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The President and the Chief Justice

Friendship with Warren Burger Established Well Before Nixon Reached the White House in 1969

Speaking to Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren E. Burger in the Oval Office on June 14, 1972, Nixon recalled Burger's whirlwind appointment to the court in 1969. (A photograph of Nixon's public announcement, with Burger at his side, appears to the left.) To the surprise of almost everyone, Nixon appointed Burger, a judge, which was not common in that era. According to the recording of their conversation, included in the collection below, Nixon and Burger met to discuss the appointment for the first time approximately five minutes before the announcement was made. "We'll have to have that for the file sometime—just for the—what your recollection was. That was a great day," Nixon said. Burger agreed. "That was a shocker," he replied. Of course, the Nixon White House taping system caught Burger's recollection during their conversation that day, the week of the Watergate break-in, and much more.

Warren Burger and Richard Nixon had a relationship, a friendship, well before the latter reached the White House in 1969. In their recorded conversations they discuss mutual friends in the law profession, and from the Eisenhower administration. Other subjects discussed include pornography, freedom of speech, the increased workload of the court, Burger's family, the importance of exercise and health, and Supreme Court justices past, present, and the strategy to be employed when it comes to possible future appointees to the court. Nixon and Burger both speak admiringly of new Associate Justice William Rehnquist, but agree that "he is too young" to become chief justice.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the collection of the Nixon-Burger recordings is the candid exchange of strategy that takes place regarding the Supreme Court. The Burger court, most famous for its January 1973 ruling in Roe vs. Wade, was not a court that sought to dramatically overturn decisions handed down by the Warren court. While Nixon and Burger had a divergence of views with Warren on various subjects, at the time of Nixon's presidency Warren remained a friend of both, a prominent Republican, and someone who was active in the American Bar Association. Public disagreement was not desirable for anyone. Instead, Burger explained to Nixon that his strategy with regard to his management of the Supreme Court was "no great overturning...instead of overturning say 'we're limiting' this whole thing, 'we're narrowing it,' or 'we're holding it' where it is."

The participants are as follows:

P = President Richard Nixon
TM = Targut Menemencioglu
EBM = Emil "Bus" Mosbacher, Jr.
CVH = Christopher Van Hollen
AMH = Alexander M. Haig
Press = Members of the Press
WEB = Warren E. Burger
JWD = John W. Dean
JNM = John N. Mitchell
ELW = Edward L. Wright
unk = Unknown Participant
SBB = Stephen B. Bull
MS = Manolo Sanchez
Conversation Number



Download Audio
OVAL 461-010 03/02/1971 12:07 - 12:44 pm P, TM, EBM, CVH, AMH, Press, WEB, JWD, JNM, ELW, unk [SBB?] mp3 (35.0m)
OVAL 466-023 03/11/1971 Unk between 6:41 pm and 6:44 pm P, WEB mp3 (3.5m)
WHT 009-063a 09/17/1971 4:28 - 4:32 pm P, WEB mp3 (2.0m)
WHT 009-063b       mp3 (3.9m)
WHT 012-068 10/21/1971 9:03 - 9:13 pm P, WEB mp3 (9.7)
WHT 017-076 12/25/1971 10:53 - 10:55 am P, WEB mp3 (2.3m)
WHT 023-143 05/03/1972 3:49 - 3:53 pm P, WEB mp3 (2.5m)
OVAL 733-010 06/14/1972 2:54 - 3:59 pm P, WEB, MS, SBB, Unk mp3 (58.3m)
WHT 035-051 01/02/1973 8:56 - 9:03 am P, WEB mp3 (1.7m)
WHT 046-138 05/22/1973 9:27 - 9:30 pm P, WEB mp3 (5.1m)


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