Earl Warren

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Earl Warren
Earl Warren

Earl Warren (March 19, 1891July 9, 1974) was a California district attorney and 30th Governor of California, but is best known as the 14th Chief Justice of the United States from 1953-1969. His term of office was marked by numerous rulings affecting among other things, the legal status of racial segregation, civil rights, separation of church and state, and police arrest procedure in the United States.

He was born in Los Angeles, California to Matt Warren, a Norwegian immigrant; and Christine "Chrystal" Hernlund, a Swedish immigrant. His father was a longtime employee of the Southern Pacific Railroad. Earl grew up in Bakersfield, California, and attended the University of California, Berkeley both as an undergraduate and for law school. Warren then worked for five years for private law firms in the San Francisco Bay Area. He went to work for San Francisco County in 1920 and in 1925 was appointed as District Attorney of Alameda County when the incumbent resigned. He was re-elected to 3 four-year terms. As a tough-on-crime District Attorney, Warren had a reputation for high-handedness, however, none of his convictions was ever overturned on appeal.

Warren became a well-known figure in California and was appointed to the Board of Regents of the University of California while district attorney. In 1939, he became Attorney General of the State of California. He ran for governor of California in 1942 as a Republican and was elected. California law at the time allowed individuals to run in any primary elections they chose. In 1946, Warren managed the singular feat of winning the Republican, Democratic and Progressive primary elections and thus ran unopposed in the 1946 general election. He was elected to a third term (as a Republican) in 1950.

Warren's state service was marked by his support for the internment of Japanese and Japanese Americans of Japanese descent during World War II. But it was also marked by laying the infrastructure to support a two-decade boom that lasted from the end of World War II until the mid 1960s. In particular, Warren and UC President Clark Kerr presided over construction of a renowned public university system that provided inexpensive, high quality education to two generations of Californians.

Warren ran for Vice President of the United States in 1948 on a ticket with Thomas Dewey. They lost narrowly to Harry Truman and Alben Barkley.

Warren received a recess appointment from Dwight D. Eisenhower on October 2, 1953, to a seat vacated by Fred M. Vinson; was officially nominated on January 11, 1954 and confirmed by the Senate on March 1, 1954, and received commission on March 20, 1954.

To the surprise of many, Warren was a much more liberal justice than had been anticipated. He was able to craft a long series of landmark decisions including Brown v. Board of Education, 347 US 483 (1954), which overthrew the segregation of public schools; the "one man one vote" cases of 1962-1964, which dramatically altered the relative power of rural regions in many states; and Miranda from the case Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966), which required that certain rights of a person being interrogated while in police custody be clearly explained, including the right to an attorney.

At the direct request of President Lyndon Johnson, and against his better judgment, Warren headed the Warren Commission. The Commission eventually concluded that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was the act of a single individual, Lee Harvey Oswald, acting alone. The Commission's findings have long been controversial.

Warren retired from the Supreme Court in 1969. He was affectionately known by many as the 'Superchief,' although he became a lightning rod for controversy among conservatives: signs declaring 'Impeach Earl Warren' could be seen across the South throughout the 1960's.

Warren died n July 9, 1974 Washington, DC. The Earl Warren Bill of Rights Project is named in his honor.


  • "Legislators represent people, not trees or acres. Legislators are elected by voters, not farms or cities or economic interests." From Reynolds v. Sims, on the subject of State Senate apportionment.
  • "It would indeed be ironic if, in the name of national defense, we would sanction the subversion of one of those liberties which make the defense of our nation worthwhile."
  • "It seems to me that it is quite significant that in this great state of ours we have had no fifth-column activities and no sabotage reported. It looks very much to me as though it is a studied effort not to have any until the zero hour arrives. That was the history of Pearl Harbor. I can't help believing that the same thing is planned for us in California. It would be inconsistent with everything the Axis has ever done, if it was not planned for us in California." From a February 2, 1942 Meeting of Law Enforcement Officers in California while Warren was Attorney General. He was referring to the fact that there had been no sabotage or espionage on the part of Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor and he concluded that it proved they were just waiting for the right moment to strike. That justified locking them up in primitive "concentration camps" in the desert for years.
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