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Former appellate judge Warren Burger begins his term as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. Burger was named months before by newly elected president Richard Nixon after two earlier candidates, former Eisenhower attorney general Herbert Brownell and former GOP presidential candidate Thomas Dewey, turned down the job. Supreme Court Associate Justice Abe Fortas was to be Chief Justice as one of then-president Lyndon Johnson’s last acts, but Senate Republicans, supported by conservative Senate Democrats who oppose Fortas’s civil rights rulings, successfully filibustered Fortas’s nomination and actually forced Fortas’s premature resignation (see May 14, 1969). The blocking of Fortas has an additional element: in June 1968, Chief Justice Earl Warren announced that he would step down, giving Johnson ample time to place Fortas in the position. However, Republican presidential candidate Richard Nixon wanted to name the Chief Justice himself, if he won the national election. To that end, Nixon sent word to Congressional Republicans to block Johnson’s naming of a replacement for Warren. Senate Republicans launched the filibuster after being given information that intimated Fortas had received an inordinately large honorarium for teaching a course at American University, a sum said to have been raised by one of his former law partners. (Dean 2007, pp. 127-128)
The Supreme Court rules 6-3 not to permanently enjoin the New York Times and other press organs from publishing articles derived from the Pentagon Papers (see June 26, 1971). Three justices, William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, and Thurgood Marshall, insist that the government can never suppress the publication of information no matter what the threat to national security; the other three in the majority, Potter Stewart, Byron White, and William Brennan, use a more moderate “common sense” standard that says, though the government can suppress publication of sensitive information under circumstances of war or national emergency, this case did not meet the criteria for such suppression. Chief Justice Warren Burger is joined by Harry Blackmun and John Harlan in dissenting; they believe that the president has the unrestrained authority to prevent confidential materials affecting foreign policy from being published. The Times’s lawyer says that the ruling will help ensure that a federal court will not issue a restraining order against a news outlet simply because the government is unhappy with the publication of a particular article. (Herda 1994)
The US Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, legalizes abortion on a federal level in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade. The majority opinion is written by Justice Harry Blackmun; he is joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices William O. Douglas, William Brennan, Potter Stewart, Thurgood Marshall, and Lewis Powell. Justices Byron “Whizzer” White and William Rehnquist dissent from the opinion. Blackmun’s majority opinion finds that the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of personal liberty and previous decisions protecting privacy in family matters include a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy. White’s dissent argues that the Court has “fashion[ed] and announce[d] a new constitutional right for pregnant mothers and, with scarcely any reason or authority for its action, invest[ed] that right with sufficient substance to override most existing state abortion statutes.” The decision does not make abortion freely available to women in any stage of pregnancy. It places the following constraints:
No restrictions on availability are made during the first trimester (three months) of a woman’s pregnancy.
Because of increased risks to a woman’s health during the second trimester, the state may regulate the abortion procedure only “in ways that are reasonably related to maternal health.”
In the third and final trimester, since the rate of viability (live birth) is markedly greater than in the first two trimesters, the state can restrict or even prohibit abortions as it chooses, “except where it is necessary, in appropriate medical judgment, for the preservation of the life or health of the mother.”
Originally brought to challenge a Texas law prohibiting abortions, the decision disallows a host of state and federal restrictions on abortion, and sparks an enormous controversy over the moral, religious, and legal viability of abortion that continues well into the 21st century. (ROE v. WADE, 410 US 113 (1973) 1/22/1973; Mears and Franken 1/22/2003; National Abortion Federation 2010) In a related case, Roe v. Bolton, the Court strikes down restrictions on facilities that can be used to provide abortions. The ruling leads to the establishment of so-called “abortion clinics.” (CBS News 4/19/2007)
The Supreme Court, in the case of United States v. Nixon, votes 8-0 to uphold the subpoena of special prosecutor Leon Jaworski demanding the Watergate tapes for use in the trial of Nixon’s former aides (see March 1, 1974). (William Rehnquist, a Nixon appointee, recused himself from deliberations.) The Court rules, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Warren Burger, that Nixon’s claim of “executive privilege” authorizing him to keep the tapes to himself does not apply, and that his lawyers’ claim that neither the courts nor the special prosecutor have the authority to review the claim also has no weight. Jaworski and one of his senior staffers, Philip Lacovara, argued the case against an array of lawyers for Nixon headed by James St. Clair. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a “friend of the court” brief on behalf of Jaworski. (UNITED STATES v. NIXON 7/24/1974; Gerald R. Ford Library and Museum 7/3/2007)
The Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo, filed by Senator James L. Buckley (R-NY) and former Senator Eugene McCarthy (D-WI) against the Secretary of the Senate, Francis R. Valeo, challenges the constitutionality of the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA—see February 7, 1972 and 1974) on free-speech grounds. The suit also named the Federal Election Commission (FEC) as a defendant. A federal appeals court validated almost all of FECA, and the plaintiffs sent the case to the Supreme Court. The Court upholds the contribution limits set by FECA because those limits help to safeguard the integrity of elections. However, the court overrules the limits set on campaign expenditures, ruling: “It is clear that a primary effect of these expenditure limitations is to restrict the quantity of campaign speech by individuals, groups, and candidates. The restrictions… limit political expression at the core of our electoral process and of First Amendment freedoms.” One of the most important aspects of the Supreme Court’s ruling is that financial contributions to political campaigns can be considered expressions of free speech, thereby allowing individuals to essentially make unrestricted donations. The Court implies that expenditure limits on publicly funded candidates are allowable under the Constitution, because presidential candidates may disregard the limits by rejecting public financing (the Court will affirm this stance in a challenge brought by the Republican National Committee in 1980).
