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How Supreme Court Decisoins have affected American Society Essay

The Supreme Court has been given credit and blame for having a wide range of effects on society. The decisions that they have made on current and past issues have initiated change in American society. These changes have had both positive and negative results. The effects of their decisions have ranged from improving the status of certain ethnic groups to limiting the procedures of law enforcers and clearly defining the rights of lawbreakers. In essence, Supreme Court decisions have had a profound influence on the behaviors of citizens as well as the political structure of this nation.

The decisions of justices have “altered behavior of political and governmental officials as well as a man walking down the street”(Miller 4). To understand the role of the Supreme Court in the American system then one must pay attention to the social impact of court decisions. “The supreme court has assumed the task (of)…enforcing a law known to all, of deciding what law ought to be and making any changes called for” (Knight 1). Decisions are made by the Justices from conflicting principles not because of the law, but because of an evaluation of what impact the decision will have on American society.

The Supreme Court has had a greater important impact then any other government institution on society as a whole. The decisions have affected people’s behavior as individuals and social institutions such as the family and economy (Baum 318). The decisions of the Supreme Court justices have “affected the social behavior of people by influencing…(their) thinking and the structures in which they operate”(Baum 319).

“Change is the primary characteristic of American Society” (Miller 4). Change must also exist in American law. As society progresses and changes, the Court must address injustices as a result of change and determine criteria for a particular decision (Miller 5). As stated earlier, the Supreme Court decisions have initiated both political and social change (Baum 319). The constitution was established for certain and definite purposes. However what the Founding Fathers did not account for was change (Miller 4). As a result the Supreme Court has adapted the concept of an evolving Constitution (Miller 5).

It was necessary to redefine laws that were passed earlier to adjust to the changing society. Also, it was necessary as time progressed and the movement for equality grew, the Supreme Court need to reexamine the “narrow mindedness” of our Founding Fathers (Miller 5). Decisions were made that ensured persons regardless of gender, race or religion were all granted the rights and privileges entitled to them as United States citizens.

The Supreme Court has been involved in making dramatic decisions concerning social issues. Several areas that have been affected by their opinions include: 1) civil rights, 2) religious activities, and 3) police policy and procedure (Kessel 194). Although the actual decisions had little impact on society, they would stimulate other actions for change and in turn make a difference in society (Baum 319). For example, the decision to desegregate schools would be the catalyst for the civil rights movement. The “Schemmp” decision as well as the “Roe vs. Wade” decision will fuel the use of religion as a political stance (Baum 319). To understand how influential Supreme Court decisions are it is necessary to examine what effect they have had on American society.

One of the most monument decisions was the effects of Brown Vs. the Board of Education. This decision ordered the desegregation of school throughout the nation. Previous to this decision, Plessy vs. Ferguson set precedent that institutions such as schools or public facilities could be segregated based on race. The condition of this decision was that both facilities whether for Caucasians or African Americans must be equal in quality. When this condition failed to exist to be met it became necessary for these institutions become desegregated. Brown vs. The board of Education required that “school districts with separate school for Blacks and White students be desegregated” (Baum 305).

Most of the states in the northern and western states conformed to this decision. However in the Deep South, were slavery had been an institution, the call for desegragation was not widely accepted. In addition, the Supreme Court had allowed an “open-ended delay” to desegregation. This allowed school districts to “take their time in desegregating schools”(Baum 318). In the South “…desegregation…(did not occur)… for a decade because school administrators resisted Supreme Court ruling” (Baum 318). Some districts took several more years and the use of congressional force to obey the ruling.

The Courts helped to make desegregation possible. It also had an impact on the government’s feelings toward racial discrimination. These rulings demonstrated that government support of discrimination was unconstitutional. It also declared that there “needed to be efforts to achieve racial equality”(Baum 307). As stated earlier, the Supreme Court had been a contributor to social change. It would help to initiate the civil rights movement. “Once the civil rights movement became active, the Supreme Court took … steps to protect it”(Baum 318). Their decisions, although they did not directly protect the movement’s participants, helped to strengthen the cause. In fact Supreme Court decisions in support of racial equality have been viewed as a motivating factor of civil rights revolution of 1950’s and 1960’s and also the improvement of the status of African Americans (Baum 318).

Another influential decision of the Supreme Court judges concerned police procedures and policies. In Miranda vs. Arizona, the Supreme Court established new restrictions on search and seizure as well as required certain warnings must be read to a suspect prior to questioning by police officers or detectives (Wald 149). Under the Miranda ruling, police have to give “adequate and effective warning of legal rights and honor the suspects use of the rights”(Wald 155). This is to ensure that the suspect will understand the meaning of these rights and how they apply to him. It is also to ensure that the suspect does “what is in his best interest”(Wald 155). In addition the presence of a lawyer during questioning ensured that the suspect’s 5th Amendment right under the constitution is not violated.

