Justice Kagan christens ship
Justice Elena Kagan breaks a bottle of champagne on the hull of the future USNS Earl Warren. Courtesy General Dynamics NASSCO

Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan christened a new fleet oiler named after former Chief Justice Earl Warren at a ceremony Saturday in the NASSCO shipyard.

Kagan broke a champagne bottle on the 742-foot ship’s steel hull in the time-honored ceremony, saying Warren would have been “incredibly proud” of the honor.

“Along with its namesake, this majestic vessel will be instrumental in shaping the future of our nation. The shipbuilders of NASSCO are proud to have ensured Earl Warren’s legacy will live on in this ship,” said David Carver, president of General Dynamics NASSCO.

Dr. Earl Brien, Warren’s grandson, asked and answered the question: What does Earl Warren have in common with the ship?

  • Rep. Eric Swalwell. Photo by Chris Stone
  • Rep. Sara Jacobs. Photo by Chris Stone
  • Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro. Photo by Chris Stone

“More than you would expect,” he said. “This ship is a product of hard work… He had distinguishing features similar to this vessel, which included strength, fearlessness, productiveness and resilience. Such common characteristics are embodied in this great ship.”

Brien — who pointed out that his Republican grandfather won 91% of the vote for governor in 1946 — was among several speakers to highlight Warren’s legacy in civil rights.

“Whether it was making sure that all residents in California could go to higher education without costs, or improving a flawed penal system, fairness for all citizens was his constant goal,” he said.

Kagan said Warren revolutionized American law — and in particular, U.S. civil rights and racial equality.

“He gets on the court in 1953. And the next year is 1954. That’s when Brown v, Board of Education comes down, this iconic decision of American law, this decision that overrules Plessy v. Ferguson, that overrules the system of Jim Crow, that overrules state-sponsored discrimination, that ensures that there can be no discrimination sponsored by law, and that segregation is inherently unequal.”

She said he left America “a more equal, fair, more just country than he found it. So I know that Chief Justice Warren would be incredibly proud of this day.

“And not only in education … with some of the most important work he did, he would say it was attempting to eradicate … discrimination, to ensure that everybody had the opportunity to cast the ballot, and to ensure that those ballots counted for every person.”

The future USNS Earl Warren will be the Navy’s third John Lewis-class fleet oiler. The ships are designed to transfer fuel to Navy carrier battle groups operating at sea. They can carry 157,000 barrels of oil as well as dry cargo.

The Navy has ordered eight, all of which are named for leaders in the battle of civil rights. The lead ship USNS John Lewis was delivered last year, and the USNS Harvey Milk will be delivered later this year. The Robert F. Kennedy and Lucy Stone are under construction at the shipyard in Barrio Logan.

Warren — 1891 to 1974 — served as attorney general and governor (1943-53) of California before being appointed to the Supreme Court. During his 16 years as chief justice, civil rights and civil liberties were dramatically expanded, marking this period as one of the most important in the history of American constitutional law.

“Indeed, the ship’s motto could not be more appropriate: ‘I Will Find a Way or I Will Make One,’” said Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro.

“That’s exactly what a young Earl Warren did when he overcame obstacles to joining the Army during the First World War, and that’s what he continued to do in the fight for equality, democracy, and social justice throughout his life.”