Leaders and Liberals in 20th Century America

By Charles A. Madison | Go to book overview

Louis D. Brandeis
"COUNSEL FOR THE PEOPLE"

LOUIS DEMBITZ BRANDEIS WAS for years a highly controversial figure. A sharp critic of bigness, of the concentration of capital, and of the exploitation of labor, he had antagonized many influential Americans. His appointment to the Supreme Court in 1916 caused a sharp outcry of dismay on the part of some of the nation's most eminent citizens. Their attack was so virulent and vindictive that Senator Robert L. Owen of Oklahoma considered it "the most vicious and unjust assault ever brought against a nominee for a judgeship." Yet many equally prominent men came to Brandeis's defense -- praising him as an idealist dedicated to the common good and a lawyer of great distinction and broad social vision.

Time has vindicated his friends and followers. Brandeis's judicial opinions became beacons lighting the way to the social goals of the New Deal. So firmly indeed had he established his reputation as sage and humanitarian by the time he reached his seventyfifth birthday that Justice Holmes stated a truism when he wrote: "Whenever he left my house I was likely to say to my wife, 'There goes a really good man.' I think the world now would agree with me in adding that the years have proved 'and a great judge.' "

The Brandeis family was part of a group of highly cultivated Central European Jews that migrated to the United States after the failure of the 1848 revolutions. These newcomers prized free-

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