Warren Burger (September 17, 1907 - June 25, 1995)

Warren BurgerWarren Earl Burger was Chief Justice of the United States from 1969 to 1986. Although Burger had conservative leanings, the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a variety of transformative and controversial decisions on abortion, capital punishment, religious establishment, and school desegregation during his tenure.

In 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced his retirement after 15 years on the Court, effective on the confirmation of his successor. President Lyndon B. Johnson nominated sitting Associate Justice Abe Fortas to the position, but a Senate filibuster blocked his confirmation. With Johnson's term as President about to expire before another nominee could be considered, Warren remained in office for another Supreme Court term.

In 1969, President Richard M. Nixon nominated Burger to the Chief Justice position. Burger had first caught Nixon's eye when the magazine U.S. News and World Report had reprinted a 1967 speech that Burger had given at Ripon College, in which he compared the United States judicial system to those of Norway, Sweden, and Denmark:

I assume that no one will take issue with me when I say that these North European countries are as enlightened as the United States in the value they place on the individual and on human dignity. [Those countries] do not consider it necessary to use a device like our Fifth Amendment, under which an accused person may not be required to testify. They go swiftly, efficiently and directly to the question of whether the accused is guilty. No nation on earth goes to such lengths or takes such pains to provide safeguards as we do, once an accused person is called before the bar of justice and until his case is completed.

Through speeches like this, Burger became known as a critic of Chief Justice Warren and an advocate of a literal, strict-constructionist reading of the U.S. Constitution. Nixon's agreement with these views, being expressed by a readily confirmable, sitting federal appellate judge, led to the appointment. The Senate confirmed Burger to succeed Warren, who in turn swore in the new chief on June 23, 1969. In his presidential campaign, Nixon had pledged to appoint a strict constructionist as Chief Justice.¹

Warren Burger Quotes

"A far greater factor than abolishing poverty is the deterrent effect of swift and certain consequences: swift arrest, prompt trial, certain penalty and - at some point - finality of judgment."
"Concepts of justice must have hands and feet to carry out justice in every case in the shortest possible time and the lowest possible cost. This is the challenge to every lawyer and judge in America."

"Judges rule on the basis of law, not public opinion, and they should be totally indifferent to pressures of the times."

"It is not unprofessional to give free legal advice, but advertising that the first visit will be free is a bit like a fox telling chickens he will not bite them until they cross the threshold of the hen house."

"Free speech carries with it some freedom to listen."

"All litigation is inherently a clumsy, time-consuming business."

"There can be no assumption that today’s majority is “right” and the Amish or others like them are “wrong.” A way of life that is odd or even erratic but interferes with no right or interests of others is not to be condemned because it is different."

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