Stephen Wermiel William Brennan biographer professor.jpgWould you trust this man to write your biography?
If so, you might be waiting a long time. In fact, you might be DEAD before it’s finished (or even started).
Professor Stephen Wermiel, of American University’s Washington College of Law, has been working on a biography of the late Justice William J.Brennan Jr. for some TWENTY YEARS. Professor Wermiel “began” the project back in 1987, when he covered the Supreme Court for the Wall Street Journal, and Justice Brennan was still on the SCOTUS.
More background, from the Legal Times:

Brennan, who retired from the Court in 1990 and died in 1997, picked Wermiel as his biographer and had hopes of reading the book in his lifetime.

Brennan’s son William Brennan III, who died in 2004, was openly critical of Wermiel’s delay. In a stinging New Yorker essay that quoted Brennan III before he died, legal writer Jeffrey Toobin said Wermiel was guilty of “dawdling” and lumped Wermiel together with Gerald Gunther and Andrew Kaufman, whose biographies of Learned Hand and Benjamin Cardozo, respectively, took more than 20 years to complete.

So is this delay a problem? Find out after the jump.


If you’re thinking that the delay isn’t hurting anyone — obviously Justice Brennan’s hope of “reading the book in his lifetime” lies beyond realization — think again:

Researchers also expressed concern about the delay because Wermiel had been given exclusive access to sought-after portions of Brennan’s Court papers, including his correspondence and his notoriously detailed case histories from the final years of his 34-year tenure.

But now, some good news. From the tireless Tony Mauro:

The long-awaited authorized biography of the late Justice William Brennan Jr. is back on track. Biographer Stephen Wermiel said last week he has recruited a collaborator and co-author to help “jump-start” the completion of the work…

The new co-author is Seth Stern, 31, a reporter for Congressional Quarterly who covers the House and Senate Judiciary committees and is a 2001 Harvard Law School graduate. Stern will keep his day job but is plowing through reams of Brennan material on nights and weekends. “It certainly is daunting, with his three-plus decades on the Court,” says Stern. “There is a good chunk of work to do. . . . It will be done.”

We wish Professor Wermiel and Mr. Stern the best of luck in this endeavor. We just hope their writerly collaboration doesn’t turn into the literary version of Waiting for Godot:

STERN: Well? Shall we write?
WERMIEL: Yes, let’s write.

They do not move.

Brennan Biography Moving Forward Again [Legal Times]
Professor Stephen Wermiel [American University - Washington College of Law]


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