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Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren

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Earl Warren is rightly remembered not only as one of the great chief justices of the Supreme Court, but as one of the most influential Americans of the twentieth century. Warren Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda, and Baker v. Carr have given us such famous phrases as "separate is not equal, " "read him his rights, " and "one-man-one-vote" - and h Earl Warren is rightly remembered not only as one of the great chief justices of the Supreme Court, but as one of the most influential Americans of the twentieth century. Warren Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda, and Baker v. Carr have given us such famous phrases as "separate is not equal, " "read him his rights, " and "one-man-one-vote" - and have vastly expanded civil rights and personal liberties. A generation later the Warren Court's decisions still define American freedoms. Ed Cray recounts this truly American story in the finest and most comprehensive biography of Earl Warren. He has interviewed nearly all of the Chief's law clerks, four of his children, and more than one hundred others, many of whom recall for the first time their years with Warren. He has read thousands of personal letters and official documents deposited in ten libraries across the country, weaving them into a tale of political intrigue, judicial politics, family reminiscences, and a loving marriage.


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Earl Warren is rightly remembered not only as one of the great chief justices of the Supreme Court, but as one of the most influential Americans of the twentieth century. Warren Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda, and Baker v. Carr have given us such famous phrases as "separate is not equal, " "read him his rights, " and "one-man-one-vote" - and h Earl Warren is rightly remembered not only as one of the great chief justices of the Supreme Court, but as one of the most influential Americans of the twentieth century. Warren Court decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education, Miranda, and Baker v. Carr have given us such famous phrases as "separate is not equal, " "read him his rights, " and "one-man-one-vote" - and have vastly expanded civil rights and personal liberties. A generation later the Warren Court's decisions still define American freedoms. Ed Cray recounts this truly American story in the finest and most comprehensive biography of Earl Warren. He has interviewed nearly all of the Chief's law clerks, four of his children, and more than one hundred others, many of whom recall for the first time their years with Warren. He has read thousands of personal letters and official documents deposited in ten libraries across the country, weaving them into a tale of political intrigue, judicial politics, family reminiscences, and a loving marriage.

