Justice Brennan's Gender Jurisprudence
21 Pages Posted: 17 Jun 2009
Date Written: Fall 1991
During his thirty-four year tenure on the Supreme Court, Justice William Joseph Brennan, Jr. demonstrated unparalleled sensitivity to the protection of individual rights. Justice Brennan's landmark opinions included Baker v. Carr, Goldberg v. Kelly, and New York Times Co. v. Sullivan. before Brennan, Supreme Court jurisprudence exalted judicial passivity by employing techniques for avoiding constitutional issues, such as abstention, comity, exhaustion of remedies and the political question doctrine.
Against this background, Brennan became an active judicial voice in a series of innovative landmark cases, including decisions requiring federal officials to pay damages for violation of citizens' constitutional rights; authorizing federal courts to issue injunctions forbidding state court prosecutions under laws violating the First Amendment; and permitting congressional employees to sue members of Congress for discriminatory treatment.
However, less attention has been focused on Justice Brennan's dramatic impact on the Supreme Court's gender jurisprudence. More than any other member of the Court, Justice Brennan recognized the complexity and pervasiveness of sex discrimination and its costs to society as a whole. Brennan's opinions recognized that sex differentiation is largely cultural in origin, rather than based on "real" gender differences. As a result, Justice Brennan created a truly independent gender jurisprudence, eventually emerging as the architect of the Supreme Court's contemporary test for evaluating claims of sex-based discrimination.
Keywords: Supreme Court, Justice William Brennan, gender jurisprudence, sex discrimination, Baker v. Carr, Goldberg v. Kelly, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan
JEL Classification: K19, K39
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation