1956 October 15

William J. Brennan Joins Supreme Court


William J. Brennan joined the Supreme Court on this day. Brennan joined the Court with an interim appointment, and the Senate did not finally confirm him until February 1957. (See his surprising comments at his confirmation hearing on February 26, 1957.)

During 34 years on the Court, Brennan would become the intellectual leader of what is called the “Warren Court,” after Chief Justice Earl Warren. Brennan wrote some of its most important opinions, including NAACP v. Button, (April 2, 1963), which protected legal advocacy by lawyers; New York Times v. Sullivan (March 9, 1964), which many regard as the most eloquent statement about the meaning of freedom of speech in a democracy; and Baker v. Carr (March 26, 1962), which held that the legislative apportionment was a constitutional issue and prepared the way for the subsequent decision enunciating the “one man, note vote” principle. Brennan also wrote the opinion in Roth v. United States (June 24, 1957), which, although it held that obscenity was not protected by the First Amendment, set the stage for subsequent decisions expanding freedom of expression for sexually oriented books and movies.

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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