Justice William Brennan

Justice William Brennan joined the U.S. Supreme Court on October 16, 1956, replacing Justice Sherman Minton. Brennan was born on April 25, 1906 in Newark, New Jersey, close to New York City. He graduated cum laude in economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania in 1928. Brennan then attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1931. He spent the next decade in private practice and then served in the U.S. Army during the Second World War.

In 1949, New Jersey Governor Alfred Driscoll appointed Brennan to a seat on a New Jersey Superior Court, a state trial court. Brennan would serve there for just two years before he was appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.

On October 15, 1956, President Dwight Eisenhower appointed Brennan to the U.S. Supreme Court during a recess of the Senate. This was one of three recess appointments by Eisenhower, after which no President has made a recess appointment to the Supreme Court. Brennan took the judicial oath on the following day. Eisenhower then officially nominated Brennan on January 14, 1957. The Senate confirmed him on March 19. Brennan would stay on the Court for nearly 34 years, writing well over 1,000 opinions.

Sometimes considered one of the most liberal jurists in Supreme Court history, Brennan was a powerful advocate for individual rights. He categorically opposed the death penalty as a violation of the Eighth Amendment bar against cruel and unusual punishment. Brennan also supported the right to abortion, struck blows against sex discrimination, and was sympathetic to LGBTQ+ rights. He often took a broad view of the First Amendment and wrote an opinion in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan that limited certain types of defamation claims on free speech grounds. Toward the end of his tenure, Brennan wrote for the Court in finding that burning the U.S. flag is a form of symbolic speech that is constitutionally protected.

Brennan generously interpreted the scope of personal jurisdiction, which is the authority of a court to issue a binding judgment involving particular parties. His view would have allowed consumers and other individuals to assert their rights more easily against corporations and other powerful entities. He also wrote for the Court in Baker v. Carr, which ruled that courts could review redistricting challenges under the Fourteenth Amendment.

Brennan retired from the Supreme Court on July 20, 1990 and was replaced by Justice David Souter. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom three years later. Brennan died on July 24, 1997 in Arlington, Virginia outside Washington, D.C. He lay in repose in the Great Hall of the Supreme Court Building and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Selected Opinions by Justice Brennan:

Pennsylvania v. Muniz (1990)

Topic: Miranda Rights

The privilege against self-incrimination protects an accused from being compelled to provide the state with evidence of a testimonial or communicative nature, but not from being compelled by the state to produce real or physical evidence. To be testimonial, the communication must explicitly or implicitly relate a factual assertion or disclose information.

Public Citizen v. Dept. of Justice (1989)

Topic: Government Agencies

It is unlikely that Congress intended the Federal Advisory Committee Act to cover every formal and informal consultation between the President or an executive agency and a group rendering advice.

Texas v. Johnson (1989)

Topic: Free Speech

The government generally has a freer hand in restricting expressive conduct than in restricting the written or spoken word. However, it may not proscribe particular conduct because it has expressive elements.

Price Waterhouse v. Hopkins (1989)

Topic: Labor & Employment

In the specific context of sex stereotyping, an employer that acts on the basis of a belief that a woman cannot be aggressive, or that she must not be, has acted on the basis of gender.

Communications Workers of America v. Beck (1988)

Topic: Labor & Employment

The National Labor Relations Act does not permit a union, over the objections of dues-paying non-member employees, to expend funds collected from them on activities unrelated to collective bargaining activities.

Edwards v. Aguillard (1987)

Topic: Religion

A state cannot forbid teaching the theory of evolution in public schools unless accompanied by instruction in creation science, even if the law does not require teaching either theory unless the other is taught.

Fort Halifax Packing Co., Inc. v. Coyne (1987)

Topic: Health Care; Labor & Employment

To be preempted by ERISA, a state statute must have some connection with or reference to a plan.

Thornburg v. Gingles (1986)

Topic: Voting & Elections

The critical question in a claim under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is whether the use of a contested electoral practice or structure results in members of a protected group having less opportunity than other members of the electorate to participate in the political process and elect representatives of their choice.

Maine v. Moulton (1985)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The right to assistance of counsel attaches at critical stages in the criminal justice process, at which the results might well settle the accused's fate and reduce the trial itself to a formality.

Northwest Wholesale Stationers, Inc. v. Pacific Stationery & Printing Co. (1985)

Topic: Antitrust

A plaintiff seeking the application of the per se rule must present a threshold case that the challenged activity falls into a category likely to have predominantly anti-competitive effects.

