Earl Warren

views updated May 18 2018

Earl Warren

During the 16-year term of Earl Warren (1891-1974), a chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court decided a series of landmark cases regarding individual civil liberties and civil rights, particularly for minority groups.

Earl Warren's legal philosophy was opposed to the laissez-faire doctrine that had previously prevailed. His public life before he came to the Supreme Court had been pragmatic rather than activist. He had a natural flair for administration; his prosecutive experience gave him broad insights into the inequities of criminal justice, and he had a realistic understanding of the debilitating effects of racial segregation.

Warren, the son of a Norwegian immigrant, was born in Los Angeles, California, on March 19, 1891, and grew up in Bakersfield. He attended the School of Jurisprudence of the University of California at Berkeley, where he supported himself by working as a law clerk in a local office. Admitted to the bar in 1914, he had a meager practice in California before he enlisted in the Army in 1917.

In 1919 Warren became the clerk to the Judiciary Committee, a potent force in the California Legislature. He rose quickly to deputy city attorney of Oakland and then to deputy district attorney, chief deputy (1923), and district attorney (1925) of Alameda County. In 1925 he married Nina P. Meyers. During his 14 years as district attorney, he prosecuted thousands of criminal cases in an unrelenting fight against crime. Still, he said, "I never heard a jury bring in a verdict of guilty but what I felt sick in the pit of my stomach."

Attorney General

In 1939 Warren began campaigning for attorney general of California. In the midst of this, the tragedy of his life struck; his father was murdered as he sat by the window in the living room. Made more determined by this, Warren pledged to pursue strict law enforcement and to conduct a nonpartisan office. He was easily elected and soon became one of the best-known state attorneys general in the country. He was the resolute foe of the gambling syndicates as well as organized crime.

World War II was in progress, and these were tumultuous times. In 1941 Pearl Harbor catapulted Warren into controversy. California had long been the base of the aircraft industry and was now producing military planes and "liberty ships." At the outbreak of the war between the United States and Japan it was imperative that war matériel production be maintained. Public sentiment against Japanese people reached a frenzy, especially in California, which had over 100, 000 residents of Japanese extraction, two-thirds of whom were American citizens. Violence against these people began to break out, and accusations of disloyalty to the United States were made. Minisubs of the Japanese fleet were off the coast of California; bombs from balloons fell in the forests of Oregon and Washington. The West Coast became a virtual powder keg. Though history may treat the internment of some 112, 000 of these Japanese residents as a brutal violation of the Constitution, Warren made this decision in a desperate hour, and it was approved by the Supreme Court.

Governor of California

Warren was elected governor of California by an overwhelming majority in 1942 and was reelected in 1946 and 1950, serving until he was appointed chief justice of the United States in 1953. A progressive governor, he brought about many statutory reforms, including a unified judiciary, water control, prison modernization, and a new higher education system. In 1944 he was a darkhorse candidate for the presidency of the United States but failed to be nominated. In 1948 he was the vice-presidential running mate of Thomas E. Dewey on the Republican ticket. In a third try for national office, Warren headed the California delegation to the Republican convention in 1952, but Dwight Eisenhower was nominated. Warren became a strong supporter of Eisenhower in the subsequent campaign.

Chief Justice

When President Eisenhower appointed Warren to the Supreme Court, he said that he "wanted a man whose reputation for integrity, honesty, middle of the road philosophy, experience in government, experience in the law … will make a great Chief Justice." A great chief justice was long overdue. In its 163d year, the Supreme Court had accomplished little in establishing "equal justice under law" in the actual lives of most Americans. While some of the chief justices who preceded Warren doubtless aspired to give real meaning to the phrase, they could not quite bring it about. Though the due-process clause of the 14th Amendment had been written into the Constitution 85 years before Warren came to the bench, only portions of the Bill of Rights had been applied through that clause against action by individual states. Further, the equal-protection clause of the 14th Amendment had been recognized only in very limited areas. It had not been utilized in the grade schools, in public facilities, or in transportation.

In the field of criminal justice, though lip service had been given to individual rights, the fact is that in state cases poor persons were not furnished a transcript of the trial for appeal or given counsel at any stage of the litigation, save in capital cases. And while the right to vote is the sine qua non of a free society, America had for a century and a half permitted invidious discrimination in legislative reapportionment. Finally, the doctrine of lack of standing in taxpayers' suits had for years acted as an impenetrable barrier to the testing of the constitutionality of many acts of Congress.

