Harry Andrew Blackmun, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court from 1970 to 1994, stepped into a political maelstrom when he authored the much-lauded, much-reviled 1973 opinion ROE V. WADE, 410 U.S. 113, 93 S. Ct. 705, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147. Roe guaranteed access to safe, legal ABORTIONS for women in the first trimester of pregnancy. Depending on one's viewpoint, Blackmun was considered either a public hero or a Supreme Court villain, for authoring the opinion upholding a woman's right to privacy in the matter of abortion.
An unassuming and highly intelligent man, Blackmun seemed an unlikely symbol for an explosive social and political issue. Born November 12, 1908, in Nashville, Illinois, he spent his childhood in St. Paul, Minnesota, where his father ran a hardware and grocery store. Blackmun was an outstanding student and received a scholarship to Harvard University, where he graduated summa cum laude with a mathematics degree in 1929. He went on to earn a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1932.
Blackmun's first job out of law school was a federal clerkship for Judge John B. Sanborn, of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit. After his clerkship, Blackmun spent 16 years practicing law in Minneapolis as a tax and trust specialist at a large, prestigious firm. In 1941, Blackmun and Dorothy E. Clark married; they later raised three children.
Blackmun also taught at the St. Paul College of Law (later renamed the William Mitchell College of Law) and at the University of Minnesota Law School. In 1950, he became head counsel at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minnesota, a position he particularly enjoyed because of a lifelong interest in medicine.
In 1959 President DWIGHT D. EISENHOWER appointed Blackmun to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit to replace his former boss, Judge Sanborn. While on the appeals court, Blackmun was a diligent and fair-minded judge, with a conservative outlook. A significant portion of his decisions involved tax issues.
"ABORTION RAISES MORAL AND SPIRITUAL QUESTIONS OVER WHICH HONORABLE PERSONS CAN DISAGREE SINCERELY AND PROFOUNDLY. BUT THOSE DISAGREEMENTS ? DO NOT NOW RELIEVE US OF OUR DUTY TO APPLY THE CONSTITUTION FAITHFULLY."
Blackmun sat on the Eighth Circuit until 1970 when President RICHARD M. NIXON appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court.