Provisions of 'Buckley' - The Court finds the following provisions constitutional:
Limitations on contributions to candidates for federal office;
Disclosure and record-keeping provisions; and
The public financing of presidential elections.
However, the Court finds these provisions unconstitutional:
Limitations on expenditures by candidates and their committees, except for presidential candidates who accept public funding;
The $1,000 limitation on independent expenditures;
The limitations on expenditures by candidates from their personal funds; and
The method of appointing members of the FEC, holding that as the method stands, it violates the principle of separation of powers.
In May 1976, following the Court’s ruling, the FEC will reconstitute its board with six presidential appointees after Senate confirmation. (Federal Elections Commission 3/1997; Federal Elections Commission 1998; Campaign Finance Timeline 1999; Center for Responsive Politics 2002 ; Casebriefs 2012)
No Clear Authors - The opinion is labeled per curiam, a term usually reserved for brief and minor Court decisions when authorship of an opinion is less relevant. It is unclear exactly which Justices write the opinion. Most Court observers believe Justice William Brennan writes the bulk of the opinion, but Brennan’s biographers will later note that sections of the opinion are authored by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Potter Stewart, Lewis Powell, and William Rehnquist. The opinion is an amalgamation of multiple authors, reflecting the several compromises made in the resolution of the decision. (Toobin 5/21/2012)
Criticism of 'Buckley' - Critics claim that the ruling enshrines the principle of “money equals speech.” The ruling also says that television and radio advertisements that do not expressly attack an individual candidate can be paid for with “unregulated” funds. This leads organizations to begin airing “attack ads” that masquerade as “issue ads,” ostensibly promoting or opposing a particular social or political issue and avoiding such words as “elect” or “defeat.” (National Public Radio 2012) In 1999, law professor Burt Neuborne will write: “Buckley is like a rotten tree. Give it a good, hard push and, like a rotten tree, Buckley will keel over. The only question is in which direction.” Neuborne will write that his preference goes towards reasonable federal regulations of spending and contributions, but “any change would be welcome” in lieu of this decision, and even a completely deregulated system would be preferable to Buckley’s legal and intellectual incoherence. (Liptak 5/3/2010) In 2011, law professor Richard Hasen will note that while the Buckley decision codifies the idea that contributions are a form of free speech, it also sets strict limitations on those contributions. Calling the decision “Solomonic,” Hasen will write that the Court “split the baby, upholding the contribution limits but striking down the independent spending limit as a violation of the First Amendment protections of free speech and association.” Hasen will reflect: “Buckley set the main parameters for judging the constitutionality of campaign finance restrictions for a generation. Contribution limits imposed only a marginal restriction on speech, because the most important thing about a contribution is the symbolic act of contributing, not the amount. Further, contribution limits could advance the government’s interest in preventing corruption or the appearance of corruption. The Court upheld Congress’ new contribution limits. It was a different story with spending limits, which the Court said were a direct restriction on speech going to the core of the First Amendment. Finding no evidence in the record then that independent spending could corrupt candidates, the Court applied a tough ‘strict scrutiny’ standard of review and struck down the limits.” (Hasen 10/25/2011) In 2012, reporter and author Jeffrey Toobin will call it “one of the Supreme Court’s most complicated, contradictory, incomprehensible (and longest) opinions.” (Toobin 5/21/2012)
The Supreme Court, in the case of First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti, rules 5-4 that corporations have the First Amendment right to make contributions in order to influence political processes. Writing for the majority, Justice Lewis Powell finds that under the recent Buckley ruling (see January 30, 1976), corporate political donations are protected speech. Powell’s opinion finds that a Massachusetts criminal statute prohibiting corporations from spending money for the purpose of “influencing or affecting” voters’ opinions is not legitimate. The split among the justices is unusual, with Powell, a conservative, being joined by two more conservatives, Chief Justice Warren Burger and Potter Stewart, and liberals Harry Blackmun and John Paul Stevens. The four dissenters are liberals William Brennan and Thurgood Marshall, and conservatives Byron White and William Rehnquist. (FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI 2012; Moneyocracy 2/2012) Rehnquist’s standalone dissent advocates for far stricter controls on corporate spending in elections than most of the other justices’ dissents, with Rehnquist writing that such spending could “pose special dangers in the political sphere.” (Reclaim Democracy 4/26/1978; FIRST NATIONAL BANK OF BOSTON v. BELLOTTI 2012)
The Supreme Court, in the case of Federal Election Commission v. NCPAC, rules that political action committees (PACs) can spend more than the $1,000 mandated by federal law (see February 7, 1972, 1974, and May 11, 1976). The Democratic Party and the FEC argued that large expenditures by the National Conservative Political Action Committee (NCPAC) in 1975 violated the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), which caps spending by independent political action committees in support of a publicly funded presidential candidate at $1,000. The Court rules 7-2 in favor of NCPAC, finding that the relevant section of FECA encroaches on the organization’s right to free speech (see January 30, 1976). Justice William Rehnquist writes the majority opinion, joined by fellow conservatives Chief Justice Warren Burger, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Lewis Powell, and liberals Harry Blackmun, John Paul Stevens, and William Brennan. Justices Byron White and Thurgood Marshall dissent from the majority. (Oyez (.org) 2012; Moneyocracy 2/2012)
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