A JUSTICE FOR ALL by Kim Isaac Eisler


William J. Brennan and the Decisions That Transformed America
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 In this brisk, agreeable account, Washingtonian Magazine national editor Eisler (Shark Tank, 1990) pays tribute to the great liberal jurist, recapitulating the judicial achievements of Brennan's long and influential Supreme Court career. A progressive who interpreted the Bill of Rights expansively in favor of individual rights, Brennan was the ``lapel-pulling playmaker'' whose gregarious personality and taste for compromise made possible some of the Warren and Burger Courts' most famous activist decisions. But before his 1952 appointment to the New Jersey Supreme Court, there was little to suggest his liberal proclivities: A solid but not outstanding product of the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law, Brennan had been the first Catholic partner at one of New Jersey's staid corporate law firms and had devoted his professional energies to promoting the interests of his corporate clients. Eisler sees Brennan's 1953 dissenting opinion in New Jersey v. Tune, in which he argued that a criminal defendant should have the right to see his written confession, as an important harbinger of his future philosophy. Nonetheless, Brennan's liberalism was still so obscure that when President Eisenhower appointed him to the US Supreme Court in 1956, the Chief Executive assumed that Brennan wouldn't ``entertain technical arguments about constitutionality.'' Eisler speculates that Brennan's liberalism was rooted in his Newark boyhood as the son of a poor Irish laborer who became a labor leader and political reformer. The author quickly reviews several of Brennan's great cases, such as Baker v. Carr (which established the ``one person- one vote'' rule for election district-drawing), and various privacy and obscenity cases (Brennan's most influential decision, New York Times v. Sullivan, which revolutionized the law of defamation, receives only a brief sketch). The author also illuminates Brennan's close relationships with his family and other justices. Although Eisler's analyses of specific cases can be disappointingly superficial, he paints a warm, vivid portrait of Brennan the man and admirably sums up the justice's humane and progressive jurisprudence.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-76787-9
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 1993