Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

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April 1, 2014

Ranking the Supreme Court's heavy hitters

(Continued)

  • Earl Warren (1953). Under Warren's leadership, the court reformed American society. It struck down school segregation; called for a rule of one person, one vote; required the Miranda warnings; offered broad protection to freedom of speech; expanded the reach of the Fourth Amendment; and abolished the poll tax. That's a very partial picture. Warren did not have the analytic power of others on this list, but none of them had a larger impact.
  • William Brennan (1956). Brennan may well have been the most influential member of the Warren court. If Warren was its heart, Brennan was its brain. An unfailingly kind and gracious man, Brennan served on the court far longer than Warren, and he somehow managed to cobble together rights-protecting majorities long after the liberal majority left the bench.
  • William Rehnquist (1972). In his early years on the court, Rehnquist was called "the Lone Ranger" because his conservative views, defended with great power, were often set out in lonely dissents. When I was clerking at the court in the early 1980s, Rehnquist told me that the court was like a ship that had become badly tilted -- and he made a gesture, signaling that the court had tilted left.

Named chief justice in 1986, Rehnquist was no longer alone. Reducing federal power and limiting the reach of numerous Warren court rulings, Rehnquist redirected constitutional law in countless areas. More than any other justice in recent decades, Rehnquist succeeded in restoring what he considered to be the right constitutional balance.

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