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Digital History ID 3334

 

Ghetto rioting, the rise of black militancy, and resentment over Great Society social legislation combined to produce a backlash among many whites. Commitment to bringing black Americans into full equality declined. In the wake of the riots, many whites fled the nation's cities. The Census Bureau estimated that 900,000 whites moved each year from central cities to the suburbs between 1965 and 1970.

The 1968 Republican candidate, Richard Nixon, promised to eliminate "wasteful" federal antipoverty programs and to name "strict constructionists" to the Supreme Court. As president, Nixon moved quickly to keep his commitments. In an effort to curb Great Society social programs, Nixon did away with the Model Cities Program and the Office of Economic Opportunity. "The time may have come," declared a Nixon aide, "when the issue of race could benefit from a period of benign neglect." The administration urged Congress not to extend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and to end the Fair Housing Enforcement Program.

Nixon also made a series of Supreme Court appointments that brought to an end the liberal activist era of the Warren Court. During the 1960s, the Supreme Court greatly increased the ability of criminal defendants to defend themselves. In Mapp v. Ohio (1961), the high court ruled that evidence secured by the police through unreasonable searches must be excluded from trial. In Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), it declared that indigent defendants have a right to a court-appointed attorney. In Escobedo v. Illinois (1964), it ruled that suspects being interrogated by police have a right to legal counsel.

As president, Nixon promised to alter the balance between the rights of criminal defendants and society's rights. He selected Warren Burger, a moderate conservative, to replace Earl Warren as chief justice of the Supreme Court. He also nominated two conservative white Southerners for a second court vacancy, only to have both nominees rejected (one for financial improprieties, the other for alleged insensitivities to civil rights). Nixon eventually named four justices to the high court: Burger, Harry Blackmun, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist.

Under Chief Justice Burger and his successor William Rehnquist, the Supreme Court clarified the remedies that could be used to correct past racial discrimination. In 1974, the Court limited the use of school busing for purposes of racial desegregation by declaring that busing could not take place across school district lines. In 1978, in the landmark Bakke case, the Court held that educational institutions could take race into account when screening applicants, but could not use rigid racial quotas. The following year, however, the court ruled that employers and unions could legally establish voluntary programs, including the use of quotas, to aid minorities and women in employment.

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