30 review for Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren

  1. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Million

    Earl Warren was the rare politician, and later jurist, who both practiced and preached that honesty and integrity are the most important parts of a person's character. Ed Cray chronicles Warren's long and extraordinary career of a half-century in public service with objectivity and professionalism. Neither fawning nor overly critical, Cray is able to maintain a fairly personable stance on Warren, taking him to task when he felt that Warren's actions did not line up with his professed ideals. The Earl Warren was the rare politician, and later jurist, who both practiced and preached that honesty and integrity are the most important parts of a person's character. Ed Cray chronicles Warren's long and extraordinary career of a half-century in public service with objectivity and professionalism. Neither fawning nor overly critical, Cray is able to maintain a fairly personable stance on Warren, taking him to task when he felt that Warren's actions did not line up with his professed ideals. The result is a book that, while not making for riveting reading, carefully examines just who Earl Warren was, what was important to him, how his thinking was molded while growing up in California, and how he managed a relatively seamless major career change: going from Governor of California to Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The book is roughly divided in half, page-wise, between Warren's career as a politician and Warren's career on the bench. As the title of the book hints, Cray's main interest is in the latter. However, this is a full biography and Cray knows that without examining and explaining Warren's pre-Supreme Court career, the reader would not fully be able to understand Warren the Chief Justice. Nothing was given to Warren; he worked for everything that he got, even the Supreme Court appointment (in a way). Warren was interested in the law from an early age and worked hard to make himself - successively - into a lawyer, then a county prosecutor, then California Attorney General, the Governor, and finally culminating in the pinnacle of the judicial profession. Warren was a liberal Republican, even back then in the first half of the 20th century. It is questionable, perhaps even doubtful, if he would be a Republican at all today. Because Warren was scrupulously honest (although sometimes not fully as one might hope) and was guided by his own innate sense of integrity, he was a different kind of politician than most. He refused to engage in quid pro quos and refused to accept bribes. Undoubtedly, this highly moral manner of conducting his life made him many enemies (think of the "Impeach Earl Warren" billboards in the 1960s) and possibly cost him support when he wanted to make a run at the presidency in 1952. His sense of duty to his country that he swore an oath to protect was more important to him than any position that he could gain from it. By far the biggest blemish on Warren's star is his acquiescence in and support of the horrible decision to intern all Japanese (both American citizens and foreign nationals) living in California in 1942 by placing them in armed camps. Warren got caught up in the hysteria following Pearl Harbor and, as California Attorney General, was firmly in support of this stupid policy. It was clear in later years, when he was Chief Justice, that Warren knew he was on the wrong side of history and the wrong side of humanity for playing his role in the internment. While never actually coming out publicly and admitting that he was wrong, in private discussions with friends and family members and even in some of the Supreme Court decisions that he helped to hand down, one could see that Warren's view had changed. For a man who so prided himself on his own sense of fairness and justice for those who were ill-treated by society, this must have disturbed him until he died. Cray tries to mix in Warren's personal life, and does a fairly decent job at it. Although, after going onto the Supreme Court, the book largely revolves around Warren's court management and decisions. Cray does divert for one chapter to discuss the Warren Commission (President Lyndon Johnson basically demanded of Warren that he head a commission to look into the assassination of Preisdent John F. Kennedy). This is quite interesting as Cray documents several things: how hard Warren worked - essentially doing two full-time jobs for most of 1964 when he was already seventy-three years old; how fractured the Commission was (Georgia Senator Richard Russell hated Warren because of the latter's desegregation ruling in the famous 1954 Brown case; Michigan Representative Gerald Ford was largely a partisan thorn even though he belonged to the same party as Warren); how Warren's intense involvement and dedication to doing a thorough job ran him afoul of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover; and how Warren did not believe that anyone else but Lee Harvey Oswald was involved. Cray also provides context behind Warren's relationship with his one real enemy: Richard Nixon. Warren ultimately lost to Nixon twice: first when Nixon finagled him out of any shot at becoming the Republican Presidential nominee in 1952 (ironically this led to Warren's appointment as Chief Justice by a reluctant and later regretful President Dwight Eisenhower), and second at the end of Warren's career. Warren wanted to retire in 1968 and submitted his resignation to President Johnson stating he would retire at the President's pleasure. This set the ball rolling on a fiasco: Johnson nominated Associate Justice Abe Fortas to become Chief Justice, the Senate balked - embarrassing both Fortas and Johnson while attacking Warren, Fortas withdrew his name when he saw the writing on the wall, Nixon then becomes President and is the one to appoint Warren Burger as Warren's successor. This is definitely not what Warren wanted. Nonetheless, despite that episode, Warren was and remains one of the most important and influential Chief Justices in history and helped to redefine and broaden rights for many people who previously had been marginalized by society. While this book is not written poorly, it was a struggle at times to get through. Cray does not provide any breaks once he begins a chapter, so often times the subject switches markedly from one paragraph to the next. Warren lives a long life, and lived through many societal changes and was present for some big moments. But sometimes that sense doesn't make it through the narrative. Cray spends as much time on the 1948 presidential election as he does on Warren's time as a student at the University of California. Warren's personality never really seems to come out here. In someone else's hands, a more vibrant Earl Warren might very well appear.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    I so wanted to enjoy this book, but gosh it's a slog. A real kitchen sink of a biography. The author can't leave out a single, minute detail. In his obsession to cram in every little fact, he loses touch with what made Earl Warren so great. This book needs much less information and much more insight. The first half, to Warren's appointment as chief justice, is worse than the second half, which features explanations of his judicial philosophy, his leadership of the court, and factual back stories I so wanted to enjoy this book, but gosh it's a slog. A real kitchen sink of a biography. The author can't leave out a single, minute detail. In his obsession to cram in every little fact, he loses touch with what made Earl Warren so great. This book needs much less information and much more insight. The first half, to Warren's appointment as chief justice, is worse than the second half, which features explanations of his judicial philosophy, his leadership of the court, and factual back stories of the big cases: Brown v. Board of Education, Baker v. Carr, Mapp v. Ohio, and others. Still, in the second half I wanted to quit reading several times and instead pushed on when the book was pivoting, as when Warren finally buckled under President Johnson's forceful pressure to chair the commission investigating President Kennedy's assassination. Bottom line: Earl Warren deserves a much better biography than this.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Bruce

