Chief Justice Warren Burger, the 15th Justice of The Supreme Court, serving as Chief Justice from 1969-1986. Burger was a strong supporter of Eisenhower and in 1952 was appointed by Eisenhower the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Civil Division. In 1956, he was appointed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. In 1969, he was appointed by President Nixon to serve as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
In 1970, the War in Vietnam was at its crisis point in public opinion at home. The shootings at Kent and Jackson state only a few months earlier (in May of 1970) triggered an almost mass rejection of the War, and a repudiation of Nixon, who ran on the promise of ending the Vietnam War. Instead, with the invasion of Cambodia, it was now spreading.
According to President Nixon’s memoirs, he had asked Justice Burger in the spring of 1970 to be prepared to run for President in 1972 if the political repercussions of the Cambodia invasion were too negative for him to endure. A few years later, in 1971 and 1973, Burger was on Nixon’s short list of vice-presidential replacements for Vice President Spiro Agnew, along with John Connally, Ronald Reagan, and Nelson Rockefeller before Gerald Ford was appointed following Agnew’s resignation in October 1973.
When Burger was nominated for the Chief Justiceship, conservatives in the Nixon Administration expected that the Burger Court would rule markedly differently from the Warren Court and might, in fact, overturn controversial Warren Court era precedents. By the early 1970s, however, it became apparent that the Burger Court was not going to reverse the rulings of the Warren Court and in fact might extend some Warren Court doctrines.
The Court issued a unanimous ruling, Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971) supporting busing to reduce de facto racial segregation in schools. In United States v. U.S. District Court (1972) the Burger Court issued another unanimous ruling against the Nixon Administration’s desire to invalidate the need for a search warrant and the requirements of the Fourth Amendment in cases of domestic surveillance. Then, only two weeks later in Furman v. Georgia (1972) the court, in a 5–4 decision, invalidated all death penalty laws then in force, although Burger dissented from the decision. In the most controversial ruling of his term, Roe v. Wade (1973), Burger voted with the majority to recognize a broad right to privacy that prohibited states from banning abortions. However, Burger abandoned Roe v. Wade by the time of Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
To get some idea of the political and social climate of the time, here is Chief Justice Warren Burger’s State of The Judiciary, as it was delivered on August 10, 1970.