Sir Knight Earl Warren

From Golden State Grand Master to Governor and Chief Justice

by Sir Knight Dr. Ivan M. Tribe

    Earl Warren came to the court at a crucial time. The case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka concerning racially segregated schools had come up for consideration. In a decision that still stirs emotions in some circles, Sir Knight Warren managed to steer a potentially divided court into making a unanimous decision. At the same time the Chief Justice realized that it would take some time to be fully implemented. As a result "all deliberate speed" could sometimes be what seemed rather slow. In many parts of the Deep South nearly two decades elapsed before school integration became a reality.

    The era of what became known as "the Warren Court" (1953-1969) were years of rapid social and economic change in American society. The Brown case turned out to be the first of many decisions that carried more than a spark of controversy. Several of these involved providing increased protection for the rights of the accused. For instance Mapp v. Ohio (1961) threw out evidence obtained without a warrant, Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) required courts to appoint defense attorneys for accused felons who could not afford lawyers, and Miranda v. Arizona (1966) forced police to inform persons being arrested of their rights. In the words of historian George B. Tindall, such decisions upset numerous "middle class Americans who resented . . . the federal government's excessive protection of the 'undeserving.'" During the sixties the ultraconservative John Birch Society began placing numerous "Impeach Earl Warren" billboards across the fruited plain.

    Other decisions also led to sweeping changes in society. Engel v. Vitale (1962) banned state sanctioned school prayer. Loving v. Virginia (1967) struck down a law that forbid inter-racial marriages. Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) struck down state laws that banned use of birth control devices or pills that created precedent for several later cases based on "a right to privacy." In Baker v. Carr (1962) and Reynolds v. Sims (1964) the Court first declared that state legislative districts not based strictly on population were unconstitutional and in the second mandated the "one man one vote principle." Sir Knight Warren himself considered Baker v. Carr his most significant case.

    With advancing age, Brother Warren chose to retire from the Supreme Court in June 1969. After leaving the Court he lectured, gave public speeches, and wrote his memoirs. He passed to "the celestial lodge above" on July 9, 1974. His widow lived a full century dying in 1993.

    In retrospect Sir Knight Earl Warren's judicial legacy, while increasingly accepted as part of the American mainstream, remains controversial in many circles. Few would argue that he ranks second only to Brother John Marshall as the most important Chief Justice. Ironically, as Governor he was seen as a uniter, but as what many called "the Super Chief," he was a divider. However, in many respects it seems ironic that a man, who in his personal life exemplified the old fashioned American virtues, did so much-for better or worse-to alter and change them.

    Further Reading: Those who wish further examination of Sir Knight Earl Warren and his life may want to consult his own The Memoirs of Earl Warren (Doubleday, 1977); G. Edward White, Earl Warren: A Public Life (Oxford U. Press, 1982); and Lucas A. Powe, Jr., The Warren Court and American Politics (Harvard U. Press, 2000). For his Masonic records I am indebted to Bro. Adam Kendall of the Henry Wilson Coil Library and Museum of Freemasonry at the Grand Lodge of California in San Francisco, a 2003 article in The California Freemason, and William R. Denslow, 10,000 Famous Freemasons (1961), Vol. IV, pp. 297-298.

    Sir Knight Tribe is a professor emeritus of history at the university of Rio Grand in Ohio, and a holder of the KCT, KYCH, and 33o. He has been a regular contributor to the Knight Templar magazine for many years and resides at 111 E. High Street, McArthur, OH 45651


Published 080514 Updated: August 12, 2014

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