While the U.S. Supreme Court today is dominated by conservatives, it still abides by many of the landmark decisions written by the court's liberal icon, Justice William J. Brennan Jr., who retired in 1990 after 34 years of service.
This fall, a long-awaited biography, Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion, is on the nation's bookshelves — an account of Brennan's life, times and influence on the nation's highest court.
For those not familiar with Brennan's incredible record, let us recapitulate. As the conservative National Review put it in writing about the liberal justice: "An examination of Brennan's opinions, and his influence upon the opinions of his colleagues, suggests that there is no individual in this country, on or off the Court, who has had a more profound and sustained impact on public policy in the United States."
Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion
By Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel
Hardcover, 688 pages
List price: $35
Brennan's legacy is spelled out in more than 1,300 legal opinions — from Baker v. Carr, his opinion for the court establishing the "one person, one vote" principle in legislative apportionment, to his passionate dissents on the death penalty.
For reasons that even the book's authors cannot fathom, Brennan agreed in the mid-1980s to cooperate on a biography with Stephen Wermiel, then of The Wall Street Journal and now a law professor at American University. The justice asked for nothing in return, not even editorial control. Wermiel spent four concentrated years with Brennan while the justice was still on the bench. The biographer had unfettered access to Brennan's papers, and unparalleled access to the justice. Not only was Wermiel permitted to be something of a fly on the wall in the Brennan chambers, but the justice also sat for more than 60 hours of tape-recorded interviews.