president Richard Nixon smiles together Chief righteousness of the United says Earl Warren, even though the 2 waged politics war against each other for decades Everett collection Inc / Alamy Stock photo

The most remarkable deathbed scene in American politics developed on July 9, 1974. Earl Warren, the previous chief justice of the U.S. Can be fried Court, had however a few more hrs left ~ above earth, ~ a storied life advancing civil rights and liberties. Yet as Warren ready to accomplish his end, his dice wish to be to strike one last blow in his unrelenting, 30-year feud with Richard Nixon.

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Two of Warren’s previous colleagues, Justices wilhelm Douglas and also William Brennan, was standing by the dice man’s bedside. Warren grasped Douglas’s hand. The can be fried Court must rule for the Watergate unique prosecutor in the recurring legal battle over Nixon’s White house tapes, that told the 2 justices.

The chairman had decreased to comply with a reduced court’s order. “If Nixon it s okay away v that, then Nixon makes the law as that goes follow me – no the Congress no one the courts,” Warren said. “The old Court you and I offered so lengthy will no be worthy that its traditions if Nixon deserve to twist, turn and fashion the law.”

The two men nodded gravely. For years they had watched together the feud in between Warren and Nixon progressed from a grudge match in between Californians until it poisoned and polarized supreme Court politics, on and off the bench. They promised they would certainly not allow Warren down.


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No sooner had President Donald Trump named Judge Neil Gorsuch together his candidate because that the U.S. Can be fried Court 보다 Carla Severino, cook counsel and also director of plan with the conservative Judicial crisis Network, took to NPR  to reference the dismal state of confirmation politics, and the factional disposition of the nation’s highest court, on the Democrats’ actions during the check hearings because that Judge Robert Bork.

It is one excusable mistake. City council Edward Kennedy was turbulent on Bork, who nomination to the can be fried Court by Ronald Reagan failed in 1987. “Bork’s America,” the senator famously declared, was “a soil in which women would be compelled into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated having lunch counters,” and also “rogue police could break down citizens" doors in midnight raids.” A fresh verb uncovered its means into the dictionaries: to bork, or “obstruct through methodical defamation or vilification.” 

But the toxicity the today’s nomination national politics goes earlier past Bork, and reached a head with the vendetta in between Warren and also Nixon, 2 20th-century California Republicans. The feud lasted decades, sowing precedents because that the nasty brawls the followed. That started throughout Nixon’s very first political campaign, and also lasted to the grim step at Warren’s bedside. That still reverberates today.

Their enmity dated to 1946, when Warren to be the branch of California and Lieutenant commander Nixon, home from war and service in the Navy, declared his candidacy because that the Los Angeles-area conference seat organized by autonomous Representative Jerry Voorhis.

Warren to be a progressive Republican who won by appealing to Democrats and also Independents in a state the then favored non-partisan politics. He had nice points to say around Voorhis, who had helped represent California’s understanding in Congress. Once Nixon seek to have Harold Stassen, a Republican presidential hopeful, involved California and also campaign because that him, Warren—who had actually his own nationwide ambitions—persuaded Stassen to stay away.

Nixon defeated Voorhis, yet never forgot what Warren had actually done. “Right then, a sluggish burn was kindled in Richard Nixon,” project aide invoice Arnold, recalled.

The slow-moving burn blazed in 1950, once Nixon ran a successful Red-baiting project for the U.S. Senate against his autonomous opponent— Helen Gahagan Douglas - and also Warren refused to endorse him. Nixon and also his friends to be outraged. “Unless a male is a crook he is licensed has been granted to the united support of the party the represents,” Nixon’s mentor, banker Herman Perry, composed the congressman. Warren’s actions would “not go well through me and 80 percent the the actual Republicans.”

When Warren stumbled throughout the Republican presidential primaries in 1952, Nixon’s wife, Pat, gloated in a letter come a friend. “Warren’s showing in Oregon to be sad,” she wrote. “I’m not crying.”

Nixon himself went further. That boarded the Warren campaign train together it do its way from Sacramento come the Republican convention in Chicago, and also stealthily urged California’s delegates to assistance the governor’s rival, general Dwight Eisenhower. The episode became known in state politics lore as “The an excellent Train Robbery.” in ~ the convention, Nixon was tireless, securing the delegation for Ike on the crucial procedural votes that established the nomination.

