The Supreme Court

Burger Court

After successfully stopping the nomination of Abe Fortas as Chief Justice, the Republicans won overwhelmingly in the next election and President Richard Nixon got to appoint Chief Justice Earl Warren's successor. He wanted to find someone who would reshape the court in his image and he chose Warren Burger.

Burger was not a forceful leader and was never able to overturn any of the Warren Court's rulings. Instead his court was led by the moderate justices who tried to find middle ground. While it might not have been his intention when he took over the court, his court's ruling on abortion set off a social struggle that continues to split the nation today.

By the end of the Burger court the idea of judicial restraint died and the appointment of activist justices seemed to be the norm for the foreseeable future. This battle between conservative versus liberal activism still divides the court, and the country, today.

Chief Justice Warren E Burger's official portrait by photographer Robert Oaks.

Chief Justice Warren E Burger's official portrait by photographer Robert Oaks.(From the Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States)

Let's take a look at how all this got started and how the Burger Court was steered by the middle, and then I'll review a couple of landmark cases, including one that led to the first resignation of a U.S. president.

book cover

Excerpted from The Complete Idiot's Guide to The Supreme Court © 2004 by Lita Epstein, J.D.. All rights reserved including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. Used by arrangement with Alpha Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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