A Justice for All: William J. Brennan, Jr., and the Decisions That Transformed America
Justice William J. Brennan, Jr., was both a radical egalitarian and a prime mover on the United States Supreme Court. From 1956 to 1990 - through the Warren, Burger, and Rehnquist eras - he effected both judicial and social change via decisions on racial desegregation, pornography, the application of the Bill of Rights to the states, privacy, and abortion. Brennan's stamp is on nearly every contemporary American social issue. A Justice for All, the first biography of Justice Brennan, gathers his considerable achievements in the context of his times and his life.
Brennan had been the original "stealth" nominee to the United States Supreme Court. Having served eight years as a state court judge in New Jersey, Brennan was a total unknown on the national stage when President Eisenhower limited his search for a new justice to a Northeastern Catholic currently serving on a state court. In a rancorous confirmation hearing that foreshadowed events of the eighties and nineties, Brennan tangled with Senator Joseph McCarthy. Taking his place on a Supreme Court bench surrounded by such towering figures as Earl Warren, Felix Frankfurter, Hugo Black, William Douglas, and John Harlan, Brennan observed, "I felt a little like the mule at the Kentucky Derby."
But in a career that would span one-third of a century, Brennan proved to be one of the most visionary and influential justices in the history of the Supreme Court. Not content merely to interpret the Constitution, Brennan rewrote American law in the fields of obscenity, criminal rights, affirmative action, and privacy.
This account of the life of an extremely private and little-understood man brings the reader face to face with the clash of intellectual forces that created the landmark rulings of the Warren court. In the midst of these colliding giants was an unpresuming lawyer from Newark who took Warren's broad concepts and wrote them into law; who convinced a firebrand like William O. Douglas, that, at times, it paid to compromise; and who willingly braved personal and professional confrontations with his former Harvard University law professor, Felix Frankfurter.
In his three years of research, author Kim Isaac Eisler utilized the private papers of Justices Brennan, Douglas, Harlan, Warren, and Black, among others; interviewed dozens of former Brennan clerks; and found childhood friends and onetime law partners to reveal what lit the fire inside this history-making judicial activist.
A Justice for All is the remarkable tale of a man who operated within the marble walls of the Supreme Court with the consummate skills of a dealmaker, creating majorities, writing laws, and all the while steering clear of political fire. In so doing, he succeeded in changing American law and society.
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INTRODUCTION THE JUSTICE AT THE END OF THE BENCH
A YOUNG LAWYER ON BROAD STREET
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