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Supreme Court Justices

Harry Blackmun (1908-1999)

Harry 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 Abe Fortas. Blackmun was initially dubbed one of the "Minnesota Twins," for he and fellow Minnesotan Chief Justice Warren 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).