17 Sep 1907 1
St Paul, MN 1
25 Jun 1995 1
Washington, DC 1

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Personal Details

Full Name:
Warren Earl Burger 1
Also known as:
Chief Justice Of The Supreme Court 1
Full Name:
Warren E Burger 2
17 Sep 1907 1
St Paul, MN 1
Male 1
17 Sep 1907 2
25 Jun 1995 1
Washington, DC 1
Cause: Heart Failure 1
25 Jun 1995 2
Burial Place: Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington VA 1
Last Residence: Washington, DC 2
Mother: Katharine (née Schnittger) 1
Father: Charles Joseph Burger 1
Elvera (Vera) Stromberg 1
1933 1
Spouse Death Date: May 1994 1
Judge, Lawyer 1
Presbyterian 1
Race or Ethnicity:
Swiss German 1
Employer: United States Supreme Court 1
Position: Chief Justice 1
Place: Washington DC 1
Start Date: 23 Jun 1969 1
End Date: 26 Sep 1986 1
Social Security:
Social Security Number: ***-**-6882 2

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Portrait of Warren Burger.
Reproduction courtesy of the Supreme Court Historical Society. Warren Earl Burger

b. September 17, 1907, St. Paul, MN
d. June 25, 1995, Washington, D.C.

Fifteenth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court 

Warren Earl Burger grew up on the outskirts of St. Paul in a working-class family. His father was a cargo inspector for the railroads and a traveling salesman. After graduating from public high school, Burger worked for an insurance company while taking night classes at the University of Minnesota and then St. Paul College of Law (now William Mitchell College of Law). He received his law degree in 1931 and joined a local firm, specializing in corporate and real estate work, where he continued for the next 22 years. He became active in the Minnesota Republican Party, playing a significant role in the successful campaigns of Harold Stassen for governor in 1938, 1940, and 1942. He acted as floor manager for Governor Stassen in his bid for the presidential nomination at the 1948 and 1952 Republican National Conventions, and his work there gained the attention of prominent figures in the GOP. 

In 1953 President Eisenhower appointed him Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Division of the Justice Department. Three years later he was appointed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where he remained for 13 years. His judicial record showed him to be cautiously conservative on most issues but strongly conservative with respect to the rights of the criminally accused. In public speeches he took a strong "law-and-order" stance, arguing that the Fifth Amendment was an impediment to justice and that the courts were far too favorable to criminals. 

When Richard Nixon ran for president in 1968, he promised to put the Supreme Court back on a conservative path, and after winning the election, Nixon appointed Burger chief justice. Burger had an impeccable ethical record, and Nixon hoped he would provide the strong leadership needed to curb the Court's expansion of civil rights and civil liberties. Burger presided over the Court for the next 17 years, but he was little able to influence its judicial philosophy. Though he viewed himself as a centrist, his opinions were often unpredictable and uninspiring, and he failed to construct a clear doctrinal legacy of his own. Instead, while the Court became more rancorous and divided than it had been in many years, its decisions were remarkably consistent with its earlier judgments. Only in the area of criminal law did it become dramatically more conservative.

Often appearing remote and even unfriendly in the press, Burger was generally respected by those close to him, and he tried to steer the Court toward moderate decisions at a time of shifting national values and cultural upheavals. Among his contributions was the "contemporary community standards" test for judging obscenity (Miller v. California [1973]). In one opinion he wrote, "Prior restraints on speech and publication are the most serious and least tolerable infringement on First Amendment rights" (Nebraska Press Association v. Stuart [1976]). In United States v. Nixon (1974) he ordered President Nixon, then struggling with the Watergate scandal, to release White House tape recordings to the special prosecutor. Those recordings implicated the president and led directly to his resignation. Burger retired from the Court in 1986.

Warren E. Burger, 1969-1986

WARREN E. BURGER was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 17, 1907. After pre-legal studies at the University of Minnesota in high classes, he earned a law degree in 1931 from the St. Paul College of Law (now William Mitchell College of Law) by attending four years of night classes while working in the accounting department of a life insurance company. He was appointed to the faculty of his law school upon graduation and remained on the adjunct faculty until 1946. Burger practiced with a St. Paul law firm from 1931 to 1953. In 1953, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed Burger Assistant Attorney General of the United States, Chief of the Civil Division of the Department of Justice. In 1955, President Eisenhower appointed him to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, where he served until 1969. President Richard M. Nixon nominated Burger Chief Justice of the United States on May 22, 1969. The Senate confirmed the appointment on June 9, 1969, and he took office on June 23, 1969. In July 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed Burger Chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution. As Chief Justice he served as Chairman of the Judicial Conference of the United States and as Chairman of the Federal Judicial Center from 1969 to 1986. Burger retired from the Court on September 26, 1986, after seventeen years of service, and continued to direct the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution from 1986 to 1992.


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