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Earl Warren
(1891 – 1974)


Earl Warren was a justice and judicial activist whose work broke ground for legislative and constitutional reforms. He was responsible for developing and defending civil rights, personal protections during criminal justice procedures, and demonstration rights, as well as amending electoral laws. Justice Abe Fortas described the Warren court as, "the most profound and pervasive revolution ever achieved by substantially peaceful means."

Portrait of Earl Warren.
Warren, Earl. 12" x 16". 2013. Collection of the artist. Montreal, Canada.

Education and Early Career

After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley with a Bachelor's in political science and a Master's in law, Warren served in WWI. Upon his discharge, he held a private practice for a brief time before entering the public service in 1920, where he remained until his retirement in 1969.

In 1925, Warren served as district attorney for Alameda County, became the attorney general for California 13 years later, and in 1942 became the Governor of California. After an unsuccessful vice presidential candidacy, he was appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court by President Eisenhower in 1953.

The Warren Court

Warren was a liberal leaning Republican, which invited the bipartisan support needed to radically reform American law and justice. His court was known for being part of the second “great creative period in American public law” which “rewrote much of the corpus of the constitutional law.” Warren himself was considered a crime fighter and had a reputation for uncontested convictions. In every position of public service, he reorganized state government and improved social services and infrastructure. It is widely believed that the many civil rights rulings he passed instigated the civil rights protests of the 1950s and 60s. He also enshrined legislative protections for demonstrators and created new privacy rights. 

The unanimous vote to declare segregation laws constitutional during the Brown vs. Board of Education case remains one of his most notable rulings.

His court was dedicated to reforms relating to racial justice, racial representation in electoral politics, and minority rights. The unanimous vote to declare segregation laws constitutional during the Brown vs. Board of Education case remains one of his most notable rulings. The Warren court also successfully and unanimously ruled against state anti-miscegenation laws in the case Loving v. Virginia, which outlawed interracial marriages. His determination and success led President Lyndon B. Johnson to create the Warren Commission and appoint Warren as leader of the investigation into John F. Kennedy's assassination.

Legacy

In addition to his legislative and socio-political reformations, Warren’s life and work transformed the role of judges and the Supreme Court. Shortly after his death, Warren was memorialized in the Earl Warren College, an undergraduate institution commemorating the remarkable late Justice through pedagogy which teaches not only law, but its applications in transforming society.

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"The credit belongs to the one who is actually in the arena."

Theodore Roosevelt

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