Burger King Corp. v. Rudzewicz (1985)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

A contract with an out-of-state party does not alone automatically establish sufficient minimum contacts for personal jurisdiction in the other party's home forum. Instead, the court must evaluate the prior negotiations, the contemplated future consequences, the terms of the contract, and the parties' actual course of dealing to determine whether a defendant purposefully established minimum contacts within the forum.

Winston v. Lee (1985)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The reasonableness of surgical intrusions beneath the skin depends on a case-by-case approach, in which the individual's interests in privacy and security are weighed against society's interests in conducting the procedure to obtain evidence for fairly determining guilt or innocence.

FCC v. League of Women Voters (1984)

Topic: Free Speech

A broad ban on all editorializing by every broadcast station that receives public funds exceeds what is necessary to protect against the risk of government interference or to prevent the public from assuming that editorials by public broadcasting stations represent the official view of the government.

Karcher v. Daggett (1983)

Topic: Voting & Elections

Parties challenging apportionment legislation bear the burden of proving that population differences among districts could have been reduced or eliminated by a good-faith effort to draw districts of equal population. If the plaintiffs carry their burden, the state bears the burden of proving that each significant variance between districts was necessary to achieve a legitimate goal.

Connecticut v. Teal (1982)

Topic: Labor & Employment

A non-job-related test that has a disparate impact and is used to limit or classify employees is used to discriminate within the meaning of Title VII, even if it was not designed or intended to have this effect and even if an employer tries to compensate for its discriminatory effect.

Plyler v. Doe (1982)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

A state law violated the Equal Protection Clause when it withheld from local school districts any state funds for the education of children who were not legally admitted into the U.S. and authorized local school districts to deny enrollment to these children.

Minnesota v. Clover Leaf Creamery Co. (1981)

Topic: Equal Protection

The Equal Protection Clause does not deny a state the authority to ban one type of milk container conceded to cause environmental problems merely because another already established type is permitted to continue in use.

Allstate Insurance Co. v. Hague (1981)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

A state court could apply the law of its state when the state had a significant aggregation of contacts with the parties and the occurrence, creating state interests, such that the application of its law was neither arbitrary nor fundamentally unfair.

Hughes v. Oklahoma (1979)

Topic: Powers of Congress

In a dormant Commerce Clause analysis, a court must inquire whether a challenged statute regulates evenhandedly with only incidental effects on interstate commerce, or discriminates against interstate commerce either on its face or in practical effect; whether the statute serves a legitimate local purpose; and, if so, whether alternative means could promote this local purpose as well without discriminating against interstate commerce.

Penn Central Transportation Co. v. New York City (1978)

Topic: Property Rights & Land Use

There is no set formula for determining when justice and fairness require that economic losses caused by public action be compensated by the government. Factors to consider include the economic impact of the regulation on the property owner, the extent to which the regulation interferes with distinct investment-backed expectations, and the character of the government action.

Commissioner v. Kowalski (1977)

Topic: Taxes

The exclusion under Section 119 of the Internal Revenue Code covers meals furnished by the employer, but not cash reimbursements for meals.

Craig v. Boren (1976)

Topic: Equal Protection

Classifications by gender must serve important governmental objectives and must be substantially related to the achievement of those objectives.

Sakraida v. Ag Pro, Inc. (1976)

Topic: Patents

Producing a desired result in a cheaper and faster way does not qualify for a combination patent without producing a new or different function.

U.S. Dept. of Agriculture v. Moreno (1973)

Topic: Equal Protection

A legislative classification cannot be sustained if it is clearly irrelevant to the stated purposes of the law and does not rationally further any other legitimate government interest.

Frontiero v. Richardson (1973)

Topic: Equal Protection

A statute was unconstitutional when it provided that spouses of male members of the uniformed services would be considered dependents, but spouses of female members would not be considered dependents unless they were in fact dependent for over one-half of their support.

Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972)

Topic: Equal Protection; Abortion & Reproductive Rights

If the distribution of contraceptives to married persons cannot be prohibited, a ban on distribution to unmarried persons would be equally impermissible, since the constitutionally protected right of privacy inheres in the individual, rather than the marital couple.

Goldberg v. Kelly (1970)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures; Due Process; Government Agencies

A pre-termination evidentiary hearing is necessary to provide a recipient of welfare benefits with procedural due process. The interest of an eligible recipient in the uninterrupted receipt of public assistance, coupled with the state's interest in not erroneously terminating their payments, clearly outweighs the state's competing concern to prevent any increase in its fiscal and administrative burdens.

