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tv   Reel America The Judicial Power - 1960  CSPAN  December 19, 2020 8:59am-9:25am EST

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workable framework for decision. yet the transition from an agricultural to an industrial nation has subjected the constitution to countless stresses and problems of interpretation. this film dealt with one of those many problems. [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] ♪ >> down from canada, the wild
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mallards come in autumn, green heads pointing south, 8000 miles of mississippi valley below them. quite a view of america. more limited, but still a pleasant view, america from a school room window in nebraska. ♪ the view of a country, any country, is harsh through iron bars. ♪ i'm joseph welch.
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i'm a lawyer. a flight of birds, some americans in trouble, and a white temple on a hill. this is the story i want to tell you. it is the story of the supreme court of the united states. ♪ you feel very small when you stand in the portico of the supreme court building in washington. the corinthian columns rise three stories high, great shafts of marble quarried in the mountain state of vermont. ♪ inside, gleaming marble from alabama is underfoot and all
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around you in polished walls and columns under a coffered ceiling. ♪ in this room, historic meetings take place with jurists of other days observing from the walls. ♪ a staircase of bronze and marble spirals upwards. in the hallway, an open pedestal, there's the one word -- "silence." indeed, you walk softly here,
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for the feeling is one of reverence. the root of this reverence? a document held dear to us. the american constitution. article iii, the judicial power of the united states shall be vested in one supreme court. the judicial power shall extend to all cases in law and equity, arising under this constitution, the laws of the united states, and treaties made under their authority. the first article of the constitution has to do with congress. the second deals with the office of president. and article iii with the supreme court. one, two, three. that is the way our founding fathers planned it. a government made up of three equal independent parts, put together in a system of checks and balances that keeps any one of them from becoming too powerful. congress makes laws, but the
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president can veto them. or the court declares them unconstitutional. congress can overrule the president, with a two thirds majority. or initiate the overruling of the court by proposing a constitutional amendment. the president can appoint justices, but he can't remove them. everywhere, the checks and balances are at work. the key to the court's rule in this plan is its right to reveal an act of the president or congress and decide whether it is keeping with the constitution. it also reviews some decisions of state courts and lower federal courts. you can see now that this white marble temple is more than just a court. it is a vital part of the american government. a place where the mighty visit -- kings, princesses, prime ministers. does it seem a far cry from all
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this to a flight of birds over farmland? a modest nebraska teacher? a prisoner behind bars? yet, they, like queens and prime ministers, may have business in this marble temple, a business born the day that trouble strikes them. these birds started their journey under a safe conduct. they are useful friends of man, good for food, enemies of insects that destroy crops. but then threatened them with extinction. the united states and canada made a treaty for their protection. and congress implemented it with the migratory bird act. from march to september, it is illegal to kill, capture, or sell the wild mallard. but on this day, flying over the sovereign state of missouri, a federal game warden will try to arrest this hunter. but the state of missouri will a rest the game warden instead. he will be tried and convicted
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on the ground that the wild mallards within its borders belong to the state of missouri and that the game warden is unlawfully interfering with the rights of the hunter. this man, too, is breaking the law. here in zion lutheran school, he was teaching his student a story from history. he teaches it in german, the language of the child's parents. the time is shortly after a war, and his nebraska neighbors have decreed that no one may teach a foreign tongue to a child under 10 years of age. it is safer to americanize them, the reasoning goes, safer to speak them first in the american language. so they will grow up with american ideals. the law breaker is apprehended.
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in court, the teacher will plead his right of free speech. but a jury of his neighbors will find him guilty. this young man, setting out on a vacation, changed a $20 bill and felt a hand on his shoulder. is he guilty of counterfeiting? a jury has said yes. there was, however, an irregularity at his trial. the young man said he was innocent, but he never asked for a lawyer. he thought only rich people had lawyers. he knows now that he was entitled to counsel in proving his innocence. so he has written a letter, asking for a new trial. he addresses it to the united states supreme court. the justices of the supreme court, each nominated by a president and confirmed by the senate to serve for life.
