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Remarks at the Swearing In of Warren E. Burger as Chief Justice of the United States.

June 23, 1969

Mr. Chief Justice, may it please the Court:

I am honored to appear today, not as President of the United States, but as a member of the bar admitted to practice before this Court.

At this historic moment I am reminded of the fact that while this is the last matter that will be heard by the Chief Justice of the United States, the first matter to be heard by this Court when he became Chief Justice was the occasion when, as Vice President of the United States on October 5, 1953, I moved the admission of Warren Olney III, and Judge Stanley Barnes to be members of this Court.

I have also had another experience at this Court. In 1966, as a member of the bar, I appeared on two occasions before the Supreme Court of the United States. Looking back on those two occasions, I can say, Mr. Chief Justice, that there is only one ordeal which is more challenging than a Presidential press conference, and that is to appear before the Supreme Court of the United States.

On this occasion, it is my privilege to represent the bar in speaking of the work of the Chief Justice and in extending the best wishes of the bar and the Nation to him for the time ahead.

In speaking of that work, I naturally think somewhat in personal terms of the fact that not only is the Chief Justice concluding almost 16 years in his present position, but that today he concludes 52 years of public service to local, State, and national government--as District Attorney in Alameda County, as Attorney General of the State of California, as Governor of the State of California, the only three-term Governor in the history of that State, as Chief Justice of the United States of America.

The Nation is grateful for that service. I am also reminded of the fact that the Chief Justice has established a record here in this Court which will be characterized in many ways. In view of the historical allusion 'that was made in the opinions just read, may I be permitted an historical allusion?

Will Rogers, in commenting upon one of the predecessors of the Chief Justice, Chief Justice William Howard Taft, said that "It is great to be great. It is greater to be human."

I think that comment could well apply to the Chief Justice as we look at his 52 years of service. One who has held high office in this Nation, but one who, in holding that office, always had the humanity which was all-encompassing, the dedication to his family--his personal family, to the great American family, to the family of man.

The Nation is grateful for that example of humanity which the Chief Justice has given to us and to the world.

But as we consider this moment, we also think of the transition which will shortly take place. We think of what it means to America, what it means to our institutions.

Sixteen years have passed since the Chief Justice assumed his present position. These 16 years, without doubt, will be described by historians as years of greater change in America than any in our history.

And that brings us to think of the mystery of government in this country, and for that matter in the world, the secret of how government can survive for free men. And we think of the terms "change" and "continuity." Change without continuity can be anarchy. Change with continuity can mean progress. And continuity without change can mean no progress.

As we look over the history of this Nation, we find that what has brought us where we are has been continuity with change. No institution of the three great institutions of our Government has been more responsible for that continuity with change than the Supreme Court of the United States.

Over the last 16 years there have been great debates in this country. There have been some disagreements even within this Court. But standing above those debates has been the symbol of the Court as represented by the Chief Justice of the United States: fairness, integrity, dignity. These great and simple attributes are, without question, more important than all of the controversy and the necessary debate that goes on when there is change, change within the continuity which is so important for the progress which we have just described.

To the Chief Justice of the United States, all of us are grateful today that his example, the example of dignity, the example of integrity, the example of fairness, as the chief law official of this country, has helped to keep America on the path of continuity and change, which is so essential for our progress.

When the historians write of this period and the period that follows, some with a superficial view will describe the last 16 years as the "Warren Court" and will describe the Court that follows it as the "Burger Court."

I believe, however, that every member of this Court would agree with me when I say that because of the example of the Chief Justice, a selfless example, a non-selfish example, that this period will be described, not only his but that of his successor, not as the Warren Court, not as the Burger Court, not in personal terms, but in this hallowed moment in this great Chamber, the Supreme Court. It was always that way; may it always be that way. And to the extent that it is, this Nation owes a debt of gratitude to the Chief Justice of the United States for his example.

Note: The President spoke at 10:17 a.m. at the Supreme Court. The oath of office was administered by retiring Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Richard Nixon, Remarks at the Swearing In of Warren E. Burger as Chief Justice of the United States. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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