Prior knowledge of one’ s self interest would allow them t act in their best interest. Once the defendant is properly warned of his rights, he will be in a position to act in accordance to his interests in remaining silent and requesting a lawyer. The suspect also needed to understand that he is in an adversary system that is not working in his interest (Wald 156).

It was believed that the decision from Miranda vs. Arizona would foster successful law enforcement. The Miranda rights were required to decrease the rate of coerced confessions due to police brutality. It has had limited effects. The Supreme Court decision has fueled debates over the rights of suspects (Baum 306). It is believed by some that once a person commits a crime by breaking the law they are not entitled to additional rights. In addition, Convictions have been lost because of the expansion of defendant’s rights. “They were failed to be read their Miranda rights so they were released” (Wald 156).

However the Miranda decision has helped to impose restrictions on how much force and intimidation tactics police officials can use on suspects. In an attempt to end mistreatment of suspects by the police, the Miranda decision makes sure that the suspect has a “real understanding” of their rights and that they are clearly stated (Wald 163). In an attempt to end injustices toward crime suspects, several states have also gone to further limiting and restricting police practices. Police officers have somewhat abided by these court-imposed restrictions. Those who have not have subsequently been faced with charges of violating a person’s civil rights and risk becoming a suspect themselves (Baum 306).

The final Supreme Court decision that has had an impact on American society was the decisions concerning seperation of church and state. The Supreme Court of the United States has been a vigilant watchdog in preserving the separation between church and state called for by the Constitution. In 1962 the Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale on the constitutionality of public?school prayers (Gawrisch). Enthusiasim arose in 1963 following the Court’s decision in two historic cases, Abington v. Schemmp and Murray v. Curlett. The devotional use of the Bible and all forms of prayer were banned from public schools as a contravention of the Establishment Clause. Objective study about religion and reading of the Bible for its literary and historic qualities were not prohibited (Gawrisch).

These decisions had an impact on policies adopted and enforced on a school district level (Birkby 109). While some schools initially ignored the ruling, most adhered to it. Over time federal government limited religious observances in public schools (Baum 306). Ironically, this was an attempt to ensure religious freedom (Birkby 110). As time progressed the Court reiterate their rulings in different cases. As recent as 1992 & 2000, decisions have been made restricting prayer at school ceremonies and sporting events (Baum306).

Some may argue that eliminating prayer in school has only further damaged the educational process of students. Other believe it has had adverse effects on the students (Baum 318). Students have lost their ideas of morals, and virtues. They are unable to realize that there are consequences for their actions whether negative or positive in nature.

However as a nation of diversity it is unfair for educational institutions to allow the practice of certain religious practices and not others. Again one must look at the constitution right of freedom of religion and that one must not be forced to exposure to religious practices they do not participate in. In fact court decisions on school prayer have been cited as an important stimulus for the emergence of religious rights as a political movement (Baum 318). It is an issue that has yet to be resolved and will continue as long as America remains a nation of diverse people with distinctive views on religion.

In conclusion, the Supreme Court has been a contributor to social change. It decisions have influenced the behaviors and attitudes of Americans since its creation. Although some may not agree with their opinion, they are forced to abide. It fulfills its duty as the interpreter of the law. It is in deciding body on political as well as social issues. It opinions and decisions have had rippling effects through America’s history. It as helped to reshape and redefine America’s perspective on important social issues. It is the final say in disputes that exist in this ever-changing society.

Baum, Lawrence. American Court: Process and Policy. 5th ed. Houghton Mifflin

Company: Boston 2001.

Birkby, Robert H., “The Supreme Court and the Bible belt: Tennessee Reaction

to the “Schempp” Decision.” The Impact of Supreme Court Decisions. Ed.

Theodore L. Becker. New York: Oxford University Press.1969 106-114.

Gawrisch, Wilbert. “The separation of Church and State as it relates to Our

Christian Schools”.

Kessel, John H., “Public Perceptions of the Supreme Court”. The Impact of

Supreme Court Decisions. Ed. Theodore L. Becker. New York: Oxford University Press.1969 193-205.

Knight, G. “On the Meaning of Justice” NOMOS VI Justice 1,2 Eds. Friedman

& Chapman.1963.

Miller, Arthur S., “On the Need for “Impact Analysis” of Supreme Court

Decisions”. The Impact of Supreme Court Decisions. Ed. Theodore L. Becker. New York: Oxford University Press.1969 3-6.

Wald, Michael S., “Interrogations in New Haven: The Impact of Miranda” The

Impact of Supreme Court Decisions. Ed. Theodore L. Becker. New York: Oxford University Press. 1969 149-164.


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