    One of the nice things upon reading this book about Earl Warren is that author Ed Cray was in complete agreement with me in terms of ranking Warren as one of the big three of our Chief Justices. The other two are Marshall who established the court as the third branch of government and Hughes who saved it from FDR's court packing plan. As for Warren he charted new horizons in jurisprudence in his tenure from 1953 to 1969. Warren was born in 1891 and raised in Bakersfield, California of Norwegian imm One of the nice things upon reading this book about Earl Warren is that author Ed Cray was in complete agreement with me in terms of ranking Warren as one of the big three of our Chief Justices. The other two are Marshall who established the court as the third branch of government and Hughes who saved it from FDR's court packing plan. As for Warren he charted new horizons in jurisprudence in his tenure from 1953 to 1969. Warren was born in 1891 and raised in Bakersfield, California of Norwegian immigrant parents. He went to college at Berkeley and settled in Oakland. After service in World War I he became a lawyer and was hired at the Alameda County District Attorney's office. In 1925 he became the District Attorney for Alameda County. He won by bigger and bigger margins and in 1938 was the candidate for Attorney General. Come 1942 and Warren won the first of three terms as Governor. Warren as Governor expanded the social welfare state greatly and also California's extensive university system. At the same time he was an orthodox Republican on a lot of issues. As Governor and Attorney General he facilitated the removal of Japanese Americans to internment camps. A blot he never quite removed. Tom Dewey wanted him as his running mate both times he ran for president. Warren refused in 1944 and accepted in 1948. Warren made no secret that he wanted a Supreme Court appointment and was a favorite son candidate again for president. A timely withdrawal exacted a pledge from Dwight Eisenhower that Warren would get the first appointment. Ike wasn't ready for the fact that the first vacancy would be the Chief Justice spot as Fred Vinson died unexpectedly. Ike did offer the spot to a few others before giving it to Warren. No one was expecting a judicial revolution either, but when Warren lined up the court in Brown vs. Board of Education for a unanimous decision ending school segregation the constitutional lawyers knew there was someone taking charge. In the time of Warren's tenure, mandatory school prayer ended, legislative reapportionment was mandated to be equal. Criminal defendants had to have their rights spelled out for them. It was a judicial revolution. It made the right wing mad and Impeach Earl Warren was a battle cry for them. Sadly it was an anti-climax that ended Warren's tenure. He retired in 1969 after one of the few men in public life he hated became president . Warren himself died in the summer of 1974 as Richard Nixon was steps away from resignation. Just like a lot didn't expect leadership in the Civil War from Abraham Lincoln, Earl Warren pleasantly and not so pleasantly surprised a lot of people. In my book they don't make judges better.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Chris Miller

    I enjoyed this deep dive into the formative experiences of Chief Justice Earl Warren, and the landmark opinions he delivered from the U.S. Supreme Court. I was intrigued by the background provided by Ed Cray's interviews with former law clerks and colleagues. The tone set throughout this lengthy biography was highly sympathetic to its subject, pressing up against sycophantic. I would have appreciated more discussion of the hatred he inspired among conservatives and Southern Democrats, who presse I enjoyed this deep dive into the formative experiences of Chief Justice Earl Warren, and the landmark opinions he delivered from the U.S. Supreme Court. I was intrigued by the background provided by Ed Cray's interviews with former law clerks and colleagues. The tone set throughout this lengthy biography was highly sympathetic to its subject, pressing up against sycophantic. I would have appreciated more discussion of the hatred he inspired among conservatives and Southern Democrats, who pressed so hard for his impeachment. However, the author seems to have adopted Earl Warren's perspective toward those viewpoints, which is simply that one's moral compass should guide a judge's decisions just as much as the Constitution. I am proud of the steps that Chief Justice Warren took to advance social justice in the 1950s and 1960s. Our country is better for it.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Judy

