- NAME: William J. Brennan Jr.
- OCCUPATION: Supreme Court Justice
- BIRTH DATE: April 25, 1906
- DEATH DATE: July 24, 1997
- EDUCATION: University of Pennsylvania, Wharton School of Commerce and Finance, Harvard Law School, Barringer High School
- PLACE OF BIRTH: Newark, New Jersey
- PLACE OF DEATH: Arlington, Virginia
- Full Name: William Joseph Brennan Jr.
- AKA: William Joseph Brennan
- AKA: William J. Brennan Jr.
- AKA: William Brennan
- AKA: William J. Brennan
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William J. Brennan Jr. was a liberal associate justice of the Supreme Court, having served on the bench for more than 33 years.
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Born on April 25, 1906, in Newark, New Jersey, William J. Brennan Jr. attended Harvard Law School and established a career as a trial lawyer. He later worked as a judge for his home state in various courts and was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower in the mid-1950s. Brennan established a humanistic record that supported individual rights. He died on July 24, 1997, in Arlington, Virginia.
"The genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs."
"[If] the right to privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwanted governmental intrusions into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as whether to bear or beget a child."
"Welfare, by meeting the basic demands of subsistence, can help bring within the reach of the poor the same opportunities that are available to others to participate meaningfully in the life of the community."
"Welfare guards against the societal malaise that may flow from a widespread sense of unjustified frustration and insecurity. Public assistance, then, is not mere charity, but a means to 'promote the general Welfare, and secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity.'"
"If due process values are to be preserved in the bureaucratic state of the late 20th century, it may be essential that officials possess passion—the passion that puts them in touch with the dreams and disappointments of those with whom they deal, the passion that understands the pulse of life beneath the official version of events."
"Due process asks whether government has treated someone fairly, whether individual dignity has been honored, whether the worth of an individual has been acknowledged."
"If there is a bedrock principle underlying the First Amendment, it is that the Government may not prohibit the expression of an idea simply because society finds the idea itself offensive or disagreeable.'"
"In all candor we must concede that part of this egalitarianism in America has been more pretension than realized fact. But we are an aspiring people, a people with faith in progress. Our amended Constitution is the lodestar for our aspirations."
William Joseph Brennan Jr. was born in Newark, New Jersey, on April 25, 1906, with his parents immigrating to North America from County Roscommon, Ireland. The second of eight children, he went on to attend the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Commerce and Finance before entering Harvard Law School, where he graduated in 1931. Brennan was admitted to the bar the following year and joined a New Jersey law firm, handling labor trials.
He married Marjorie Leonard as a college undergrad, with the couple going on to have three children.
Brennan served in World War II, earning the rank of colonel as well as a Legion of Merit award. He returned to private practice and by the end of the 1940s accepted a Superior Court judge position offered by Governor Alfred E. Driscoll.
Brennan became known and lauded for his court procedural reforms, eventually appointed to his state's supreme court and garnering attention in Washington, D.C. The Democratic judge was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a Republican, in what was seen as a nonpartisan move, with Brennan confirmed to his seat in 1957.
Brennan had a humanist vision for the law, believing in the fundamental rights of individuals, with Supreme Court analysts considering his decisions highly influential. He supported decisions that were in favor of U.S. citizens having the right to petition the federal court system; Brennan was also a major advocate of individuals having appropriate due process when it comes to government bureaucracy, as in the 1970 case of Goldberg v. Kelly, establishing the right of a hearing before welfare benefits can be cut.
He was also known for the 1964 New York Times v. Sullivan decision, which stated that the press can only be found potentially libelous if there's malicious intent behind the sharing of wrong information.
Brennan also supported court rulings that supported Affirmative Action programs, gender equality and a woman's right to choose. An avowed Roman Catholic, Brennan nonetheless believed in the importance of a division between church and state. And along with fellow jurist Thurgood Marshall, he was adamantly against the death penalty, citing its Constitutional violations and backing the 1972 Furman v. Georgia decision.
Brennan's wife died in 1982, and he married shortly thereafter to his secretary, Mary Fowler. He retired from his court duties in July, 1990 after suffering a second stroke, having served on the court for more than 33 years. More than 1,300 Supreme Court opinions bear Brennan's name, and he was liked even by his adversaries due to his reported fairness, kindness and powerful skills of diplomacy.
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