TOPICS > Politics

Justice Brennan Remembered

July 24, 1997 at 12:00 AM EDT

JIM LEHRER: And now some other words about and by Justice Brennan. They’re from a documentary called “Mr. Justice Brennan” that aired last October on PBS.

JUSTICE GINSBURG, Appointed by President Clinton: One of Justice Brennan’s major concerns was to take the preamble to the Constitution that says, “We, the people of the United States,” and make that “we” an ever larger group. His idea was to increase the people who would participate in our democracy. I think he will be regarded as one of the Justices who had a dream. The first Justice, Marshall, John Marshall, had a dream to make 13 jealous colonies come together as one nation. And Justice Brennan’s dream was to make “we, the people,” to make that promise a reality.

JUSTICE SCALIA, Appointed by President Reagan: Bill Brennan is probably the most influential justice of the century. I think he was the intellectual leader of a movement that really changed fundamentally the court’s approach towards the Constitution, not in a direction that I happen to agree with. The principal, remarkable point about him is that even those who were most in disagreement with him loved him. We went after each other vigorously in alternating dissents. First he then I, or whatever, and traded some sharp blows, not to the person, but to the idea, which to my mind is fair game. I really regard Bill, and always have, as one of my best friends.

JUSTICE BLACKMUN, Appointed by President Nixon: There are certainly those who say he went too far, and he’s much too liberal and so forth. But then one can say the same thing of conservative justices. His impact and his presence cannot be underestimated.

JUSTICE STEVENS, Appointed by President Ford: His style is so gentlemanly and so articulate, he kind of set an example for the rest of us and they way we tried to explain our respective positions.

JUSTICE BREYER, Appointed by President Clinton: He’s undoubtedly a great judge because in the period of time when he was on the court, he played an instrumental role in making certain that very important fundamental, human liberty, human equality, was translated from the level of principle into legal reality. That’s an enormous contribution. That’s an enormous contribution for an individual to have.

JUSTICE BRENNAN: If we are to continue to be an example to the nations of the world, it will be because of our ceaseless pursuit of the Constitutional ideal of protecting and furthering human dignity. The Constitution, thus, has a bright future, as well as a glorious past. For that spirit adheres in the aspirations of all Americans and increasingly of all peoples throughout the world, who yearn for dignity and freedom.

JIM LEHRER: That documentary will be broadcast again on many public television stations this weekend.