On this day in 1953, Earl Warren was sworn in as the 14th Chief Justice of the United States.
Warren replaced Chief Justice Fred Vinson, who had died of a heart attack on September 8, 1953. When President Dwight Eisenhower nominated the Republican governor of California to become the next Chief Justice, he praised Warren as having “the kind of political, economic, and social thinking that I believe we need on the Supreme Court.” (Eisenhower famously had second thoughts, later declaring Warren’s appointment as “the biggest damned-fool mistake I ever made.”) So that the Court would begin its new term with a full complement of justices, Eisenhower gave Warren a recess appointment. He would be sworn in again in March 1954 after the Senate confirmed his appointment.
When he arrived at the Supreme Court on the morning of October 5, Warren went straight to the chambers of the Court’s senior Associate Justice, Hugo Black. Warren recalled that Black “welcomed me to the Court and offered his assistance in every possible way. He then took me to the chambers of the other members of the Court who were also most cordial in their welcome.” Black then administered the constitutional oath to Warren in a closed ceremony at which the only the justices were present.
The President and his Vice President, Richard Nixon, attended the noon-time opening of the Court’s term. Justice Black concluded a brief eulogy for Chief Justice Vinson by stating, “Now the business of the court goes on. The President has appointed Earl Warren of California to be Chief Justice. His credentials have been presented and he has taken his Constitutional oath. His commission will now be read, the judicial oath administered by the clerk, and Mr. Warren will then take his place as the Chief Justice of the United States.” Warren took his second oath of the day, walked to his seat at the center of the bench, shook the hands of Justice Black who sat to his right and Justice Stanley Reed who sat to his left, and then sat down. “Warren had been grave, but now he smiled widely,” reported the Washington Post. “The large, affable 62-year-old son of a Norwegian-born immigrant looked completely at home on the bench.”
Warren would go on to serve as Chief Justice for over a decade and a half. The era of the Warren Court was one of the most transformative and controversial periods in the Court’s history. Among the landmark Court opinions Warren would write were Brown v. Board of Education, the 1954 decision striking down segregation in schools; Miranda v. Arizona, the 1966 decision holding that police had to inform arrested persons of their rights; and Loving v. Virginia, the 1967 decision that struck down anti-miscegenation laws.