See L. Greenhouse, Becoming Justice Blackmun (2005).
(born Nov. 12, 1908, Nashville, Ill., U.S.—died March 4, 1999, Arlington, Va.) U.S. jurist. He received his law degree from Harvard (1932) and taught law at the St. Paul College of Law (1935–41) while advancing to general partner in a Minnesota law firm. After serving as resident counsel to the Mayo Clinic (1950–59), he was appointed to the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. In 1970 Pres. Richard Nixon named him to the Supreme Court of the United States, where he served until 1994. Perceived as a conservative when he began his Supreme Court service, Blackmun became increasingly liberal over the years. He wrote the majority decision in
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Blackmun voted with Burger in 87.5 percent of the closely-divided cases during his first five terms (1970 to 1975), and with Brennan, the Court's leading liberal, in only 13 percent. By the next five-year period, Blackmun was joining Brennan in 54.5 percent of the divided cases, and Burger in 45.5 percent. During the final five years that Blackmun and Burger served together, Blackmun joined Brennan in 70.6 percent of the close cases, and Burger in only 32.4 percent.
Blackmun extended First Amendment protection to commercial speech in Bigelow v. Commonwealth of Virginia, a case where the Supreme Court overturned the conviction of an editor who ran an advertisement for an abortion referral service.
Blackmun became a passionate advocate for abortion rights, often delivering speeches and lectures promoting Roe v. Wade as essential to women's equality and criticizing Roe's critics. On the bench, he always voted to strike down laws interfering with women receiving abortions.
Defending abortion, in Thornburgh v. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Blackmun wrote: "Few decisions are more personal and intimate, more properly private, or more basic to individual dignity and autonomy, than a woman's decision - with the guidance of her physician and within the limits specified in Roe - whether to end her pregnancy. A woman's right to make that choice freely is fundamental...
Blackmun filed emotional separate opinions in 1989's Webster v. Reproductive Health Services and 1992's Planned Parenthood v. Casey, warning that Roe was in jeopardy: "I am 83 years old. I cannot remain on this Court forever, and when I do step down, the confirmation process for my successor well may focus on the issue before us today. That, I regret, may be exactly where the choice between the two worlds will be made."
From the 1981 term through the 1985 term, Blackmun voted with Justice Brennan 77.6 percent of the time, and with Thurgood Marshall 76.1 percent. From 1986 to 1990, his rate of agreement with the two most liberal justices was 97.1 percent and 95.8 percent.
Blackmun's judicial philosophy increasingly seemed guided by Roe, even in areas where Roe was not directly applicable. His concurring opinion in 1981's Michael M. v. Superior Court, a case that upheld statutory rape laws that applied only to men but did not implicate Roe or abortion, nonetheless included extensive citation of the Court's recent abortion cases.
Still, Blackmun undoubtedly changed his views on many issues. For example, Blackmun, despite his stated personal 'abhorrence' for the death penalty in Furman v. Georgia, voted to uphold mandatory death penalty statutes at issue in 1976's Roberts v. Louisiana and Woodson v. North Carolina, even though these laws would have automatically imposed the death penalty on anyone found guilty of first-degree murder. But on February 22, 1994, less than two months before announcing his retirement, Blackmun announced that he now saw the death penalty as always and in all circumstances unconstitutional by issuing a dissent from the Court's refusal to hear the relatively routine death penalty case of Callins v. Collins, declaring that "[f]rom this day forward, I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death." Subsequently, adopting the practice begun by Justices Brennan and Marshall, he issued in every death penalty case presented to the Court, a brief statement citing and reiterating his Callins dissent. As Linda Greenhouse and others have reported, Blackmun's law clerks prepared what would become the Callins dissent well in advance of the case coming before the Court; Blackmun's papers indicate that work began on the dissent in the summer of 1993, and in a memo preserved in Blackmun's papers, the clerk writing the dissent wrote Blackmun that "[t]his is a very personal dissent, and I have struggled to adopt your 'voice' to the best of my ability. I have tried to put myself in your shoes and write a dissent that would reflect the wisdom you have gained, and the frustration you have endured, as a result of twenty years of enforcing the death penalty on this Court." Blackmun and his clerks then sought an appropriate case to serve as a "vehicle for [the] dissent," and settled on Callins. (That the case found the dissent, rather than the more traditional relationship of the dissent relating to the case, is underscored by the opinion's almost total omission of reference to the case it ostensibly addressed: Callins is relegated to a supernumerary in his own appeal, being mentioned but five times in a forty-two paragraph opinion - three times within the first two paragraphs, and twice in footnote 2. ).
In his emotional dissent in 1989's DeShaney v. Winnebago County, rejecting the constitutional liability of the state of Wisconsin for four-year-old Joshua DeShaney, who was beaten until brain-damaged by his abusive father, Blackmun famously opined, "Poor Joshua!" In his dissent in 1993's Herrera v. Collins, where the Court refused to find a constitutional right for convicted prisoners to introduce new evidence of "actual innocence" for purposes of obtaining federal relief, Blackmun argued in a section joined by no other justice that "The execution of a person who can show that he is innocent comes perilously close to simple murder."
Like Justice Byron White, Blackmun was amenable to granting certiorari to most petitions that crossed his desk (indeed, he wrote numerous dissents from denial of cert). At least partially as a result of White and Blackmun's retirements, the number of cases heard each session of the Court declined steeply. In the 1970s and early 1980s, it was not unusual for the Court to decide upwards of 150 cases a term, but by the late 1990s, the Court was typically deciding around 80 cases per term.
On February 22, 1999, Blackmun fell in his home and broke his hip. The next day, he underwent hip replacement surgery at Arlington Hospital in Arlington, Virginia, but he never fully recovered. Ten days later, on March 4, he died at 1 a.m. from complications following the procedure. He was buried five days later at Arlington National Cemetery. His wife died seven years later on July 13, 2006, at the age of 95 and was buried next to him.
At Blackmun's will, in 2004 (five years after his death) the Library of Congress released his voluminous files. Blackmun had kept all the documents from every case, notes the Justices passed between themselves, ten percent of the mail he received, and numerous other documents. And after Blackmun announced his retirement from the Court, he recorded a 38-hour oral history with one of his former law clerks, Yale University professor Harold Koh which was also released. In it, he discusses his thoughts on everything from his important Court cases to the Supreme Court piano, though some Supreme Court experts such as David Garrow have cast doubt on the accuracy of some of Blackmun's recollections, especially his thoughts on the Court's deliberations on Roe v. Wade.
HARRY BLACKMUN: 1908-1999; A two-sided legacy He'll forever be both revered and vilified as author of Roe vs. Wade.(NEWS)
Mar 05, 1999; Former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun, the Minnesotan who wrote the 1973 decision establishing a constitutional right to...