Justice Brennan Calls Criticism of Court Disguised Arrogance

Associated Press

Supreme Court Justice William J. Brennan Jr., apparently answering Reagan Administration critics, said Saturday that “arrogance cloaked as humility” motivated recent calls for the high court to follow the Constitution’s “original intent.”

“It is arrogant to pretend that from our vantage we can gauge accurately the intent of the framers . . . to specific, contemporary questions,” Brennan, one of the most liberal justices, said in a speech at Georgetown University.

Brennan did not specifically mention the Reagan Administration in his remarks, but his comments appeared to be a response to recent remarks about high court rulings from Administration officials.


People who want such a strict interpretation are motivated by politics and “have no familiarity with the historical record,” Brennan said.

‘Blind to Social Progress’

He said that opponents of judicial activism “turn a blind eye to social progress.”

Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III said in July that he thought the high court was weakening the Constitution by handing down “bizarre” and “ad hoc” rulings.

Recent decisions affirming a strict separation of church and state “would have struck the founding generation as somewhat bizarre,” said Meese, and he promised to press for rulings that he said would interpret the Constitution as the founders intended.

Brennan told his audience that requiring fidelity to “the intentions of the framers . . . is a view that feigns self-effacing deference to the specific judgments of those who forged our original social compact.”

“But in truth,” he concluded, “it is little more than arrogance cloaked as humility.”