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Seventh Inning Stretch

Brass Tacks

By William M. Simmons

There were two vacant chairs between Justice Tom Clark and his nearest neighbor when the Supreme Court convened for the first time this term last October. One was that of Justice Douglas, injured in an accident a few days before; the other was hung with black, in memory of Wiley Rutledge, who died just before this session.

President Truman's appointment of Sherman Minton to replace Rutledge made hotter a controversy already started by the President's naming of Clark to take Frank Murphy's place. Both Murphy and Rutledge had been strong "liberals," while their replacements had no such public record. Politicians, lawyers, and writers began to wonder, in print, how these appointments would affect Court policy, with many important decisions, including a large number on civil rights, pending.

The Court's most controversial decision so far was handed down February 21. By a 5-3 vote, the Justices upheld the right of Federal officers to search and seize property "in a limited area" without a warrant if the action is incidental to an arrest for which there are proper documents. Justice Frankfurter, in dissenting, claimed that such police action violated the fourth amendment. Frankfurter remarked that changes in Justices on the bench should not change the law--an allusion to Minton and Clark, both in the majority. Most of the Court's important votes, however, have not pointed up any great split between "right" and "left" on the bench.

In December, the Court refused to rule on the legality of the California state employees' loyalty oath. 26 people had challenged the law, established in 1947. But the Supreme Court pointed out, 16 of the cases were still awaiting California Appellate decisions. The Washington Justices will wait until State cases are completed.

Unanimously, the Court upheld the Arkansas "right to work" law which makes criminal any use of force, threat, or violence to prevent, try to stop, or aid in stopping a worker from engaging in a legal occupation. The CIO was appealing the case for two of its members, convicted by their state.

On two other often-discussed matters the Court also backed decisions of lower magistrates. The Justices refused to review the case of three men sentenced for contempt by Judge Medina in the New York Communist trial. And they upheld a Maryland Appellate decision which overruled a Baltimore Court's action in barring newspaper publication of certain types of crime news. But they reversed a decision by Judge Shaw of Chicago which held the 1949 Rent Control Act unconstitutional.

Besides many cases involving labor rights, and several anti-trust suits, the Court has some important civil rights decisions to make. It must decide whether the separate Negro law school that the University of Texas set up for Marion Sweatt is equal--Sweatt claims it is not. And the Court must rule whether George McLaurin is correct in stating that his rights have been abused by segregation at Oklahoma State University. The Henderson case, involving discrimination on southern railroads, is also still on the docket. Since the Court said in 1896 that separate facilities could be made equal, decisions in these cases may reverse a previous stand.

Meanwhile 11 members of the Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee have appealed their conviction on a contempt of Congress charge, and the Committee itself waits for the Court's promised review of the legality of the Attorney General's subversive list. The Court will probably grant a review of the Bailey case, involving a woman fired for "failing" her federal loyalty check. Thus the entire program may be reviewed this term.

If the President's appointments have made the Court less "liberal" than before, the nation will soon know. But, regardless of that argument's outcome, the Court is having one of its most important years.

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