Toni's Reviews > Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion

Justice Brennan by Seth Stern
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Dec 05, 10

Read from October 31 to November 01, 2010

This is the first biography I've ever read all the way through to the end. Going into the book, all I knew about Brennan was that I wished dearly that the Court had someone who could fairly be described as his heir -- I came out of law school decidedly more moderate / skeptical of the proper role for the judicial branch to play in effectuating social progress, but it seems to me that when four seats are occupied by diehard far-right conservatives, it's only fair and proper that the Left have at least one flaming liberal to balance things out. Which is to say, I think I expected this book to induce nostalgia for better, happier, more hopeful era on the Court, one in which a Justice Brennan was possible. And it did, to some extent. But what really hooked me was learning about what a complicated (and sometimes hypocritical) person he was. The man most definitely did not live up to all his soaring rhetoric about gender and racial equality. He refused to hire female clerks until the mid 1970s, for example, and then started doing so only after a Berkeley professor (one of his former clerks) finally called him out on the blatant hypocrisy (and illegality) of his practices. I also found it a little distressing to learn that he married his secretary about a month after his first wife died, which would seem to give him more in common with Roger Sterling and Don Draper than I would have imagined.

Anyways, I thought this was really good -- a lot of food for thought. Though I suppose it's par for the course in Supreme Court biographies, it's also stuffed with all kinds of interesting backstories on cases, Court gossip, etc. Good stuff, at least for particular kinds of J.D.-carrying nerds.
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