United States Supreme Court Chief Justice. He served as the 15th Chief Justice of the United States from 1969 to 1986. The longest-serving Chief Justice of the 20th Century, his court delivered ground-breaking decisions on abortion and school desegregation. Warren Earl Burger was born on September 17, 1907 in Saint Paul, Minnesota, one of seven children. His grandfather, Joseph Burger, who had emigrated from Switzerland and joined the Union Army when he was 14, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism. Warren Burger grew up on the family farm on the outskirts of St. Paul. After graduating high school in 1925, he attended night school at the University of Minnesota, while selling insurance to support himself. He then enrolled at what became William Mitchell College of Law, receiving his degree in 1931. He took a job at the firm which became Faricy, Burger, Moore & Costello). He also taught for twelve years at St. Paul College of Law. In Republican politics, Burger supported Minnesota Governor Harold E. Strassen's unsuccessful pursuit of the Republican nomination for president in 1948. In 1952, at the Republican National Convention, he aided Dwight D. Eisenhower's nomination by delivering the Minnesota delegation. Later President Eisenhower appointed him as the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division of the Justice Department. In 1956, Eisenhower appointed him to a judgeship on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where he remained for 13 years. Through his speeches in this period, Judge Burger became known as a prominent critic of Chief Justice Earl Warren and argued in favor of the very literal “strict constructionist” reading of the US Constitution. Because of these views, in 1969 President Richard Nixon appointed Burger to succeed Warren. To the bitter disappointment of right wing elements, it soon became apparent that Burger was not going to turn the clock back on the rulings of the Warren court. In the early 1970’s the Court issued rulings supporting busing to remedy de facto racial segregation in schools and invalidating all US death penalty laws (although Burger dissented from the latter decision). In the most controversial ruling of his term, Roe vs. Wade, Burger voted with the majority for the legalization of abortion. Burger also wrote the landmark 1973 decision that supplied the still-used legal definition of obscenity. In 1974 Burger ruled against Nixon's attempt to keep several memos and tapes relating to the Watergate Scandal private, prompting Nixon to resign the presidency in order to avoid impeachment. Overall, Burger did not dominate the court. He generally wrote only uncontroversial opinions, where the Court was not evenly divided. Instead, he concentrated on the other role of the Chief Justice, administering the nation's legal system. He initiated the National Institute for State Courts, the Institute for Court Management, and National Institute of Corrections to provide professional training for judges, clerks, and prison guards. He initiated the annual State of the Judiciary speech given by the Chief Justice to the American Bar Association. In private life, Burger married Elvera Stromberg in 1933. They had two children, Wade Allen Burger and Margaret Elizabeth Burger. His wife died in 1994. Burger retired on September 26, 1986 and died on June 25, 1995 of congestive heart failure at age 87. Burger’s casket was displayed in the Great Hall of the U.S. Supreme Court Building, an honor previously bestowed only on Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justice Thurgood Marshall.
Bio by: Edward Parsons