Good morning, it's Friday, March 19, 2021, the day of the week when I reprise a quotation meant to be uplifting or educational. Today's comes Earl Warren, born in Los Angeles on this date in 1891. When he died in 1974, Warren was hailed in the establishment media as a legal hero. Raised in Bakersfield, he served in the U.S. Army in World War I, as a local and statewide prosecutor before becoming California's 30th governor and then chief justice of the U.S. Supreme Court...
In its Earl Warren obituary, the New York Times noted approvingly that his career "illustrated the phenomenon of a man growing more liberal with age." He was, the Times reported, "in succession, a crime-busting District Attorney, a law-and-order State Attorney General, a progressive Governor and a (civil) libertarian Chief Justice."
That's not quite how I saw Earl Warren. It's too convenient a portrait, for one thing. It also glosses over a shameful chapter in his career, a historic outrage with which the New York Times, and most of the U.S. media, were complicit. I am referring to Warren's decision as governor to advocate and defend the indefensible: the forced relocation of 120,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese Americans on the West Coast into wartime prison camps.
So here's the big question about Gov. Earl Warren's political and legal career. Did the shame of the World War II "relocation camps" inform Chief Justice Earl Warren's progressive jurisprudence? Put another way, were decisions such as Brown v. Board of Education, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Miranda v. Arizona attempts to atone for his sins?
Legal historian G. Edward White painstakingly scoured Warren's posthumously published autobiography for signs that the chief justice himself made this link. White, a University of Virginia law professor, didn't find evidence that Warren made such as connection directly. But the famous jurist did write about the Japanese internment issue, and he did so ruefully. Professor White had clerked for Warren and knew him to be someone almost unable to apologize -- or even admit when he had been wrong. In this case, however, Warren did just that, articulating feelings of guilt over the incarceration of entire families based solely on their ethnicity. He did so, White added, "in terms that, for a father of six and a devoted family man, were vividly personal."
"Whenever I thought of the innocent little children who were torn from home, school friends, and congenial surroundings, I was conscience stricken," Warren had written. He added that he had "since deeply regretted the removal order and my own testimony advocating it, because it was not in keeping with our American concept of freedom and the rights of citizens."
And that's our quote of the week.
Carl M. Cannon is the Washington bureau chief for RealClearPolitics. Reach him on Twitter @CarlCannon.