Baseball Crank
Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
September 26, 2002
LAW: Justice Douglas' Fears

Speaking of "Bugs" Harkin, the story brings back memories of one of the more bizarre Supreme Court opinions I've ever read - one that speaks both to the climate of hysteria in the early 1970s and to Justice Douglas' paranoia: his opinion dissenting from the denial of certiorari in Heutsche v. United States, which includes the following passage:

Mr. Justice Holmes in Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 470 (dissenting), called wire-tapping 'dirty business.' That decision was rendered in 1928. Since that time 'dirty business' has become the apt phrase describing the regime under which we now live. . . . We who live in the District of Columbia know that electronic surveillance is commonplace. I am indeed morally certain that the Conference Room of this Court has been 'bugged'; and President Johnson during his term in the White House asserted to me that even his phone was tapped.

We deal with a disease that has permeated our society. . . . The conversation of one's lawyer over the telephone may be as helpful to Big Brother as the conversation of the accused herself. . . . If electronic surveillance were strictly employed by the Executive Branch, we might be chary in enlarging its duties as requested here. But since we live in a regime where the 'dirty business' of wiretapping runs rampant, I would apply the statute liberally to check the disease which almost every newspaper tells us has poisoned out body politic.

We are told that in this case the applicant's lawyers did discuss her case with persons other than herself over the telephone. Is Big Brother to have a ringside seat where he can listen to all the confidences of lawyers who defend an accused? If so, what happens to the valued right of counsel protected by the Sixth Amendment?

* * *

In a country where the Government overhears over 500,000 conversations a year pursuant to court authorized wiretaps alone, it is difficult to gainsay anyone's fear of the intrusion of Big Brother's ear. The daily news brings fresh evidence to make a reality of Chief Justice Warren's warning that the 'fantastic advances in the field of electronic communication constitute a great danger to the privacy of the individual. . . .' In such circumstances the Government's claim that it should not be put to the task of searching its files for evidence of specific surveillance cannot be treated lightly. I take cognizance of the fact that the mass of aggregate data on the citizenry yielded in this Orwellian era may indeed make the task a difficult one.

(footnotes omitted)

Posted by Baseball Crank at 6:24 AM | Law 2002-04 | Comments (0) | TrackBack (0)
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