The city of Bakersfield has many delightful historical assets, but few rival the great political and judicial pioneer of the 20th century, Earl Warren. As we consider the local debate to name the federal courthouse in downtown Bakersfield as a tribute to him, it is necessary to explore the profound impact Earl Warren had in re-shaping American society.
He excelled in local schools, then graduated from UC Berkeley law school and served in the U.S. Army during WWI. Both, his achievement of higher education and his honorable military service, demonstrate Earl Warren’s unselfish devotion to public concerns rooted within the principles of patriotism.
Elected governor of California in 1942, Warren then served three consecutive terms prior to his unsuccessful run for vice president in 1948 alongside Republican nominee Thomas Dewey. Warren was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Eisenhower in 1953.
As governor, Warren demonstrated the qualities of a true statesman by reducing taxes, creating a rainy-day fund for emergency services, and increased spending on higher education and care for the elderly at the local level. Although President Eisenhower later said he regretted his nomination of Warren, the Warren Court greatly redefined the virtues of civil liberties and equal protection, much of which remain prevalent within the contemporary social climate.
During his time on the bench, Warren re-established a new philosophy of justice, civil liberties and social values in America. The landmark ruling of the Warren Court, Brown v. Board of Education (1954), ostensibly ended racial segregation in American public schools by ruling "separate but equal" as unconstitutional, overturning the prior court decision of Plessy v. Ferguson (1896). In rendering his opinion, Warren stated: “In the field of public education, the doctrine of ‘separate but equal’ has no place. Thereby, separate educational facilities are unequal.” Ending school segregation marked a significant beginning of what would proliferate into the civil rights movement by addressing the prevalent injustices, not only based on race but other determinable factors as well.
The Warren Court also redefined appropriate law enforcement practices within the United States in providing individual protections, another significant component of the civil liberties we have today. In a 5-4 ruling, Miranda v. Arizona (1966), declared that law enforcement would be required to inform an individual upon his arrest of having both the right to remain silent and legal counsel, otherwise the arrest will be inadmissible in court. Miranda v. Arizona also built off a prior Warren court decision, Mapp v. Ohio (1961), which made illegally obtained evidence inadmissible in state level courts. Both rulings greatly enhanced the individual protections under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the U.S. Constitution.
In 1967, the Supreme Court redefined marriage equality in the case of Loving v. Virginia. The Warren Court ruled anti-miscegenation laws as being unconstitutional, citing the apparent violation of the Equal Protection clause under the 14th amendment, thereby allowing interracial marriage.
Warren retired from the Supreme Court in 1969. Upon his retirement, Justice Thurgood Marshall told an interviewer Warren would be remembered as “one of the greatest chief justices this country has ever been blessed with.” Many would strongly agree with Marshall, considering Warren's establishment of the groundwork for not only the civil rights movement but marriage equality as well.
Naming the Bakersfield federal courthouse after Earl Warren would greatly demonstrate the progress America has made in promoting many of the individual civil liberties that still play a role in our society. Even currently, the Bakersfield community continues to advocate many of the core values held by the Warren Court: from challenging the legitimacy of representation within the district boundaries of the Kern County Board of Supervisors, to advancing gender equality, as demonstrated by the Women’s March this past January.
Local community advocates remain steadfast and determined in expanding the values of social justice and equality. This remains an ongoing battle. Let us remember those, both national and local, who have inspired our persistent efforts in ensuring justice for all.
Richard Kemp holds an MPA from Cal State Bakersfield. The views expressed are his own.