Warren, fuming, sent out an envoy come Eisenhower. “We have a traitor in our delegation,” that charged. “It’s Nixon.” yet Ike decreased to act. In fact, he told the envoy, Nixon was likely to it is in the general’s running mate. Because that “keeping the California delegation in line,” Nixon had been offered a place atop the short list, Eisenhower’s campaign manager later on confirmed.

The feuding reached complete boil. At the California delegation caucus, Warren thanked his supporters for their assist and publicly snubbed Nixon. “The slight was perfectly obvious, together it to be intended come be,” one of Nixon’s friends taped in a diary. Warren believed that “Dick was trying to sabotage him.”

From that day forward, “Warren hated Nixon,” longtime Republican fundraiser Asa speak to remembered in an oral history. End the years, Warren would tell human being how “Nixon cut my neck from below to here,” and gesture with his finger throughout his neck.

So that was the reporters, traveling to California to compose profiles that the brand-new vice presidential candidate, found that Warren loyalists were passionate to tattle. Lock dished the dirt on exactly how Nixon’s friends i ordered it to have actually wealthy donors pay for his an individual and political obligations.

“All is not well,” Perry warned a friend. “Some of the Warrenites would be tickled to fatality to see prick lose.”

In late September, the then-liberal New York Post reported that “Secret wealthy Men’s Trust money Keeps Nixon in style Far beyond His Salary.” The story was hyped, yet sired an election-year scandal that grew with stunning speed and also impact. Just Nixon’s convincing appearance on national television – in i m sorry he, famously, spoke cloyingly of his family’s cocker spaniel Checkers – conserved his career.

The feuding subsided as soon as Eisenhower appointed Warren to lead the supreme Court in 1953. Over there was tiny that the brand-new chief justice and also vice president can do to each various other that would not look unseemly. However then Nixon shed the 1960 presidential election to john F. Kennedy and sought to make a comeback by to run for Warren’s old job as branch in California in 1962.

Warren wielded the stiletto. He travel to California to pose, warm and smiling, in photographs with democratic incumbent Gov. Edmund “Pat” Brown, and to tell the push what a great job Brown to be doing. He dispatched his son, Earl Warren Jr., to stump the state because that Brown, campaigning versus Nixon. The cook justice “felt that Nixon double-crossed him in 1952,” Brown recalled in an oral history, and also “when Earl hated people, the hated them.” when Nixon lost, Brown remembered, Warren “laughed and laughed and also laughed.”

“Tricky,” as Warren favored to call Nixon, then disgraced self at his “last press conference,” as soon as he called reporters they would certainly not have him “to kick roughly anymore.” the week, ~ above Air force One, flying earlier from Eleanor Roosevelt’s funeral, president Kennedy and Chief righteousness Warren were seen giggling like schoolboys as they swapped news accounts of Nixon’s meltdown.


The arguement ebbed until 1968, when Nixon released yet one more comeback, campaigning for the presidency. The smoldering fuse got fanned, and also the resulting detonation changed the can be fried Court nomination process.

Warren was ready to retire, however didn’t desire Nixon to name his successor. The approached President lindon Johnson, and also reached an commitment to have actually LBJ’s an excellent friend and also adviser, supreme Court justice Abe Fortas, supported to cook justice after just a couple of year on the court.

Nixon would have none the it. Use the reasoning used by today’s Republicans as soon as they blocked Judge Merrick Garland’s nomination to the court last year, Nixon argued that “a new president v a fresh mandate” should fill the north seat.

Senate Republicans visited work, filibustered, and blocked the Fortas nomination. Warren was compelled to continue to be on, through the tart duty that swearing-in Nixon together the 37th president in January 1969.

Senate Democrats, however, seethed in ~ the manner in which Fortas to be treated. Their wrath grew downright broiling when reports native the Nixon justice Department evidenced that Fortas was on a $20,000-a-year retainer from a convicted financier. Fortas resigned in May, and Warren, no getting any kind of younger, lastly stepped under from his chair in June. Nixon would certainly now have actually two seat to fill.

