The Nation magazine has published a list of who it considers the 50 most influential progressives of the 20th century. Unlike his close allies Earl Warren and Thurgood Marshall, Justice Brennan isn’t included on the list, but he does get prominent billing in Warren’s entry.
“With the help of progressive justices William O. Douglass [sic] and William J. Brennan, the Warren Court dramatically expanded civil rights and civil liberties,” says the caption accompanying Warren’s entry. (The caption writer appears to have confused the spelling of Justice Douglas’ last name with that of Frederick Douglass, the noted 19th century African American abolitionist and social reformer.)
The entry for Warren concludes, “When Eisenhower nominated Warren to the Supreme Court, he thought he was appointing a conservative jurist and later reportedly said that it was the ‘biggest damn fool mistake’ he’d ever made.”
Legend has it Warren actually said he made two mistakes – and they were both sitting on the Supreme Court, a reference to Warren and Brennan. We try to get to the bottom of that legend in Justice Brennan: Liberal Champion and conclude it’s an open question whether Eisenhower ever said it. But it sure makes for a great line.