Conservative Republican Chief Justice Earl Warren Heads

Earl Warren was the governor of California when President Dwight D. Eisenhower selected him for nomination to the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. And, he was elected as a Republican. In fact, in 1952 he ran against Eisenhower for the Republican nomination for the presidency, withdrawing early in the primary process and throwing his support behind Eisenhower. As governor of California, he has endorsed and promoted the removal and internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

He presided over the creation, construction and expansion of many of California’s highways and universities, but no one ever expected him to change the country we live in from its very roots up (Warren 65; “Landmark Cases”). When Eisenhower nominated Warren, things were a bit contentious in the United States’ senate for his confirmation hearings. But the process was nothing compared to confirmation hearings that would take place later from Justices like Clarence Thomas and nominees like Harriet Miers.

Among the things discussed in his hearings was a lack of judicial experience as Warren never served on the bench prior to his nomination tot eh Supreme Court (“Landmark Cases”) another issue was the perceived deal-making between Warren and Eisenhower, though it was never proven that there was an explicit deal between them regarding the appointment. In fact, in a letter to his brother, Eisenhower said that he appointed Warren because “he represents the kind of political, economic, and social thinking that I believe we need on the Supreme Court …

He has a national name for integrity, uprightness, and courage that, again, I believe we need on the Court. ” (Letter to Milton Stover Eisenhower, October 9, 1953). “Warren’s confirmation for the permanent job was delayed for several months by the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, who was irritated at the White House over unrelated matters. Consequently, the committee—encouraged by southern senators who feared that Warren would help overturn segregation—heard scurrilous ethics charges against him (in one instance from a fugitive from justice) and even prompted an FBI investigation.

It also heard from a liberal interest group called the California and National Institute of Social Welfare, which charged that Warren had a “much too casual concern for the American Constitution” and that his “22 year career as a prosecuting attorney” had “habituated him to certain attitudes towards the rights of the individual which render him unfit to be the custodian of the Constitution of the United States. ” (Witte 1).

This was Cold War America, a time of a hunt against Communists and an effort to make people feel secure regardless of the fact that the world had nuclear weapons and the Soviet Union was a constant threat. With American turning to a general as president in hopes of feeling secure, Warren took over the Chief Justice position. Eisenhower would later call it “the biggest damn=fool mistake I ever made” (Whitman, 24), and in his own book, Warren would claim, “Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile I caught hell for” (105).

“What did not arise openly in the proceedings, however, was the matter of school desegregation. Yet Brown v. Board of Education had already been argued before the high court (and in fact before Warren himself), and it would become—within less than three months of Warren’s official confirmation—the defining case not only of Warren’s tenure but of twentieth-century American jurisprudence. Nothing in Warren’s hearings—which ended with a unanimous confirmation—remotely anticipated the revolutionary qualities of his Court.

“ (Wittes 1) Warren’s first major national impact would come when he successfully negotiated with all the justices of the court to issue a unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education (Cray 116) The case would begin the process of desegregating schools and effectively began the entire Civil Rights movement. In Brown v Board of Education, Warren wrote the opinion of the court stating that the doctrine of Plessy v Ferguson and separate but equal was wrong. “Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal”, he wrote, citing the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment as the reasoning.

Constitutional law scholars say that the Warren Court overstepped its bound and had no legal precedent to base the ruling on (“Landmark Cases” Brown. v. Board of Education). Almost a decade later, Martin Luther King Jr. would argue in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” that seeking justice for all is necessary to get justice for anyone, but the Warren Court did move away from precedent and former legal holdings. “The Brown case was the first in a long string of judgments that marked a more active role for the Supreme Court of the United States in American life.

The Warren Court took on the defense of individual rights as no court before it. Warren considered this a proper role for the courts; he never saw the role of the judiciary as passive, or somehow inferior to the other two branches of government. ” (“Landmark Cases” Brown. v. Board of Education). Fifty years later, Warren’s attitude toward the role of the court would still be at issue. In the confirmation hearings of Justice Samuel Alito, Alito told the Senate that he believed in the “rule of law” not judicial activism. (Babington A01).

