A Consensus Builder
Shiffman, Stuart, Judicature
A consensus builder by Stuart Shiftman Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made, by Jim Newton. Riverhead Books. 2006. 512 pages. $32.
The jurisprudence of Supreme Court chief justices is often found in the bound volumes of reporters that include the cases decided during their tenure. While the lengthy list of decisions from the era of Earl Warren revolutionized the law, Warren's impact on the Supreme Court, on the law, and on the nation he served were far more profound than citations in the United States Reporter. Warren's Supreme Court tenure spanned 16 years, from 1953 to 1969. Three decades and three chief justices have supplanted Earl Warren, but the rulings of his Court that remade civil rights, voting rights, rights of criminal defendants, and First Amendment rights continue to be in the forefront of American society. The nation would be far different had Dwight Eisenhower selected someone in 1953 other than Warren to occupy the center chair of the Supreme Court.
Earl Warren died August 5, 1974. Four days later his political contemporary and foe, Richard Nixon, resigned the presidency of the United States. Nixon made Warren a lightening rod for national debate on judicial philosophy that began during the presidential campaign of 1968 and echoes through elections and confirmation battles today. Earl Warren and his detractors remade the Supreme Court appointment process in profound fashion. Regardless of whether one admires or despises Earl Warren's jurisprudence, there can be no debate that the Supreme Court will never have another appointee with his background. No president seems willing to nominate a potential justice bereft of previous judicial experience. The political risks are too high.
Warren's experience is the subject of Justice for All: Earl Warren and the Nation He Made by Jim Newton. Judicial biographies fall into two categories-a study of the person or a study of the law. Newton, a reporter for the Los Angeles Times for 20 years, devotes a significant portion of his biography to Warren's legal decisions, but focuses more on Warren the man, and the events of his life that shaped his judicial philosophy.
In Earl Warren's generation there was no training manual for becoming a Supreme Court justice. The Court that Warren joined in 1953 consisted of eight men from diverse backgrounds. Four had served in the Roosevelt and Truman administrations; two were former United States senators, and one a law professor. Only Sherman Minton came to the Court with judicial experience. Earl Warren's training for the Court came from the world of politics; indeed his nomination was the product of a political quid pro quo from presidential candidate Dwight Eisenhower. At the 1952 Republican convention, Warren's support for Eisenhower boosted the General to the nomination. Warren was passed over for a cabinet appointment but was promised by the newly elected Eisenhower that he would be appointed to the first Supreme Court vacancy. Plans were underway for Warren to become Solicitor General of the United States when the unexpected death of Chief Justice Fred Vinson created a Court vacancy. The politically astute Warren maneuvered behind the scenes to make certain that Eisenhower's promise was fulfilled.
Supreme Court scholars and Earl Warren biographers have consistently struggled with the enigma of Earl Warren. How did the district attorney who once questioned a suspect of low intelligence for hours without an attorney become the author of Miranda v. Arizona? How did the attorney general who countenanced the internment of JapaneseAmericans become the proponent of Supreme Court decisions that expanded civil rights for all citizens? No biography of Earl Warren has provided a satisfactory answer to this mystery, and perhaps none can ever do so. But Justice for All provides important insight into the California life and career of Earl Warren, both personal and political, in a substantial effort to answer the conundrum of the man who became recognized by legal historians as "Super Chief. …