Center for Policing Equity Issues Statement on Supreme Court Ruling Gutting Miranda

June 23 2022

Today's Supreme Court's decision in Vega v. Tekoh removes protections against police abuse and eliminates one of the few incentives for police to treat communities with what should be constitutionally protected dignity. The decision guts the 1966 Miranda v. Arizona decision requiring law enforcement officers to inform anyone they detain of their Fifth and Sixth Amendment rights–to remain silent, be represented by an attorney, and be protected against self-incrimination—holding individual officers legally blameless. This dangerous development adds to an already alarming erosion of rights and protections established in the 157 years since the abolition of chattel slavery in the United States of America.

Known colloquially as "Miranda Rights," the verbal Miranda Warning is among a series of rights and protections intended to prevent the nation's criminal legal systems from the kind of capricious abuses that have long plagued Black and Brown communities. Beginning with the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments and continuing through a series of laws and rulings in response to the Civil Rights Movement, a majority of the actions that were intended to serve as guardrails against systems of oppression and enslavement in the United States are now in retreat.

The Vega ruling not only guts Miranda, but also eviscerates a law that dates to the Reconstruction Era: Passed in 1871 as part of the Third Enforcement Act (also known as the Ku Klux Klan Act), Law 42 U.S.C. s 1983 came in response to attacks on the voting rights of Black men, providing the mechanism for suing government actors over violations of constitutional rights–indeed, the law came in specific response to the actions of police officers who were acting on behalf of the Klan. The right to an equal education established in Brown v. Board of Education is under attack by extremists working to remove the history of slavery and Jim Crow from schools—schools that are now more racially segregated than they were before Brown was settled law. The right to the franchise–established by the 14th Amendment and reiterated in the Voting Rights Act–was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013 and has since been sabotaged by laws, rulings, and regulations serving collectively to strip millions of Black and Brown people of the right to vote. The Miranda ruling, though imperfect, provided some protection from the predations of law enforcement systems that grew out of slave patrols; today's decision ends accountability for officers who exploit any weaknesses in community members' grasp of constitutional law.

Though Miranda was not meant to protect non-White people explicitly, the criminal legal system has always disproportionately targeted Black and Brown communities; the decision to gut it will compound the burdens of policing with which these communities already live.

Each of the guardrails erected against our systems of oppression and enslavement was made intentionally weak. While the 13th Amendment abolished slavery, it came with a loophole allowing structures of anti-Black state violence to remain. Since the height of the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s, courts have allowed people the right to sue police officers for violations of their constitutional rights; however, they left this right often unenforceable due to the shield of qualified immunity. We are now seeing those weak guardrails removed entirely, with qualified immunity too often replaced by absolute immunity. This dangerous shift will make the nation even more vulnerable to an openly anti-Black and anti-Brown agenda of White supremacy. If we are to prevent the further unraveling of the protections to which this nation's Black and Brown people are entitled, we must name the consequences of these efforts, put them in historical context, and resist them with the full genius of those communities who will suffer the abuses enabled by today's tragic decision.


About Center for Policing Equity: As a research and action organization, Center for Policing Equity (CPE) produces analyses identifying and helping to reduce the causes of racial disparities in law enforcement. Using evidence-based approaches to social justice, we use data to create levers for social, cultural, and policy change. Center for Policing Equity also holds a 501(c)3 status.