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High court closer to middle than right or left would like

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FORMER Supreme Court Associate Justice Arthur J. Goldberg says that ``the Burger court is not as conservative as some liberals feared and not as conservative as some conservatives hoped'' Justice Goldberg, an appointee of President John F. Kennedy in 1962, served three years on the high tribunal and was considered part of a liberal coalition on the Warren court.

The other living retired associate justice, Potter Stewart, an Eisenhower appointee, served from 1959 to 1981. When Justice Stewart retired, Ronald Reagan replaced him with Sandra Day O'Connor.

Some legal observers felt this last change would mark the end of a liberal-moderate era for the court and the start of a conservative trend that would grip the high tribunal for decades to come. But that has not occurred, as former Justice Goldberg indicates.

Most legal scholars agree that the court under Chief Justice Warren E. Burger has broken less ground in the area of civil liberties and minority rights than it did under the 15-year tutelege of Chief Justice Earl Warren.

But even strong civil liberties advocates, such as American Civil Liberties Union lawyer Bert Neubourne, concede the Burger court has made significant gains, of late, in protecting individual rights -- particularly bolstering the role of women in the workplace.

What most troubles Mr. Neubourne and other liberals is that the Burger court has, at the same time, restricted some Warren court decisions that afforded broad protections to the accused in criminal proceedings. So-called Miranda rulings and Exclusionary Rule decisions (dealing with reading of rights to suspects and invalidating court evidence that is tainted by improper police procedures) have been significantly modified.

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