William Brennan, the former Supreme Court Justice who ardently fought for civil rights and individual freedoms, died July 24 in an Arlington, Virginia nursing home. In his 34-year career on the high court, he helped the Constitution achieve its purpose of protecting the dignity of all individuals, no matter what their rank or standing. In addition to upholding freedom of speech, Brennan led the Court in denouncing sex discrimination, protecting abortion rights and promoting affirmative action. In 1972, Brennan argued that treating the sexes differently was only permissable when a compelling government interest was at stake. The same year, his opinion striking down a Massachusetts law banning the sale of contraceptives paved the way for Roe vs. Wade. He wrote, "If the right to privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwanted governmental intrusions into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as whether to bear or beget a child." In his 1979 United Steelworkers of America v. Weber opinion, Brennan explained that federal anti-discrimination law does not prohibit employers from adopting affirmative action programs. On his last day as a Supreme Court Justice in 1990, Brennan spoke for the 5-4 majority upholding federal affirmative action in government contracting.
Media Resources: USA Today and The Los Angeles Times - July 25, 1997