Black Americans and the Burger Court: Implications for the Political System


In recent years there has been considerable commentary on the posture of the Burger Court toward black Americans and civil rights interests. During the Warren Court era, the Supreme Court was generally pictured as supporting these interests. Under Chief Justice Burger, however, this image of the Court seems to be fading; President Nixon’s 1968 campaign pledge to reverse the decisional tendencies of the Warren Court by appointing “strict constructionists” appears to be meeting with some success. After less than three years in office, the President had the rare opportunity to fill four vacancies on the nine-man Court, including the position of Chief Justice. The protracted confirmation battles that attended several of the President’s nominations, plus the decisions of the Nixon appointees once on the Court, demonstrate that some changes in the decisional output of the Court were anticipated and are indeed occurring. My purpose here is to examine these changes in the broader context of the role of the Supreme Court in the efforts of blacks to achieve objectives within the political system as it presently operates. Specifically, this Article will attempt to describe the posture of the Burger Court, as reflected in its decisions, relative to racial justice and the quality of life for black Americans, and to consider the implications of this posture in terms of the capability of the political system to deal with civil rights problems.


Civil rights, Race, United States -- Supreme Court



Lucius J. Barker (Washington University in St. Louis)



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