William Brennan

Champion of Justice

United States Supreme Court Justice William Brennan.

By Seán Ó Murchu, Contributor
October / November 2000

During his 34 years with the Supreme Court, Justice William Brennan, Jr. (1906 – 1998) was widely recognized as one of the primary architects of public policy in the country.


On his childhood in Newark, N.J.: I had every kind of job in the world. Across the street from us was a dairy farm, and my brother Charlie, at five in the morning, would milk the cows, and by the time they had cooled and bottled the milk, I would walk across the street and deliver it all the way up to the school, which was two miles away, and then in the afternoon I would deliver papers.

On visiting Ireland: The first time I was there, I met people who remembered my father and mother being there. They particularly remembered my father because he bought drinks for everybody in the pub.

On being Irish-American: The thing that sort of disgusts me – and I mean disgusts – [is that] there are so many Irish who would rather not claim it [being Irish]. I resent it. I just think it’s so sad.

On his fellow justices: I have sat with 22 other justices in my 33 years, and I’ve never had a cross word with anyone.

On retirement: No, retirement for me is no consideration. I would not know what to do with myself that would give me what I get here staying in the Court. I can’t expect that there are many years left in me – and when the good Lord tells me that I’m not up to it any longer and I had better turn in my records, then I’ll be ready. I so love what I’m doing here that I don’t want to stop doing it until I absolutely have to. – June 1990


Justice Brennan was forced to retire from the Supreme Court in 1990 due to ill health. He died in July 1998.

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