Two of the most symbolic decisions of the liberal "Warren Court" were in the field of criminal law. The "exclusionary rule" limiting police searches and seizures was applied to the states 30 years ago and the "Miranda warning" limiting police use of some confessions was enunciated 25 years ago. This term the Supreme Court of Chief Justice William Rehnquist greatly weakened both. In a 5-4 decision, the court said coerced confessions could be used in court in some instances. In a 6-3 decision the court approved some warrantless searches without probable cause.
The new decisions symbolize what the Supreme Court now is. It is a court strongly interested in criminal matters. Nearly a third of this term's decisions involved criminal law, about half again as many as traditional. It is a court relentlessly pro-state, not pro-individual. It is a court little concerned with precedent. It is a court with a solid majority to work its will. The 6-3 decision was more typical of the term than the 5-4 decision.
This is new, and is directly traceable to the replacement of liberal Justice William Brennan with conservative Justice David Souter. In the 1990-1991 term, we saw the arrival of what Dean Geoffrey Stone of the University of Chicago Law School called "an exceedingly conservative court."