Racial Desegregation

The 14th Amendment to the Federal Constitution, adopted in 1868, declared "all persons born … in the United States" to be citizens there of and guaranteed them, among other things, "the equal protection of the laws." However, African Americans struggled long and hard before they obtained these equal rights. It was not until 1954 that an 1896 constitutional rule of "separate but equal" treatment of the races was overturned in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka. In his opinion for the Court, Warren declared that "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal" and concluded that "in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place."

The Brown decision triggered cases attacking segregated public facilities in transportation, libraries, parks, and so forth. Finally, its doctrine was extended in 1964 to places of public accommodation such as restaurants and hotels. The opinion also sparked a tempest of controversy that brought the dawn of a new day in America's economic, social, and political life.

Criminal Justice

Winston Churchill said that history judges the quality of a civilization by its system of criminal justice. If this be true, American civilization will owe much of its standing to Warren's leadership. Beginning with Griffin v. Illinois (1956), which required states to furnish an indigent criminal defendant with a copy of the evidence adduced at his trial, and extending to Miranda v. Arizona (1967), which afforded counsel to an indigent before interrogation, there was a continual wave of cases that gave substance to the guarantees afforded every individual in the Bill of Rights. These included Mapp v. Ohio, extending the protection against unreasonable search and seizure of the 4th Amendment to actions of the states; Gideon v. Wainwright, giving the 6th Amendment's guarantee of counsel that same coverage; Malloy v. Hogan, protecting the individual from self-incrimination by state action, and Berger v. New York, guarding the privacy of the individual from self-incrimination by state action; and Berger v. New York, guarding the privacy of the individual against eavesdropping by the state.

Like the segregation cases, these opinions aroused a storm of protest. The Chief Justice, as well as the Court, was accused of handcuffing the police, causing a crime wave, and coddling criminals. But the Court continued to follow the principle that when the rights of any individual or group are transgressed, the freedom of all is threatened. In short, it translated the ideals of the Bill of Rights into a strong shield for the individual against both the federal and state governments.

Political Process

As Warren said in Reynolds v. Sims, "The right to vote freely for the candidate of one's choice is of the essence of a democratic society, and any restrictions on that right strike at the heart of representative government." This right includes not only casting one's vote but also the right to have the vote counted at its full value. Nevertheless, prior to Baker v. Carr (1962), the ballots of rural voters had from 10 to 30 times the weight of those of city dwellers. Warren said in Reynolds v. Sims, "Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests … The weight of the citizen's vote cannot be made to depend on where he lives."

The impact of the voting cases was tremendous. Thus, there were some 25 cases subsequent to Baker. The political process in representative governments was completely transformed. In the long run the effect of these cases may be more important than those condemning segregation. The right to vote is the citizen's most powerful weapon in a democratic society. Because legislators listened to the voices of voters, the equality of those voices foced them to listen more attentively. One of the basic problems America faced in the city ghettoes included the result of the dominance of the rural voter. The new "one man, one vote" slogan changed the politics of every state in the Union. The decisions of the Chief Justice in segregation, criminal law, and apportionment cases culminated in a campaign to impeach him. He completely ignored it. When asked why he did not fight back, he replied, "A senator or governor may explain or defend his position publicly but not members of the Court. We can't be guided by what people think or say … by public appraisal. If we were we would be deciding cases on other than legal bases."

Taxpayer Suits

In his decision in Flast v. Cohen, which the Chief Justice wrote in 1968, he made it possible for citizens to bring "test suits" to the Court. This was one of his last opinions and one of the most important. Because the Court can pass only on legal controversies brought to it, the number of people able to litigate a question is important. Flast was an opening wedge in enlarging the ways and means by which any taxpayer can bring a suit to the Supreme Court. This contributed to opening the door of litigation, bringing forth the greatest surge of citizen participation that any democracy has attained.

Through self-discipline and public experience Warren learned never to permit the clamor of the public or the private pressures of individuals or groups to influence his decisions. Some critics called him a crying liberal, but he classified himself as a conservative-liberal. He had courage, a simple but strong faith in humanity, a practical and varied public experience, and a determination to improve the lot of the common man. As Chief Justice, he extended those horizons in five categories of the law, including racial desegregations, criminal justice, the political process, taxpayer standing to test legislative action, and the all-important field of judicial administration, which enables the courts to function efficiently.

