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When the Okies left Oklahoma and moved to California, it raised the I

The Man Who Changed California                Seraphina Wang


G. Edward White is a Professor of Law at the University of Virginia School of Law and was a former law clerk to Earl Warren. He wrote Earl Warren: A Public Life to reveal write about the man behind Earl Warren. Besides Earl Warren: A Public Life, he has written several other books, including the two prominent books, The American Judicial Tradition and Tort Law In America.



On July 9, 1974, Earl Warren, died of cardiac arrest with his wife, Nina, and his daughter, Honeybear, next to him. Surprisingly, after his death, Warren ceased to be "a figure of widespread public interest."1 However, during his lifetime, Warren was hailed as one of America's greatest chief justices. In Earl Warren: A Public Life, written by G. Edward White, White sought to discern what made Warren one of the best chief justices and what he did to change America.

            Earl Warren was born on March 19, 1891 and later attended the University of California, Berkeley.  At Berkeley, Warren tended to see questions of obedience "as one with moral dimensions."2 He discouraged cheating, even if it was "cheating with dignity and pride."3 Warren showed an interest in political matters during college, and sought out other careers related to law and justice. In one case he later tried, the Point Lobos case in 1936, Warren prosecuted four of the five defendants for the murder of Albert Murphy. The entire trial took eight weeks ending in January of 1937 with Earl King, Earnest Ramsay, Frank Conner, and George Wallace sentenced to prison terms ranging from five years to life. As a governor, Warren was not a moderate but an activist trying to use office power to further goals; he sought to retain progressivism in California and to "support affirmative governmental action" on behalf of the disabled.4 In 1947, Warren supported a three cent increase in tax on gasoline to create money for highway projects. He vetoed a bill in 1949 which stated that all University of California employees must sign an oath declaring they are not associated in any way with communism. Instead, Warren signed the Levering Act into effect in 1950 requiring all Californian employees to sign an agreement that they did not associate with the Communist Party. Warren also "endorsed social security" in California.5 Eventually, Warren was offered the position of Supreme Court Justice. As a result, Warren finished his tenure as governor and moved to Washington D.C. to start a new chapter in his life as Chief Justice.

            In 1953, Warren was appointed the Supreme Court Chief Justice. While Warren kept an interest in administrative matters, Warren could not replace older justices with new ones as he had done in California, meaning that the judges often held differing opinions. One of his prominent cases was Brown v. Board of Education. Warren's main concern was how to "eradicate segregation in public schools" and how could it be implemented effectively. 6 In December of 1953, Warren argued that the Court could invalidate Plessy v. Ferguson if five justices would vote for the invalidation. Also, Warren stated that the Fourteenth Amendment justified that all citizens were given the rights of life, liberty, and property. He successfully persuaded all of the other eight justices to support a single opinion to end segregation. Another major trial during Warren's reign was the investigation of John F. Kennedy's assassination. Warren, along with the Warren Commission, ruled that Kennedy was assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald only and no other gunman was involved with the shooting. However, many other committees, such as the Select Committee rebuffed this result, convinced that there had to be another gunman involved in the shooting. To Warren, Oswald was the perfect man to kill the president since Oswald "had been a misfit all his life" and was incapable of working with anyone.7 Warren relied on the FBI and CIA to make a final judgment that Oswald did indeed act alone, even though he initially refused to examine the FBI file on Oswald because he feared that would affect national security.

            Before he became the Chief Justice, Warren believed that ethical principles were necessary for enlightened government. Warren's concern for conduct became characteristic for him as a California public official. He refused to have a campaign organization because he thought it was too interested in "maintaining their own patronage" and would not benefit the public.8  He also believed that the Bill of Rights checked, not defined, individual freedoms, interpreting it as a pursuit of justice. Warren considered education as a right, since it formed the basis of civilization, believing that the Constitution didn't "envisage in unrestricted right."9 By 1958 though, Warren showed signs of rethinking his stance on reapportionment matters. He felt that the protection of rights and responsibilities made in the Constitution should be represented through officials. He believed that the judiciary should "reform the malapportioned legislatures" because reapportionment potentially meant equal participation for all citizens.10 Warren also believed that humans were susceptible to bad influences that should be suppressed because they were often destructive. Warren strongly disapproved pornographic books and believed that teenage lust could be suppressed if teens were taught why looking at these books was wrong. On court, Warren spoke against purveyors of obscenity and denied pornographers the rights of the First Amendment. In 1972, Warren called for the restoration of a moral tone in America. He declared that crime was a social issue that could be reduced by the removal of environmental factors that make it grow. He cultivated public outrage about corrupt law practices and attempted to shame lobbyists. By using government as a moral role model, Warren felt he was helping his people avoid temptations.

