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Published on: Tuesday, May 14, 2024 read more ...

William J. Brennan Jr.


Section 5, Grave 40-1

One of the most influential members of the Warren Court, Justice William Brennan authored 1,360 opinions during his 34 years on the U.S. Supreme Court. 

The namesake of his Irish immigrant father, Brennan grew up in Newark, New Jersey and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and Harvard Law School. He practiced law in Newark until enlisting in the Army as a major in 1942. He rose to the rank of colonel, handling labor disputes while serving on the staff of the secretary of war. 

After World War II, Brennan returned to his Newark practice, specializing in labor law, but accepted an appointment to a state court in 1949. Three years later, New Jersey's governor appointed him to the state Supreme Court. President Dwight D. Eisenhower gave him a recess appointment to the Supreme Court in 1956. 

Brennan's many influential decisions expanded the rights of racial minorities and women and strengthened protections for free speech and other individual rights. According to Chief Justice Earl Warren, "it would be difficult to name another Justice who wrote more important opinions in his first ten years." Although he was an outspoken liberal, Brennan was also known for his consensus building and willingness to compromise.

Following a debilitating stroke, Brennan retired in July 1990. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1993.