Justice Lewis Powell

Justice Lewis Powell joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 7, 1972, replacing Justice Hugo Black. Powell was born on September 19, 1907 in what is now the Hampton Roads area of Virginia. In 1929, he graduated magna cum laude from Washington and Lee University, majoring in commerce. Powell stayed at Washington and Lee for law school, graduating first in his class in 1931. He received an LLM degree from Harvard Law School a year later and then entered private practice in Richmond, Virginia.

During the Second World War, Powell became an intelligence officer and helped to decipher German military communications. He returned to Richmond and his law practice after the war ended. Powell served as the chairman of the Richmond Public School Board between 1952 and 1961, and he later served on the Virginia State Board of Education, where he was the chairman in 1968-1969. He was also the President of the American Bar Association in 1964-1965. President Richard Nixon asked Powell whether he would be interested in joining the U.S. Supreme Court in 1969, but he declined.

Two years later, Powell changed his mind when Nixon asked him again. Nixon nominated him to the Supreme Court on October 22, 1971. The Senate confirmed him on December 6 in an 89-1 vote, and he took the judicial oath about a month later. Powell would spend over 15 years on the Court.

Sometimes called a moderate or centrist, Powell leaned to the right on some key issues and to the left on others. On the one hand, he supported the death penalty and joined an opinion upholding a state law criminalizing sodomy, which dealt a blow to LGBTQ+ rights. On the other hand, he endorsed the constitutional right to abortion and joined an opinion holding that a state cannot deny a free public education to undocumented immigrant children. Reviewing an affirmative action program, Powell found a middle ground by allowing racial preferences but not racial quotas.

Powell retired from the Supreme Court on June 26, 1987 and was replaced by Justice Anthony Kennedy. In 1990, Powell swore in Governor Lawrence Douglas Wilder of Virginia, who was the first elected African-American Governor in U.S. history. Powell died in Richmond on August 25, 1998.

Selected Opinions by Justice Powell:

Arizona v. Mauro (1987)

Topic: Miranda Rights

The purpose of Miranda and Innis is to prevent the government from using the coercive nature of confinement to extract confessions that would not be given in an unrestrained environment. This purpose is not implicated when a suspect is not subjected to compelling influences, psychological ploys, or direct questioning.

McCleskey v. Kemp (1987)

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

A complex statistical study indicating a risk that racial considerations enter into capital sentencing determinations does not necessarily prove that a particular defendant's capital sentence was unconstitutional.

Kuhlmann v. Wilson (1986)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

When the state obtains incriminating statements from the accused after the right to counsel has attached, a defendant does not make out a violation of the right to counsel simply by showing that an informant reported their incriminating statements to the police. Instead, the defendant must demonstrate that the police and their informant took some action beyond merely listening that was designed deliberately to elicit incriminating remarks.

Batson v. Kentucky (1986)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

While a defendant has no right to a jury composed in whole or in part of persons of their own race, the Equal Protection Clause guarantees the defendant that the state will not exclude members of their race from the jury venire on account of race, or on the false assumption that members of their race as a group are not qualified to serve as jurors. In addition, the Equal Protection Clause forbids the prosecutor to challenge potential jurors solely on account of their race or on the assumption that black jurors as a group will be unable impartially to consider the State's case against a black defendant.

Matsushita Electrical Industrial Co., Ltd. v. Zenith Radio Corp. (1986)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures; Antitrust

To survive a motion for summary judgment, a plaintiff seeking damages for a violation of Section 1 of the Sherman Act must present evidence that tends to exclude the possibility that the alleged conspirators acted independently. Also, the absence of any plausible motive to engage in the conduct charged is highly relevant to whether a genuine issue for trial exists within the meaning of Rule 56(e) on summary judgment. Lack of motive bears on the range of permissible conclusions that might be drawn from ambiguous evidence.

Oliver v. U.S. (1984)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The government's intrusion upon open fields is not one of the unreasonable searches proscribed by the Fourth Amendment. No expectation of privacy legitimately attaches to open fields.

Solem v. Helm (1983)

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

Criteria to consider in an Eighth Amendment proportionality analysis include the gravity of the offense and the harshness of the penalty, the sentences imposed on other criminals in the same jurisdiction, and the sentences imposed for the commission of the same crime in other jurisdictions.

Widmar v. Vincent (1981)

Topic: Religion

A state's interest in achieving greater separation of church and state than is already ensured under the Establishment Clause is not sufficiently compelling to justify content-based discrimination against religious speech.

Texas Dept. of Community Affairs v. Burdine (1981)

Topic: Labor & Employment

When a plaintiff in a Title VII case has proved a prima facie case of employment discrimination, the defendant bears only the burden of explaining clearly the non-discriminatory reasons for its actions. It is sufficient if the defendant's evidence raises a genuine issue of fact as to whether it discriminated against the plaintiff.

Arkansas v. Sanders (1979)

Topic: Search & Seizure

In the absence of exigent circumstances, police are required to obtain a warrant before searching luggage taken from an automobile properly stopped and searched for contraband.

Ambach v. Norwick (1979)

Topic: Equal Protection

Some state functions are so bound up with the operation of the state as a governmental entity as to permit the exclusion from those functions of all persons who have not become part of the process of self-government.

