Warren Burger

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Warren Burger
Former Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court
From: June 23, 1969 – September 26, 1986
Nominator Richard Nixon
Predecessor Earl Warren
Successor William Rehnquist
Party Republican
Spouse(s) Elvera Stromberg
Religion Presbyterian

Warren Earl Burger (September 17, 1907 – June 25, 1995) was the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court from 1969–1986; he was mostly a conservative who was unable to undo the work of the Warren Court.


Burger was born in St. Paul, Minnesota on September 17, 1907. In a family of seven children, Burger earned his way through college and law school. He practiced law for more than twenty years, but during this period he was active in the Minnesota state Republican Party. Burger worked for the United States Department of Justice under President Eisenhower, who nominated Burger in 1956 to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.


Burger was appointed by President Richard Nixon in 1969 to replace Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the United States. He was a strong advocate of "strict constructionism", a philosophy whereby one attempts to base one's decisions upon the literal text of the Constitution. Burger identified with the Court's conservative wing and frequently voted to limit the liberal decisions of the Warren Court. Burger was not one-dimensional, however. He authored the Court's opinion upholding the right of trial judges to order busing as a remedy for school segregation and he spoke for a unanimous Court upholding a subpoena for the Watergate tapes which resulted in President Nixon's resignation.


Chief Justice Burger was famously known as someone who "looked the part," dignified in appearance with silver hair and possessing social skills that worked well among top officials in Washington, D.C.. But his loosely reasoned opinions became fodder for use by the liberal wing of the Court, as his Lemon v. Kurtzman opinion on the Establishment Clause became a leading precedent for driving religion out of public life. Chief Justice Burger was unable to hold for very long the support of Associate Justice Harry Blackmun, who was appointed by President Richard Nixon on the hope that Justice Blackmun would follow the lead of his Minnesota colleague.

In Roe v. Wade, Chief Justice Burger voted with the majority of the court in favor of abortion but supposedly only did so to enable him to assign the writing of the opinion to Justice Blackmun rather than to Justice William Brennan, who was expected to write a more liberal decision.[1] As it turned out, Justice Brennan had tremendous influence over the writing of the decision anyway. Burger would later abandon Roe in his dissent in Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (1986).

Later life

Berger was one of the first people to advance the notion that the Second Amendment was never for individuals but was instead a "collective right". He wrote in 1990 an article in Parade Magazine arguing that the amendment only had a limited context based on the needs of only a state and was never intended for individuals.[2][3]

Further reading

  • Blasi, Vincent. The Burger Court (1983);
  • Yarbrough, Tinsley, and Peter Renstrom. The Burger Court: Justices, Rulings, and Legacy (2000)

See also


  1. The Chief Justice has the power to assign who writes the opinion for the side that he is on; the writer of the opinion on the other side is determined by the most senior judge on that side.
  2. The Right To Bear Arms, By Warren E. Burger, Chief Justice of the United States (1969-86), Parade Magazine, January 14, 1990, page 4
  3. Warren Burger and the Second Amendment

External links