Alito said a judge “can’t have any preferred outcome in any particular case. ” (Babington A01). Warren would have disagreed. He successfully argued for the rights of the populace, no matter what the rule of law. In another landmark case, Miranda v. Arizona, Warren again wrote the majority opinion for the court. He wrote, “the prosecution may not use statements, whether exculpatory or inculpatory, stemming from custodial interrogation of the defendant unless it demonstrates the use of procedural safeguards effective to secure the privilege against self-incrimination.

” (“Landmark Cases” Miranda v. Arizona). In yet another decision disputed to this day, the Warren Court also held that mandatory school prayer was a violation of students’ right to freedom of religion. “For many years, a particular ritual marked the beginning of each school day all across America. Teachers led their students through the Pledge of Allegiance, a short prayer, the singing of “America” or “The Star-Spangled Banner,” and possibly some readings from the Bible. The choice of ritual varied according to state law, local custom and the preferences of individual teachers or principals.

” (“Introduction to Engel v. Vitale” 1) Warren did not right the opinion of the court in this case, but he did vote with the majority, saying that even a non-denominational prayer violated the “establishment” clause of the First Amendment and that schools could not require a prayer at the beginning of the school day. Other controversial cases involving the Warren court abound, including a redistricting case that took power away from rural voters and ascertained the idea of one man, one vote and a Texas case that allowed Mexican-Americans to serve on juries (Cray 107-142).

The Warren Court greatly expanded the interpretation of the U. S. Constitution to the broadest possible terms and the expansionism of the power of the Court. Historically, the court had rarely been used to change social policy, but in Brown v. the Board of Education, the court took a prominent role in changing American society. In other cases before the Warren Court, they established the previously unknown right to privacy claiming that the rights assured in the Bill of Rights were examples, not a laundry list of the only rights available to citizens (Warren 204).

The Warren Court also established the role of the Supreme Court as the supreme law of the land including investigational authority when Warren was named to head up the commission investigating the assassination of John Kennedy. And, on a personal level, the rulings of the Warren court demonstrated a man’s ability to change his perspective with time and see the Constitution as an every-changing document to be interpreted with the times. In his memories, Warren wrote that he regretted his role in the internment of Japanese-Americans and that he believed it was a violation of their civil rights, but he acknowledged that times had changed.

During the war, America was not ready for equal rights for everyone, even though they were guaranteed them (Warren 215). In short, probably no single man has had such a great influence on the interpretation of the U. S. Constitution in the 20th century as Earl Warren. He stepped out of the narrow lines of strict constructionalism and moved to judicial activism and the concept of the Constitution as a living, breathing document. He wanted the Constitution to adapt to the needs of a nation going through growing pains and so he made it do what he wanted.


Babington, Charles and Amy Goldstein. “Alito Stresses ‘Rule of Law’ in opening Statement” Washington Post, January 10, 2006; Page A01 Cray, Ed. Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997. “History of the Supreme Court” <http://www. supremecourthistory. org/02_history/subs_timeline/images_chiefs/014. html> November 15, 2007. “INTRODUCTION TO THE ENGEL V. VITALE COURT CASE” <http://usinfo. state. gov/usa/infousa/facts/democrac/47. htm>, November 15, 2007. “Landmark Cases Supreme Court” Brown v. Board of Education. http://www. landmarkcases.

org/brown/warren. html> November 15, 2007. “Landmark Cases of the Supreme Court”, Mrianda v. Arizona, http://www. landmarkcases. org/miranda/home. html, November 15, 2007. Personal and confidential To Milton Stover Eisenhower, 9 October 1953. In The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower, ed. L. Galambos and D. van Ee, doc. 460. World Wide Web facsimile by The Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial Commission of the print edition; Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Accessed November 14, 2007. Warren, Earl. ”The Memoirs of Chief Justice Earl Warren” New York: Simon Shuster: 2001.