When Earl Warren joined the Court as its fourteenth Chief Justice in 1953, Jim Crow ruled the South. Many states disfranchised blacks with impunity. The Bill of Rights did not generally apply against the states. The Court had never used the First Amendment to invalidate congressional action. Some states had succeeded in chilling core political expression. State-organized prayers were commonplace in public-school classrooms. State criminal defendants had precious few federal constitutional rights. No general right to vote existed. Almost all state legislatures were malapportioned, some grossly so. Over the next sixteen years, Warren helped change all that, dismantling the old judicial order and laying the foundations of the basic doctrinal regime that has remained in place ever since. Warren did not act alone, of course. But it is conventional to periodize the Supreme Court by reference to its chief justices, and the "Warren Court" is an especially handy label, denoting a remarkable period of judicial history, beginning with the Court's deliberations and decision in Brown v. Board of Education, and culminating in a series of landmark rulings in the 1960s, dramatically extending the reach of the Bill of Rights and revolutionizing the right to vote.
Date of Authorship for this Version
Amar, Akhil, "The Warren Court and the Constitution (with Special Emphasis on Brown and Loving)" (2014). Faculty Scholarship Series. 5119.