1965 March 8

LBJ Affirms Rights of Criminal Suspects


In a Special Message to Congress on this day, President Lyndon Johnson defended the constitutional rights of criminal suspects. His statement came in the midst of a rising public debate over the subject, in which conservatives increasingly attacked Supreme Court decisions, such as Miranda v. Arizona (June 13, 1966) and Mapp v. Ohio (June 19, 1961) as being pro-criminal, anti-police, and claiming they contributed to an increase in crime.

Johnson is the only president who openly defended the constitutional rights of criminal suspects, which he did twice. The other occasion was on June 22, 1966, when he signed the Bail Reform Act into law. However, by his last term in office, LBJ himself turned more conservative on the crime issue.

LBJ: “It has been said, for example, that the fault lies with courts which “coddle criminals,” or, on the other hand, that police officers do not observe the rights of the individual. There is misunderstanding at times between law enforcement officers and some courts. We need to think less, however, about taking sides in such controversies and more about our common objective: law enforcement which is both fair and effective. We are not prepared in our democratic system to pay for improved law enforcement by unreasonable limitations on the individual protections which ennoble our system.”

Read the Speech: http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/print.php?pid=26800

Learn more about LBJ and civil liberties: Samuel Walker, Presidents and Civil Liberties From Wilson to Obama (2012)

Learn more: Stephen Schulhofer, More Essential Than Ever: The Fourth Amendment in the Twenty-First Century (2012)

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