Fifty years ago we watched the assassination of a president. Iconic still-frames are etched in the memory: Jackie lunging over the trunk; Lyndon Johnson being sworn in as President on Air Force One; and John John in his short blue jacket saluting the casket of his dead father. The Kennedy assassination and the tumult of the 50s and 60s was the culture of “The Warren Court” that framed much of how we as attorneys practice today.
Fifty years ago was also the landmark Gideon v. Wainright ruling which forever changed criminal justice in our country by providing every person charged with a felony the right to counsel as guaranteed under the Sixth Amendment (“In all criminal prosecution, the accused shall…have the assistance of counsel for his defense.”) Before Gideon, defendants had the right to an attorney only in the prosecution of federal felonies. Gideon applied the right to state felonies.
Fifty years later, 2013 will be remembered for the landmark Supreme Court case regarding the Defense of Marriage Act decision in Windsor v. United States. Justice Kennedy invoked the due process clause and the equal protection principles of the Fifth Amendment (“No person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…”) holding that states have the power to define marriage, not the federal government, and if a state marriage is valid, then it is legally recognized by the federal government. California is one of seventeen states legally recognizing same sex marriage.
Fifty years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, 2013 saw the Supreme Court strike down a key part of the act, removing a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting. In Shelby v. Holder, plaintiff Shelby County had a history of racial discrimination in voting and because of its history needed “preclearance” from the federal government before it made changes to its voting procedures. Ruled unconstitutional, Congress now holds the keys to enact legislation addressing voting access and barriers to guarantee the 15th Amendment protections.
Fifty(ish) years after the Warren Court’s Miranda decision gave us the ubiquitous “right to remain silent,” in 2013, the Supreme Court decided Salinas v. Texas, which contemplated whether one can invoke these “rights” without actually stating them. The Fifth Amendment does not actually contain a “right to remain silent.” Rather, this right is extrapolated from the Fifth’s privilege against self-incrimination: “No person shall be…compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself…” In Salinas, the defendant voluntarily walked into a police station, answered questions, and then when asked about the murder, looked down at the floor and went silent. The government used his silence as an indication of guilt. The Supreme Court opined that if the defendant wanted the protection of the Fifth Amendment when he walked in and talked to police, he should have spoken up and actually invoked it.
Fifty years from now, it will be interesting to see if pop culture will have popularized Salinas the way it did Miranda. How will people know they must invoke this right? What about: people without TV; people unfamiliar with the culture; people who speak languages other than English; different linguistic usages of invoking the right (“Yo, I know my right about that silence stuff ”); or even technological changes? Can one text: “I have a rt 2 b silent?” How would a newcomer to the United States know they had a right to remain silent if they hadn’t seen reruns of Law and Order?
Fifty years ago, I grew up without television in a house perched on the side of Oregon’s Neahkahnie Mountain 500 feet above the Pacific Ocean with a view 50 miles down the coastline. Ours was the first home-site on the newly platted “development,” and the power company told my father that in order to provide electricity to the lot, Edison would be putting the power pole in the center of his view of the ocean. My father declined the impact to our view and so we built the house by hand and lived without electricity until I was 12, when all power was undergrounded. We had kerosene lamps and candles for light; a wood stove for heat; and a propane water heater, refrigerator, and range. After high school, I received a degree in history from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. With my husband, Bill, we migrated to Fillmore in 1986 to learn his grandfather’s orange business, and two years later I started working for John Scoles of Taylor & Scoles. Ventura College of Law allowed me to work and attend school. After the bar, I started my transactional practice in Fillmore in estate planning, probate and trust administration. I am also the Director of the Santa Clara Valley Legal Aid, which is open to all needy people every Thursday evening in Fillmore and staffed by all volunteer attorneys. The orange orchards that brought us here have now been replaced by fields of jalapeño peppers which we grow for Sriracha Chili Sauce. Our children are the fifth generation growing up in our historic home in Bardsdale.
Fifty years ago, the last Ventura County Bar president from Fillmore was selected after allegedly drawing the short straw at a raucous, generously scotch-filled annual county bar meeting in Ojai. Thirteen years before that in 1950, Fillmore’s John Galvan became Ventura County Bar’s first president. Mr. Galvan’s office is the one I have occupied for the past couple of decades. Also in the fifties, Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren penned a thank you note, hanging on my wall, to our founding partner, Art Taylor, reminiscing about their times as roommates at Berkeley. I honor the connections of our heritage and thank you for the honor of being your president, fifty years after the last president from Fillmore.
Laura Bartels practices in Fillmore at Taylor Scoles & Bartels.