Gov. Brown's historic moment; Earl Warren's day

  • Edmund Brown Jr., only Democrat elected to major state office, is sworn on Jan. 4, 1971 in Sacramento as California Secretary of State by former U.S. Chief Justice Earl Warren, former Republican Governor of California. (AP Photo)

Today Jerry Brown becomes California's longest-serving governor. It is a noteworthy milepost, and one that already has been marked by press coverage on Brown, his accomplishments to date and his aspirations to cement a lasting legacy.

Not to rain on the governor's parade, but it should be pointed out that the greater significance of the day will be the 60th anniversary of the event that will allow Brown to claim his distinction.

It was 60 years ago today that Gov. Earl Warren resigned to become chief justice of the United States — an event that arguably did more to transform modern American history than anyone's ascension to any government position since.

Just six months after joining the court, Warren wrote the unanimous Brown v. Board of Education opinion that led to the desegregation of U.S. schools and, ultimately, society. In his 16 years as chief justice, the Warren Court asserted the Bill of Rights to expand civil and individual rights in a way that no court before or since has done.

Warren and Brown are the only two people to be elected to three terms as California governor.

When Warren left Sacramento on Oct. 5, 1953, less than three years into his third term, it was a departure that had been widely anticipated.

To no small degree, Dwight Eisenhower owed his presidency to Warren, who won the 1952 Republican presidential primary in California as a favorite son. At the GOP convention, Warren delivered the California delegation to Eisenhower, helping him to prevail against Ohio Sen. Robert Taft. In the fall, Warren helped Eisenhower secure a landslide win in California over Democrat Adlai Stevenson.

In his book "Chief Justice: A Biography of Earl Warren," the California writer Ed Cray notes that, in appreciation, Eisenhower's top adviser Lucius Clay offered Warren a blank check for a federal appointment.

Cabinet posts and ambassadorships were discussed but rejected by Warren. It was then agreed that Warren, a former Alameda County district attorney and California attorney general, would be appointed to fill the first vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.

In the summer of 1953, Warren privately agreed to accept the post of solicitor general, a position that would bolster his credentials when the moment eventually came for his Supreme Court appointment.

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