Andy Miller's Reviews > Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion

Justice Brennan by Seth Stern
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Nov 24, 12

Read in May, 2011

A great biography about a great man. The book does a great job outlining Brennan's early life and background and the authors leave it up to the reader to see how his pre-Supreme Court personality made him so effective once he was on the Court. One example was that he represented corporations against labor unions for a number of years and despite the contentious nature of these cases, opposing litigators always ended up liking and respecting Brennan.That trait served him well while on the Court, he was good friends with many on the Court who did not always share his judicial philosophy, and sometimes those friendships allowed him to gain votes from those Justices on important cases.

Another example was his family's experience during World War II. Brennan left a very lucrative law practice to take a substantial pay cut and join the military, his age at the time would have prevented him from being drafted. Still, he did not think he made the sacrifice that his two brothers did, one was a German POW after being shot down and the other was killed by the Japanese in the Pacific front.

An especially interesting section was on his selection to the US Supreme Court by a President who was considerably more conservative than Brennan's later Supreme Court opinions--in fact, Eisenhower allegedly answered a question about any mistakes he made as a President by saying that he made two, and they were both on the Supreme Court. The authors describe the selection process which was perfunctory by today's standards. Eisenhower wanted a Catholic, someone from a state court and someone under a certain age--Brennan was one of the few who met that bill. At that time there was not the exhaustive staff and interest groups who researched every written opinion by a prospective justice.

The bulk of the book deals with Brennan's role as a Supreme Court justice. There is a nice balance between analysis of the decisions and the different rationales for them and the personalities on the court. The reader can choose to delve into the subtle differences between the judicial philos0phies of Warren, Black and Douglass which usually led to the same result(but may explain Black's later drift from the liberal block) and similar details or the reader can skim through that and read about how the Court decisions related to the politics of the day and about the personal relationships among the Justices.

This is not a quick, light read. But I recommend it highly for someone who wants to push themselves and learn about a great man and about American jurisprudence for the second half of the 20th century
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