William J. Brennan, Jr. was born and raised in New Jersey. The second of eight children born to Irish immigrants, Brennan gave early evidence of academic achievement. Brennan completed his law degree at Harvard and entered private practice in his home state of New Jersey. When his practice intruded on his devotion to his family, Brennan opted for service as a trial judge. He was promoted to the state's highest court in 1952.
He was appointed to the Supreme Court in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. In a 1987 interview, Brennan recalled his first day on the Court. Later, Eisenhower would publicly admit the appointment was a mistake. That's because Brennan proved to be the most liberal and influential justice on the modern Supreme Court. He authored important opinions in the areas of free expression, criminal procedure, and reapportionment.
As a result of his leadership, Brennan imparted his constitutional vision to a broad coalition of his colleagues. He resigned on account of health in 1990.
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Speech by Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. at Georgetown University on October 12, 1985
November 01, 1986