In re Gault was the Supreme Court's initial foray into what Mr. Justice Fortas called "a peculiar system for juveniles, unknown to our law in any comparable context" -the juvenile courts. With becoming modesty, the Court limited its inquiry to one portion of juvenile proceedings, the adjudicatory stage, and passed on only certain aspects of that stage. Starting with the undisputed proposition that the due process clause has "a role to play" in evaluating the juvenile justice system, the Court saw the problem as one of ascertaining the "precise impact" of that requirement on the trial of delinquency cases.
Surely, no one doubts that the Gault decision was "constitutional" in nature. And Mr. Stapleton would be the first to point out that the Court could not have rendered a "sociological" decision-if, indeed, such an animal exists. On the other hand, the Court did take account of certain social science materials6 in determining the "precise impact" of the due process clause on delinquency cases. And the importance of these materials and correlatively, of the way in which they were evaluated depends, in large part, on the exact principle upon which the Court based its decision.
Lee E. Teitelbaum,
Gault and the "Experimenting Society": A Response to Mr. Stapleton,
Yale Rev. L. & Soc. Action
Available at: https://digitalcommons.law.yale.edu/yrlsa/vol1/iss2/9