Crazy as it may seem, the current Supreme Court is systematically working to repeal the U.S. Constitution.
This may strike some as a harsh judgement, but the evidence is there. Led by the four men appointed by Richard Nixon -- Warren Burger, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell Jr. and William Rehnquist -- the court has consistently enhanced the mischief-making potential of police, prosecution and judiciary at the expense of individuals, the press and the public. We have compiled the evidence after studying recent court decisions and interviewing court sources and legal scholars.
Here are a few examples of the wrecking crew's assault on the Bill of Rights:
-- Shrugging off the Fourth Amendment's protection against unreasonable search and seizure, the Burger court has authorized searches of automobiles and telephone records even where criminal behavior is not suspected.
-- In a frontal attack on the First Amendment's guarantee of a free press, the court sought to strip away the confidentially of reporter's news sources -- an obvious way to intimidate potential "whistle blowers" and others with inside information that could be politically embarrassing to those in power, court critics pointed out to my associate Gary Cohn.
-- Combining its contempt for both the First and Fourth Amendments, the Burger court ruled that police armed with the general search warrant can rummage through a news office's confidential files, seizing anything that strikes their fancy.
-- In a split decision that the justices themselves didn't even understand -- to judge by the weeks of conflicting explanations that followed -- the court took aim at the First Amendment's press protection and the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of public trials. The court took a step backward toward King George's Star Chamber-type system that would permit secret deals, intimidation and politically motivated cover-ups shielded from public exposure.
The court again trampled the Fourth Amendment when it decreed that an individual can waive protection against unreasonable search and seizure by consenting to a search, even when agents of the government neglect to explain that the individual has the right to refuse. As Justice William Brenan stated in an articulate dissent, "It wholly escapes me how our citizens can meaningfully be said to have waived something as precious as a constitutional right without ever being aware of its existence."
-- The Fifth Amendment's guarantee that no one shall be deprived of property without due process of law does not extend to an individual's good name, according to the Burger court. A Kentucky man accused of shoplifting denied the charge and was never prosecuted. Yet police distributed his name and picture to area merchants as an active shoplifter. The victim sought damages and an injunction. But the court majority could find no constitutional protection against such government harassment.
The prevailing attitude of the Burger court seems to be a childlike faith in the essential goodness of goverment -- or at least those arms of government that are charged with maintaining public order. It was these very minions of enforcement and prosecution, of course, that the framers of the Constitution most feared -- and hoped to keep under control with the Bill of Rights.
The court majority's naive trust in the reasonableness of police, prosecutors and judges is matched by a corresponding lack of faith in the resonableness of the average citizen -- and such troublesome institutions as the press. Anyone who wants to get the goverment off his back is deemed unworthy of protection by the judicial system.
The "point men" against the Constitution are a judicial odd couple, the irascible chief justice and the amiable youngest justice, Rehnquist, whose pleasing personality has made him popular with his colleagues despite his rigidly doctrinaire conservative ways.
Burger's intemperate hatred of the press may explain his determination to strip it of long-aceppted First Amendment protections. A judge who has openly and repeatedly expressed his contempt for journalists -- he has referred to Supreme Court reporters as "a bunch of pipsqueaks" -- can hardly be expected to have any respect for the institution they serve.
Whether their animus toward the Bill of Rights is activated by personal or ideological considerations, one thing is clear about the Burger court's majority. Its pro-government bias may give us Big Brother even before 1984. m