However, less attention has been focused on Justice Brennan's dramatic impact on the Supreme Court's gender jurisprudence. More than any other member of the Court, Justice Brennan recognized the complexity and pervasiveness of sex discrimination and its costs to society as a whole. Brennan's opinions recognized that sex differentiation is largely cultural in origin, rather than based on "real" gender differences. As a result, Justice Brennan created a truly independent gender jurisprudence, eventually emerging as the architect of the Supreme Court's contemporary test for evaluating claims of sex-based discrimination.
Understanding the significance of Brennan's contribution requires an appreciation of the Supreme Court's historical attitude towards sex-based discrimination. Before 1971, the Supreme Court uniformly upheld governmental classifications based on stereotypical and traditional role differences between men and women. Laws routinely classified individuals by gender, treating men and women as occupying separate spheres. Men occupied the sphere of wage-earner, family head and societal actor. Women were assigned the roles of childbearer and rearer, and homemaker. These roles were thought to be mandated by nature and biology. Since men and women performed different roles, they could not stand as equals under the law.
"Justice Brennan's Gender Jurisprudence,"
Akron Law Review: Vol. 25
, Article 2.
Available at: http://ideaexchange.uakron.edu/akronlawreview/vol25/iss2/2