Improved Court Administration

The job of the judge is twofold: first, to determine the rule of law and second, to apply the rule determined. Warren soon found that the legal profession was placing greater emphasis on substantive problems than on administration. As a consequence, court dockets had become congested, the trial bar had decreased in size, and criminal law had become degraded. For over 16 years Warren preached the dogma of improved court administration. In his final address to the American Law Institute on June 2, 1969, he summed up the problem in these words, "We have never come to grips with … court administration… . We should make bold plans to see that our courts are properly managed to do the job the public expects … We must do everything that modern institutions these days do in order to keep up with growth and changes in the times."

In fact, Warren made "bold plans" for the federal system and implemented them. The Judicial Conference of the United States was transformed from a club for chief judges of the courts of appeals into an effective general administrator for the federal courts. Its membership was increased to include trial court representation; the rule making power for federal courts was transferred to it from the Supreme Court; and a complete reorganization of the conferences was effected through a reduction of the number of committees. The administrative office of the federal courts was thus strengthened and reorganized. The Federal Judicial Center, Warren's brainchild, was authorized by Congress and organized into a potent force in judicial administration.

After Robert Kennedy's assassination, Warren feared that nothing could stop Richard M. Nixon from winning the 1968 presidential race. The two men had been bitter enemies since their days as California politicians nearly twenty years before. At age seventy-seven, the chief justice knew that he could not outlast a four-year conservative administration. To prevent Nixon from appointing his successor, Warren submitted his resignation to President Lyndon Johnson on June 11, 1968. He served until 1969. At the request of President Lyndon Johnson, Warren reluctantly headed the commission of inquiry into the circumstances of the assassination of President John Kennedy. He concluded that the killing was not part of a domestic or foreign conspiracy.

He was honorary chairman of the World Peace through Law Center. As chairman of the World Association of Judges from 1966 to 1969, he brought to the judicial forums of the world the message that he had written indelibly into American jurisprudence: only equal justice under law will bring peace, order, and stability to the world.

Warren died on July 9, 1974, in Washington, D.C.

Further Reading

The most significant papers of Warren's early career are collected in The Public Papers of Chief Justice Earl Warren, edited by Henry M. Christman (1959). The most complete biography is John D. Weaver, Warren: The Man, the Court, the Era (1967). A shorter work is Bill Severn, Mr. Chief Justice: Earl Warren (1968).

A superficial, laudatory account is Luther A. Huston, Pathway to Judgment: A Study of Earl Warren (1966). Biographical sketches and excellent photographs of Warren and other members of his Court are in John P. Frank, The Warren Court (1964). A critical analysis of the Warren Court and its work was edited by Richard H. Sayler and others, The Warren Court (1969). Other books on the Court include Alexander M. Bickel, Politics and the Warren Court (1965), and Archibald Cox, The Warren Court (1968). Clifford M. Lytle collected various statements from critics of the Warren Court in The Warren Court and His Critics (1968). □

Warren, Earl

views updated May 21 2018


(b. 19 March 1891 in Los Angeles, California; d. 9 July 1974 in Washington, D.C.), three-term governor of California and distinguished American jurist who served for sixteen years as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1953–1969) during one of the most turbulent periods in U.S. history.

Warren was the only son of Methias H. (Matt) Warren and Christine Hernlund. Matt Warren, a railroad worker, had immigrated to the United States from Norway as a teenager. Christine Warren, a homemaker, was of Swedish ancestry. In 1894 the family, including Warren's older sister, moved to Bakersfield, California, where Matt Warren found work in a repair yard of the Southern Pacific Railroad. During his school years in Bakersfield, Warren worked summers for the Southern Pacific as a "call boy," notifying crew members when they were scheduled to go on duty. This proved an eye-opening experience for the young Warren, who witnessed firsthand the ability of large corporations to dominate the lives of their employees, as well as the powerlessness of minorities in the face of discrimination. Living in Bakersfield, a rough-and-tumble frontier town in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, also exposed Warren to "crime and vice of all kinds countenanced by a corrupt government," he recalled.

