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The Retirement of Supreme Court Justice Harry A. Blackmun:
Statement of ACLU Legal Director Steven R. Shapiro
For IMMEDIATE RELEASE
April 6, 1994
NEW YORK -- With today's announced retirement of Supreme Court
Justice Harry A. Blackmun, the country has lost an important defender of
individual liberties and civil rights.
Best known for his landmark decision in Roe v. Wade, Justice Blackmun
has been a forceful advocate for the rights of the less powerful. Although
appointed by a conservative president, Justice Blackmun has evolved into a
jurist who recognizes the important role that government must play in
promoting equality, and the dangers inherent in government efforts to
control the private lives of American citizens.
Refusing to be bound by ideological labels or legal formalities,
Justice Blackmun understands that "in order to treat some persons equally,
we must treat them differently," as he wrote in Regents of the University
of California v. Bakke, an early affirmative action case. He also
vigorously dissented from the Court's decision in Bowers v. Hardwick to
uphold consensual sodomy laws, writing, "what the Court really has refused
to recognize is the fundamental interest all individuals have in
controlling the nature of their intimate associations with others."
Similarly, in Virginia State Board of Pharmacy v. Virginia Citizens
Consumer Council, Justice Blackmun wrote the first opinion to recognize
that commercial speech is entitled to First Amendment protection.
Expressing his deeply held belief in the wisdom of the average citizen,
Justice Blackmun observed that "people will perceive their own best
interests if only they are well enough informed, and that the best means
to that end is to open the channels of communication rather than to close
Justice Blackmun's commitment to justice was demonstrated most
recently by his announcement that he would no longer vote in favor of the
death penalty because he was convinced that it could not be administered
fairly. His statement of conscience now stands in stark contrast to the
increasing clamor for the death penalty that so frequently marks today's
Justice Blackmun's contribution to the Court, often made at great
personal sacrifice, will not be easily replaced. His integrity, his
courage, his humanity and his personal grace will be genuinely missed.
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