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Chief Justice of the Supreme Court
Warren Earl Burger was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 17, 1907, one of seven children born to a working-class family. By the age of 9 he was delivering newspapers to help with family finances. In high school, he was president of his school's student council and competed in hockey, football, track, and swimming. By the time he graduated in 1925 he was writing articles on high school sports for the local newspaper.
After high school, Burger worked for an insurance company while taking night classes at the University of Minnesota. He then attended St. Paul College of Law, from which he graduated magna cum laude in 1931. He then joined a prominent St. Paul law firm, where he specialized in corporate and real-estate law, and taught night classes at his alma mater, St. Paul.
On November 8, 1933, Burger married Elvera Stormberg, a fellow student from the University of Minnesota. They had two children together, Wade Allen and Margaret Elixabeth.
As a partner in Farley, Burger, Moore and Costello from 1935 to 1953, Burger argued many cases before the U. S. Supreme Court.
Burger played an important role in the gubernatorial campaigns of Harold Stassen in 1938, 1940, and 1942, and was the floor manager in Governor Stassen's bids for the presidential nomination at the 1948 and 1952 Republican National Conventions. When it became clear that Stassen would be nominated at the latter convention, Burger convinced the Minnesota delegation to back Dwight D. Eisenhower. In 1953, President Eisenhower appointed Burger Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Civilian Division, and he served in that position until being appointed to the U. S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia in 1956. He served in the latter position until 1969, and during his tenure he presided over several landmark cases that expanded the rights of the accused, including Miranda v. Arizona, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Mapp v. Ohio.
In 1969, President Richard Nixon nominated Burger to succeed the retiring Earl Warren as Chief Justice of the United States. Burger was confirmed easily, and was sworn in on June 23. President Nixon had hoped that Burger would lead the Court away from what he and many conservatives believed was the Warren Court's liberalism, but his hopes were often dashed. The Burger Court upheld the 1966 Miranda decision requiring police to fully explain a person's rights upon arrest and ruled against the Nixon Administration's desire to invalidate the need for a search warrant in cases of domestic surveillance in United States v. U. S. District Court (1972). Burger was a dissenting vote when the Court invalidated all death-penalty laws then in force. He voted with the majority in the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision which established women's constitutional right to have abortions. When not engaged in judicial duties, Burger focused his efforts on the administrative functions of his office and worked to improve the efficiency of the judicial system. Among his reforms were courts employing professional administrators to help run the courts and continuing education for judges.
Burger retired from the Supreme Court in 1986. He subsequently served as chairman of the Commission on the Bicentennial of the United States Constitution (1987), and as chancellor of the College of William & Mary from 1986 to 1993. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988.
Warren Earl Burger died at his home in Washington, D. C., on June 25, 1995, and is interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
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This page was last updated on February 08, 2019.