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Institutional Rules, Strategic Behavior and the Legacy of Chief Justice William Rehnquist: Setting the Record Straight on Dickerson v. United States

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Abstract:

Unchanged for more than a decade, the past year witnessed substantial alteration to the composition of the United States Supreme Court. In the span of several months, the high court experienced changes to more than twenty percent of its membership including the death of its most prominent member, Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In periods of transition such as those recently experienced, it is natural to speculate as to the future course of this institution, but equally compelling, these changes elicit reflection as to the historical significance of the recently completed era. In the latest iteration, attention centered upon the late Chief Justice whose untimely death focused attention not only on the institution which he guided for more than two decades but also upon his personal jurisprudence. Comments regarding his legacy were wide ranging and covered the gambit of cases that came before the high court during his stewardship.

One case, Dickerson v. United States, garnered particular attention from commentators. In fact, even before his untimely death some argued this decision was critical to understanding the Rehnquist legacy. In Dickerson, the Chief Justice authored this seven member majority opinion which sustained Miranda v. Arizona. The decision was a surprise. Miranda had been a pillar of the Warren Court revolution, and Chief Justice Rehnquist previously varied from tepid support to outright dissention for the 1966 ruling. Thus, given his history, he seemed unlikely to author a supportive opinion in perhaps the key Miranda decision of the decade.

In the wake of the Chief Justice’s ruling, legal scholars grappled to interpret this apparently anomalous decision. This process produced a litany of explanations. Some commentators pursued a separation of powers theory positing that the Chief sought to protect the Court from encroachment by Congress. Others focused upon exogenous factors arguing that public opinion motivated the Chief. However, a great number of scholars argued that the decision was strong evidence of Rehnquist’s faithful adherence to the principle of stare decisis. The Dickerson opinion particularly supports this account. Justice Rehnquist specifically noted that although he might not initially favor the Miranda rule, it had subsequently become part of the “national culture.”

As written, many accounts either disavow the potential of a strategic explanation or fail to outline explicitly the evidence supporting the uniqueness of their non-strategic theory. Specifically, these explanations fail because they largely ignore the alternative set of preferences which could have produced the Chief’s decision. This is troubling because prior scholarship demonstrates the Chief possesses a unique set of institutional powers which provide significant incentive for him to behave sophisticatedly. Many prevailing explanations for Dickerson at a minimum are incomplete because they fail to determine whether his vote and opinion were the result of moderation, fidelity to traditional legal principles, or, in fact, strategic behavior.

This paper pursues its own uniqueness claim arguing the gravamen of available evidence supports a strategic explanation for Justice Rehnquist’s behavior in Dickerson. To do this, the paper first reviews the methodological debate within the scholarship of public law, a debate relevant to the competing explanations for the Dickerson decision. Next, the paper explores the strategic approach by describing the multistage sophisticated process which produces Supreme Court decisions. It culminates in Figure 1.1, a general diagram that is carried forward into Part II of the paper.

Part II directly considers the Dickerson decision. This portion begins with a description of the Supreme Court’s Miranda jurisprudence before reviewing the specific facts and procedural history of the case. Next, Part II reviews Justice Rehnquist’s Miranda related decisions which taken together demonstrate the truly anomalous nature of the Dickerson opinion. The paper then outlines a strategic account, an approach antithetical to prevailing explanations attributed to Rehnquist’s behavior.

Strategic and non-strategic behaviors are observationally equivalent. Thus, in order firmly to support its strategic theory, this paper concludes with a discussion of the several important post-Dickerson decisions including Chavez, and Patane, where the Chief Justice inexplicably favors opinions arguing certain exceptions to Miranda, continue to operate even in a post-Dickerson world after Dickerson afforded Miranda full constitutional status. Chavez and Patane are critical to the analysis because they help determine what end Justice Rehnquist actually achieved in his Dickerson opinion. He successfully preserved a set of Miranda exceptions which he personally developed during his thirty year tenure on the Court. It is from this outlook that commentators in fact are correct to argue that Dickerson is critical to understanding the legacy of the late Chief Justice.

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v (238), u.s (163), opinion (161), miranda (155), justic (132), rehnquist (125), court (119), dissent (117), chief (111), join (109), decis (96), vote (84), u (81), concur (70), dickerson (69), state (67), major (62), steven (62), part (55), constitut (52), o (51),

Author's Keywords:

Supreme Court Decision Making, Miranda, Chief Justice Rehnquist, Public Law, Judicial Politics, Strategic Behavior, Opinion Assignment, New Institutionalism
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Name: The Midwest Political Science Association
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http://www.indiana.edu/~mpsa/


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MLA Citation:

Katz, Daniel. "Institutional Rules, Strategic Behavior and the Legacy of Chief Justice William Rehnquist: Setting the Record Straight on Dickerson v. United States" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois, Apr 20, 2006 <Not Available>. 2013-12-17 <http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p139314_index.html>

APA Citation:

Katz, D. M. , 2006-04-20 "Institutional Rules, Strategic Behavior and the Legacy of Chief Justice William Rehnquist: Setting the Record Straight on Dickerson v. United States" Paper presented at the annual meeting of the The Midwest Political Science Association, Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois Online <APPLICATION/PDF>. 2013-12-17 from http://citation.allacademic.com/meta/p139314_index.html

Publication Type: Conference Paper/Unpublished Manuscript
Abstract: Unchanged for more than a decade, the past year witnessed substantial alteration to the composition of the United States Supreme Court. In the span of several months, the high court experienced changes to more than twenty percent of its membership including the death of its most prominent member, Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In periods of transition such as those recently experienced, it is natural to speculate as to the future course of this institution, but equally compelling, these changes elicit reflection as to the historical significance of the recently completed era. In the latest iteration, attention centered upon the late Chief Justice whose untimely death focused attention not only on the institution which he guided for more than two decades but also upon his personal jurisprudence. Comments regarding his legacy were wide ranging and covered the gambit of cases that came before the high court during his stewardship.

