Study Guide

Earl Warren

Earl Warren Biography

Biography (Literary Masterpieces, Volume 16)

The biography of a public figure is valuable if it explains and fairly evaluates the person’s contributions and if it provides insight about the path to achievement. In addition, a well-written biography can be entertaining reading. Jack Harrison Pollack gives a detailed, colorless account of the events and achievements of Earl Warren but does not make an evaluation of his contributions. Although his treatment is generally sympathetic, it is fair to the extent that facts are accurately presented and some criticisms given. Pollack looks for forces in Warren’s life which might explain his career but does not reach a satisfactory answer. Instead, he conveys a sense of puzzlement about the great impact that Warren had upon his time. Pollack suggests that it was Warren’s extraordinary commitment to the common virtues that explain his impact.

Certainly, there was nothing unique in Warren’s early life that foreshadowed the impact he would have in his adult life. Pollack attempts briefly to develop the theme of “Viking genes” to explain Warren’s venturesome spirit, but he soon seems to realize that this theory will not do. To find factors that provide some understanding of the man, the best that can be done is to examine the family background in which Warren grew to maturity. Ordinary virtues were a predominant feature of Warren’s childhood; his family environment was marked by love, mutual respect, close companionship, and unity. Much of the unity was provided by the parents’ concern for the nurturing of their children. Warren’s father took special care to impress upon his son the deprivation of poverty and to devise a plan which would enable him to get an education.

Having grown up in this kind of home, it is not surprising that Earl Warren’s own wife and children would be the center of his life. Pollack gives the impression that Warren, although he did not marry until he was thirty-four, gave no thought to such matters until he met and married, in 1925, the widow Nina Palmquist Meyers, his lifelong companion. While Pollack stresses the importance of Warren’s family, he portrays only a campaign-poster picture of the ideal family and does not give the reader any sense of the quality or depth of the family relationship. Pollack is doubtless on sound ground when he relates Warren’s personal experiences as a father of three daughters to the difficulty he had leading the Supreme Court in the obscenity cases to a position that would stand the test of time, yet later Justices have fared no better in dealing with this issue.

Another contributing factor to Warren’s career was the great pleasure he took from his association with others. It was during his years at the University of California at Berkeley that the genial, self-confident, companionable Earl Warren began to emerge. Soon after his graduation from law school, he became president of the Young Lawyers Club and naturally developed an interest in politics. He made contacts which led to his appointment as deputy city attorney of Oakland. From there, he moved to the district attorney’s office and became district attorney of Alameda County at thirty-four.

As district attorney, Warren made a reputation as a hard-working, effective prosecutor. Between 1927 and 1930, he was prosecuting corruption in other law-enforcement agencies, and a special target was the sheriff of Alameda County. Warren was frustrated because witnesses would not testify before the grand jury either because they were afraid or were bribed. In an effort to create pressure on the witnesses from the public, he released information that the grand jury had received to the local paper. Although this act violated a basic principle that proceedings before a grand jury are secret, Warren narrowly interpreted the state statute and took the position that the law stated the grand jury could not release testimony but that it did not say anything about the district attorney. This action clearly violated accepted practice, and Pollack reports that Warren was not proud of this episode. Another case of District Attorney Warren’s which had irregularities involved the murder of the chief engineer of the SS Point Lobos. One of these irregularities was the apparent holding of the accused overnight for questioning without legal counsel—a procedure which was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court when Warren was Chief Justice.

These incidents may explain, at least in part, the direction in which Chief Justice Warren took the Supreme Court in a series of...

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Earl Warren Biography (History of the World: The 20th Century)

Article abstract: Warren was Chief Justice of the United States between 1953 and 1969; under his leadership, landmark decisions were reached striking down existing practices in the areas of racial segregation, limitations on political association, voting apportionment, the investigation of criminal suspects, and other controversial issues.

Early Life

On March 19, 1891, Earl Warren was born in Los Angeles, California. His father, Methias Warren, was a Norwegian immigrant who had come to the United States during his adolescence and for many years worked as a railroad car mechanic; the boy’s mother, Christine Hernlund Warren, was of Swedish ancestry. Ethel Warren, Earl’s sister, was four years older than he. In 1896, the family moved to Bakersfield. As a boy, Warren raised animals and worked at various jobs on the Southern Pacific Railroad; his best subjects in school were history, English, and French. His interest was aroused in 1903 when a deputy marshal killed two lawmen and was later tried in a local court; Warren saw the trial and also watched other trials. Although his father encouraged him to consider a career in engineering, Warren was intrigued by the examples of courtroom advocacy he had seen. By the time he completed high school, he had saved some eight hundred dollars, which he used to meet his expenses when he entered the University of California at Berkeley.

