Justice Harry Blackmun Dies

March 4, 1999 12:00 am

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Thursday, March 4, 1999

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union today mourned the death of former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun.

loquence, his passion, and his commitment guarantee him an important place in the history of the Court and of the nation and to civil liberties.”

“As the Court became increasingly conservative during his tenure, Justice Blackmun found his voice as a defender of civil liberties,” Shapiro added.

Justice Blackmun will forever be remembered as the author of Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that established the constitutional right to privacy as protective of a woman’s right to abortion. For two decades he defended the right to reproductive choice at enormous personal cost, receiving thousands of pieces of hate mail attacking him for his authorship of Roe.

“Justice Blackmun was pivotal to establishing women’s equality and autonomy under the law. His decisions were critically important for securing women’s rights,” said ACLU President Nadine Strossen.

Justice Blackmun’s belief in a woman’s constitutional right to reproductive freedom never wavered, but his opinions shifted over the years from a focus on privacy rights and doctors’ rights to the clear understanding that safe and legal access to abortion was essential to guaranteeing women’s autonomy.

Appointed to the Court by President Nixon in 1970 as a “law and order” conservative, Justice Blackmun dramatically disavowed his previous acceptance of capital punishment shortly before his 1994 retirement when he declared that “the death penalty experiment has failed. I no longer shall tinker with the machinery of death.”

“At an age when most people think they have ‘figured it out,’ Justice Blackmun kept searching for new answers,” Strossen said. “He never stopped wrestling with his conscience and within his soul to do what was right.”

“Justice Blackmun always understood that the law was about human beings, not abstractions,” Shapiro said. “There was a distinctive humanity opinions that said a great deal about the man.”

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