WASHINGTON — Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III on Sunday criticized as "infamous" two key Supreme Court decisions of the 1960s that civil libertarians consider landmark rulings safeguarding the rights of those accused of crimes.
Meese, who in six months as the government's top lawyer has dismissed as "wrong" other court rulings, including the controversial 1972 Roe vs. Wade decision giving the green light to legal abortions, attacked the activism of the high court under the late Chief Justice Earl Warren.
Interviewed on ABC's "This Week With David Brinkley" program, Meese complained that the Warren court was guilty of "inventing new law" and making unnecessary rulings in "infamous cases like Mapp against Ohio and Miranda and cases like that."
In the 1961 Mapp case, the court promulgated what is known as the exclusionary rule, forbidding authorities from using illegally seized evidence to convict a suspect. The 1966 Miranda ruling required authorities to advise a criminal suspect of his rights to remain silent and to consult an attorney before being questioned.
Conservatives and lawmen have complained that the rules sometimes hamstring law enforcement by allowing criminals to avoid prosecution through legal technicalities.
"I think the idea that the police cannot ask questions of the person who knows most about the crime is an infamous decision," Meese said, referring to the Miranda decision. "I think it's a wrong decision. I think if the person (under arrest) does not want to answer, that's their right. But you have had . . . all these ridiculous situations in which the police are precluded from asking the one person who knows most about the crime what happened."
Meese did not elaborate on his opposition to the Mapp ruling, but noted that the court has moved in recent years to modify the effects of both decisions.
Dred Scott Decision
Explaining why his department has asked the court to take the unusual step of overturning Roe vs. Wade, Meese linked the abortion decision to a small body of "wrongly decided" cases such as the 1857 Dred Scott decision, which outraged abolitionists. That highly charged, pre-Civil War ruling denied freedom to a slave brought by his master to a free state and forbade Congress from prohibiting slavery in U.S. territories of the time, such as Kansas.
Meese contended that the court usurped the proper authority of state legislatures when it struck down state laws banning abortions. And he blamed the Roe vs. Wade ruling for spawning other abortion cases that the court has since been faced with.
". . . The reason you have to have all these cases, these abortion cases that keep continuing, is because the father of those cases, Roe against Wade, was wrongly decided," Meese said. "And unless you do something about that (the original Roe ruling) you're going to keep having these cases to decide."