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they have been 92 judges in the 170 year flow of the court's continuity. who are they? not men of marble or parchment, but men of flesh and blood, who have risen to great responsibility. ♪ john marshall, born a poor boy in a log cabin, learned the law the hard way, teaching himself. the government was young and untried when he became chief justice, but 34 years of his decisions helped to make it strong. oliver wendell holmes liked parties, loved the theater, but he gave the country some of its noblest judicial opinions. justice holmes loved america. when he died, he left all he had to the united states government.
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this is chief justice earl warren, appointed in 1953 by president eisenhower. earl warren, a man with the joys and worries of sons and daughters in his life, a family man and a writer of decisions that have changed american history. justice william o. douglas, appointed by franklin d. roosevelt in 1939, a man who glories in nature and in people. you may find him leading worship or climbing the himalayas, because he pursues understanding everywhere and seeks out friends among even the remotest of people. ♪ at 12, he was an immigrant boy who loved to read. today, a justice who continues to read at every opportunity. in orders, at lunch, even when walking in the street.
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justice felix frankfurter, a great leader, great thinker. when justice hugo black was 70, he rejoiced, "now i can play tennis again." it seems his doctor told him that a man in his 60's should not play. ♪ when you teach a child tennis, the concept of fair play is important. justice black has spent a lifetime implementing a similar concept in the broader field of government. the words he lives by are carved in marble over the door of the court he serves -- "equal justice under law." that is the ideal that all of these justices, past and present, have striven to uphold. what is "equal justice under
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law"? let me give you some examples. the year 1943, the locale a town in pennsylvania. ♪ ♪ a religious sect, jehovah's witnesses, takes literally the
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mandate of the scriptures to preach the gospel to every creature. the members seek to do so by handing out religious pamphlets on the streets of the town and from house to house. but a city ordinance requires them to pay for a license, and they are arrested for distributing their pamphlets without a license. the case reaches the supreme court, and the ordinance is found to violate not only their religious freedom under the constitution, but their freedom of speech and freedom of the press as well. this cartoon, which appeared in a new york newspaper, represents the situation of two giant companies whose illegal merger must be broken up. ♪ the caption -- "where shall we begin, doctor?" among the laws the supreme court guards is the sherman antitrust act of 1890, prohibiting a a restraint of trade by
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monopoly. but sometimes, a monopoly appears in unfamiliar garb. ♪ be restraint of trade won't accompanied the unexpected music. the accused in this case corporations that produce motion pictures. their defense? we have merely expanded to meet legitimate business needs. the facts, they have affiliated with large theater owners to prevent small independent theaters from exhibiting any first-class pictures. the decision of the judges? size, in itself, creates a suspicion of monopoly power. for size carries with it an opportunity for abuse. this is not an expansion to meet legitimate business needs, but a calculated scheme to gain control over the market and
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suppress competition. being in contravention of the sherman antitrust act, the affiliations of these corporations must be broken. ♪ >> the aged, traditionally peaceful, with folded hands, but what a turmoil they caused in the supreme court when franklin d. roosevelt brought his new deal of social legislation to the country, controversy became daily fair in the supreme court. for the nine judges were sharply divided in their interpretation of the constitution. when the social security act passed, giving an income to retired working people, partly through employer contributions, one irate businessman declared he was being illegally taxed and battled the issue through all the courts up to the highest. the aged and their children
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waited with bated breath while liberal and conservative justices wrestled with the question. finally, the decision with four judges in sharp dissent, the five who made a majority proclaimed -- >> according to the constitution, congress has power to lay and collect taxes to provide for the general welfare of the united states. the number of aged persons in this country is rapidly increasing. three out of four persons over 65 are dependent, wholly or partially, on others for support. those who call upon their children only aggravate the evil by depriving the younger members of the family of their resources. since the problem is plainly national in dimension, the expenditures contemplated under this act are for the general welfare of the united states, and the act is held constitutional. ♪
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joseph: sometimes, even the wisest men must bow to the lessons of experience and change their stance. one of the shortest opinions the supreme court ever delivered was in 1817. the united states never pays costs. end of decision. this masterpiece of brevity was, however, reversed some years later. for self reversal is one of the privileges and duties of the court when changed conditions and concepts make change of its decisions desirable. the 14th amendment guaranteed
