Author: William Brennan

William Joseph Brennan, Jr. (1906–97) grew up in New Jersey as one of eight children born to first-generation Irish immigrants. After graduating from high school in his hometown of Newark, Brennan received his bachelor’s degree in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1931, Brennan graduated from Harvard Law School and returned to Newark to enter private practice. When America entered World War II, Brennan joined the Army’s Judge Advocate General, serving from 1942–45. Following his military service, Brennan was appointed to the New Jersey Superior Court, the New Jersey Supreme Court, and finally, in 1956, to the United States Supreme Court by President Eisenhower. Over the course of his tenure as an Associate Justice, Brennan authored many opinions in favor of individual rights and stood as one of the most reliable liberals on the Court. He retired from the Court in 1990 and taught law at Georgetown University for several years.

From Texas v. Johnson

William Brennan

This selection consists of two opinions (both excerpted here) from the famous US Supreme Court flag-burning case of 1989, in which a split court (5–4) held that burning an American flag as political protest is a form of symbolic speech protected by the First Amendment.