The Conscience of the Court celebrates the work of Justice William J. Brennan Jr., who served on the United States Supreme Court for thirty-four years (1956–1990).
Stephen L. Sepinuck and Mary Pat Treuthart introduce and present selected judicial opinions written by Justice Brennan on issues involving personal freedom, civil liberties, and equality. Brennan is ranked by many as the best writer ever to have served on the Supreme Court, and his written opinions depict real people, often in desperate, emotional situations. Remarkable for their clarity of analysis, for their eloquence, and for their forcefulness and persuasiveness, his opinions demonstrate that judicial thought need not be a proprietary enclave of lawyers or the intellectual elite.
The extended excerpts selected by Sepinuck and Treuthart highlight Brennan's approach to judicial decision making. Concerned always with how each decision would actually affect people's lives, Brennan possessed a rare quality of empathy. In Brennan, the editors note, "people and groups who lacked influence in society—Communists and flag burners, children and foreigners, criminal defendants and racial minorities"—found a champion they could count on "to listen to their causes and judge them unmoved by the passions of the politically powerful."
In their introduction to each opinion, the editors provide background facts, discuss how the excerpted opinion transformed the law or otherwise fit into the realm of constitutional jurisprudence, and delve into Justice Brennan's judicial philosophy, his method of constitutional interpretation, and the language he used.