Decline of Civil Liberties: SCOTUS, Stand Your Ground and Stop-and-Frisk

Decline of Civil Liberties: SCOTUS, Stand Your Ground and Stop-and-Frisk


By Dr. Wilmer J. Leon III

Some of the most sweeping decisions pertaining to civil liberties for Americans came during the Warren Court (1953-1969).

The Warren Court ended school segregation with the Brown v. Board of Education (1954) decision. In Mapp v. Ohio (1961) the Warren Court established the exclusionary rule which banned courts from using evidence obtained in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) the Court unanimously declared that State courts must provide attorney’s to indigent defendants in felony cases. The right to privacy was established in Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) allowing individual access to contraception. This is the premise that the Burger Court used to rule in Roe v. Wade (1973). In Miranda v. Arizona (1966) the Warren Court held that the Fifth Amendment requires police officials to advise suspects of their rights before they are interrogated.

Even as a Republican chief justice nominated by a conservative Republican president (Eisenhower), Warren understood that the framers of the Constitution constructed a document to protect individual liberties and rights against infringement by the government. Since the end of the Warren Court conservatives have been chipping away at the protections that have been provided by Warren. If Americans do not start “connecting the dots,” the decline in civil liberty protections may erode to the point of no return.

The most recent examples of these erosions are the Stand Your Ground Law, Stop and Frisk, the 2012 Defense Authorization Act (DAA), and Attorney General Eric Holder’s assessment that a president can assassinate U.S. citizens in foreign countries without judicial overview.

A stand-your-ground law states that a person may use force in self-defense when there is reasonable belief of a threat, without an obligation to retreat first. More than half of states in the United States have adopted the Castle doctrine, stating that a person has no duty to retreat when their home is attacked. The stand-your-ground law allows for a person to use deadly force when faced with a perceived threat, with no obligation to retreat when they are away from their home, even in public spaces. The Treyvon Martin case is the most recent example of how this law is a threat to the civil rights and civil liberties of innocent individuals.

Stop-and-Frisk came out of the Warren Court decision in Terry v. Ohio (1968) where the principle in question was whether the police require a certain level of flexibility in dealing with quickly evolving and potentially dangerous situations that arise during routine patrol of the streets. The Court held that an officer can stop-and frisk if that officer has a reasonable suspicion that a person has committed, is committing, or is about to commit a crime and has a reasonable belief that the person “may be armed and presently dangerous.” (392 U.S. 1, at 30.)

According to the NY Civil Liberties Union, NYPD officers have stopped more than 4 million New Yorkers since the department began collecting data on the program in 2004. The latest stop-and-frisk report shows that the NYPD stopped and interrogated New Yorkers 152,311 times between July 1 and Sept. 30, 2011. About 88 percent of those encounters did not result in arrests or tickets. Nearly 85 percent of those stopped were Black or Latino. Whites, who represent 33 percent of the city’s population, accounted for less than 9 percent of people stopped. Stop-and-frisk has become a license to harass innocent individuals based upon racial profiling without any data to show a direct correlation to a reduction in crime.

During a speech at Northwestern University’s Law School, Eric Holder explained that the American government can kill American citizens abroad under the following conditions, “First, the U.S. government has determined, after a thorough and careful review, that the individual poses an imminent threat of violent attack against the United States; second, capture is not feasible; and third, the operation would be conducted in a manner consistent with applicable law of war principles.”

There’s one small problem with Holder’s analysis, it’s called the Constitution. Holder is wrong on the law, wrong on the politics, and on the wrong side of history.

Holder’s comments are even more disturbing when considered in the context of President Obama signing the 2012 Defense Authorization Act (DAA). Section 1021 of the Act allows for the indefinite detention of American citizens and/or anyone who commits a “belligerent act” against the U.S. By signing the 2012 DAA President Obama reaffirmed Bush’s suspension of habeas corpus instead of overturning it. So now, not only can American citizens be indefinitely detained, they can also be assassinated by their own government at the will and whim of their President.

Benjamin Franklin is credited with saying, “those who will sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.” If Americans don’t pay closer attention to the direction to the laws that are being passed under the pretext of security they will have neither liberty nor security.

Dr. Wilmer Leon III is the producer and host of the nationally broadcast call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon,” and a Teaching Associate in the Department of Political Science at Howard University. Go to his Prescription @ Face He can be reached at or by email:


  1. Is it too late for students of Leon to ask for their tuition money back from such an inferior hack of a professor? Why bother with trials and juries when he can wave his hand and declare who is and was "innocent" in any conflict between two parties.

  2. Lumping Stand Your Ground in with other civil liberties encroachments is disingenuine, and flat-out BS.

    Stand Your Ground is a LIBERATING influence, not an erosion of individual rights. It guarantees that the government can’t politically lynch peaceable people for justly defending their lives, anyplace they have a right to be.

    So stop with the leftist crap. It’s transparent.

  3. The Treyvon Martin case has nothing to do with the "duty to retreat" because at the time he was shot his intended victim was unable to retreat. That is, the autopsy shows that Martin was shot while sitting over Zimmerman, who was on his back.