"JUSTICE WILLIAM J. BRENNAN, JR.: Freedom First" by Roger with David Gallen Goldman


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The happy warrior of the Supreme Court's liberal wing from 1956 to 1990 is fondly recalled in these miscellaneous articles collected by Goldman (Constitutional Law and Criminal Procedure/St. Louis Univ. School of Law) and Gallen (co-author, Remembering Malcolm, not reviewed). One sure tip-off that this book will not be an objective assessment comes early, when Nat Hentoff terms Brennan ""the most powerful and influential Supreme Court justice in the history of the nation."" Perhaps Hentoff forgot John Marshall, but it's indisputable that in longevity, the verve of his writing, and his mastery of the fine art of coalition-building, Brennan was, as the contributors here insist, a giant. The first third of the text consists of pieces previously published in law journals and other periodicals; among them are two interviews with Brennan and tributes from fellow justices Thurgood Marshall and Byron White, former clerks, and friends like journalist Nina Totenberg. These associates remember a justice admired by both conservative and liberal colleagues on the high court for his humor, compassion, integrity, and especially his political skill in cobbling together majorities behind his opinions. In the second section, Goldman examines Brennan's jurisprudence in such controversial areas as due process, sex discrimination, affirmative action, abortion, freedom of the press, separation of church and state, and the death penalty. The final third contains 15 of the justice's landmark opinions, including New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964), which provides the press greater protection in libel cases. The work's celebratory tone eschews any criticism, no matter how justified: Little is made, for example, of the fact that Brennan, despite years of trying, was unable to create a clear definition of obscenity to guide lower courts. A tribute with the genre's characteristic virtues (warmth) and vices (lack of objectivity), but on the money in assessing a justice unwavering in his dedication to civil rights and civil liberties.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1994
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Carroll & Graf