Warren Burger was Chief Justice of the United States from 1969 until 1986 - a period when the country moved sharply to the right. Although few Americans realize it, we are living in a constitutional world that Chief Justice Warren E. Burger and his Supreme Court made. Histories of the period tend to treat the Burger Court as standing apart from this transformation. Indeed, the 1970s as a whole are often treated as a period of historical pause during which nothing happened. While surprising, this neglect is also understandable. The prevailing and largely unexamined view has been that the Burger Court represented little more than a transition between the aggressive liberalism of the Warren Court and the equally aggressive conservatism of Warren Burger's successor, William Rehnquist. And after all, by the time the Burger Court ended, the Warren Court's most important and controversial decisions - on the rights of criminal defendants, prayer in school, redistricting, and desegregation - were all still on the books. So the Burger Court era quickly came to be regarded as a period during which nothing much happened.
But the Burger Court in fact played a central role in shaping crucial features of the nation we live in today. The Court under Warren Burger was just as "activist" as the Warren Court and cast an equally long shadow. It was just activism in the service of a different constitutional vision, one that dominates our constitutional discourse to this day: not Earl Warren's Constitution as an engine of social progress, but rather the Constitution as a brake on the power of government, as a protector of local control, and an ally of the interests of business. (For example, few people today who decry the Supreme Court's campaign finance ruling in the Citizens United case seem to realize that it was the Burger Court that first endowed corporations with the First Amendment right to spend money to influence the outcome of elections.)
This seminar will reexamine the period, exploring the Burger years through cases and other primary and secondary readings. Among the topics covered will be race, economic rights, women's rights (including reproductive rights), religion, immigration, crime, and presidential power.
Section Offerings for 2012-13
|L8680-001||13S||Warren Burger's Supreme Court|
|M. Graetz||T 4:20 PM-6:10 PM||GRHL 502|
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