After graduating from Kern County High School in Bakersfield, Warren headed to Berkeley, where he studied law at the University of California, earning his bachelor's degree in 1912 and his law degree in 1914. He joined the law firm of Robinson and Robinson, working there for a couple of years, and was about to launch his own law practice when the United States entered World War I in 1917. After a brief stint in the U.S. Army, Warren in 1920 joined the district attorney's office in Alameda County in the hope that the experience would broaden his legal expertise. He spent the next eighteen years with the office, including three four-year terms as district attorney. In October 1925 Warren married a widow, Nina Palmquist Meyers, and adopted her young son. The couple later had five children.

During his twelve-year tenure as district attorney, Warren developed a reputation as a tough, no-nonsense prosecutor, although he remained sensitive to the rights of the accused and fought personally to ensure that all those accused received a competent defense regardless of their ability to pay. He ran his office in nonpartisan fashion, strongly supporting the autonomy of county law enforcement agencies. In 1938 Warren was elected attorney general of California. Near the end of his term, in 1942, he supervised the forcible relocation of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans on the grounds that they posed a threat to the security of the United States in the wake of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Although for most of his life Warren defended the internment as the correct action in view of the military situation at the time, in his memoirs he acknowledged that the relocation was a mistake.

Warren was elected governor of California in a landslide victory in 1942, his first of three terms in the state's highest office. Republican presidential candidate Thomas A. Dewey tapped Warren as his running mate in 1948. Although Warren campaigned vigorously for the Republican (conservative) ticket, Dewey was upset at the polls by incumbent Harry S Truman. A strong supporter of Dwight D. Eisenhower's presidential bid in 1952, Warren was rewarded in 1953 when Eisenhower nominated him as chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Court that Warren took over in 1953 was deeply divided between those justices in favor of judicial restraint and those who advocated a more active role for the Court. Almost from the outset Warren proved uncommonly effective in securing consensus among the justices, as evidenced in one of his first major cases as chief justice, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the 1954 case in which the doctrine of "separate but equal" public education was struck down. The Court's school desegregation decision laid the groundwork for the accelerated civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s.

Although some observers questioned Warren's lack of judicial experience, whatever deficiencies he may have had as a jurist were more than made up for by his political acumen. His ability to forge majorities in support of major decisions quickly made Warren the chief justice not just in name but in fact. This perception was further enhanced by Warren's willingness to call upon the expertise of other justices when he felt his own lack of experience might impede the Court's progress. In his first days on the Court he asked Hugo Black, senior associate justice of the Supreme Court, to preside over its private deliberative conferences until Warren could become more familiar with the process.

In 1962, over the objections of conservative justice Felix Frankfurter, perhaps the Court's leading legal scholar, Warren agreed that questions arising from malapportionment in state legislatures were subject to judicial resolution. Rural interests for years had deprived city dwellers of equal representation in state legislatures. While Frankfurter argued that the Court would never be able to determine a straightforward formula to guide lower courts in the flood of lawsuits almost certain to follow, Justice William O. Douglas put forward the simple formula of "one man, one vote." In handing down the Court's opinion on a number of such apportionment cases in Reynolds v. Sims in 1964, Warren observed, "The weight of a citizen's vote cannot be made to depend on where he lives. This is the clear and strong command of our Constitution's Equal Protection Clause."

Frankfurter had suffered a stroke before the apportionment decisions were handed down and was replaced by Arthur Goldberg, giving Warren the fifth vote he needed to prevail on reapportionment. An even closer ally among the Court's liberals was William Brennan, a 1956 Eisenhower appointee. The two complemented each other perfectly; Warren's political savvy meshed well with Brennan's extraordinary legal skills and knowledge. The two conferred privately to map their strategy in advance of the Court's deliberative conferences. Many consider the Warren Court's decisions on reapportionment its greatest success story, even more significant than its ruling on school integration.

