American University Professor Provides Insight on U.S. Supreme Court Justice
Web Editor - Published: March 6, 2011
Professor Stephen Wermiel, the Associate Director of the Summer Institute on Law and Government at American University Washington College of Law, visited the Delaware campus on Thrusday, March 3rd, 2011 to speak to faculty about the biography of U.S. Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan that he co-authored entitled Justice Brennan Liberal Champion.

Professor Alan Garfield, who met Professor Wermiel while a visiting professor at American University Washington College of Law, Wermiel shared his thoughts on the book and on Justice Brennan. During Justice Brennan’s final years on the court, he granted Wermiel unprecedented access to personal and court documents. Wermiel also conducted more than 60 hours of personal interviews with Justice Brennan over the span of six years.

Wermiel attributed Justice Brennan’s immense impact to his “consistent constitutional vision,” and his relentless pursuit of the five votes necessary to be in the majority. He discussed the difference between popular depictions of Justice Brennan as a liberal champion versus the Justice’s more conservative personal views, as well as his personal distaste for the media despite his defense of freedom of the press in cases such as New York Times v. Sullivan. Professor Wermiel also touched on the discrepancy between Justice Brennan’s reluctance to hire female law clerks despite his work to bring gender discrimination under the shelter of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Following his remarks, Professor Wermiel answered questions from the faculty members in attendance. The questions touched on a wide range of topics including Brennan’s reaction to the appointment of Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in light of his reluctance to hire female law clerks, his philosophy on the death penalty, and Professor Wermiel’s thoughts on Justice Brennan’s ultimate legacy.

A graduate of Tufts University, Professor Stephen Wermiel worked as a reporter in Boston and Washington for the Boston Globe after graduation. He earned his J.D. from American University’s Washington College of Law where he now teaches constitutional law and a seminar on the Supreme Court. For twelve years, he served as the Supreme Court reporter for the Wall Street Journal.