January 28 - Anniversary of a Just Appointment

Posted on January 28, 2017

Louis Brandeis was brilliant. He was passionate about the law and about the betterment of individuals and American society. He was incorruptible.
(Incorruptible means that nobody could influence him with power, money, or other bribes.)
Of course he would make a great justice of the Supreme Court, right?
Then why-oh-why did so many conservative Republicans fight against Brandeis's 1916 nomination to the Supreme Court?
Was it because the president who nominated him, Woodrow Wilson, was a Democrat?
A big part of the problem many had with Brandeis was because he was a crusader for social justice – and that often pitted him against monopolies, big corporations, the wealthy and the powerful. Brandeis devoted so much time to public causes and social justice he was called “the People's Lawyer,” and he was even described as “a Robin Hood of the law.”
Of course, we know that standing up against unfair practices is a good thing – even if, actually ESPECIALLY if, the people being unfair are wealthy and powerful.
Still, a lot of politicians are themselves wealthy and powerful, and almost all politicians are influenced by the wealthy and powerful, so Republicans as a group fought against Brandeis because he made a habit of standing up to the wealthy and powerful.
Another big part of the problem many people had with Brandeis was that he was a Jew. Antisemitism (bigotry toward Jewish people) had been a problem in America for centuries, although thankfully it has decreased since World War II and the Civil Rights Movement, in the middle of the 1900s. (I will point out, however, that so far there has never been a Jewish president or vice-president in the United States. There has never even been a Jewish major party candidate for president, and the only candidate for VP was Joe Lieberman in 2000.)
Thank goodness, Brandeis did end up getting confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. He weighed in on many free-speech issues and right-to-privacy issues. His written opinions on those two topics, in particular, are considered some of the greatest defenses ever written by a member of the Supreme Court.

Here are a few interesting facts about Louis Brandeis:
  • His parents immigrated from Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic.
  • Brandeis graduated from Harvard Law School at age 20 – with the highest grade average in the law school's history.
  • The law firm he founded in Boston still practices today. Its name is now Nutter McClennen & Fish – Nutter for short – which is a bit surprising to me. If I wanted a lawyer, I think I would not want to choose Mr. Nutter, would you? Maybe not even Mr. Fish... But the law firm has one of the highest reputations in the state and nation.
  • Although Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, he was far from the last. Starting with the 1932 appointment of Benjamin Cardozo, there have been seven other Jewish justices on SCOTUS, including three current justices! (All but one of these were nominated by Democrats.)
  • Brandeis is widely considered a pioneer in pro bono work, helping to create the concept that is now prevalent in the U.S. and elsewhere in the world. Pro bono means “for the public good,” and it is used to refer to professional work done without payment. The American Bar Association has an ethics rule that suggests that every lawyer in the U.S. contribute at least fifty hours of pro bono service every year.
Here are a few wonderful quotes from Louis Brandeis:

Also on this date:

Chinese New Year -- Year of the Rooster:
here and here and here and here and here 

Anniversary of first ski tow in the U.S.

Anniversary of the coining of the word serendipity

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