Chief Justice Warren Burger

Chief Justice Warren Burger joined the U.S. Supreme Court on June 23, 1969, replacing Chief Justice Earl Warren. Burger was born on September 17, 1907 in St. Paul, Minnesota. He attended the University of Minnesota and the St. Paul College of Law (now the Mitchell Hamline College of Law), graduating magna cum laude in 1931. Early in his legal career, Burger worked at a law firm and taught at the St. Paul College of Law.

In 1953, Burger received his first position of national prominence when President Dwight Eisenhower appointed him as Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. Three years later, Eisenhower appointed him to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. Burger would spend the next 13 years in this role.

On May 23, 1969, President Richard Nixon nominated Burger to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on June 9 in a 74-3 vote, and he took the judicial oath two weeks later. Burger bridged the gap between the famously liberal Earl Warren and the staunchly conservative William Rehnquist.

Burger voted with the majority of the Court in Roe v. Wade, which found a constitutional right to abortion. He also wrote for the Court in extending the scope of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act to neutral employment practices with a discriminatory effect. However, he took a more conservative view of certain other issues. Burger felt strongly that the Constitution provides no support for LGBTQ+ rights, and he agreed with the majority of the Court in narrowing the exclusionary rule, a protection against unconstitutional searches and seizures.

Burger wrote two of his most memorable opinions on the separation of powers. In INS v. Chadha, he struck down a provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act that permitted a one-house legislative veto of executive branch actions. Burger also wrote for a unanimous Court in U.S. v. Nixon, finding that the separation of powers principle does not support "an absolute, unqualified presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances." This case arose from the Watergate scandal, which caused Nixon to resign soon afterward.

Two other opinions by Burger helped shape First Amendment law. In Miller v. California, he outlined a three-part test for determining whether material is obscene, which means that it falls outside the Free Speech Clause. He also articulated a three-part test in Lemon v. Kurtzman for determining whether the government has violated the separation of church and state required by the Establishment Clause.

Burger left the Supreme Court on September 26, 1986 and was replaced by Chief Justice William Rehnquist, who had served on the Burger Court as an Associate Justice. From 1986 to 1993, Burger served as the Chancellor of the College of William and Mary in Virginia. President Ronald Reagan presented him with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1988. Burger died on June 25, 1995 in Washington, D.C. and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Selected Opinions by Chief Justice Burger:

Bethel School District v. Fraser (1986)

Topic: Free Speech

The use of an offensive form of expression may not be prohibited to adults making what the speaker considers a political point, but it does not follow that the same latitude must be permitted to children in a public school.

Bowsher v. Synar (1986)

Topic: Separation of Powers; Government Agencies

Under the constitutional principle of separation of powers, Congress cannot reserve for itself the power of removal of an officer charged with the execution of the laws except by impeachment.

Bowen v. Roy (1986)

Topic: Religion

While the Free Exercise Clause affords an individual protection from certain forms of governmental compulsion, it does not afford an individual a right to dictate the conduct of the government's internal procedures.

Dow Chemical Co. v. U.S. (1986)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The Fourth Amendment did not prohibit the Environmental Protection Agency from taking, without a warrant, aerial photographs of the defendant's plant complex from an aircraft lawfully in public navigable airspace.

Nix v. Whiteside (1986)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The Sixth Amendment right of a criminal defendant to assistance of counsel is not violated when an attorney refuses to cooperate with the defendant in presenting perjured testimony at their trial.

Estate of Thornton v. Caldor, Inc. (1985)

Topic: Religion

A state law providing Sabbath observers with an absolute and unqualified right not to work on their chosen Sabbath violated the Establishment Clause.

California v. Carney (1985)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The two justifications for the vehicle exception to the warrant requirement of the Fourth Amendment come into play when a vehicle is being used on the highways or is capable of such use and is found stationary in a place not regularly used for residential purposes. The vehicle is readily mobile, and there is a reduced expectation of privacy stemming from the pervasive regulation of vehicles capable of traveling on highways.

Segura v. U.S. (1984)

Topic: Search & Seizure

Securing a dwelling on the basis of probable cause to prevent the destruction or removal of evidence while a search warrant is being sought is not an unreasonable seizure of the dwelling or its contents.

Lynch v. Donnelly (1984)

Topic: Religion

A city's inclusion of a creche in its annual Christmas display in a private park, which also included secular symbols, did not violate the Establishment Clause.

Marsh v. Chambers (1983)

Topic: Religion

A state legislature did not violate the Establishment Clause by beginning each of its sessions with a prayer by a chaplain paid by the state with the legislature's approval.

INS v. Chadha (1983)

Topic: Separation of Powers

When it was clear that an action by the House of Representatives was not within any of the express constitutional exceptions authorizing one House to act alone, and equally clear that it was an exercise of legislative power, that action was subject to the bicameralism and presentment requirements of Article I of the Constitution.

Illinois v. Lafayette (1983)

Topic: Search & Seizure

Consistent with the Fourth Amendment, it is reasonable for police to search the personal effects of a person under lawful arrest as part of the routine administrative procedure at a police station incident to booking and jailing the suspect.