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equal rights to all citizens, regardless of race or color. but then, in the 1896 case of plessy v. ferguson, the court had to decide whether segregation was constitutional. the decision was yes, as long as the facilities for both races are equal. "separate but equal" became the law and the custom in some southern states. from those same states, in 1954, came another segregation case. the issue? whether negro schoolchildren should be obliged to attend separate but equal schools. in the case of brown v, board of education, chief justice warren delivered the unanimous opinion of the court. >> the question presented, "does segregation of children in public schools, solely on the basis of race, even though the
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physical facilities may be equal, deprive the children of a minority group of equal educational opportunities?" we believe that it does. joseph: to separate them from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority, as to their status in the community, that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone. whatever may have been the extent of psychological knowledge at the time of plessy v. ferguson, this finding is amply supported by modern authority. >> we conclude that, in the field of public education, the doctrine of "separate but equal" has no place. it is so ordered. ♪ joseph: slowly, in one part of the country and another, worn out local prejudices give way to the will of the nation, as
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expressed in the constitution. ♪ >> i pledge allegiance to the flag of the united states of america and to the republic for which it stands, one nation, under god, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. ♪ joseph: work -- the work of the supreme court. last year, nearly 2,000 cases were laid on this desk for the attention of the clerk of the court. once a one-man job, today, it
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takes 20 people to keep up with this work, which includes preparing cases for the court's docket. above the head of james browning, 13th click, stands his predecessors and all the dignity of their traditions. but we are reminded that the contemporaries of the founding fathers were human when our eye 1790.on the first clerk, on the august day, did what all men do in the first week of the year -- wrote the wrong date. you can still see it on the yellow page. 1789, hastily changed afterwards to 1790. ♪ yes, tradition is strong in this -- in the precincts of this court. the clerk's cutaway is an unchanging part of it. the words a justice of the supreme court says when he takes office are simple ones. "i will support and defend the constitution.
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i will administer justice without respect to persons and do equal right to the poor and to the rich." this is the oath, the rule involving -- true, whether the case involves a sovereign state or an immigrant, a corporation, or convict. >> the sixth amendment of the constitution provides that, in all criminal prosecutions, the accused may have the assistance of legal counsel in his defense. although this man was ignorant of his rights, it still cannot be denied to him. we declare his conviction and sentencing to be invalid and remand his case for retrial. ♪ the statute here in question purports to forward the work of americanization. but in our desire for the americanization of our foreign-born population, we should not overlook the fact that the spirit of america is liberty.
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the disposition to allow each person to live his own life, in his own way, unhampered by unreasonable and arbitrary restrictions. we find this statute to be unconstitutional and, henceforth, void. ♪ >> does the state own the birds? that claim rests on a slender read. while birds are not in the possession of anyone, yesterday, they had not arrived. tomorrow, they may be at another state. and, in a week, 1,000 miles away. but the natural interest of the nation's people is involved with these birds, and that can be protected only by national action in concert with another power. except for the treaty and the federal statute that protects it, there soon might be no birds for any powers to deal with. we see nothing in the constitution that compels the government to sit by while the food supply is cut off and the
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protectors of our crops are destroyed. we are of the opinion that the treaty and the statute protecting the birds must stand. ♪ joseph: this is the courtroom. in a little while, the traditional call will ring out in this room. >> oh yay, oh yay, oh yay. all persons having business before the honorable and supreme court of the united states are admonished to draw near and give their attention. for the court is now sitting. god save the united states and this honorable court. joseph: in this room, walled in ivory veined marble, the greatest tradition of all unfolds. the decision itself. when the curtains part at three points and the nine high judges enter, you will know that they have striven mightily to rise above partisanship, regionalism,
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and political preference to render man's best effort at impartial justice. this is the proud record of the supreme court of the united states. ♪ [captions copyright national cable satellite corp. 2020] [captioning performed by the national captioning institute, which is responsible for its caption content and accuracy. visit] ♪>


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