Justice Brennandied at 91 Friday



    Retired Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, considered one of the court’s most influential jurists in American history, died Friday at age 91.

    Brennan was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Dwight D. Eisenhower and served 34 years before he retired because of bad health. His appointment had spanned eight presidents, when in 1990, at age 84, Brennan stepped down.

    A staunch liberal, Brennan was considered by some to be the strongest supporter of individual rights. He was the architect of the 1972 landmark decision Roe v. Wade, which gave women the right to have abortions.

    Brennan not only championed women’s rights, but also preserved the rights for the imprisoned, the poor and the mentally ill. He defined obscenity and was strongly opposed to censorship.

    Speaking of censorship, the justice once said, “Public educators must accommodate some student expression even if it offends them or offers views of values that contradict those the school wishes to inculcate.”

    Brennan was also opposed to capital punishment in all cases.

    “If the deliberate extinguishment of human life has any effect at all, it more likely tends to lower our respect for life and brutalize our values,” he once said.

    As a Supreme Court Justice, Brennan played a key role in decisions that banned organized school prayer and scripture study and required busing to racially desegregated schools.

    When asked if he had ever made a mistake as the president, the conservative Republican Eisenhower said, “Yes, two, and they are both sitting on the Supreme Court.”

    Eisenhower was referring to Brennan and Justice Earl Warren, whom he appointed.

    In 1990, Brennan was replaced by David Souter. Appointed by President George Bush, Souter, a friend of Brennan’s, has emerged as a moderate.

    Brennan was born on April 25, 1906, in Newark, N.J., the second of eight children born to an Irish immigrant laborer.

    He was a good high school student and studied at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce, University of Pennsylvania. He went on to graduate from Harvard Law School in 1931 with honors.

    According to The Associated Press, one of Brennan’s professors, Felix Frankfurter, who later served on the Supreme Court with Brennan, once told his friend, “I always wanted my students to think for themselves, but Brennan goes too far.”

    Before being appointed as a Supreme Court Justice, Brennan, a New Jersey lawyer, was working his way up the New Jersey Supreme Court system.

    Brennan’s wife of 54 years died in 1982. He is survived by his three children, William J. III, Hugh and Nancy, and seven grandchildren.

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