Warren Court

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The Warren Court was the activist U.S. Supreme Court led by Chief Justice Earl Warren from 1953 to 1969. The Justices who voted consistently with Warren were William Brennan, Hugo Black, William O. Douglas and Abe Fortas, who formed a powerful five-person majority capable of deciding any case regardless of what how other Justices held.

At a time when communism was spreading in the United States, the Warren Court ruled in favor of communists before the U.S. Supreme Court in nearly 70 out of 70 cases.[1]

The Warren Court found many new rights not expressly in the U.S. Constitution. Among other important Warren Court decisions were the following:

Miranda v. Arizona (1966) (established strict standards for how police could conduct custodial interrogations)
Engel v. Vitale (limited mandatory school prayer in public schools)
Griswold v. Connecticut (established a right to privacy for married couples)
Brown v. Board of Education (1954) (overturned the separate but equal decision of the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson)
Berman v. Parker (allowed the taking by government of private property for private use)
Cooper v. Aaron (established that Supreme Court precedents are binding on the states)
Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) (established an indigent defendant's right to appointed counsel in felony cases)
Reynolds v. Sims (1964) (requiring that state legislative districts be roughly equal in population)[2]
Memoirs v. Massachusetts (1966) (led to further debate on what constituted as porn since the Roth v. United States ruling in 1957; and also was significant in expanding the porn industry)

Time magazine said this about the Warren Court in 1966:[3]

In the not-so-distant past, the Supreme Court hewed to precedent and generally rebuffed all but the most monumental constitutional questions. But ever since Earl Warren became Chief Justice in 1953, a new "activist" court has thrown open its judicial windows to practically every ill and issue of U.S. life. In the face of what it regards as legislative inaction, the "Warren court" has desegregated schools, revolutionized criminal justice, rewritten the U.S. political system by plunging into the thicket of legislative reapportionment. To expand the long reach of the Constitution, it has imposed almost all of the Bill of Rights on the states as well as the Federal Government for the first time in U.S. history.
Time and again, critics have blasted the Warren court for being more political than judicial; yet time and again, its controversial decisions have survived all efforts to override them by constitutional amendment. Not surprisingly, the nation's lawyers now figure that almost every case raises constitutional issues that may attract the court. They appeal more and more cases, and as a result, more and more decisions raise more and more issues. Over the years, the court's workload has risen steadily. In 1940 the court handled only 977 cases, in 1950 only 1,181. Last term it considered a total of 3,267 cases.


  1. See Safe - Not Sorry.
  2. https://www.pbs.org/wnet/supremecourt/rights/landmark_reynolds.html
  3. http://www.time.com/time/printout/0,8816,840703,00.html