Earl Warren – Career, Supreme Court Rulings & Legacy

Earl Warren Career Supreme Court Rulings Legacy

Pioneering civil rights and liberties in the 1950s and 1960s, Earl Warren, the 14th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, spent half a century in public office. The former Republican politician and California’s only three-term governor, was court-nominated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1953. At the time, the president noted that Warren represented “the kind of political thinking, economic and social that I believe we need in the Supreme Court.” However, following Warren’s landmark rulings on cases such as the historic Brown v. Board of Education which outlawed school segregation, Eisenhower would go on to call the date “the biggest stupid mistake I ever made”.

Youth and career

Born March 19, 1891, in Los Angeles to working-class Scandinavian immigrants (his father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad), Warren grew up in Bakersfield, California, working summer railroad jobs. He attended the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned his undergraduate and law degrees, and began practicing private law in San Francisco.

Warren then served in the United States in the United States Army during World War I from 1917 to 1918, and began his career in public service the following year, first as clerk of the legislature’s judicial committee. of the State of California, then quickly took a position as an assistant city attorney. from Oakland. He later served as assistant district attorney, chief assistant district attorney, and Alameda County district attorney, and was elected attorney general of California in 1939, serving in that position until 1943.

On January 4, 1943, Warren was sworn in as Governor of California, serving three terms. His legacy included the 1946 signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco, increased unemployment insurance and pensions for the elderly, reduced state sales tax, subsidized child care and the introduction of prison reforms. He was a supporter of Japanese-American internment, a position he later said he “deeply regretted”.

In 1948, Warren was the Republican candidate for vice president, running with Governor Thomas Dewey and losing the election to the Democratic ticket of Harry S. Truman and Senator Alben Barkley. He also ran as a Republican presidential candidate in 1952 (Eisenhower won the party nomination).

Truman was later known to have said that Warren was a “Democrat and didn’t know it,” Judge recalled in an interview with the Truman Library.

In 1953, during Warren’s third term as governor, Eisenhower nominated the fiscally conservative but socially progressive Warren to the United States Supreme Court as Chief Justice, succeeding Chief Justice Fred Vinson, who had died of ‘a heart attack. Warren was confirmed by the United States Senate on March 1, 1954.

Brown v. Board of Education

Warren resigned as governor and served nearly 16 years as chief justice from 1953 to 1969. But just two months into his term, he began hearing oral arguments in the historic Brown v. Board of Education Case. Annulment of 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson A “separate but equal” verdict, the landmark decision found that the case violated the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment. While the Vinson court was sharply divided on the case, the Warren court, rehearing Thurgood Marshall’s arguments, was unanimous in its opinion of May 17, 1954.

“We conclude that in the realm of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place,” Warren wrote. “Separate educational institutions are inherently unequal.”

Eisenhower did not fully support or comment on the decision, but upheld the court’s decision. Applauded by liberals and hated by segregationists, the decision spurred “Impeach Warren” billboards across the South. “Everything I’ve done in my life that was worth it, I’ve caught hell,” he once said.

Notable decisions and appointments

Warren was appointed by President Lyndon Johnson to preside over the inquiry into the assassination of John F. Kennedy, 1963-1964, better known as the Warren Commission. The resulting controversial report found Lee Harvey Oswald to be the sole shooter, although doubt and conspiracy theories continue to swirl around its validity.

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In addition to Brown, several other key decisions during Warren’s tenure on the Supreme Court earned him his label as a “liberal reformer justice.” In 1963, the court unanimously Gideon v. Wainwright decision guaranteed the right to a free lawyer. In Mapp vs. Ohioin 1961, the court ruled 5 to 3 that evidence illegally seized, without a search warrant, could not be presented for criminal prosecution in state courts

In 1966 Miranda v. Arizonathe court ruled 5-4 that police must inform suspects of certain constitutional rights, including the right to counsel, to remain silent and against self-incrimination, or the evidence is not admissible in court .

And in a unanimous 1967 decision, the court held in Love against Virginie that anti-miscegenation laws, those prohibiting interracial marriages, were unconstitutional, under the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Warren also made his mark in what became known as the “one person, one vote” distribution principle. In 1964 Reynolds vs Simsthe court ruled 8-1 that state legislative districts should be equal in population if possible, leading to redistricting in most states.

“But was it fair?” Warren often asked litigants during arguments.

Retirement and death

Warren, who married Nina Palmquist Meyers in 1925 and had six children, retired from the Supreme Court in 1969. He died July 9, 1974 at age 83 and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. In 1981, he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest national honor for a civilian.

“When history is written, he will become one of the greatest chief justices the country has ever had a chance,” Thurgood Marshall, then associate justice of the Supreme Court, said after Warren’s death. “I think he is irreplaceable.”


“Earl Warren, 83, who led the High Court in times of vast social change, is dead”, by Anthony Lewis, 10 July 1974, The New York Times.

“Earl Warren, 1953-1969”, Supreme Court Historical Society.

“Governor Earl Warren,” National Governors Association.

“History – Brown v. Board of Education Re-enactment,” United States Courts.

“Brown v. Board of Education”, Miller Center.

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