Although the Warren Court's decisions on desegregation and reapportionment were well received by the majority of Americans, the public was far less receptive to Warren's so-called due process revolution in the area of criminal justice. The chief justice's background as a prosecutor had led many to believe that he would have little sympathy for the rights of the accused, but even in his days as district attorney in Alameda County, Warren had always insisted on fair play. The passion with which Warren believed in fair treatment for the accused was apparent in the Court's decisions, including 1963's Gideon v. Wainwright, which guaranteed indigent defendants the right to legal counsel, and Mapp v. Ohio (1961), which barred prosecutors from using evidence seized in illegal searches. Undoubtedly the most widely publicized of the due process decisions, Miranda v. Arizona (1966), probably best summed up Warren's philosophy of criminal justice. The Miranda decision compelled law enforcement officers to advise criminal suspects of their constitutional rights before they could be interrogated. Any thought that Warren was soft on criminals, however, was dispelled by the Court's decision in Terry v. Ohio (1968), which gave police considerable leeway to stop and search those they suspected of carrying weapons.

Warren and the Court weathered a firestorm of criticism for the 1962 decision in Engel v. Vitale, which outlawed mandatory school prayer. However, Warren and his fellow justices believed strongly in the Bill of Rights, as the Court proved repeatedly in numerous decisions that applied the national standard outlined by those rights to individual states. In 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court set forth a constitutionally protected right to privacy.

Despite his considerable political savvy, Warren took a critical misstep in 1963 when he succumbed to President Lyndon B. Johnson's powers of persuasion and agreed to head the governmental panel investigating the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Warren initially resisted the job, believing that his acceptance would pose a threat to the separation of powers. However, Johnson's appeals to Warren's sense of patriotism eventually wore him down, and he reluctantly accepted the assignment. Because of the sensitive nature of the investigation, Warren felt strongly that the panel's final report should be unanimous. To achieve such unanimity, it became necessary for Warren to compromise on a number of key issues. Although many Americans accepted the general conclusion of the Warren Report—that Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone, killed the president—almost no one was fully satisfied with specifics of the end product, which was criticized for overlooking or distorting key evidence.

Against the backdrop of the unpopular war in Vietnam and the growing likelihood that the Democrats would lose the presidency in the fall of 1968 to Warren's longtime California rival, Richard M. Nixon, the chief justice told President Johnson that he wanted to step down. Warren agreed, however, to remain on the job until Johnson could find a successor. According to a White House memorandum, Warren asked Johnson "to appoint as his successor someone who felt as (he) did." Johnson's decision to elevate Justice Abe Fortas to the position of chief delighted Warren, but the joy was short-lived, for revelations about Fortas's financial affairs doomed the nomination. Fortas asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration and stepped down from the Court altogether in 1969. In the absence of a successor, Warren presided over the Court's term beginning in October 1968 and stayed on until the spring of 1969, when Nixon named Warren Burger to succeed him.

In his final term as chief justice, Warren presided over the Court's decision in Powell v. McCormack (1969), which rejected an attempt by the House of Representatives to exclude New York congressman Adam Clayton Powell from membership simply because a majority disliked the way he conducted his personal affairs. As in the apportionment cases of the early 1960s, the Powell decision reaffirmed Warren's unshakeable belief in democracy.

After stepping down as chief justice in 1969, Warren spent most of his time writing, traveling, and lecturing. He also worked passionately to oppose a proposal to establish an intermediate court of appeals to cut the workload of the Supreme Court. Suffering from painful heart disease, Warren was hospitalized a number of times after leaving the Court. His health began to fail rapidly in early 1974, and he died on 9 July of cardiac arrest at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia.

Although some legal experts were critical of Warren's lack of judicial experience, he displayed a startlingly effective ability to administer the high court's deliberations and to find consensus among justices with sometimes widely diverse views. Even more impressively, Warren managed to effect this magic during a period of sweeping changes in U.S. constitutional law, particularly in the realms of criminal justice, race relations, and legislative apportionment. Perhaps unfairly, he is best remembered for engineering the decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which found that "separate but equal" public education facilities were inherently unequal and therefore in violation of the Constitution.

Some would argue that Warren's most lasting contribution to the U.S. judicial system came from his unflagging push for improved court administration. For much of his career in the legal profession, Warren had been disturbed by what he considered the courts' lack of attention to administrative problems, which had resulted in overcrowded court dockets, a shrinking trial bar, and a degradation, in his view, of criminal law in general. Summing up his view of the problem, Warren in June 1969 told the American Law Institute: "We have never come to grips with … court administration.…We should make bold plans to see that our courts are properly managed to do the job the public expects." Warren put his words into action, transforming the Judicial Conference of the United States from a social club for chief judges of the courts of appeal into an effective general administrator for the federal courts.