Regents of Univ. of California v. Bakke (1978)

Topic: Equal Protection

A state university may take race into account as a factor in its admissions decisions, but it may not use racial quotas.

Continental T.V., Inc. v. GTE Sylvania, Inc. (1977)

Topic: Antitrust

When anti-competitive effects are shown to result from particular vertical restrictions, they can be adequately policed under the rule of reason. (This case concerned only non-price vertical restrictions.)

Maher v. Roe (1977)

Topic: Abortion & Reproductive Rights

The Equal Protection Clause does not require a state participating in the Medicaid program to pay the expenses incident to non-therapeutic abortions for indigent women simply because it has made a policy choice to pay expenses incident to childbirth.

Moore v. City of East Cleveland (1977)

Topic: Due Process

When the government intrudes on choices concerning family living arrangements, the usual deference to the legislature is inappropriate, and a court must examine carefully the importance of the governmental interests advanced and the extent to which they are served by the challenged regulation. More generally, appropriate limits on substantive due process come not from drawing arbitrary lines, but from careful respect for the teachings of history and solid recognition of the basic values that underlie our society.

Fiallo v. Bell (1977)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

Provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act are not unconstitutional for excluding the relationship between an illegitimate child and their natural father (as opposed to their natural mother) from the special preference status accorded by the INA to the child or parent of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

Ingraham v. Wright (1977)

Topic: Due Process

The Due Process Clause does not require notice and a hearing prior to imposition of corporal punishment in public schools as that practice is authorized and limited by the common law.

Village of Arlington Heights v. Metropolitan Housing Dev. Corp. (1977)

Topic: Equal Protection

Proof of a racially discriminatory intent or purpose is required to show a violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

Gregg v. Georgia (1976)

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

The punishment of death for the crime of murder does not, under all circumstances, violate the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments. (This decision ended the temporary moratorium on the death penalty imposed by Furman.)

Kleppe v. Sierra Club (1976)

Topic: Climate Change & Environment

The determination of the region, if any, with respect to which a comprehensive environmental impact statement under the National Environmental Policy Act is necessary requires weighing various factors, such as the extent of the interrelationship among proposed actions and practical considerations of feasibility. Resolving these issues requires a high level of technical expertise and is properly left to the informed discretion of the responsible federal agencies.

Doyle v. Ohio (1976)

Topic: Miranda Rights

A prosecutor may not seek to impeach a defendant's exculpatory story, told for the first time at trial, by cross-examining the defendant about their failure to have told the story after receiving Miranda warnings at the time of their arrest.

Mathews v. Eldridge (1976)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures; Due Process; Government Agencies

Identifying the specific dictates of due process generally requires considering three factors: the private interest that will be affected by the official action; the risk of an erroneous deprivation of that interest through the procedures used, and the probable value of additional or substitute procedural safeguards; and the government's interest, including the function involved and the fiscal and administrative burdens that the additional or substitute procedural requirement would entail. (An evidentiary hearing is not required prior to the termination of Social Security disability payments.)

Gerstein v. Pugh (1975)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The Fourth Amendment requires a judicial determination of probable cause as a prerequisite to extended restraint of liberty following an arrest.

Gertz v. Robert Welch, Inc. (1974)

Topic: Free Speech

So long as they do not impose liability without fault, states may define for themselves the appropriate standard of liability for a publisher or broadcaster of defamatory falsehood that injures a private individual and whose substance makes substantial danger to reputation apparent.

NLRB v. Bell Aerospace Co. (1974)

Topic: Government Agencies

The NLRB is not precluded from announcing new principles in an adjudicative proceeding, and the choice between rulemaking and adjudication lies in the first instance within the NLRB's discretion.

Alexander v. Gardner-Denver Co. (1974)

Topic: Labor & Employment

An employee's statutory right to trial de novo under Title VII is not foreclosed by prior submission of their claim to final arbitration under the non-discrimination clause of a collective bargaining agreement.

McDonnell Douglas Corp. v. Green (1973)

Topic: Labor & Employment

In a private, non-class action complaint under Title VII charging racial employment discrimination, the complainant has the burden of establishing a prima facie case, which they can satisfy by showing that they belong to a racial minority, they applied and were qualified for a job that the employer was trying to fill, they were rejected, and the employer continued to seek applicants with their qualifications.

San Antonio Independent School District v. Rodriguez (1973)

Topic: Due Process; Equal Protection

Strict judicial scrutiny is reserved for cases involving laws that operate to the disadvantage of suspect classes or interfere with the exercise of fundamental rights and liberties explicitly or implicitly protected by the Constitution. (Poverty is not a suspect class, and education is not a fundamental right.)

Lloyd Corp., Ltd. v. Tanner (1972)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

A shopping center does not lose its private character merely because the public is generally invited to use it for the purpose of doing business with the tenants of the center.

Barker v. Wingo (1972)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

A defendant's constitutional right to a speedy trial cannot be established by any inflexible rule. It must be determined on an ad hoc balancing basis in which the conduct of the prosecution and the defendant are weighed. The court should assess factors such as the length of the delay, the reason for the delay, the defendant's assertion of their right, and prejudice to the defendant.