Study Guide

Justice White in Miranda v. Arizona

By Supreme Court of the United States

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Justice White

If you ever start feeling a little too good about yourself, think about Justice Byron White.

White was valedictorian of his high school class in Colorado and got an athletic scholarship to play football at the University of Colorado, where he was named an All-American Halfback and got the nickname "Whizzer."

We're sure that name was a lot cooler back in the 1930s.

Anyway, continuing: he won a Rhodes Scholarship (huge deal), but decided to delay it and instead was a first-round draft pick for the Pittsburgh Pirates. (No, that's not a typo—that's what the Steelers were called back then.)

After setting an NFL rushing record his rookie year, he resumed his Rhodes Scholar work then went to law school. Oh yeah, he left law school after his first year (where he got the highest grades in the class) to play for the Detroit Lions. At one point, he was the NFL's highest-paid player at $15,000 per year. (Also not a typo.) White then joined the Navy as an intelligence officer in 1942, where he met fellow sailor John F. Kennedy.

Once this slacker finally finished law school in 1946, he rose through the ranks, from law clerk for Supreme Court Chief Justice Fred Vinson, to Assistant Attorney General under JFK, and finally to a Kennedy appointee to the Big Court itself in 1962.

The first Supreme Court Justice from Colorado, White developed a reputation for looking at each case on its own merits instead of sticking to any specific legal ideology. Being appointed by JFK, many thought that White would be more consistently liberal, but he actually dissented in two landmark cases: Roe v. Wade (the famous case that allowed women the right to have abortions based on a Constitutional right to Privacy) and—you guessed it—Miranda v. Arizona.

White's major complaint in Miranda v. Arizona can be found in the first line of his dissent:

The proposition that the privilege against self-incrimination forbids in-custody interrogation without the warnings specified in the majority opinion […] has no significant support in the history of the privilege or in the language of the Fifth Amendment. (WhiteDissent.I.1)

Never one to tiptoe around the issues, White just comes out and says that suspects in custody should be interrogated and don't have to have a warning about their rights. You can bet that this upset Earl Warren and other approving members of the court, but as White himself said, "I wasn't exactly in his circle."

White served on the Court for 31 years, writing almost a thousand opinions in the process. When he retired from the Court in 1993, Bill Clinton replaced him with the Notorious RBG .

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