Warren’s academic record was acceptable, if not outstanding; after his third year, he was allowed to take courses at the University’s law school. He received a bachelor’s degree in 1912, and two years later he was awarded his law degree. He was graduated at about the middle of his class and was not selected to serve on the school’s Law Review. For some time thereafter, he practiced in a local law office; upon the United States’s entry into World War I, he joined the army, serving as a bayonet instructor. After a period of service that took him to Fort Lee, Virginia, he was discharged in 1918 with the rank of first lieutenant in the infantry. He then began work for the city attorney in Oakland. In 1925, he became the district attorney for Alameda County, an area just east of San Francisco.

Slightly taller than six feet, Earl Warren weighed more than two hundred pounds; he had a strong build, though in later years he had to struggle somewhat to control his girth. His features were often described as typically Scandinavian: He had a long face with a straight nose and clear blue eyes, his complexion was fair, and he had blond hair which eventually became gray. Throughout his adult life he wore glasses, in time favoring those with rounded, dark-rimmed frames.

Although hither to he had not seriously concerned himself with women, Warren became deeply attached in 1921 to Nina Palmquist Meyers, whom he met at a morning swimming party. An attractive young widow whose husband had died shortly after their son was born, she returned Warren’s affection; after a lengthy courtship, they were married in 1925. Over a period of seven years, two sons and three daughters were born to them, and Warren, as a proud father, became an archetypal family man, constantly concerned with his children’s education and well-being.

Life’s Work

Warren became widely known for his relentless pursuit of lawbreakers, notably bootleggers, and he took vigorous action against gambling and vice. In 1931, Raymond Moley, an important political observer and later adviser to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, called Warren “the most intelligent and politically independent district attorney in the United States.” On some cases Warren went to great lengths to obtain convictions; controversy arose in 1936, during his investigation of a shipboard homicide on the SS Point Lobos. Four defendants, who allegedly were Communist sympathizers, were brought to trial on evidence obtained partly through electronic eavesdropping and prolonged interrogation in the absence of defense counsel. Ultimately they were found guilty of second-degree murder. Violent crime affected Warren’s life directly, as well: In 1938, his father was beaten to death at his home in Bakersfield. The assailant was never found.

Later that year, Warren was elected attorney general for the state of California; his tenure in that office was characterized by the same zeal he had displayed in local law enforcement. In 1939, drawing upon an extended legal definition of the state’s coastal waters, he directed a major raid on the Rex, an offshore gambling ship. He also became involved in politics: He opposed the nomination of a noted legal scholar to the California Supreme Court, partly because of the latter’s purported relations with the Communist Party. Claims of national security were invoked in 1942, when Warren supervised the forcible relocation of about 110,000 Japanese Americans; he depicted them as potential saboteurs and collaborationists. Although somewhat later many others denounced this measure, until the last years of his life Warren contended that it was necessary in view of the military situation at that time.

Warren’s politics were Republican, but his positions on social issues had a wide appeal to voters at large. He campaigned for governor in 1942 and was elected overwhelmingly; four years later, under California’s cross-filing system, he won the primaries of both major parties. In 1950, he became the only man to be elected to a third term as governor of that state. He supported measures to expand the state’s educational system; he also advocated prison reform and improved mental health care. He was acutely conscious of the financial hardships imposed by medical expenses, which he and his family had incurred during periods of hospitalization; in 1945 he urged, unsuccessfully, that the state enact a form of health care insurance. In 1949, he signed a bill requiring that women receive equal pay for work performed on an equal basis with men.

Because of his demonstrated political appeal and the growing importance of California and the Western states in national politics, there were Republican political strategists who looked to Warren as one of the party’s possible standard-bearers. In 1948, the Republican nominee for president, Governor Thomas E. Dewey of New York, chose Warren as his vice-presidential running mate. He campaigned with some vigor, and even after Dewey’s unexpected defeat, some of the California governor’s supporters held out hopes for the next election. At that time, however, Dwight D. Eisenhower announced his candidacy and in short order obtained the Republican nomination; he was then elected president by a convincing margin. In 1953, after the sudden death of Chief Justice Frederick M. Vinson created a vacancy on the United States Supreme Court, Eisenhower offered...

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