This Day in Liberal Judicial Activism—March 18

1963— As Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel write in Justice Brennan, this day stands out among all others as the day when Justice Brennan’s “new majority”—resulting from Arthur Goldberg’s replacement of Felix Frankfurter—“flexed its muscles”: “The liberal bloc overturned four of the Court’s long-standing precedents” on a single day.

In Fay v. Noia and Townsend v. Sain, in (as Justice Harlan puts it in his dissent in Fay) a “square rejection of long-accepted principles governing the nature and scope of the Great Writ,” the Court dramatically expands the federal habeas corpus rights of state prisoners. In Gideon v. Wainwright, the Court, overruling its 1942 decision in Betts v. Brady, holds that the Constitution requires that states provide counsel for indigent defendants in all criminal trials. And in Gray v. Sanders, the Court rushes deeper into the thicket of state redistricting, as it adopts a theory of political equality that it had previously rejected.

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