Bruton v. U.S. (1968)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The conviction of a defendant at a joint trial should be set aside on Confrontation Clause grounds when a co-defendant's confession inculpating the defendant was introduced as evidence against the co-defendant during the trial, even though the jury was instructed that the confession should be disregarded in determining the defendant's guilt or innocence.

U.S. v. Wade (1967)

Topic: Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

The Sixth Amendment guarantees an accused the right to counsel at any critical confrontation by the prosecution at pre-trial proceedings at which the results might well determine their fate, and at which the absence of counsel might derogate from their right to a fair trial. A post-indictment lineup is a critical prosecutive stage at which an accused is entitled to the aid of counsel.

Warden v. Hayden (1967)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The exigencies of a situation in which officers were in pursuit of a suspected armed felon in the house that he had entered only minutes before they arrived permitted their warrantless entry and search. Moreover, the distinction prohibiting seizure of items of only evidential value and allowing seizure of instrumentalities, fruits, or contraband is not required by the Fourth Amendment.

Schmerber v. California (1966)

Topic: Search & Seizure

The interests in human dignity and privacy that the Fourth Amendment protects forbid any intrusions beyond the body's surface on the mere chance that desired evidence might be obtained. There must be a clear indication that such evidence will be found.

United Mine Workers of America v. Gibbs (1966)

Topic: Lawsuits & Legal Procedures

Pendent jurisdiction exists whenever there is a substantial federal claim, and the relationship between the federal claim and the asserted state claims permits the conclusion that the entire action before the court comprises one case. The state and federal claims must derive from a common nucleus of operative fact.

New York Times Co. v. Sullivan (1964)

Topic: Free Speech

A state cannot award damages to a public official for defamatory falsehood related to their official conduct unless they prove actual malice, which means that the statement was made with knowledge of its falsity or with reckless disregard of whether it was true or false.

Sherbert v. Verner (1963)

Topic: Religion

A substantial infringement of an individual's right to religious freedom must be justified by a compelling state interest.

Wong Sun v. U.S. (1963)

Topic: Search & Seizure

Statements made by a suspect in his bedroom at the time of his unlawful arrest were the fruit of the agents' unlawful action and should have been excluded. The narcotics taken from a third party as a result of statements made by the suspect at the time of his arrest were likewise fruits of the unlawful arrest and should not have been admitted. However, when another suspect had been lawfully arraigned and released on his own recognizance after his unlawful arrest and had returned voluntarily several days later when he made an unsigned statement, the connection between his unlawful arrest and the making of that statement was so attenuated that the unsigned statement was not the fruit of the unlawful arrest and was properly admitted.

Baker v. Carr (1962)

Topic: Role of Courts; Voting & Elections

Prominent on the surface of any case held to involve a political question is found a textually demonstrable constitutional commitment of the issue to a coordinate political department, a lack of judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving it, the impossibility of deciding without an initial policy determination of a kind clearly for non-judicial discretion, the impossibility of a court's undertaking independent resolution without expressing lack of the respect due coordinate branches of government, an unusual need for unquestioning adherence to a political decision already made, or the potentiality of embarrassment from multifarious pronouncements by various departments on one question. More specifically, an equal protection challenge to a legislative apportionment is not a non-justiciable political question.

Knetsch v. U.S. (1960)

Topic: Taxes

A transaction was a sham when it did not appreciably affect the taxpayer's beneficial interest except to reduce their tax. In other words, there was nothing of substance to be realized by the taxpayer from the transaction beyond a tax deduction.

Commissioner v. Duberstein (1960)

Topic: Taxes

For exclusion purposes, a gift in the statutory sense proceeds from a detached and disinterested generosity, out of affection, respect, admiration, charity, or similar impulses. What controls is the intention with which payment, however voluntary, has been made. There must be an objective inquiry as to whether what is called a gift amounts to it in reality.

Cooper v. Aaron (1958)

Topic: Role of Courts; Equal Protection

State officials have a duty to obey federal court orders resting on the Supreme Court's considered interpretation of the Constitution. Also, state support of segregated schools through any arrangement, management, funds, or property cannot be squared with the Equal Protection Clause.

Roth v. U.S. (1957)

Topic: Free Speech

Obscenity is not within the area of constitutionally protected freedom of speech or press under the First Amendment.