04 Nov “Louis Brandeis: First Jewish Supreme Court Justice”
Judge Louis Brandeis was known as the “People’s Lawyer” as well as “A Robin Hood of the law.” During his time as a lawyer as well as a judge, he was against power-grabbing corporations, monopolies, government corruption and unhealthy mass consumerism. Brandeis is also known as an active member of the Zionist movement, but most importantly he was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice.
The Brandeis family came from Bohemia (present-day Czech Republic), but settled in Louisville, KY where Louis was born. According to many, the Brandeis’ were a very cultured family, raising their children to be “high-minded idealists.” Brandeis attended Harvard Law School at the age of 18, despite receiving no financial help from his family, he excelled and became valedictorian of his graduating class.
Brandeis started his law career by practicing law with Harvard classmate Samuel D. Warren, and his influence quickly became known. Brandeis challenged existing regulations, suggesting taking a middle course that could satisfy everyone. His legal philosophy was one that took everyone and the greater good into account.
Eventually, Brandeis became the “People’s Lawyer” because of his persistency to fight for the “public interest.” Brandeis took cases pro-bono (voluntary; no payment) so that he could address wider issues that were beyond cases’ direct details, cases that required a skilled attorney. His biggest achievements include: developing a new life insurance system in 1907, preventing J.P. Morgan’s railroad monopoly in 1914, stopping new security regulation bills from J.P. Morgan in 1934, and upholding workplaces laws which created the “Brandeis Brief.”
On January 28, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis to the U.S. Supreme Court. A nomination that received much criticism and challenges. While many opposed Brandeis because of his progressive legal philosophies, he was charged with anti-Semitic slurs as well. Former President William H. Taft accused Brandeis of using his Judaism to bring in political sympathy, Senate Henry Cabot Lodge said privately that “If it were not that Brandeis is a Jew, and a German Jew, he would never have been appointed.” On June 1, 1916, with more support than denunciation, Brandeis was confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Later in life, Judge Louis Brandeis was active in the Zionist Movement, seeing it as a solution to the atrocities and pogroms being launched against the Jewish people in Russia. He joined the Federation of American Zionists in 1912. He believed that a “Jewish homeland” could “revive the Jewish spirit.” Brandeis also fought against the anti-Semitic ideology that Jews who supported a Jewish state in the Land of Israel shall not be accused to be of “dual loyalty,” stating that “There is no inconsistency between loyalty to America and loyalty to Jewry.” Judge Brandeis also played a key role in bringing President Woodrow Wilson to support the Balfour Declaration.
Louis Dembitz Brandeis passed away on October 5, 1941. In his eighty-four years on this Earth, Brandeis committed himself to justice for all peoples as well as the defense of all peoples. Whether those people were big, small, rich or poor, Judge Louis Brandeis was a warrior for people from all walks of life as well as a committed advocate for the future State of Israel.
The Friends of Zion Museum honors Judge Louis Brandeis, noting his nomination to the Supreme Court and his influence on President Woodrow Wilson to recognize the Balfour Declaration as pretext why President Wilson was truly a ‘friend of Zion.’