To claim, as you do in your editorial (Oct. 16), "Justice, Brennan Style," that Justice William J. Brennan Jr. is a jurisprudential descendant of the great Chief Justice John Marshall is, in a word, wrong. Twice you quote Marshall's assertion in McCulloch vs. Maryland that "it is a Constitution we are expounding." This famous statement, however, does not mean what you imply that it does.
Justice Brennan, as you note, argues that the overarching principle of our Constitution is "human dignity"; his speech at Georgetown University makes repeated reference to the "constitutional vision of human dignity." This vision, we are told, has not yet been achieved, and indeed, in his own words, "if the interaction of this justice and the constitutional text over the years confirms any single proposition, it is that the demands of human dignity will never cease to evolve." Thus, according to Justice Brennan, as the Supreme Court's notion of human dignity evolves, so, too, must the Constitution.
John Marshall's understanding of our Constitution was far different.
Marshall understood that the Constitution was "a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means." This view, Marshall said, should be considered by the "court, as one of the fundamental principles of our society."