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Earl Warren was a lawyer and politician from the United States. He served California as a District Attorney, the State’s Attorney General, and the State’s Governor. He then served on the U.S. Supreme Court as a Chief Justice for 16 years. The Warren Court addressed important cases, including Brown v. Board of Education, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Engel v. Vitale.

Early Life and Education

Earl Warren was born on March 19, 1891, in Los Angeles, California. Mathias H. Warren, his father, was a Norwegian immigrant and Crystal Hernlund Warren, his mother, was a Swedish immigrant. Warren’s father worked for the Southern Pacific Railroad for many years until he joined a strike and the company blacklisted him.

In 1984, the Warren family relocated to Bakersfield, California. Earl joined his father working on the railroad during summer. Warren attended Washington Junior High in Bakersfield. Then he studied at Kern County High School, now Bakersfield High. During this time, Warren’s father was murdered during a robbery.

Warren graduated from the University of California, Berkley in 1912 with a Bachelors in Political Science. He then enrolled in UC Berkley’s School of Law and graduated with a J.D. in 1914. He passed the California Bar the same year. He first worked for the Associated Oil Company and then at Robinson & Robinson law firm.

Warren enlisted in the U.S. Army in August 1917 after the outbreak of World War I. He completed training and the army assigned him to Camp Lewis’s 91st Division in Washington. In 1918, he was discharged as Lieutenant Earl Warren.[1]

Legal Career Beginnings

From 1919-1920, Earl Warren worked for the Judicial Committee of the California State Assembly as a clerk. Then 1920-1925, he served Oakland, California as its Deputy City Attorney. During these posts, he met Republican Joseph R. Knowland and Hiram Johnson, the governor of California, who mentored him and encouraged him to promote democracy by ending corruption. In 1925, Warren married Nina Elizabeth Palmquist Meyers, a Swedish widow, and they produced six children together.

Alameda County appointed Warren as their District Attorney the same year and they re-elected him two more times. He took crime seriously and professionalized the office of the DA. He punished bootleggers and corrupt officials with a reputation for being heavy-handed, but none of his convictions were successfully appealed.

Warren stood against the labor during the San Fransisco General Strike and convicted a woman once for attending an Oakland communist meeting. His tough policies against corruption, nonpartisan office, and belief in the ethicality of prosecutors and police earned him the title of the best DA in U.S. after a 1931 voter survey.[2]

California’s Attorney General and Japanese Internment Camps

Earl Warren was elected California State Attorney General in 1938 by using cross-filing, when a candidate files to run under their political party and at least one other. He immediately created specified regions for state law enforcement officials. He cracked down on crime, gambling ships on California’s coast, and continued the anti-Asian policies of Ulysses S. Webb’s Progressive Era policies.

Attorney General Warren encouraged the confiscation of Japanese-American land, eugenic forced sterilizations, and the placement of 120,000 Japanese-Americans into internment camps during the Second World War. He later regretted his decision to support the concentration camps.[3]

The Governor of California

On November 3, 1942, California elected Earl Warren as their Republican Governor with cross-filing making him both the Democratic and Republican candidate. The reelected him to a second term, and then a third in 1950. Warren is the only California Governor to serve three consecutive terms.[4]

Governor Warren implemented an aggressive postwar economic plan, modeled off the New Deal, to provide jobs to returning veterans and make the most of surplus wartime taxes. He expanded higher education in California and the 1947 Collier-Burns Act he supported taxed gasoline to pay for construction of a large freeway, rather than highway maintenance. Warren also ended the segregation of Asians and Native Americans from public schools. In 1948, Warren joined presidential candidate Thomas E. Dewey on the Republican ticket as his vice president, but lost to Harry S. Truman.[5]

The Warren Court and Cases

In 1952, Earl Warren appeared the obvious candidate for president at the Republican National Convention, but this ended when Senator Richard Nixon switched his public support from Warren to General Dwight D. Eisenhower at the chance to be Vice President. He never forgave Nixon for this change of heart.

President Eisenhower offered the office of U.S. Solicitor General to Warren and promised him a place in the Supreme Court, which he accepted. In September 1953, Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson suddenly died and the President chose Warren to replace him.[6] Nixon supported this decision to get Warren out of California politics. On March 1, 1954, the Senate unanimously confirmed him.

Through Justice Earl Warren’s direction, the U.S. Supreme Court focused more on civil liberties and displayed the importance of the court in governing the country.

Justice Warren decided many cases in a much more liberal manner than anticipated. He befriended Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., a labor lawyer, and, beginning in 1961, Justice Warren searched for lower court cases dealing with certain precedents to overrule, especially right-to-counsel.

In 1954’s case, Brown v. Board of Education, Justice Warren revealed his belief that the Constitution did not protect racial segregation. He did not push the other justices to vote immediately, but persuaded them to find common ground instead. This secured a unanimous opinion and he did so in future segregation cases the Court faced.

In 1962, the Supreme Court under Justice Warren outlawed mandatory prayer in schools in Engel v. Vitale. The next year, they upheld that the Sixth Amendment requires any poor criminal defendants to receive public-paid counsel in Gideon v. Wainwright. The Warren Court reigned in illegal police searches, nationalized the Bill of Rights during his term and declared the right to privacy part of the Constitution in 1965’s Griswold v. Connecticut.[7]

Retirement and Death

Justice Earl Warren began planning his retirement in June 1968. He thought Richard Nixon would win the U.S. Presidential Election that year, so he and President Lyndon B. Johnson tried to ensure the appointment of a successor before Johnson’s term ended. They nominated Abe Fortas, an associate justice and adviser to Johnson, and informed him that Justice Warren would retire upon his appointment.

Justice Earl Warren never forgave President Richard Nixon for retracting his support and worked against him as often as possible.

Senate conservatives filibustered the nomination and ruined their scheme. Nixon won the election and Justice Warren remained with the Supreme Court until June 1969. He retired and Warren E. Burger replaced him.

Justice Earl Warren died on July 9, 1974, in Washington, D.C after being informed that Nixon would be forced to release the tapes from the Watergate investigation. The Washington National Cathedral hosted his funeral and he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.[8]



 Newton, J. (2007). Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made. New York: Riverhead Books.

White, E. G. (1982). Earl Warren, A Public Life. New York: Oxford University Press.


  1. Newton, 2007
  2. White, 1982
  3. White, 1982
  4. White, 1982
  5. Newton, 2007
  6. White, 1982
  7. Newton, 2007
  8. Newton, 2007

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