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The Decline of Civil Liberties

Wilmer J. Leon Iii | 6/27/2012, 3 p.m.

Some of the most sweeping decisions pertaining to civil liberties for Americans came during the Warren Court (1953-1969). The Warren Court ended school segregation with the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision. In Mapp v. Ohio (1961) the Warren Court established the exclusionary rule which banned courts from using evidence obtained in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) the Court unanimously declared that State courts must provide attorney's to indigent defendants in felony cases. The right to privacy was established in Griswold v. Connecticut(1965) allowing individual access to contraception. This is the premise that the Burger Court used to rule in Roe v. Wade (1973). In Miranda v. Arizona (1966) the Warren Court held that the Fifth Amendment requires police officials to advise suspects of their rights before they are interrogated.

Even as a Republican chief justice nominated by a conservative Republican president (Eisenhower), Warren understood that the framers of the Constitution constructed a document to protect individual liberties and rights against infringement by the government. Since the end of the Warren Court conservatives have been chipping away at the protections that have been provided by Warren. If Americans do not start "connecting the dots," the decline in civil liberty protections may erode to the point of no return.

The most recent examples of these erosions are the Stand Your Ground Law, Stop and Frisk, the 2012 Defense Authorization Act (DAA), and Attorney General Eric Holder's assessment that a president can assassinate U.S. citizens in foreign countries without judicial overview.

A stand-your-ground law states that a person may use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first. More than half of states in the United States have adopted the Castle doctrine, stating that a person has no duty to retreat when their home is attacked. The stand-your-ground law allows for a person to use deadly force when faced with a perceived threat, with no obligation to retreat when they are away from their home, even in public spaces. The Treyvon Martin case is the most recent example of how this law is a threat to the civil rights and civil liberties of innocent individuals.

Stop-and-Frisk came out of the Warren Court decision in Terry v. Ohio (1968) where the principle in question was whether the police require a certain level of flexibility in dealing with quickly evolving and potentially dangerous situations that arise during routine patrol of the streets. The Court held that an officer can stop-and frisk if that officer has a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person "may be armed and presently dangerous." (392 U.S. 1, at 30.)

According to the NY Civil Liberties Union, NYPD officers have stopped more than 4 million New Yorkers since the department began collecting data on the program in 2004. The latest stop-and-frisk report shows that the NYPD stopped and interrogated New Yorkers 152,311 times between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2011. About 88 percent of those encounters did not result in arrests or tickets. Nearly 85 percent of those stopped were Black or Latino. Whites, who represent 33 percent of the city's population, accounted for less than 9 percent of people stopped. Stop-and-frisk has become a license to harass innocent individuals based upon racial profiling without any data to show a direct correlation to a reduction in crime.