Warren's autobiography, The Memoirs of Earl Warren (1977), provides valuable insight into his career before he joined the Supreme Court as chief justice. To learn more about Warren's years as chief justice, as well as his earlier life and career, read Jack Harrison Pollack, Earl Warren (1979); G. Edward White, Earl Warren (1982); and Bernard Schwartz, Super Chief (1983). An obituary is in the New York Times (10 July 1974).

Don Amerman

Warren, Earl

views updated May 09 2018


Earl Warren served as the fourteenth chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1953 to 1969. A former prosecutor, state attorney general, and governor of California, Warren previously had not served as a judge. In spite of his lack of judicial experience, Warren led a constitutional revolution that reshaped U.S. law and society and granted the lower federal courts wide latitude in enforcing individual constitutional rights. Although criticized by conservatives for his judicial activism, Warren has also been hailed as one of the greatest chief justices in U.S. history.

Warren was born on March 19, 1891, in Los Angeles, California, but moved with his family to Bakersfield, California, as a young boy. The son of a railroad worker, Warren worked summers on railroad crews as a young man to earn money to attend college. He earned a bachelor's degree and a law degree from the University of California at Berkeley and was admitted to the California bar in 1914. After a brief period of service in the Army during world war i, Warren returned to northern California where he practiced law for a short time in San Francisco.

Warren joined the Alameda County district attorney's office in 1920 and in 1925 was elected district attorney. Reelected two times, Warren established a reputation as a tough but fair prosecutor. A liberal Republican, he was elected California attorney general in 1938. Though he helped modernize the office during his term as attorney general, Warren's record was tarnished by his actions during the early months of U.S. involvement in world war ii.

In 1942 Warren was a key leader in demanding the removal of people of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast. At the time, Warren and others justified the removal of Japanese Americans on national security grounds, believing that California was vulnerable to Japanese spies and saboteurs. The U.S. Supreme Court, in kore-matsuv. united states, 323 U.S. 214, 65 S. Ct. 193, 89 L. Ed. 194 (1944), upheld the removal. Thousands of Japanese Americans lost their property and businesses and were "relocated" to concentration camps for the duration of the war. Warren defended his actions throughout his public career, but in retirement he admitted the relocation was a mistake based on hysteria and unsubstantiated fears.

Warren was elected governor of California in 1942 and proved a popular political leader. He was reelected with Republican and democratic party support in 1946 and 1950. Warren's only political defeat came in 1948, when he was the Republican vice-presidential candidate on the ticket headed by thomas e. dewey that lost to President harry s. truman. In 1952 he played a key role in securing the Republican presidential nomination for dwight d. eisenhower, who in return promised Warren an appointment to the Supreme Court when a vacancy occurred.

When Chief Justice fred m. vinson died unexpectedly in September 1953, Eisenhower appointed Warren as his successor. In his first term as chief justice, Warren confronted the issue of state-mandated racial segregation in public schools. The case, which the Court had heard the previous year but was unable to decide, came back for reargument. In May 1954 Warren wrote the opinion for a unanimous Court in brown v. board of education, 347 U.S. 483, 74 S. Ct. 686, 98 L. Ed. 873 (1954). Brown overruled the 1896 Supreme Court decision of plessy v. ferguson, 163 U.S. 537, 16 S. Ct. 1138, 41 L. Ed. 256, which had allowed racially segregated facilities on trains and by implication in public schools. Writing that "separate

educational facilities are inherently unequal," Warren held that racial segregation in Kansas denied African Americans equal protection of the laws.

Brown unleashed a torrent of controversy and protest in the South and immediately established Warren's image as a liberal. Throughout the South, billboards appeared that read "Impeach Earl Warren." Nevertheless, in 1955 the Court ordered Kansas and other states with segregated schools to move with "all deliberate speed" to dismantle their dual school systems. The modern civil rights movement was founded in this decision, which radically altered the traditional legal position on racial discrimination. When comprehensive federal

civil rights legislation was enacted in the 1960s, the warren court easily upheld the civil rights act of 1964 (42 U.S.C.A. § 2000a et seq.) and the voting rights act of 1965 (42 U.S.C.A. § 1973 et seq.).

