Retired Justice Brennan Dead At 91
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, July 24) -- Retired Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan, considered one of the high court's most influential members in U.S. history, died today at age 91.
A Supreme Court spokesman confirmed that Brennan, who was suffering from a long illness, died at a suburban Virginia nursing home at 12:15 p.m. EDT today. The precise cause was not immediately known.
After serving some 34 years, a term that spanned eight presidents, Brennan resigned from the court in 1990. In a statement released today, Chief Justice William Rehnquist said Brennan had "played a major role in shaping American constitutional law. He was a warm-hearted colleague to those of us who served with him."
Brennan's reputation was that of an ardent liberal thinker, one who championed and largely defined an individual rights jurisprudence. Dwight Eisenhower, the Republican president who appointed Brennan, once jokingly referred to him as one of two mistakes he made during his presidency.
But liberals and conservatives alike seem to have admired Brennan's keen intellect.
Conservative Washington Legal Foundation attorney once characterized the justice as "extremely intelligent. He's been a key player under three chief justices. He deserves professional respect."
To liberals, Brennan was a hero.
"The most outstanding justice of our century," Seton Hall law professor John Gibbons called him. And some legal scholars say that Brennan was even more influential than Supreme Court justice Earl Warren, who presided over the court during the 1960s.
"People call it the Warren court but in many ways it was the Brennan court," Georgetown University law professor Mark Tushnet told The Associated Press. "On all the key issues, he put together the collations and persuaded the others."
Brennan championed abortion rights and the preservation of rights for the disenfranchised -- the incarcerated, welfare recipients, the mentally ill. An avid supporter of affirmative action, he opposed the death penalty in all circumstances.
About the Constitution, Brennan said in a 1987 speech, "One thing the old parchment is not is a china doll that has to be protected from the regular world by a good layer of cotton wool. It is a tough old soldier that's collected quite a few respectable dents in the line of duty."
On Brennan's retirement in 1990, President George Bush appointed jurist David Souter to replace him. Brennan has frequently consulted with Souter, who 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. Brennan studied at the Wharton School of Finance and Commerce at the University of Pennsylvania, and went on to graduate with honors from the Harvard Law school.
Brennan is survived by his three children, William J. III, Hugh and Nancy, and his seven grandchildren. His first wife of 54 years died in 1982.
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