Midway through his presidency, Dwight Eisenhower fumed that his appointment of Earl Warren "was the biggest damn fool thing I ever did." He was exasperated, he complained to Warren himself, about "those Communist cases." When Warren asked whether he had read any Supreme Court decisions, however, Eisenhower acknowledged he had not though he knew what was in them. From school integration to one man-one vote and the application of the Bill of Rights to recalcitrant states, the court's fundamental shifts toward liberalism were not all of Warren's making but were managed under his activist leadership. As unstylish as its subject, Cray's prose fits in all the useful facts about the pragmatic district attorney in Oakland who would become, as governor, the "California Roosevelt." Responsible in part for the panicky post-Pearl Harbor herding of Japanese residents to inland camps, he had not always put civil rights atop his agenda, but experience more than ideology drove his judicial philosophy. His placement at the head of the highest court made him the most influential jurist since John Marshall. Cray's admiring if bland portrait, despite a propensity for repetition, covers all the essentials. Photos not seen by PW. BOMC main selection. (June)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
With this excellent biography, Cray (journalism, Univ. of Southern California) offers new insight into the chief justice, a key American political figure of the 20th century. Warren served as a district attorney, attorney general of California, twice governor of that state, 1948 Republican vice presidential nominee, chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, and chair of the Warren Commission, which investigated the assassination of President Kennedy. Cray carefully analyzes Warren's central role in the development of World War II-era California and the fight for progressive legislation within the Republican Party. He shows how Warren's leadership on the Supreme Court expanded the scope of constitutional civil liberties and how this emerging judicial activism penetrated major Court decisions, such as Brown v. Board of Education (1954) and New York Times v. Sullivan (1964). Highly recommended for all libraries. [BOMC main selection.]Steven Puro, St. Louis Univ.
Ed Cray's biography of Chief Justice Earl Warren is an outstanding contribution to the judicial biography bookshelf. This is simply the best Warren biography I've read, and that takes into account Bernard Schwartz's SUPER CHIEF and Weaver's biography of the Chief Justice. It probably is the best biography I have read, period. Cray's prose is a joy to the eyes, the mind, and to the heart. Cray's research is first-rate; his qualitative methodological strategy would please the most conscientious Ph.D. examiner.
CHIEF JUSTICE is based on an absolutely thorough examination of the letters and papers of Warren, produced while Warren worked in California for over three decades, as elected prosecutor and then Governor. In addition, there is excellent use of Warren's papers in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., as well as the papers, case files, and letters of many other men and women, including many of his brethren who worked with Warren on the Supreme Court, who interacted with Warren in his over fifty years of public service. In addition, Cray has tapped into excellent oral histories located in presidential libraries (the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson libraries were visited) and elsewhere (Columbia University's Oral History Research Office and the University of California at Berkeley's Oral History Office). Finally, Cray interviewed almost 200 persons in Warren's life, those who knew and worked with Warren-- from his California prosecutorial and political work, to those who knew and worked with him during his remarkable tenure as the fourteenth Chief Justice of the United States (including most of Warren's law clerks).
There is no doubt that Cray's research and use of these original sources was appropriate; their careful use by Cray has given us a truly remarkable portrait of a very decent, very honest, very down-to-earth public servant. Warren was a man who always was concerned about the presence or absence of "fairness" in a person's interaction with public officials and agencies of the state. (The exception was the treatment of persons, a majority of them American citizens, of Japanese ancestry, during World War Two. Warren played a major role in the internment and incarceration of over 120,000 such persons during the war. Their discriminatory treatment by government, both state and national, was an issue that troubled Warren for many years after the war ended. As Cray notes in the book, there was, eventually, an end to Warren's feelings of guilt due to his behavior.)
For Cray, Earl Warren was a man who exhibited the trait labelled "GRAVITAS." The Chief Justice possessed this quality that moved the nation to a new level of freedom and liberty. Gravitas referred to personal qualities greater than one's mastery of rhetoric and more valuable than the greatest intellect. A Roman concept, gravitas meant "patience, stability, weight of judgment, breadth of shoulders. It means that strength of the few that makes life possible for many. It means manhood." Warren was a MENSCH. and with this characteristic was able to accomplish many great things as prosecutor, as Governor, and as the Chief Justice of the United States.
Cray's telling of the story is quite traditional: chronological from the time Warren was born through his California growing up and work in the public service, to his vice presidential candidacy in 1948 and his subsequent work for the national party through the 1952 Republican convention, and finally to his appointment to the Supreme Court and his years as Chief Justice during the most revolutionary era of Court history. But the product, the story of this man of gravitas, is outstanding.
Cray knows how to explain the inner workings of the Court without lulling the reader into a deep sleep because of extensive employment of orginal sources. His use of the papers of Chief Justice Warren and his colleagues can be exhibited as a model of excellence in such methodological and qualitative exercises. He makes judicious use of the diary notes, the docket sheets, and the memos circulated among the brethren.
The outcome is that Part III, This Honorable Court, is an accurate, lively, to-the-point presentation of the ways the Court, under Warren's astute leadership, moved to reshape America's understanding of the meaning of due process of law and the equal protection of the laws.
But I do not wish to single out only one of the four segments of the book for acclaim. They are all excellent parts that make up an outstanding whole. Cray's book is a must-collect, most read volume for anyone interested in American public law and politics. Bravo!!
An informative, comprehensive, easy to read biography of the great and good chief justice who, during the mid-20th century, changed the visage of American law, by Cray (General of the Army: George C. Marshall, Soldier and Statesman, 1990, etc.).
Light on legal analysis, this is a serviceable supplement for those already familiar with the man, and an accessible introduction for those unacquainted with the work of Earl Warren. The imminency of the next century presents a particularly timely hour to remember and reassess the man who, as chief justice of the Supreme Court from 1953 through 1969, led a reform not simply of American law but of American social morality. As Cray aptly notes, "for millions of Americans, the chief justice had come to embody the promise of a nation of truly equal peoples." Cray provides a detailed account of Warren's life as family man, lawyer, politician, reform-minded district attorney, attorney general of California, progressive three-term governor of California, and, finally, chief justice. He does not overlook Warren's flaws: As attorney general of California he supervised the internment of Japanese-Americans in that state during WW II. Appropriately, Cray devotes chapters to the pivotal rulings of the "Warren Court," including the school desegregation decisions, protection against coerced confessions and unreasonable searches by the police, the ban on government-sponsored prayer in public schools, and the right of privacy.
The passing of the Warren era brought a new Supreme Court, less sensitive to individual rights and substantially less suspicious of the propensity of government to misuse its power. In contrast, Cray's thorough and respectful account reminds us of how one person's courage, integrity, and vision helped fulfill the Constitution's promise of liberty and dignity.