A warrant is an authority issued by a court for a specific action, which would otherwise be illegal; under common law, and to a large extent under civil law too, the state as such has no inherent power to act in a way a private person cannot. The most common warrants are for the purposes of either search or arrest, and they may also be used to allow actions such as telephone tapping. In civil jurisdiction, warrants may be issued to authorize the entry on to premises for the purposes of the seizure or repossession of goods. Warrants must be specific as to time, place and person (the US Fourth Amendment specifically prohibits the issue of general warrants) and the state must demonstrate probable cause in support of its request; it must give adequate reasons for believing that the specified documents, for example, are to be found in the specified place and are reasonably necessary to establish guilt of a specified person. The idea of state action authorized only by warrant is fundamental to civil liberties, but the rigour of the court’s scrutiny of the terms requested is dependent on general political and sociological patterns.
Earl Warren (1891–1974) was the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969, a period always referred to as the ‘Warren Court’, during which the foundation was laid for most of the civil-libertarian doctrines of US constitutional law as it developed in the post-war world. It was no accident that what is usually regarded as the single most important case this century, the overruling of racial discrimination in education in Brown v. Board of Education, came shortly after his appointment, in 1954. The American and Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) had been trying for years to get the Court to make such a decision, but it took Warren’s political skills as well as his deeply-felt liberalism to bring it about. Warren was primarily a politician, although he had entered politics as his state’s attorney-general, who came to prominence as a liberal Republican Governor of California, and was believed to have been appointed Chief Justice in return for supporting President Eisenhower’s presidential campaign. Eisenhower had not expected him to become so active a liberal jurist, and is reputed to have claimed later that the appointment was the biggest mistake of his presidency. From a legal point of view his work had a number of shortcomings, and many landmark decisions of the Warren Court are so inadequately reasoned constitutionally that they are always open to attack. His legacy is that of a leader of the Supreme Court who helped to shape vital constitutional doctrine not only on equal rights, but on criminal civil liberties, in decisions like the drafting in 1966 of the Miranda warning, detailing the rights of police suspects, and also on politically far-reaching decisions enforcing reapportionment of electoral boundaries (see voting rights). None of Earl Warren’s successors to date have had anything like his reputation, either in terms of substance or in terms of his influence on the Court.
The 1948 case of Associated Picture Houses v. Wednesbury Corporation has been hailed as the occasion when English public law broke through from a long period of subservience to the state administration. The case gave its name to a fundamental definition of when courts will intervene to protect a member of the public from arbitrary