89 Texas L. Rev. 1403
Judicial biography, writes Dean Larry Kramer, is a difficult genre. The work of judges is not often exciting and cases that a judge decides tend to make up the substance of a judicial life. But, Kramer notes, reading about lawsuits can be less than stimulating.
In reviewing Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion, Kramer finds the authors “were unable to surmount the inherent limitations of the genre.” Kramer notes that the authors faced some serious constraints: Justice Brennan’s life was not particularly interesting before he went on the bench, he was involved in almost nothing off the bench, and he was extremely reserved in and about his personal life. Although Brennan was a friendly, gregarious, and likeable person, Kramer thinks that these qualities themselves made up a form of reserve.
Another problem Kramer highlights is that the biography took twenty-five years to complete. 547 pages, the majority of which describe case decisions, is too much, no matter the quality of the writing. The authors do, however, include some interesting facts throughout. For example, Justice Brennan experienced discomfort with women clerks. Also, he was the Court’s only member with prior judicial experience when he was appointed.
The more important question, argues Kramer, is how did this ordinary man become such an extraordinary judge? Kramer spends some time discussing Brennan’s legacy and his accomplishments as a judge. Brennan was a coalition builder and a leader among his colleagues. Kramer thinks that part of his success in these roles is due to the fact that Brennan was someone who did not hate. That is, he was without anger, without malice, and without bitterness. Indeed, writes Kramer, he “had a genuine, almost automatic, empathy for everyone and everything.” It was Brennan’s ability to inspire people, both personally and through his opinions, to strive to do and be better for which Kramer will remember him.