The Warren Court was marked by its strict scrutiny of legislation that directly abridged the exercise of fundamental rights or narrowed the number of people who might exercise them, and of legislation that discriminated against various suspect classes. The strict scrutiny standard of review shifted to the government the burden of proving a compelling state interest that could justify discriminatory legislation. On most occasions the government could not meet this burden. In addition, the Court "read into" the fourteenth amendment, applicable to the states, most of the provisions of the bill of rights, which until then had been applicable only to the federal government.

Warren himself believed that his most important contribution to the law came in the area of legislative reapportionment. Most state legislatures had not apportioned their seats since the early 1900s. The allocation of seats was based on geographic areas and favored rural districts with small populations over growing urban and suburban areas. Political change was almost impossible because rural-dominated legislatures prevented reapportionment. Until the 1960s the Supreme Court had refused to intervene, concluding that cases challenging apportionment were political questions beyond the Court's jurisdiction.

In baker v. carr, 369 U.S. 186, 82 S. Ct. 691, 7 L. Ed. 2d 663 (1962), the Court held that it did have jurisdiction, and two years later, in reynolds v. sims, 377 U.S. 533, 84 S. Ct. 1362, 12 L. Ed. 2d 506 (1964), Warren wrote the opinion that has come to be known as the one person, one vote decision. Reynolds and a series of cases that followed forced state legislatures to be apportioned equally on the basis of population rather than geographic areas. Warren noted that "citizens, not history or economic interests cast votes," and that "legislators represent people, not acres or trees." Reapportionment based on population resulted in a shift of political power away from sparsely populated rural areas to metropolitan areas.

Warren also reshaped U.S. criminal procedure, in the process drawing protest from law enforcement officials and those citizens who believed the Court was tipping the balance in favor of criminals. Many cases of this era limited police searches and seizures and the use of confessions and extended the right to counsel to poor persons accused of felonies.

In gideon v. wainwright, 372 U.S. 335, 83 S. Ct. 792, 9 L. Ed. 2d 799 (1963), the Court held that the sixth amendment right to legal counsel encompassed state as well as federal criminal proceedings. Therefore, the state was required to appoint an attorney to represent an indigent person charged with a crime. In miranda v. arizona, 384 U.S. 436, 86 S. Ct. 1602, 16 L. Ed. 2d 694 (1966), the Court required what has come to be known as the Miranda warning: the police must inform arrested persons that they need not answer questions and that they may have an attorney present during questioning. Warren sought to ensure that suspects who are not sophisticated in law or who are not able to afford ready counsel are not disadvantaged. Nevertheless, rising crime convinced many citizens that the Court gave away too much of the government's authority in Miranda.

The Warren Court also recognized the constitutional right of privacy in griswold v. connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 14 L. Ed. 2d 510 (1965). Griswold struck down a Connecticut statute that prohibited the dissemination of birth control information. In declaring the right of privacy, the Court laid the groundwork for the post–Warren Court decision in roe v. wade, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147 (1973), which gave women the right to have an abortion.

In 1963 President lyndon b. johnson persuaded Warren to head a commission investigating the assassination of President john f. kennedy. Warren reluctantly agreed to the request but was uncomfortable participating in this extrajudicial activity. The 1964 warren commission report has remained controversial. Critics have attacked its conclusions that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin and that there was no conspiracy to kill the president.

"In civilized life, law floats in a sea of ethics. each is indispensable to civilization. Without law, we should be at the mercy of the least scrupulous; without ethics, law could not exist."
—Earl Warren

Warren informed President Johnson in June 1968 of his intent to retire but left the date of his resignation open. When Republicans blocked Johnson's nomination of Justice abe fortas in the fall of 1968, Warren agreed to serve until the next president took office in 1969, leaving the bench in July 1969. President richard m. nixon appointed warren e. burger as Warren's successor.

Many commentators have praised Warren's tenure as chief justice, but critics have charged that his judicial activism was outside the proper role of the Court and that many of the decisions were based on his personal values rather than the Constitution or other legal sources. Both Chief Justice Burger and his successor, Chief Justice william h. rehnquist, have eschewed Warren's approach, applying more conservative principles.

Warren died on July 9, 1974, in Washington, D.C.

further readings

Cray, Ed. 1997. Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Schwartz, Bernard, ed. 1996. The Warren Court: A Retrospective. New York: Oxford Univ. Press.


