The Constitutional Conservatism of the Warren Court
Awarded the 2012 William Nelson Cromwell Article prize for for the best article in American legal history published by an early career scholar.
Scholarly debate about the Warren Court casts a long shadow over modern constitutional law. The essential contours of this debate have now grown exceedingly familiar: where liberal law professors overwhelmingly heap praise upon the Warren Court, conservatives generally heap contempt. Although some liberals have begun contending that the Warren Court overstepped the bounds of judicial propriety, such concessions do not reconfigure the debate's fundamental terms. Conspicuously absent from scholarly discourse to date, however, is a sustained liberal argument contending that the Warren Court made substantial mistakes-not by going excessively far, but by going insufficiently far in its constitutional interpretations. This Article supplies that missing perspective by providing a historically contextualized critique of the Warren Court's jurisprudence, identifying significant opinions in which the Court issued conservative constitutional rulings even though plausible routes led to liberal outcomes. Examining the Warren Court's overlooked tradition of constitutional conservatism not only demythologizes that institution and brings sharper focus to the constitutional past; it may also help to inspire a progressive reenvisioning of the constitutional future.