an opinion much narrower in scope. After Burger’s retirement in 1986, and the accession of the more ideological Rehnquist, however, Brennan often found himself able to control assignments again, because the new chief was much less willing to compromise his hard-line philosophy and join a liberal majority in order to assign the opinion. Brennan, on the other hand, was content to achieve a clumsy patchwork opinion that commanded a five-person majority and thus, became the law of the land than an elegant, ideologically pure dissent that impressed only true believers. Quite often in the second half of the ’80s, Brennan assigned such cases to himself. Thus, even his last term on the court showed some significant victories: in the eloquent flagburning cases, in bolstering affirmative action programs, and, most surprisingly, in upholding the power of federal judges to order tax increases to remedy constitutional violations. Texas may yet feel the impact of that last decision; it has already given progressive forces leverage in negotiations with the state. What made Brennan the pre-eminent jurist of the century? First, he is a superb writer, a vital skill in a position in which a single word can literally mean the difference between life and death. Brennan’s draft in Cooper v. Aaron, the 1958 decision signed by every member of the Court ordering the desegregation of the Little Rock, Arkansas schools, contains some of the most puissantly eloquent prose in American history, and that powerful clarity contributed to its acceptance by the segregationist state governments in the South. Brennan’s influence on the Court extended far beyond the opinions he authored. Much has been attributed to his personal skills; always among the friendliest and most popular among the Court brethren, despite philosophical differences with many of them, Brennan’s charm surely contributed to his effectiveness. But he resented the charge that he was a “playmaker”; his influence lay in his ability to find compromises and accommodate divergent opinions, not only by means of personal persuasion, but through intellectual agility: He was a master at using the draft opinions circulated among the Justices to develop compromise language that could command consensus support. This recognition of the validity of others’ opinions reflects Brennan’s bedrock philosophy: that all opinions, and by extension all people, have inherent value. \(It also allowed him to accept cheerfully the more conservative views of his father, his wife, and his sacrifice tolerance for some airy intellectual purity, but he did believe in one fundamental purpose of the Constitution: “the protection of the dignity of the human being and the recognition that every individual has fundamental rights which government cannot deny him.” This philosophy partakes of, perhaps is the ultimate expression of, the essence of Western civilization and its sacred embrace of individual rights and human dignity. Brennan’s tolerance even extends to those who attack him. As he told Nat HentOff \(in words that the Senators voting on his possible successor’s confirmation should have in the Constitution which limits the adviceand-consent function of the Senate. Nothing. And, because each senator has to cast his own vote on the matter, he should be able to interrogate the nominee if he wants to. And any senator, furthermore, is entitled to ask any damn question he wants about ideology or whatever the hell it may be.” Admirable thoughts from a man who was grilled in his own nomination hearings by the master chef himself, Joe McCarthy the only Senator to vote against Brennan’s confirmation. A second essential of Brennan’s philosophy was his insistence that the language of the Constitution was meant to develop along with the nation. He wasn’t wedded to the chimerical “original intent” doctrine, which has been a Trojan horse for conservatives intent on maintaining a repressive status quo. Instead, Brennan believed the true original intent of the Founders was that a Constitution should be a document adaptable to the changing needs of an evolving society. This is not to say that Brennan was always right; for example, in a 1973 dissent he candidly conceded his 16-year failure to come up with a standard separating obscenity from protected speech. And his discovery not shared by responsible party during the making of the movie. Suzanne moves in with her famous, ditzy mother, a party responsible for whatever drama finds its way into Postcards From the Edge. Doris Mann is a grand old star whose irrepressible vitality belies her age. “I’m middle-aged,” insists Doris. “How many 120-year-old women do you know?” asks Suzanne. Doris is a domineering stage mother obsessively jealous of her daughter’s success and an alcoholic intent on ending Suzanne’s drug addiction. The plot is a slushy family farce in which mother and daughter are ultimately reconciled “like war buddies,” according to Doris’s latest, tongue-tied husband. Think of Terms of Endearment moved from Houston to Beverly Hills. Postcards affords movie fans the guilty pleasure of scanning other people’s mail. The sense of peeping in on the lives of celebrities is heightened by casting several stars Dennis Quaid as a slimy philanderer, Gene Hackman as a tough but tender director, Richard Dreyfuss as a solicitous surgeon, Rob Reiner as a neurotic producer in what are essentially cameos, exquisite furniture for the rooms through which Suzanne and Doris battle their way. Though the dialogue bristles with wisecracks, the plot yawns with foolish faults. Much ado is made about Suzanne’s reduction to a commodity, a movie prop whose cellulite is the proprietary con a majority of his colleagues of a constitutional prohibition of the death penalty arguably stretched the Bill of Rights too far; if conservatives did the same thing, this country could be in trouble. But it does mean that by dint of his idealism, personality, and intellectual ability, Justice Brennan was able to help embed a progressive philosophy based on human dignity and the capacity for change into the legal and social framework of American life. Their intellectual coherence is evidenced by the fact that, despite a generation of contrary prevailing winds in the courts, most of Brennan’s precedents still sail proudly along the treacherous seas of American jurisprudence. An essay of this length can’t begin to express the greatness that was Justice William Brennan; for a closer look, see Nat Hentoff’s fine profile in the March 12, 1990 New Yorker, to which this article is indebted. In this time when many Americans decry the absence of champions and role models, especially in politics, William Brennan was an authentic hero. Even though a recent poll showed that only 3 percent of Americans surveyed recognized his name before his resignation, he has had a more profound effect on their daily lives than that of almost any of his contemporaries in public life. And if we’re lucky, his work will go on touching American lives. Perhaps as much as any single figure, Brennan helped make the ideals of American justice a reality for all of us. cern of the studio. “I can’t feel my life,” complains Suzanne, and Postcards rehearses her predictable victory in claiming control of her existence. “You’ve had it too easy, and you don’t even know it,” insists her director, and the challenge facing director Nichols is to make us care about, rather than merely gawk at, the tribulations of a pampered Hollywood brat. Suzanne has grown up in a world that thrives on the manufacture of illusions, in which life imitates art imitating life. Fisher extended her fiction beyond that leaping frog. “I don’t want life to imitate art,” declares Suzanne. “I want life to he art.” She wants too much. Postcards is written with a knowing hand, but it comes to us with postage due. Don’t Miss An Issue. Call In Your Subscription 512-477-0746 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 31
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