Our View: High court rulings upend decades of precedent
In a 6-3 decision made on June 23 by the U.S. Supreme Court, the majority opinion ruled in Vega v. Tokeh that a person who is questioned by police without being read their Miranda rights does not have proper justification to seek civil action against that officer. Justice Samuel Alito — who wrote the majority opinion for the court — reinforced the idea that Miranda rights were merely a "prophylactic," and that they cannot support the idea "that a Miranda violation is tantamount to a violation of the Fifth Amendment."
In another historic 6-3 decision made on June 24 by the Supreme Court, the majority opinion ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization overturned the precedent set by the 1973 case of Roe v. Wade. Again, Justice Alito, writing for the majority, stated that "the Constitution makes no reference to abortion, and no such right is implicitly protected by any constitutional provision." Justice Alito and the majority opine that the Due Process Clause of the 14 Amendment does not apply since abortion is not "deeply rooted in this Nation's history and tradition."
In two day's time, the Supreme Court has reversed rulings that have been cemented into this country's legal precedent for decades. These two cases alone have been integral to the protection and upholding of rights of the public.
Ultimately, the decision made by the Supreme Court in Vega v. Tokeh does not mean that police no longer have to read someone their Miranda rights. However, by eliminating the possibility for someone questioned by the police to seek civil action against an officer who does not properly inform them of their rights, there is little to stop police from doing so and even less for individuals to seek recourse. Additionally, the decision made in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization does not mean that abortion is now illegal at the federal level. However, it is left up to the states, and there are certainly many state governing bodies who seek to make abortions illegal.
If Miranda rights are just a "prophylactic," as the Supreme Court described, then what are they meant to prevent? They are meant to prevent law enforcement from potential exploitation of an uninformed public. They are meant to protect the public by balancing the innate power dynamic and informing them of their rights. They are meant to address the power differential of not only police-citizen contact but also of the justice system-public relationship which has a history of unjust consequences and disparities for the most marginalized.
If a person's right to autonomy over their body is not a part of this nation's history and tradition, then what is? It is concerning that the reason that these historic cases and protected rights are practically being uprooted is because the majority believes that the Constitution should be narrowly interpreted as it was when it was written. This country was founded on a system that limited the rights for many and provided full rights for few. If the goal of the Supreme Court is to adhere to the nation's initial foundation, it certainly is doing just that. Clarence Thomas made it clear which rights will be targeted next. With no end in sight, the American people may need a prophylactic before the announcement of future Supreme Court rulings.
Ahmar Zaman of Hillsboro is an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Pacific University. Quinton Lautz is one of his clinical psychology doctoral students.
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