Professor Kamisar’s greatest impact on the court came in 1966, in its decision in Miranda.
The year before, he had published a lengthy essay in which he compared the American legal system to a gatehouse and a mansion — the gatehouse being the police interrogation room and the mansion being the courtroom.
“The courtroom is a splendid place where defense attorneys bellow and strut and prosecuting attorneys are hemmed in at many turns,” he wrote. “But what happens before an accused reaches the safety and enjoys the comfort of this veritable mansion? Ah, there’s the rub. Typically he must first pass through a much less pretentious edifice, a police station with bare back rooms and locked doors.”
The courts offered extensive protections, rooted in the Fifth Amendment, covering the right against self-incrimination. But no such protections existed in the police station, where interrogators could coerce a suspect to confess.
No system of justice could last long, Professor Kamisar argued, if it relied on the coerced flow of information from the accused. The court agreed. In a decision written by Chief Justice Warren and citing Professor Kamisar’s work, it ruled in 1966 that criminal defendants had to be informed of their rights before being questioned, especially their rights to remain silent and to legal counsel.
That same year Time magazine wrote that “at 37, Kamisar has already produced a torrent of speeches and endless writings that easily make him the most overpowering criminal-law scholar in the U.S.” Others called him the “father of Miranda.”
With the Supreme Court’s imprimatur, Professor Kamisar spent the rest of his career building his chosen field — he co-wrote its leading casebook, “Modern Criminal Procedure” (Professor Kerr, Professor King and Professor Primus later became co-authors) — and defending the Miranda ruling from conservative pushback.
Professor Kamisar’s concern for the vulnerable, and his worries about the reach of government power, motivated his other area of great interest: assisted suicide and euthanasia. If his position on the rights of the accused won him admirers among civil libertarians, many of those same people were flummoxed by his opposition to laws that would seem, on their face, to enshrine an equally important right, over one’s own death.