1906 April 25

William J. Brennan, Jr., Future Supreme Court Justice, is Born


William J. Brennan joined the Supreme Court on October 15, 1956, and became one of the greatest civil libertarians in the history of the Court. He is widely regarded as the intellectual leader of the civil liberties revolution of the Warren Court (1954–1969), writing some of its most important and enduring opinions. His opinion in New York Times v. Sullivan, decided on March 9, 1964, is widely considered to be the most eloquent statement of the meaning of the First Amendment in a democratic society.

Brennan on June 24, 1957 also wrote the majority opinion in Roth v. United States, the first major Supreme Court decision on obscenity and the First Amendment. That decision held that obscenity was not protected by the  First Amendment, but it only triggered a long series of decisions on the issue which generally expanded the scope of First Amendment protections.

He also wrote the majority opinion in Baker v. Carr (March 26, 1962), which held that legislative apportionment was a constitutional issue and prepared the way for the subsequent decision enunciating the “one man, note vote” principle.

Learn more: Roger Goldman and David Gallen, Justice William J. Brennan: Freedom First (1994)

Brennan’s work continues at the NYU Brennan Center for Justice: http://www.brennancenter.org/

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

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

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