Louis Brandeis was born in 1856. He graduated from Harvard Law School in 1877 and became a lawyer. He became an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court in 1916 and served there until 1939.

He constantly argued against financial and industrial monopoly and was a driving force in Woodrow Wilson's doctrine of New Freedom. His Brandeis Brief revolutionized the way that law is practiced.

When he was appointed by Wilson in 1916, there was fierce opposition from anti-semites since Brandeis would become the first jewish Supreme Court justice.

He frequently dissented from the majority with his friend, Oliver Wendell Holmes. He was admired by many, sometimes referred to as the "people's attorney" for fighting against big business.

Brandeis University is named after him. His writings include Other People's Money, and Business, a Profession. For more of his writings, check out Alfred Lief, ed., The Social and Economic Views of Mr. Justice Brandeis; O. K. Fraenkel, ed., The Curse of Bigness ; Solomon Goldman, ed., The Words of Justice Brandeis.

Many of his letters are also available in different editions.

America's "People's Attorney."

Born: November 13, 1856, in Louisville, Kentucky
Died: October 5, 1941, in Washington, D.C.
Importance: Liberal U.S. Supreme Court Justice

Louis Brandeis graduated from Harvard University in 1877. As most Supreme Court Justice started their careers, so did Brandeis, as a lawyer. "Brandeis originally earned his reputation as a brilliant corporate lawyer. Later, he became the adversary of many of his former clients and widely known as the 'People's Lawyer.' That evolution made Brandeis an exceptionally controversial figure." (Boston University Journal of Science and Technology Law 1995) Louis Brandeis was against monopolies, deeply believed in competition allows freedom, and was a patent lawyer during his initial career. His evolution was apparent during his flip-flop from defending the United Shoe Company's, to attacking it, after the company used its monopoly over a patent in manufacturing shoes to crush their competition unethically.

    Political viewpoints:
  • He had a strong sympathy for the trade union movement and women's rights.
  • He often defended (and enjoyed defending) small companies against big corporations.
  • Because Brandeis believed in government intervention in the economy, he defended most of FDR's New Deal legislation.
  • He fought for the minimum wage.
  • In 1928, Justices Brandeis and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wrote a very powerful dissent asserting that wiretapping was not constitutionally permissible. (Boston University Journal of Science and Technology Law 1995)

Louis Brandeis claimed inventions were destroyed before they were invented (invested in) because patent law overly protected the status quo, and prevented a rival from entering the market. A 21st century example of this would be gasoline companies owning most of the patents to alternative sources of fuel. They buy out their competition before they get invested in.

Laboratories of Democracy:

“Justice Brandeis pointed out in his famous dissent in New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann in 1932, ‘it is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.’" (David L. Markell, Albany Law Review)
States are innovators. When a state tries something new it may fail or it may work. When it works, the lab was successful; other states may follow suit, or even the entire nation. If it fails, other states are less likely to make the same mistake, and then the lab is still successful. This is the biggest success of Federalism; it is also one of its weaknesses.

“A look inside Justice Brandeis's ‘laboratories of democracy’ reveals States are conducting extensive experiments on these fronts. For example, between 1989 and 1992, twenty-six states enacted legislation aimed at toxics use reduction (TUR) across all media. The Massachusetts Toxics Use Reduction Act (MTURA), in one commentator's view, ‘perhaps the strongest of such laws,’ was enacted to ‘reduce toxic waste generated by fifty percent by 1997, relative to 1987 levels, while sustaining and promoting the competitive advantages of Massachusetts's businesses.’” (David L. Markell, Albany Law Review)
Experiments like this may occur in multiple states at the same time. The question may arise why there wouldn’t be a national legislation if different states are all enacting upon the same problem at the same time. This is in part due to the fact that Brandeis is right, the states are the laboratories, not Congress. Each state will find their own solution until one state finds the best convincing solvency to a particular problem, and then all the other states follow suit. This concept can be applied to one of many needed reforms in the United States that Congress is not legislating on while states are, including Health Care, the Death Penalty, and education.

    Random and unique facts:
  • In 1916 Louis Brandeis was appointed by Woodrow Wilson to the Supreme Court of the United States.
  • First Jewish Supreme Court Justice
  • He created Brandeis Brief, a collection of sources on the impact of women who work long hours.
  • He was a Zionist, believing in a home for the Jewish community in what is now Israel.
  • "Brandeis University, a liberal arts university located in Waltham, Massachusetts is named after him." (Wikipedia)
  • "As a frugal spender and successful investor (in bonds, not stocks), he was also able to achieve financial independence at a relatively young age, which allowed him a great deal of autonomy from his clients in the practice of law." (Michael Ariens)
    • His nomination:
    • Louis Brandeis's nomination to the Supreme Court was so controversial that "President William Howard Taft signed a letter along with six former presidents of the American Bar Association urging rejection of Brandeis's nomination on grounds that Brandeis was unfit." (Michael Ariens)
    • "The subcommittee voted 3-2 to approve the nomination, splitting on party lines. In late May, after substantial politicking by the Wilson Administration, Brandeis's nomination was forwarded to the Senate by the Judiciary Committee, again by a party line vote of 10-8." (Michael Ariens)
    • On June 1, by a vote of 47-22, Brandeis was confirmed by the Senate. He was 59 years old. (Michael Ariens)

"The most important political office is that of the private citizen." (Louis Brandeis)


More interesting facts:
(r) Phyrkrakr says re Louis Brandeis: Excellent writeup. One of the reasons Taft opposed Brandeis' nom was because of Brandeis' investigation into a scandal during his administration. Brandeis found out that Taft's Attorney General had falsified some documents (back-dated leases, I believe) regarding the Ballinger-Pinchot scandal

(r) Phyrkrakr says re Louis Brandeis: Oh, and one more unique fact: Brandeis never went to college. He went straight from HS to Harvard Law at the age of 16, and had to get special permission from the university to graduate, as he was under the age of 21. Also, apparently, he still has the highest ever GPA from Harvard Law, although I'm not sure of a source on that last one. Paul Freund's writings about Brandeis are really interesting.

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