One case, Dickerson v. United States, garnered particular attention from commentators. In fact, even before his untimely death some argued this decision was critical to understanding the Rehnquist legacy. In Dickerson, the Chief Justice authored this seven member majority opinion which sustained Miranda v. Arizona. The decision was a surprise. Miranda had been a pillar of the Warren Court revolution, and Chief Justice Rehnquist previously varied from tepid support to outright dissention for the 1966 ruling. Thus, given his history, he seemed unlikely to author a supportive opinion in perhaps the key Miranda decision of the decade.

In the wake of the Chief Justice’s ruling, legal scholars grappled to interpret this apparently anomalous decision. This process produced a litany of explanations. Some commentators pursued a separation of powers theory positing that the Chief sought to protect the Court from encroachment by Congress. Others focused upon exogenous factors arguing that public opinion motivated the Chief. However, a great number of scholars argued that the decision was strong evidence of Rehnquist’s faithful adherence to the principle of stare decisis. The Dickerson opinion particularly supports this account. Justice Rehnquist specifically noted that although he might not initially favor the Miranda rule, it had subsequently become part of the “national culture.”

As written, many accounts either disavow the potential of a strategic explanation or fail to outline explicitly the evidence supporting the uniqueness of their non-strategic theory. Specifically, these explanations fail because they largely ignore the alternative set of preferences which could have produced the Chief’s decision. This is troubling because prior scholarship demonstrates the Chief possesses a unique set of institutional powers which provide significant incentive for him to behave sophisticatedly. Many prevailing explanations for Dickerson at a minimum are incomplete because they fail to determine whether his vote and opinion were the result of moderation, fidelity to traditional legal principles, or, in fact, strategic behavior.

This paper pursues its own uniqueness claim arguing the gravamen of available evidence supports a strategic explanation for Justice Rehnquist’s behavior in Dickerson. To do this, the paper first reviews the methodological debate within the scholarship of public law, a debate relevant to the competing explanations for the Dickerson decision. Next, the paper explores the strategic approach by describing the multistage sophisticated process which produces Supreme Court decisions. It culminates in Figure 1.1, a general diagram that is carried forward into Part II of the paper.

Part II directly considers the Dickerson decision. This portion begins with a description of the Supreme Court’s Miranda jurisprudence before reviewing the specific facts and procedural history of the case. Next, Part II reviews Justice Rehnquist’s Miranda related decisions which taken together demonstrate the truly anomalous nature of the Dickerson opinion. The paper then outlines a strategic account, an approach antithetical to prevailing explanations attributed to Rehnquist’s behavior.

Strategic and non-strategic behaviors are observationally equivalent. Thus, in order firmly to support its strategic theory, this paper concludes with a discussion of the several important post-Dickerson decisions including Chavez, and Patane, where the Chief Justice inexplicably favors opinions arguing certain exceptions to Miranda, continue to operate even in a post-Dickerson world after Dickerson afforded Miranda full constitutional status. Chavez and Patane are critical to the analysis because they help determine what end Justice Rehnquist actually achieved in his Dickerson opinion. He successfully preserved a set of Miranda exceptions which he personally developed during his thirty year tenure on the Court. It is from this outlook that commentators in fact are correct to argue that Dickerson is critical to understanding the legacy of the late Chief Justice.

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Document Type: application/pdf
Page count: 43
Word count: 13534
Text sample:
INSTITUTIONAL RULES STRATEGIC BEHAVIOR AND THE LEGACY OF CHIEF JUSTICE WILLIAM REHNQUIST: SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON DICKERSON V. UNITED STATES BY DANIEL M. KATZ 1 Unchanged for more than a decade the past year witnessed substantial alteration to the composition of the United States Supreme Court. In the span of several months the high court experienced changes to more than twenty percent of its membership including the death of its most prominent member Chief Justice William Rehnquist. In
Burger for the Court. Concurring: Marshall. Dissenting: Brennan. 61. Garner v. United States 424 U.S. 648 (1976). Opinion: Powell for the Court. Concurring: Marshall joined by Brennan. 62. Michigan v. Mosley 423 U.S. 96 (1975). Opinion: Stewart for the Court. Concurring: White. Dissenting: Brennan joined by Marshall. Page 42 of 43 63. Michigan v. Tucker 417 U.S. 433 (1974). Opinion: Rehnquist for the Court. Concurring: Stewart. Concurring: Brennan joined by Marshall. Concurring: White. Dissenting: Douglas. 64. Schneckloth v. Bustamonte


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