Selective incorporation has profoundly altered American federalism. Before the process started the federal courts had little to say about the day-to-day operation of state and local governments. Those governments regulated speech and the press; handled criminal investigations, prosecutions, and punishments; and for a time even had official, established churches, all without interference from federal agents or courts. That time has long since passed.
With the incorporation of the freedom of speech and the press came federal guidelines for states and localities concerning what type of expression must be allowed in books, magazines, and movies. The federal courts tell states what sort of anti-obscenity and anti-pornography laws they may pass and enforce, and what sorts of marches, rallies, and protests they must allow in public places. Whether the Chicago suburb of Skokie must allow Nazis to march through its Jewish neighborhoods—or a city in Florida may prevent the sale of albums by 2 Live Crew—is now a question involving the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the First Amendment.
The incorporation of the Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth Amendments has changed the way state and local authorities enforce criminal law. Law enforcement officials must now pay particular attention to the way in which they interrogate suspects and must stop interrogations upon request, until a suspect has a lawyer present. Courts must appoint counsel for any indigent accused of a crime that carries a jail sentence, and judges must not allow evidence to be introduced at trial that was obtained in violation of the rights of the accused.
The incorporation of these and other rights has made criminal justice systems fairer for the accused and more uniform from state to state. The nationalization of these rights has helped us achieve a fuller realization of the promises contained in the Preamble to the Constitution, that the American people might establish justice and form a more perfect Union.