Retired Chief Justice Warren Burger Dies at 87
Warren E. Burger, the retired chief justice of the United States who died last month at the age of 87, wrote several landmark U.S. Supreme Court decisions that shaped education policy.
Named as the nation's 15th chief justice by President Richard M. Nixon in 1969, Mr. Burger disappointed Mr. Nixon, who admired the judicial conservativism Mr. Burger had espoused as a federal appellate judge.
Under Chief Justice Burger, the High Court refused to reverse several controversial decisions it had handed down under his activist predecessor, Earl Warren. The Burger Court issued a mixture of liberal and conservative opinions.
Chief Justice Burger wrote the Court's opinion in Lemon v. Kurtzman, a unanimous 1971 ruling that set a three-pronged standard, popularly known as the "Lemon test," that courts still use to decide church-state issues.
The opinion, which helped stifle a movement among states to direct public funds to parochial schools, held that a governmental policy aiding a religious group or institution is permissible if it has a secular purpose, its principal effect neither advances or inhibits religion, and it does not foster "excessive government entanglement with religion."
Two years later, the Chief Justice dismayed religious conservatives by joining with the majority in the Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Chief Justice Burger's opinions also included Swann v. Charlotte-Mecklenberg County Board of Education, a unanimous 1971 ruling in which he urged school districts and lower courts to "make every effort" to achieve school desegregation, and endorsed the use of mandatory busing and redrawn school-attendance zones to desegregate schools.
Three years later, he substantially limited the geographic scope of such remedies as the author of the Court's 5-to-4 decision in Milliken v. Bradley, which absolved several Detroit suburbs from responsibility for remedying inner-city school segregation.
Chief Justice Burger also joined the majority in University of California Regents v. Bakke, a 1978 decision proscribing the rigid use of racial quotas in college admissions. Five years later, he wrote an opinion upholding the Internal Revenue Service's policy of denying tax-exempt status to private schools that discriminate against blacks.
He retired in 1986, having served longer than any other chief justice in this century, and later headed efforts to commemorate the bicentennial of the U.S. Constitution.
The retired Chief Justice died of heart failure June 25 in Washington. Following services attended by President Clinton and 13 past and present Justices, he was buried at Arlington National Cemetery.
Vol. 14, Issue 40