Harry Blackmun (1908-1999)
Blackmun was born in Illinois on November 12, 1908. Blackmun was raised
in St. Paul, Minnesota, and attended Harvard College and Law School. He
then returned to Minnesota to practice law. In 1950, Blackmun became
general counsel to the Mayo Clinic, where he remained until he was appointed to
the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit in 1959.
Blackmun was a court of appeals judge for eleven years. In 1970,
he was nominated to the Supreme Court by
Richard Nixon. Blackmun was Nixon's third choice to the seat vacated by
Fortas. Blackmun was initially dubbed one of the "Minnesota Twins,"
for he and fellow Minnesotan Chief Justice
Burger voted alike in nearly all cases early in their careers at the
Court. Blackmun eventually left Burger's orbit, and became increasingly
more solicitous to individual claims concerning civil liberties and
civil rights. As time passed, Blackmun joined more often with the
Court's "liberal" wing than its "conservative" wing. Blackmun will
always be remembered as the author of
Roe v. Wade.
The Court, in a 7-2 vote, held that states violated the right to
privacy, as embedded in the due process clause of the 14th Amendment, in
limiting or barring abortions. Blackmun spent much of the summer
of 1972 at the Mayo Clinic's library, undertaking research regarding the
issue of abortion. In its opinion, the Court offered a trimester
approach to the regulation of abortion, creating a distinction between a
fetus that was capable of living outside of the womb and one that was
not. The critics of Roe believed that the limitations were
largely ephemeral, and the decision became a litmus test for most
politicians and many judicial nominees. Blackmun became a staunch defender
of the Court's opinion in Roe, excoriating those members of the Court
who wished to limit or reverse the decision in subsequent abortion cases. Blackmun is also known for
his libertarian stance concerning commercial speech, which until the
1970s had enjoyed little if any constitutional protection. The first
case in which the Court held unconstitutional a state regulation of
commercial speech concerned the advertising for sale of pharmaceuticals
in Virginia. The opinion is phrased in terms of individual choice, and
autonomy, which suggests Blackmun's libertarian stance concerning
commercial speech and other areas of law.
Blackmun left the Court in August 1994. He married to Dorothy E. Clark in 1941 and the couple were the parents of three daughters. He died on March 4, 1999.
Further reading: Linda Greenhouse, Becoming Justice Blackmun (2005); Bob Woodward & Scott Armstrong, The Brethren (1979).