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).