Japanese American Evacuation Cases; Judicial Review; School Desegregation; Warren Court.

Warren, Earl

views updated Jun 27 2018

Warren, Earl 18911974


As the fourteenth Chief Justice of the United States, Earl Warren presided over a Supreme Court that handed down landmark rulings in the areas of race relations, school prayer, political representation, and criminal justice. Warren was born to Scandinavian immigrants in Los Angeles, California, on March 19, 1891. He was raised in Bakersfield, where his father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad, and he himself worked a variety of summer jobs with the railroad. He put himself through school, earning both his undergraduate and law degrees at the University of California at Berkeley.

Warren began his political career as the district attorney of Alameda County, California. He went on to serve as Californias attorney general, and in 1942 he was elected governor. During his state service, Warren supported the evacuation of persons of Japanese ancestry from the West Coast during World War II. Throughout the remainder of his political career, Warren publicly defended his action, which stands in stark contrast to his role as one of the staunchest civil libertarians ever to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Warren sought the Republican presidential nomination in 1948 and 1952. In 1948 he was chosen as Thomas Deweys running mate, but the DeweyWarren ticket was defeated. In 1952, the Republican nomination, and the presidency, went to General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Following the unexpected death of Chief Justice Fred Vinson in the summer of 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Warren to fill the vacancy.

On the Supreme Courts docket for the 1953 term was Brown v. Board of Education, a group of cases challenging the racial segregation of public primary and secondary schools. At the time, one-third of the states and the District of Columbia maintained segregated schools by law, often with vast disparities in school funding and facilities for black and white students. The Warren Court handed down a unanimous ruling in the Brown cases in May 1954, declaring that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal. A year later, in Brown II, the Court ordered that public schools be desegregated with all deliberate speed. In subsequent decisions, the Warren Court struck down racial segregation in public buildings, transportation, housing, and recreational facilities. The Brown decisions were not the only Warren Court rulings that impacted public education. In Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963), the Court ruled that state-sponsored prayer and Bible reading in public schools were establishments of religion in violation of the Constitution.

During the 1960s the Warren Court instituted a constitutional revolution in criminal justice. In a series of decisions, the Court used the Fourteenth Amendment to apply many of the guarantees of the Bill of Rightsthe protections against self-incrimination and double jeopardy, the right to counsel, the right to a jury trial and to confront witnessesto the states. Some of these protections were encapsulated in what became known as the Miranda warnings. According to the Courts decision in Miranda v. Arizona, criminal suspects who are in custody must be informed of their constitutional rights, and they must waive those rights before any questioning may occur.

The Warren Court significantly altered the system of political representation in the United States as well. The first half of the twentieth century saw substantial population shifts from rural to urban areas, yet many state legislatures did not redraw representational districts to reflect these shifts. In a previous decision the Court had declined to address the apportionment issue, describing it as a political thicket that the Court should avoid. But in its 1962 ruling in Baker v. Carr, the Court rejected this reasoning, opening the door to a series of decisions establishing the one person, one vote principle for political representation and applying this principle at the congressional, state, and local levels. After leaving the Court, Warren described Baker v. Carr as the most important decision handed down during his tenure.

Warren resigned from the Court in 1969 and was replaced as Chief Justice by Warren E. Burger. He died on July 9, 1974, following a series of heart attacks, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

SEE ALSO Brown v. Board of Education, 1954 ; Brown v. Board of Education, 1955 ; Civil Liberties; Concentration Camps; Eisenhower, Dwight D.; Incarceration, Japanese American; Judicial Review; Supreme Court, U.S.; Warren Report


Cray, Ed. 1997. Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Schwartz, Bernard. 1983. Super Chief, Earl Warren and His Supreme Court: A Judicial Biography. New York: New York University Press.

Malia Reddick

Warren, Earl

views updated May 29 2018

Warren, Earl (1891–1974) US politician and jurist. Appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (1953–69), he began the ‘Warren revolution’ that lasted until his retirement. Some of the Warren Court's noteworthy cases include: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), which made segregation in the public schools unconstitutional; Engel v. Vitale (1962), which prohibited prayers in public schools; and Miranda v. Arizona (1966), which made it obligatory that a suspect be informed of his rights, be provided with free state counsel, and be given the right to remain silent. See also Warren Commission