            When Nixon won the presidential election and became president in 1968, Warren faced a dilemma: either stay as Chief Justice or resign. By the end of 1968, Warren chose to resign after Nixon became president, and in June of 1969, Warren retired. Predicting that Warren Burger was to be his replacement, Warren "disassociated himself from the Burger Court" because he sensed that the Court now resided in the enemy's hands, as Burger often disagreed with Warren's views.11 After his resignation, Warren kept chambers in the Court building and selected law clerks. Warren regularly visited the West Coast for vacations and to get away from the press. He combated the presence of special interests, growth of political machines, and corruption in of government. Morality, progress, and patriotism were three qualities Warren included in his ruling of cases; he wanted citizens to also live according to the laws and stay loyal to America. Like other progressives, Warren encouraged active government because he wanted the government to always be flexible in making changes whenever necessary. He wished to make the government a way to represent the people's opinions rather than rule authoritatively.    G. Edward White's main thesis was that Earl Warren wasn't just any ordinary California governor and Chief Justice. He thought that Warren took every opportunity he had and made it a chance "for him to grow and face a new challenge."12 From prison reforms to health insurance, it seems that White's thesis of Warren is true. For instance, Warren changed prison procedures because he noticed that criminals who served jail time and gotten released often times return to jail for a longer prison time. Warren believed that the government needed to implement programs to instruct criminals how to avoid crimes in the future. Through these programs, the criminals learn not to commit the same crime again and to shun other crimes as well. Warren cared deeply for the poor; he proposed state-supported health insurance for the destitute. As a Republican, he considered himself to be a true representative of what the Californians wanted and strove to change California's procedures in order to fit the citizens needs. He constantly succeeded in having things his way by convincing others why his viewpoint was correct. Through Warren's stubbornness, White inferred that Warren changed what he wanted to change through persuasion. White concluded that Warren indeed tried to seize every opportunity in order to improve society through skill and experience.

            G. Edward White analyzed Earl Warren because he wanted to put in print some of Warren's good deed and to dispel myths. Though Warren was often praised for his achievements during his tenure as Chief Justice, White knew "there was much more to Earl Warren.13 White used different articles and interviewed people that knew Warren in order to write an accurate book discussing Warren's achievements and his family life. wanting to prove that he was a capable leader. Because people forgot who Warren was after his death, Warren made sure to let people always remember Warren and what he did to make California and the United States better. Originally, White envisioned the book he wrote as an extended essay on Warren and his career. But when he researched more about Warren, White came to the conclusion that an extended essay would not do Warren any justice. Instead, White chose to write a conventional biography in order to pen down and disucss Warrens accomplishments. White specifically wanted to portray Warren as the progressive who transcended the "political context of its origins" and as an educated reformist.14 He believed Warren's vision of America as a powerful nation was a vision that many people shared during his lifetime. Also, White juxtaposed Warren the public figure versus Warren the private person to contrast his professional and personal life.  White repeatedly wrote about common themes and attitudes about Warren to show the consistency in Warren with regards to his decision-making and problem-solving, such as morality and patriotism. 

            The New York Times Book Review hailed the Earl Warren: A Public Life as a phenomenon. Because of Warren, the Warren Court acted "as a principal national engine of reform" and remade race relations and enlarged freedom of expression and press.15 Warren was an affable and hearty figure who was single-minded but did not take criticism well. When he became Chief Justice in October, 1953, Warren argued that the separate but equal doctrine of racial segregation was invalid. With his single-minded personality, Warren managed to convince others of his opinion and invalidated the separate but equal doctrine. From the beginning in his public life, Warren showed that he was a moralist who despised corruption and organized crime. Book Review discovered that Warren's progressivism was an ahead of its time; Warren was a progressive but he moved to a more liberal sense of concern for people. One finishes the book with a respect for Warren and what he did for America. He was neither an intellectual nor a philosopher, but possessed qualities generally not found in politicians.  Konrad M. Hamilton from University of Iowa stated that Warren was guilty of civil rights violations before landing the position of Chief Justice. Warren denied defendants the access of attorney during interrogation sessions and did not inform them of their rights. Hamilton criticized Warren for acting paradoxically by promoting equal rights but not carrying out what he says himself. In brief, Warren "engaged in [the] criminal procedure practices" at the eventually condemned when he became Chief Justice.16 Hamilton argued that some people might want to attribute political self-interest as a cause for Warren's actions. Despite the criticisms, Hamilton rated the book as insightful and worth a read. The book allowed readers a different view of America through Warren's life.

