Seth Stern

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Few Supreme Court justices have had a greater — and more controversial — impact on American history than William J. Brennan. Attacked by his opponents as a judicial activist, the decisions he authored over a thirty-four-year career on the Court expanded the rights of Americans, including those of such disadvantaged groups as minorities, criminal defendants, and the poor. Two decades after his retirement, his jurisprudence endures in helping to define our understanding of American law in many areas. Yet until now, Brennan's life and career has never received the degree of biographical attention such contemporaries as Earl Warren, Thurgood Marshall, and John Marshall Harlan have enjoyed. Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel go far towards rectifying this deficiency with this book, which offers a searching examination of Brennan's life and career.

There was little in Brennan's early years to suggest the impact his career would have on the country. The son of an Irish immigrant who had made a career in New Jersey politics, Brennan worked hard to obtain an education. Graduation from Harvard Law School led to a job with Newark's preeminent legal firm, followed by wartime service and appointment to the New Jersey state bench. Brennan's background (particularly his Roman Catholicism) and his work in court reform led to his nomination to the Supreme Court by President Eisenhower, where he soon emerged as one of the Court's most prominent liberals in an era characterized by landmark decisions that helped to transform the nation. Though many of these decisions generated a political backlash that shifted the Court to the right and halted further progress, Brennan succeeded in entrenching many of his earlier gains with later decisions that preserved his legacy as a justice.

Well written and based on considerable research, Stern and Wermiel's book fills the longstanding need for a good biography of the justice. Their focus is on his tenure on the Court, as they cover the first fifty years of Brennan's life in a mere seventy pages while devoting the next 450 to his time on the Court and his role in the many decisions in which he participated. The authors' explanation of how these developed is one of the great strengths of the book, as they draw upon numerous interviews and Brennan's extensive collection of personal papers to give an insightful account of how these decisions evolved, an account that emphasizes the role of Brennan's political skills in contributing to his success on the Court. The result is a book that will stand for some time as the standard biography of the great liberal justice and the yardstick by which future studies of Brennan will be measured.
… (mer)
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MacDad | 3 andra recensioner | Mar 27, 2020 |
4758. Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion, by Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel (read 30 Sep 2010) This is a well-put-together biography of a most important Supreme Court Justice. While it rightly lauds much of Brennan's work, it does not hesitate to criticize him for things he did wrong, as, for example, harsh dissents which were counter-productive in his efforts to forge majorities. The account is nicely chronological, and amply sourced. It pays full attention to Brennan's private life, and its discussion of his court work is nuanced and informative. It is one of the best judicial biographies I have read, and there probably will never be a better one of Justice Brennan .… (mer)
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Schmerguls | 3 andra recensioner | Sep 30, 2010 |
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