Bob Jones Univ. v. U.S. (1983)

Topic: Taxes

To warrant exemption under Section 501(c)(3), an institution must fall within a category specified in that section, and it must demonstrably serve and be in harmony with the public interest. The institution's purpose must not be so at odds with the common community conscience as to undermine any public benefit that might otherwise be conferred.

Diedrich v. Commissioner (1982)

Topic: Taxes

A donor who makes a gift of property on condition that the donee pay the resulting gift taxes realizes taxable income to the extent that the gift taxes paid by the donee exceed the donor's adjusted basis in the property.

Thomas v. Review Board of the Indiana Employment Security Division (1981)

Topic: Religion

The guarantee of free exercise is not limited to beliefs that are shared by all the members of a religious sect.

U.S. v. Cortez (1981)

Topic: Search & Seizure

In determining what cause is sufficient to authorize police to stop a person, the totality of the circumstances (the whole picture) must be taken into account. Based upon that whole picture, the detaining officers must have a particularized and objective basis for suspecting the particular person stopped of criminal activity.

Diamond v. Chakrabarty (1980)

Topic: Patents

A live, human-made micro-organism is patentable subject matter.

U.S. v. Henry (1980)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

By intentionally creating a situation likely to induce the accused to make incriminating statements without the assistance of counsel, the government violated his Sixth Amendment right to counsel, and the resulting statements should not have been admitted at trial.

Lockett v. Ohio (1978)

Topic: Death Penalty & Criminal Sentencing

The Eighth Amendment generally requires that the sentencer not be precluded from considering mitigating factors related to any aspect of a defendant's character or record and any of the circumstances of the offense that the defendant proffers as a basis for a sentence less than death.

Beckwith v. U.S. (1976)

Topic: Miranda Rights

Statements made by a taxpayer to Internal Revenue agents during the course of a non-custodial interview in a criminal tax investigation were admissible against them in an ensuing criminal tax fraud prosecution, even though they were not given Miranda warnings.

U.S. v. Nixon (1974)

Topic: Separation of Powers

Neither the doctrine of separation of powers nor the generalized need for confidentiality of high-level communications, without more, can sustain an absolute, unqualified presidential privilege of immunity from judicial process under all circumstances.

Kewanee Oil Co. v. Bicron Corp. (1974)

Topic: Patents

The federal patent policy of encouraging invention is not disturbed by the existence of another form of incentive to invention, such as trade secret protection, and the two systems are not in conflict in this respect.

Davis v. Alaska (1974)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The right of confrontation is paramount to a state policy of protecting juvenile offenders, and any temporary embarrassment to a witness by the disclosure of their juvenile court record and probation status is outweighed by the defendant's right effectively to cross-examine a witness.

Miller v. California (1973)

Topic: Free Speech

The guidelines for the trier of fact in an obscenity case are whether the average person applying contemporary community standards would find that the work, taken as a whole, appeals to the prurient interest; whether the work depicts or describes, in a patently offensive way, sexual conduct specifically defined by the applicable state law; and whether the work, taken as a whole, lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

Paris Adult Theatre I v. Slaton (1973)

Topic: Free Speech

States have a legitimate interest in regulating commerce in obscene material and its exhibition in places of public accommodation, including adult theaters.

Goldstein v. California (1973)

Topic: Copyrights

The Constitution does not expressly or by inference vest all power to grant copyright protection exclusively in the federal government.

The Bremen v. Zapata Off-Shore Co. (1972)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

A forum selection clause that was a vital part of a towing contract was binding unless the party challenging its enforcement could meet the heavy burden of showing that its enforcement would be unreasonable, unfair, or unjust. (A forum selection clause is a contract provision stipulating that disputes arising under the contract must be heard in a certain court.)

Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972)

Topic: Religion

The state interest in universal education is not totally free from a balancing process when it impinges on other fundamental rights, such as those specifically protected by the Free Exercise Clause and the traditional interest of parents with respect to the religious upbringing of their children.

Lemon v. Kurtzman (1971)

Topic: Religion

To comply with the Establishment Clause, a law must have a secular legislative purpose, its principal or primary effect must neither advance nor inhibit religion, and it must not foster an excessive government entanglement with religion.

Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education (1971)

Topic: Equal Protection

If school authorities fail in their affirmative obligations under the holdings of Brown v. Board of Education and related decisions, judicial authority may be invoked. Once a right and a violation have been shown, the scope of a district court's equitable powers to remedy past wrongs is broad, for breadth and flexibility are inherent in equitable remedies.

Griggs v. Duke Power Co. (1971)

Topic: Labor & Employment

An employment practice that operates to exclude members of a protected group is prohibited if it cannot be shown to be related to job performance, even if the employer lacked discriminatory intent.

Walz v. Tax Commission of City of New York (1970)

Topic: Taxes; Religion

Granting property tax exemptions to religious organizations for properties used solely for religious worship did not violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.