Study Guide

Justice Clark in Miranda v. Arizona

By Supreme Court of the United States

Justice Clark

Clark's brief dissent in Miranda kinda sums up his Supreme Court career in a nutshell: he dissented…but didn't get ideologically extreme about it.

This guy thought suspects should be read their rights, but if they were, then whatever they confessed afterwards would be considered voluntary and usable in court. Interrogations and confessions have been going on forever in the justice system, he said, and the Miranda rule would just make things harder for the police.

Clark was appointed as an assistant to the U.S. Attorney General in 1937, and became a close ally of future Prez Harry S. Truman. He was assigned to antitrust, and in 1941, helped organize the relocation and internment of Japanese citizens after the bombing of Pearl Harbor—a decision he, like Earl Warren, came to regret later in his career.

Truman made Clark Attorney General in 1945. He continued his trust-busting and carried out Truman's orders to go after suspected Communists (a favorite activity of politicians in the years after WWII). When Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy died, Truman nominated Clark to fill the vacancy.

It's hard to pin down Clark as conservative or liberal. Oyez.org, a website devoted to "making the Supreme Court accessible to everyone," calls Clark a "balanced legal mind." Early in his SCOTUS term, Clark's background as a prosecutor made him less sympathetic to cases where he thought the court was making it harder for the police and prosecution to do their job—like Miranda. He didn't take as liberal a view to the rights of criminal defendants.

Pretty conservative, right? But check this out:

  • He was a champion of the Equal Protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment that the Court decided made racial segregation unconstitutional, and he joined the unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education. He wrote the majority opinion in a case that declared it unconstitutional for a hotel to deny admittance to African American customers; in 1964 he struck down a ruling requiring the race of candidates to be indicated on ballots.
  • In 1963, he wrote the majority opinion in Abington v. Schempp, making it unconstitutional for schools to require Bible reading and prayer, famously writing that "The Constitution says that the government shall take no part in the establishment of religion […and] no means no."
  • He voted with the majority in Mapp v. Ohio, which ruled that evidence obtained by illegal searches couldn't be used in court. He also joined the unanimous decision in Gideon v. Wainwright reversing a conviction because the indigent defendant didn't get a court-appointed lawyer.

Like we said, hard to pin down.

Clark served on the Court until 1967. He decided to retire when his son, Ramsey Clark, was appointed Attorney General by President Lyndon Johnson; he wanted to avoid conflicts of interest. He was succeeded on the Court by Thurgood Marshall, the first African American Supreme Court justice. Clark died in 1977.

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