Mr. Justice Brian Walsh, the Natural Law, and Irish Catholicism

Dr. David Kenny is Associate Professor of Law and Fellow at Trinity College Dublin

Ask any lawyer, judge, law student, or legal academic in Ireland to draw up a list of Ireland’s great judges, and one name is guaranteed to appear: Mr. Justice Brian Walsh. Sitting on the Irish Supreme Court in the heyday of its activist period in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, Walsh’s fingerprints are on many of the Court’s most important and innovative constitutional judgments [1]. A pioneer of unenumerated (or implied) constitutional rights—recognizing, amongst other things, a trailblazing right to privacy—Walsh’s innovative jurisprudence was transformational in Irish constitutional law.

A friend and correspondent of famed U.S. Supreme Court Justice William Brennan [2], Walsh—alongside colleagues like Seamus Henchy and Cearbhall Ó Dálaigh—developed Irish constitutional jurisprudence in a manner not dissimilar to the Warren Court in its heyday. His influence echoes still, even after more cautious courts in the 1990s and 2000s resiled from some of the more innovative elements of this period of constitutional expansion. Perhaps, as leading academic and current Supreme Court Judge Gerard Hogan has argued, Walsh’s constitutional vision, even if a good reading of the text, was simply too radical for judges largely wedded to the common law tradition [3].


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