Pointer v. Texas/Concurrence Harlan

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Case Syllabus
Opinion of the Court
Concurring Opinions

United States Supreme Court

380 U.S. 400

Pointer  v.  Texas

 Argued: March 15, 1965. --- Decided: April 5, 1965

Mr. Justice HARLAN, concurring in the result.

I agree that in the circumstances the admission of the statement in question deprived the petitioner of a right of 'confrontation' assured by the Fourteenth Amendment. I cannot subscribe, however, to the constitutional reasoning of the Court.

The Court holds that the right of confrontation guaranteed by the Sixth Amendment in federal criminal trials is carried into state criminal cases by the Fourteenth Amendment. This is another step in the onward march of the long-since discredited 'incorporation' doctrine (see, e.g., Fairman, Does the Fourteenth Amendment Incorporate the Bill of Rights? The Original Understanding, 2 Stan.L.Rev. 5 (1949); Frankfurter, Memorandum on 'Incorporation' of the Bill of Rights Into the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, 78 Harv.L.Rev. 746 (1965)), which for some reason that I have not yet been able to fathom has come into the sunlight in recent years. See, e.g., Mapp v. Ohio, 367 U.S. 643, 81 S.Ct. 1684, 6 L.Ed.2d 1081; Ker v. State of California, 374 U.S. 23, 83 S.Ct. 1623, 10 L.Ed.2d 726; Malloy v. Hogan, 378 U.S. 1, 84 S.Ct. 1489, 12 L.Ed.2d 653.

For me this state judgment must be reversed because a right of confrontation is 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty,' Palko v. State of Connecticut, 302 U.S. 319, 325, 58 S.Ct. 149, 152, 82 L.Ed. 288, reflected in the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment independently of the Sixth.

While either of these constitutional approaches brings one to the same end result in this particular case, there is a basic difference between the two in the kind of future constitutional development they portend. The concept of Fourteenth Amendment due process embodied in Palko and a host of other thoughtful past decisions now rapidly falling into discard, recognizes that our Constitution tolerates, indeed encourages, differences between the methods used to effectuate legitimate federal and state concerns, subject to the requirements of fundamental fairness 'implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.' The philosophy of 'incorporation,' on the other hand, subordinates all such state differences to the particular requirements of the Federal Bill of Rights (but see Ker v. State of California, supra, 374 U.S., at 34, 83 S.Ct., at 1630) and increasingly subjects state legal processes to enveloping federal judicial authority. 'Selective' incorporation or 'absorption' amounts to little more than a diluted form of the full incorporation theory. Whereas it rejects full incorporation because of recognition that not all of the guarantees of the Bill of Rights should be deemed 'fundamental,' it at the same time ignores the possibility that not all phases of any given guaranty described in the Bill of Rights are necessarily fundamental.

It is too often forgotten in these times that the American federal system is itself constitutionally ordained, that it embodies values profoundly making for lasting liberties in this country, and that its legitimate requirements demand continuing solid recognition in all phases of the work of this Court. The 'incorporation' doctrines, whether full blown or selective, are both historically and constitutionally unsound and incompatible with the maintenance of our federal system on even course.

Notes edit

This work is in the public domain in the United States because it is a work of the United States federal government (see 17 U.S.C. 105).

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