese-American in 1942

The Topaz War Relocation Center in Utah, where Fred Korematsu was sent after his arrest (National Archives)

On this day in 1942, a man named Fred Korematsu was walking with his girlfriend down a street in San Leandro, California, when he was stopped by police.  He was arrested for something that, at the time, was illegal: being of Japanese descent on the West Coast of the United States.  Just a few months earlier, President Franklin D. Roosevelt had issued Executive Order 9066, which ordered  that all people of Japanese ancestry — even native-born American citizens — on the West Coast of the United States were to be rounded up and put in concentration camps.  120,000 people were removed from their homes and placed in “relocations centers” scattered around the western and central United States.  But Fred Korematsu didn’t report for “relocation.”  And his arrest would spark one of the most infamous Supreme Court decisions in our nation’s history.  Learn more in our film, Korematsu and Civil Liberties.


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