June 23, 1969 – Warren Burger Begins His Term as Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

On this day in history, Warren Burger took the oath as the 15th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Burger was appointed by President Richard Nixon to replace retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren. Burger had served as an assistant attorney general for President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who in 1956 appointed him to the District of Columbia Circuit of the U.S. Court of Appeals.

President Nixon with former Chief Justice Earl Warren and newly appointed Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

President Nixon with former Chief Justice Earl Warren and newly appointed Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

Earl Warren announced he was retiring while Lyndon Johnson was still President, but Nixon sent word to Congressional Republications to block any candidate named by Johnson so that Nixon could appoint the new justice. Thus, Republicans successfully filibustered the nomination of Supreme Court Associate Justice Abe Fortas.

Nixon initially approached two other candidates, former Eisenhower attorney general Herbert Brownell and former GOP presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, but both of them turned down the job.

Widely-known as a conservative, Burger was a strong advocate of “strict construction” to the interpretation of the Constitution. He often tried to dampen some of the Warren Court’s more liberal decisions during his 17-year tenure on the court. But he authored the Court’s opinion upholding the right of trial judges to order busing as a remedy for school segregation, and he spoke for a unanimous Court upholding a subpeona for the Watergate tapes which resulted in President Nixon’s resignation. By the time he retired in 1986, he had become the longest serving chief justice of the 20th century. Burger died on June 25, 1995, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

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