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William J. Brennan, Jr.

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Justice Brennan arranges for a signed photograph of the Supreme Court

William Joseph Brennan, Jr., 1906–1997.  Associate Justice, Supreme Court of the United States, 1956–1990.  Typed letter signed, Wm J. Brennan, Jr., one page, octavo, Washington, D.C., January 5, 1973.  With original envelope.

Brennan writes to Donald Percer, the former Assistant Director and Director of Membership of the American Judicature Society, agreeing to arrange for a fully signed photograph of the Supreme Court for him.  In full:  “I’ll be happy to have the color print of the Court autographed and will pass on to the Chief Justice the request that it be inscribed with a caption to you.”

Brennan, a Democrat, was the most liberal and most influential justice of the modern Supreme Court.  The Republican who appointed him, President Dwight D. Eisenhower, publicly complained later that the appointment was a mistake.  But in a tribute to Brennan following his death, Harvard law professor Laurence H. Tribe called Brennan “the principal architect of the nation’s system for protecting individual rights.”  Brennan, he said, “played the pivotal role in . . . building an enduring edifice of common sense and uncommon wisdom that transformed the landscape of America.”

The American ideal of democracy—one person, one vote—flows from Brennan’s opinion in Baker v. Carr, 369 U.S. 186 (1962), which allowed a federal constitutional challenge to a Tennessee apportionment statute denying equal protection of the laws.  Brennan articulated the modern conception of free speech, weighing the rights of the press against the rights of public persons, in New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964), which held that, under the First Amendment, public officials may not recover for defamation unless the speaker either knew that his statements were false or acted with reckless disregard for whether they were false.  Brennan was typically eloquent in Texas v. Johnson, 491 U.S. 397 (1989), which held that the state could not punish a person for burning the American flag in protest.

Brennan, the son of Irish immigrants, grew up in New Jersey.  He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1931.  He practiced law in New Jersey before being appointed a state trial judge.  He became an appellate judge in 1951, and the next year he was appointed to the New Jersey Supreme Court.  Although Brennan was a Democrat, President Eisenhower appointed him an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court in 1956.

During nearly 34 years on the Court, Brennan served with 22 other justices, one-fifth of those who had ever served.  He wrote an astounding 1,573 opinions:  533 majority opinions, 694 dissents, and 346 concurrences.

This is a beautiful example of Brennan’s signature. Brennan has signed boldly in blue fountain pen.  The letter has two horizontal mailing folds, which do not affect the signature, and scattered minor handling marks.  The accompanying envelope has been cleanly opened.  It has some scattered small black spots, likely from the typewriter, and a thin vertical line of stains and a stray pencil mark along the left end.  Both pieces are in fine condition.


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