1962 November 24

Justice Brennan Warns of Government “Whittling Away” Individual Rights


In a speech to the National Council for Social Studies in Washington, D.C., Supreme Court Justice William Brennan warned that times of crisis created “more and more collisions” between the government and rights of American citizens. Such times, he continued, call for vigilance “to prevent government from whittling away the rights of the individual.”

Brennan served on the Supreme Court from 1956 to 1990, and established himself as the intellectual leader of the Warren Court and one of the greatest civil libertarians ever to serve on the Court. His most important opinion was in Times v. Sullivan. decided on March 9, 1964, in which he set forth what is widely regarded as the most eloquent statement of the meaning of the First Amendment in a democracy. Justice Brennan died on July 24, 1997.

Justice Brennan’s opinion in Times v. Sullivan, in part: “. . . a profound national commitment to the principle that debate on public issues should be uninhibited, robust, and wide-open, and that it may well include vehement, caustic, and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.”

Read: Roger Goldman and Peter Gallen, Justice William J. Brennan, Jr.: Freedom First (1994)

Learn about Brennan’s life: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1awF94wCf9U

Hear Justice Brennan discuss the Constitution (Advisory: he does not appear until 13 minutes into the video):  http://www.c-span.org/video/?9541-1/influence-us-constitution

The NYU Brennan Center for Justice continues his legacy: http://www.brennancenter.org/

Learn more: Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel, Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion (2010)

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