Tag Archives: Bill of Rights

Remembering Dollree Mapp, whose landmark case was decided 56 years ago today

Dollree Mapp in Search and Seizure

Except in cases of probable cause, the police need a warrant to search your house without your consent in order for anything they find to be admissible in court.  But that wasn’t always the case.  In fact, until 1961, the police could barge right in and start searching.  Anything they found was perfectly fine to use against you in court, warrant or no warrant.  Sure, they were supposed to get one — but it wasn’t required.  So why bother?

This changed because of one woman: Dollree Mapp.  In 1957, a bomb went off in the home of Don King (yeah, that Don King).  Cleveland police went to Mapp’s house looking for a suspect.  When she refused to let them in without a warrant, they went in anyway.  In addition to the suspect, police found a stash of pornographic material and Mapp was arrested and convicted on obscenity charges

Mapp appealed her conviction on the grounds that the search of her house without a warrant or probable cause violated her Fourth Amendment protection against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”  On June 19, 1961 — 56 years ago today — the Supreme Court agreed.  And in the landmark opinion in Mapp v. Ohio, Justice Tom Clark wrote, “Having once recognized that the right to privacy embodied in the Fourth Amendment is enforceable against the States, and that the right to be secure against rude invasions of privacy by state officers is, therefore, constitutional in origin, we can no longer permit that right to remain an empty promise.”  Mapp’s conviction was thrown out.

Police were supposed to get a search warrant before Dollree Mapp.  Because of her they need one.  

Learn more about the case from Dollree Mapp herself in our film Search and Seizure.  Dollree Mapp passed away in 2014.

 

 

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Magna Carta, limiting the whims of rulers for over 800 years

On June 15, 1215, on a field outside London, a group of barons met with the King of England to sign what would become one of the most influential documents ever written, Magna Carta.  King John, widely regarded as the one of the worst kings to ever sit on the English throne, had waged an unsuccessful war against France in an attempt to win back territory he had lost.  To pay for the ultimately unsuccessful war, King John seized lands, levied huge taxes, and charged exorbitant fines for small offenses.  Fed up, the barons revolted and seized London.  They forced the King, who saw him rule as ordained by God, to sign a document that would instead limit him by “the law of the land.” For the first time, Magna Carta offered protection against the arbitrary will of the King, preventing him from locking people up and seizing property without what would later become know as “due process.” 

Of course, a few weeks after Magna Carta was signed King John got the Pope to declare Magna Carta invalid, thrusting both sides back into conflict.  But subsequent kings and British legal minds, such as Sir Edward Coke, would bring Magna Carta back and ensure that its protections against the arbitrary whims of a ruler became the lasting law of the land.  And when colonists settled in the New World, they took those ideas with them, enshrining them in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.  

Magna Carta was the first step towards ensuring that no king, queen or president could be above the law — an idea that remains just as important today as it was on a field outside London over 800 years ago.

Learn more about Magna Carta and the limits of executive authority from our film Magna Carta and the Constitution.

 

 

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Watch our new film “Freedom of the Press: NY Times v. United States”

Check out the latest film in the Constitution Project Series, Freedom of the Press: New York Times v. United States. Freedom of the Press has been guaranteed by the Constitution for over 200 years. It’s right there in the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. But almost as soon as the ink was dry on the First Amendment, people in power started to challenge its protections — and they haven’t stopped throughout its 200 year history.

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Happy Birthday Bill of Rights!

Celebrate National Bill of Rights Day with us by learning all about the document that changed America and inspired the world. Watch our film, The Bill of Rights to learn about the fight behind this landmark founding document, and the rights it’s intended to protect.

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Coming Fall 2010: A Call to Act and The Bill of Rights

September 17, 2010 is Constitution Day. Celebrate with two new installments of The Constitution Project.

Educational documentary A Call to Act tells the remarkable story of Lilly Ledbetter, a grandmother from Alabama whose fight for equal pay for women brought her all the way to the White House.

The Bill of Rights combines a video game and film to recount how, just a few years after drafting the Constitution, the Founding Fathers came together again to ensure that many of Americans’ most basic rights are protected.

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