President Clinton eulogized William J. Brennan today as a man who used his 34-year tenure on the Supreme Court to summon Americans to their highest ideals and hammer his principles of justice and equality "on the anvil of history."
"The life he breathed into our most cherished ideals will never die," Clinton said. "He loved this country fiercely. He gave himself to it fully. He strengthened it profoundly, and we are all better for it."
Brennan, perhaps America's most influential judge of the 20th century, died last week at age 91.
His Supreme Court successor, David H. Souter, and Brennan's son, William III, also were delivering eulogies. The justice's two other children, Hugh and Nancy, read passages from Scripture as part of the Mass in St. Matthew's Cathedral.
Clinton told the crowd assembled, "Throughout our history, a few powerful ideals have transformed the lives of our people. And throughout our history, there have been a few individuals so devoted to those ideals they could hammer then on the anvil of history to reshape our land and our future."
"Justice Brennan found the ideals and the Constitution time and time again, and time and time again, he stepped into the breach to hammer them on the anvil of our history, saving us from our darker impulses."
Souter, a close friend of the late justice, spoke of Brennan's legacy in the law as author of 1,360 Supreme Court opinions.
"They cover just about every subject of importance to us. He has left so much to be dealt with," Souter said. "Year after year, subject after subject of the national law, we will either accept the inherentness of his thinking or we will have to face him squarely and make good the challenge that we raise to him."
"And so there are no goodbyes to be said to William Brennan the justice," Souter said. "We shall deal with him many times again."
Current and former justices, members of Congress, diplomats and former Brennan law clerks gathered alongside ordinary Americans for the funeral Mass. Retired Justices Byron R. White and Harry A. Blackmun were among those attending.
A private burial service in Arlington National Cemetery was to follow.