To change Earl Warren, the president selected referee Warren Burger together the court’s new chief justice. Burger acquired Senate approval, but the Republican maneuvering in the Fortas fight had left deep scars. “The Democrats would have had to be saints no to want revenge because that the way the Republicans first turned Fortas earlier as chief justice, climate exposed him and also drove that from the Court altogether—and no one had never believed of the Democrats together saints,” wrote historian Stephen Ambrose.

Nixon had actually the opportunity to “stick it to the liberal, Ivy organization clique who thought the Court was their own private playground,” recommend presidential counselor man Ehrlichman. And so the did, naming referee Clement Haynsworth of southern Carolina to fill the Fortas seat.

Nixon now walked into the exact same trap twice.

Stealing a web page from the Fortas fight, the democracy raked Haynsworth for financial improprieties. Nixon squealed about the “vicious personality assassination” the Haynsworth underwent, however the president was being hoisted through his very own petard.

“When republicans complained that for one hundred years it had been the exercise of the Senate to overlook a nominee’s philosophy and judge him just on technical fitness, the Democrats replied that Fortas had actually been upbraided by Senate conservatives for his for free decisions,” Ambrose noted. “It to be the Republicans who had damaged tradition.”

The cycle of blame had actually begun. The Senate garbage Haynsworth. The stubborn president climate named another Southern judge, G. Harrold Carswell the Georgia, who the Democrats also met through the kind of bruising strategies they take it from Nixon’s book.

The Carswell nomination to be a dismal one; the was more of a segregationist and less that a jurist 보다 Haynsworth. Carswell was defeated. Today, the is chiefly remembered because that the argument made by Senator roman Hruska, a Nebraska Republican, that there were many mediocre people in the unified States, and they to be entitled come some depiction on the supreme Court too.


The problems over the Warren and also Fortas seat were much like the Spanish polite War—a struggle in which external foes debuted and also tested weaponry and tactics they would certainly employ in the frays come come. The era additionally introduced an issue that, though somewhat tame at the time, would come to consume the nomination process. The middle jurist that was ultimately approved to fill the Fortas seat, Justice take care of Blackmun, wound up writing the majority opinion in the 1973 abortion case, Roe v. Wade, that has actually snarled the supreme Court since.

The clash over Fortas’ seat was among several vicious fight —like those end the invasion of Cambodia, and also the publication of the Pentagon Papers—that carried out Nixon’s dark side.

The White home retaliated for the defeat of Haynsworth and Carswell by launching an not successful attempt to have actually liberal justice Douglas impeached. And after ending up top top the losing finish of a supreme Court ruling once trying come halt publication of leaked secrets in the Pentagon files case, Nixon set up an in-house corridor of stooges, nicknamed the Plumbers, come investigate, intimidate and also defame leakers. It ultimately led him come Watergate.

Nixon looked prefer he’d endure the scandal, till disclosure of his White home taping mechanism led special prosecutor Leon Jaworski to subpoena the possibly incriminating recordings. Nixon declared an “executive privilege” to store his tapes and also papers private.

So it was that when Justices Douglas and Brennan showed up at Warren’s deathbed in July 1974, castle were more than ready to bring out their chief’s last behest.

“If Nixon is not forced to rotate over tapes the his conversation with the ring of men who were conversing on their violations the the law, then liberty will soon be dead in this nation,” Warren told them. The supreme Court had actually met that very day come confer on the case, lock told him. Lock assured that they would certainly rule versus Nixon.

Warren passed away that night. Two weeks later, a unanimous can be fried Court ruled, in United claims v. Nixon, that the president had to surrender his White residence tapes to the prosecutors. Two an ext weeks passed, the tapes were made public, and the fallout compelled Nixon come resign.

But Nixon, who lived one more two decades, may have had actually the critical laugh. All in all, he named four justices come the court. After ~ Burger and Blackmun, he made decision William Rehnquist and Lewis Powell, conservative who aided turn the court far from Warren’s gradual course. This exacerbated the split, on and also off the bench, between left and right.

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By 1987, when Edward Kennedy led the assault on Bork, he to be only adhering to political precedent—much the it collection in the battle royal of Warren v. Nixon.