Earl Warren Additional 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...

(The entire section is 2808 words.)