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Many legal scholars consider William Brennan to be one of the greatest Supreme Court justices of the 20th century. Liberals praise him as an architect of social change, a champion of civil liberties, and a protector of minority rights. Conversely, conservatives view Brennan as the epitome of “judicial activism,” a justice who extended the power of an overreaching judiciary into matters best left regulated by popularly elected legislative bodies. Yet, both supporters and critics agree that he was one of the most influential jurists in recent history. This entry summarizes his life, his career, and his impact on the Court.

Early Years

Brennan was born on April 25th, 1906. The son of Irish immigrants, he grew up in a working class family in Newark, New Jersey. ...

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