    Ed Cray delivers a detailed biography of one of the most influential Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren. Warren served as Chief Justice during a period of significant social change in American life. In the post-WWII years the country was on high alert for Communist infiltrators, resulting in unprecedented efforts to uncover those who disagreed with the government, or squelch their right to protest. The Jim Crow discrimination practices of the south made their way to the Supreme Cou Ed Cray delivers a detailed biography of one of the most influential Chief Justices of the Supreme Court, Earl Warren. Warren served as Chief Justice during a period of significant social change in American life. In the post-WWII years the country was on high alert for Communist infiltrators, resulting in unprecedented efforts to uncover those who disagreed with the government, or squelch their right to protest. The Jim Crow discrimination practices of the south made their way to the Supreme Court in Brown v Board of Education and related cases. The resulting rulings have had far-reach, life-changing impact. To understand Earl Warren's judicial philosophy it helps to understand the man. No legal scholar, by his own admission, he rose through the ranks of public service in California because he worked hard in the jobs he secured, he remembered the people who helped him get there, and he took a genuine interest in people. Reflecting on his years on the Supreme Court he said he always thought of the people his decisions would effect. Personal rights/liberties trumped states rights in Warren's mind. With little regard for legal precedent, Warren decided cases on the basis of his own instinct of fairness, right and wrong. As Cray relates, Warren sketched out the broad themes and directions he felt a ruling should go and then left the heavy lifting--researching the legal precedent and drafting the decision--to his law clerks. He and his court became the object of virulent criticism from strict constitutional constructionists and the emerging right-wing politicos. I was surprised to learn that the argument over judicial precedent and judicial activism goes back, nearly to the beginning of the republic. While I tend to be slightly right of center politically, I believe Warren was right to ask "What's right" in the matters of racial discrimination, rather than "What is the legal precedent." Clearly, the courts had allowed the injustices of discrimination to go on, hiding behind legal precedent. I was also surprised at the behind the scenes politics of how Warren secured his spot on the Supreme Court, how and when his successor was appointed, and the justices relationships with members of the legislative and executive branches. It seems like the lines between the three branches of government are frequently blurred and justice is not always blind.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Josh Muhlenkamp

    I came into this book as somebody who was not a huge fan of Earl Warren, although I certainly respect what he did as Chief Justice, and can't say that I disagree with a lot of the major decisions of his court (Brown, Mapp, Miranda, Gideon, etc.). Throughout the book, Mr. Cray stressed that Warren's judicial "philosophy" was whether the decision was fair. I do believe that fairness matters in the judiciary, but not the extent that Warren went to. According to Mr. Cray, Warren was results-driven, w I came into this book as somebody who was not a huge fan of Earl Warren, although I certainly respect what he did as Chief Justice, and can't say that I disagree with a lot of the major decisions of his court (Brown, Mapp, Miranda, Gideon, etc.). Throughout the book, Mr. Cray stressed that Warren's judicial "philosophy" was whether the decision was fair. I do believe that fairness matters in the judiciary, but not the extent that Warren went to. According to Mr. Cray, Warren was results-driven, with little consideration of the reasoning behind the result. That might be acceptable from a judge on a federal district oourt or another low-level trial court, but on the Supreme Court, that doesn't cut it. The Supreme Court's purpose is to articulate meaning; this purpose requires that the Court's members take great care with the reasons for their decisions, with less of an eye on the actual outcomes. I want to stress that my dislike of Warren does not stem from political differences, although those differences exist. I'm perfectly capable of admiring people from different ideological backgrounds, having admired Harry Truman for a significant period of time now. My dislike of Warren stems from his inconsistency and lack of awareness of what his role as a justice of the Supreme Court actually was, which has caused problems for the Court and lawyers in later days.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Brooke