            In general, one main thing that could be improved was the flow of the four main sections the book contained. Often times, White jumps from one decade to another and back, making the book hard to follow. Although White's book did point out some flaws, it also emphasized the accomplishments. Warren was the first and last major liberal Chief Justice. He promoted the "protection of the individual against the state" and allowed minorities the freedom of choice.17 Since he believed in equality, Warren supported due process of law for all peoples. Morever, he accomplished a lot as Chief Justice and as California's governor, but also spent quality time with his family, a peculiar action for a devoted and preoccupied Chief Justice. However, Warren made sure he at least spent dinnertime with his family and even disconnected the phone line so nobody could interrupt. Warren emphasized his children's morals and values. He banned his children from pornography, threatening to severely punish them. Warren assumed if he prevented his children from evildoings, then they would be less tempted to commit crimes as adults. Believing education to be the key for a nation to be well-grounded, Warren provided the best schooling to his children to ensure that they would eventually be successful in life. He was strict on his children's studies and held high standards for grades. His concern about his family and his children's upbringing showed people that not only did he care about America but he also worried about his children and wife thus making the citizens believe that he was truly devoted in caring for everyone.

            When Warren became Chief Justice, he battled Brown v. Board of Education, a case that especially affected the South where lynchings and mob riots still existed. When Warren declared Plessy v. Ferguson and separate but equal schools unconstitutional, many were outraged. Warren thought minorities deserved the same education as Caucasians. Though he and eight other justices ruled for Brown and against the education board, it would take another reevaluation and several more years before the Supreme Court ordered every state to abolish segregated schools. This case eventually sparked the civil rights movement in the 1960's and led to other court cases that struck down forms of discrimination. One difference that distinguished California from other states was the Levering Act that Warren passed when he was governor. Though other states had anticommunist oaths, the Levering Act proved to be a controversial issue in California since many non-signers "felt offended that they were accused of being Communists" if they did not sign.18 The non-signers thought they did not have to sign the oath in order to confirm that they were anticommunists. Also, Warren improved prison conditions by making sure the criminals understood their wrongdoings. State-funded health insurance was also unique to California; now, everyone had the possibility of receiving some kind of health care. Warren helped to change California through many ways.

            White viewed California as important by stressing how a Californian governor stepped to the national level and became a Chief Justice that forever altered America. Through his decisions, Warren brought justice and terminated racism. Trying to be fair to all, Warren also encouraged citizens to vote. White implies that Warren achieved so much as Chief Justice primarily because he gained experience by engaging himself in politics during his attendance at Berkeley and by becoming California's governor. Through his experience, Warren learned how to become an effective leader and to represent the people and their opinions. White believed California was a vital stepping stone for Warren for preparing him for the national level of leadership. Without California, Warren might never have been as successful as he was. Warren needed California to expose himself to real politics and reforms. White also inferred that California served as an example to other states with its prison reforms, state-supported health insurance, and the Levering Act to ensure the loyalty of the Californians. Most importantly, California helped shape Warren and his "identification with the Republican party" along with his Progressive ideas.19

Indeed Earl Warren was a different man from his media portrayal. With his prison reforms and health insurance policies, California improved. With his belief in equality, the nation improved. All in all, Warren brought change that affected everyone in some way. He truly was one of California's best governors and one of the most "significant figures in... American history."20



1. White, G. Edward. Earl Warren: A Public Life. New York: Oxford University Press., 1982. 325.

2. White, G. Edward 15.

3. White, G. Edward 15.

4. White, G. Edward 102.

5. White, G. Edward 153.

6. White, G. Edward 163.

7. White, G. Edward 194.

8. White, G. Edward 221.

9. White, G. Edward 236.

10. White, G. Edward 239.

11. White, G. Edward 315.

12. White, G. Edward 9.

13. White, G. Edward 5.

14. White, G. Edward 6.

15. Lewis, Anthony. "Revolutionary Justice". The New York Times Book Review  04 July 1982. 01 June 2008. <http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res= 9D02E0D7123BF937A35754C0A964948260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=4>.

16. Hamilton, Konrad M. "Untitled". Jstor. 01 June 2008 <http://www.jstor.org/stable/pdfplus/ 3377148.pdf>.

17. Lewis, Anthony.

18. White, G. Edward 117.

19. White, G. Edward 86.

20. White, G. Edward. 6