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Justice Brennan

Liberal Champion

Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel

February 2013
688 pages, 28 photographs, 6 x 9
Paper ISBN 978-0-7006-1912-2, $24.95 (t)

Book cover imageIn this sweeping and revealing insider study, Seth Stern and Stephen Wermiel shine a bright light on the life, career, and thought of William Brennan (1906–1997), widely considered the Supreme Court’s most influential twentieth-century justice, as well as its greatest liberal and preeminent strategist.

Stern and Wermiel make available for the first time a striking new view of Brennan based on what Jeffrey Toobin has called “a coveted set of documents”—Justice Brennan’s very personal case histories of the major battles that confronted the Supreme Court during the past half century. Roe v. Wade, affirmative action, the death penalty, obscenity law, and the constitutional right to privacy are among the many controversial and hotly-contested big-picture issues covered in the Brennan annals. But they also provide more intimate glimpses of Brennan’s surprising refusal to hire female clerks, even as he wrote groundbreaking opinions relating to women’s rights; the complex tension between his commitment to law and his Catholic beliefs; and new details on his unprecedented working relationship with Chief Justice Earl Warren.

Drawing upon Wermiel’s rare access to the Brennan case histories, half of which will not be released to the public until 2017, and his more than sixty hours of one-on-one interviews with Justice Brennan himself, the authors have crafted a compelling portrait of a judicial giant, filled with details and insights that will further cement Brennan’s reputation as an epic playmaker during the Court’s most liberal era.

“Provides the most comprehensive and well-organized look at the legendary liberal jurist to date. The authors dig below the popular cliché of Brennan as the Constitution’s Gene Kelly—all twinkling eyes and glad-to-see-ya Irish charm—to reveal the complicated (and quite conservative) man beneath.”—New York Times

“Scrupulously honest, consistently fair-minded, and long-awaited, Justice Brennan is a supremely impressive and definitive work that will long be prized as perhaps the best judicial biography ever written.”—Washington Post

“Fully and effectively explores the astonishing record of Brennan’s thirty-four years on the Supreme Court.”—New York Review of Books

“An indispensable new biography and major contribution to the history of the Supreme Court. The authors proportion it nicely, interweaving biography, case histories, and details of Brennan’s tactical moves into an enjoyable narrative.”—The Nation

“Those who want to understand the glory and contradictions of a true progressive jurist should buy this first full-length biography. . . . In it, the authors take us behind Brennan’s leprechaun image to show the pain and ambivalence that marked this outwardly joyous Justice’s career.”—The Atlantic

“Impressively evenhanded and down-the-middle—no easy achievement.”—National Review

“Fascinating and definitive.”—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

SETH STERN, a graduate of Harvard Law School, is an assistant managing editor at Bloomberg BNA and former reporter for Bloomberg News, Congressional Quarterly, and The Christian Science Monitor. STEPHEN WERMIEL teaches constitutional law and a seminar on the Supreme Court at American University’s Washington College of Law. For many years he covered the Supreme Court for the Wall Street Journal and currently writes a biweekly column for SCOTUSblog.

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