    I knew not one fact about Chief Justice Earl Warren before I read this book. He was amazing. Not an intellectual, but a down-to-earth, practical, principled man who loved his wife and family. How refreshing is that in today's world? I believe he was not only a man of his times, but a man for the times. Not everything that sprang from his court is neat and tidy, or wonderful I suppose, but I am glad I no longer live in a legally segregated United States. I enjoy knowing that I have basic civil r I knew not one fact about Chief Justice Earl Warren before I read this book. He was amazing. Not an intellectual, but a down-to-earth, practical, principled man who loved his wife and family. How refreshing is that in today's world? I believe he was not only a man of his times, but a man for the times. Not everything that sprang from his court is neat and tidy, or wonderful I suppose, but I am glad I no longer live in a legally segregated United States. I enjoy knowing that I have basic civil rights. May we all live to be better people. For the most part this book is readable, but at 533 pages it can sometimes be a bit mind boggling. It seems to be carefully researched to me. It is very interesting to read the "back story" of many of the cases the court heard, and the personalities on the court.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brent

    This was an advance copy that Marylin Hudson passed along. Cray writes well and informatively. The major roles Warren played in California and national history make for interesting reading. LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks played a small role here, as he was a law clerk for Warren. Warren encouraged him to teach law rather than return to law practice in Chicago "due to the crookedness of the government (including the judiciary), the hoodlumism and racketeering which is prevalent, and the generally low mor This was an advance copy that Marylin Hudson passed along. Cray writes well and informatively. The major roles Warren played in California and national history make for interesting reading. LDS Apostle Dallin Oaks played a small role here, as he was a law clerk for Warren. Warren encouraged him to teach law rather than return to law practice in Chicago "due to the crookedness of the government (including the judiciary), the hoodlumism and racketeering which is prevalent, and the generally low moral tone prevailing." Oaks did end up living there anyway as a professor at the University of Chicago School of Law.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kirk Lowery

    Cray clearly admires Warren, and this plus his liberal political bias mars the narrative and the selection and emphasis of event. Nevertheless, as a native Californian, I was amazed at how little I knew about the history of California in the first half of the 20th century.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Steve Cawelti

    A very worthwhile read. Starts slow but necessary based on Chief Justice Warren's background. This was a landmark period in the Supreme Court, and Warren one of the greatest Chiefs in our country's history. A very worthwhile read. Starts slow but necessary based on Chief Justice Warren's background. This was a landmark period in the Supreme Court, and Warren one of the greatest Chiefs in our country's history.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lenny

    Very good bio. Didn't know anything about Earl Warren. Now I come away with Ed Cray's assistance much better informed on The Supreme Court and all its functions. Very good bio. Didn't know anything about Earl Warren. Now I come away with Ed Cray's assistance much better informed on The Supreme Court and all its functions.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Doug Jakway

    Decent book spanning a very influential career of Earl Warren.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Stuart

    A cloying, fawning account of the life of a fascinating character in American history. There is great book to be written about the life of Justice Warren, but this is not it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Doug Wells

    Earl Warren as Chief Justice blazed an amazing legal path starting with Brown v. Board of Education and through the 60s. This is a great biography.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Glen

    This book shows Chief Justice Earl Warren for the remarkable man that he was. He was responsible for many of the rights enjoyed by Americans today.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tracy

  17. 5 out of 5

    Terrence Troxell

  18. 5 out of 5

    Giuseppe

  19. 4 out of 5

    Dave Barney

  20. 5 out of 5

    Brian

  21. 5 out of 5

    Osborneinri

  22. 4 out of 5

    Shawn

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brian Swanigan

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

  25. 4 out of 5

    Sheikh Tajamul

  26. 4 out of 5

    Patteeekm

  27. 5 out of 5

    David Gassmann

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bryan Harrop

  29. 4 out of 5

    Ramona

  30. 4 out of 5

    Michael Brazeal

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