Felix Frankfurter: The Influential Jurist

By Klassen, Jeff | The World and I, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Felix Frankfurter: The Influential Jurist


Klassen, Jeff, The World and I


Felix Frankfurter is often identified as one of the most influential American jurists (that is, legal scholars) of the twentieth century. And yet, his other activities--as a writer, an activist, a mentor of law students and an advisor to private organizations and politicians--arguably had a greater impact on the nation than his activities as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court.

When his family emigrated from Austria in 1894, Frankfurter knew only German, Hebrew and Yiddish. As he began anew with the English language at the age of twelve at Public School 25 on the Lower East side of New York City, he tended to think of the study of language and of law as intertwined.

Even some of his late legal decisions reassert this connection between the practice of law and the study of language. "All our work," he wrote about the dialogue between lawyers and judges in 1964, "our whole life is a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, the material out of which laws are made, out of which the Constitution was written. Everything depends on our understanding of them."

It unsurprising that such a sentiment was expressed by someone for whom English was a fourth language. His written legal opinions have considerable interest from a literary perspective.

Frankfurter's early activities as a writer and activist resemble the activities of reform-minded writers and activists sometimes termed progressives or "muckrakers." Whereas progressives were often participants in political reforms and were usually lawyers and politicians, muckrakers tended to operate outside official circles and attempted to influence public opinion through journalism, fiction, and activism. Frankfurter, essentially, did both.

The highlights of Frankfurter's legal career include three notable roles: a civil servant shortly after he graduated from Harvard Law School in 1906; an innovative teacher and influential mentor of students at Harvard Law School between 1914 and 1939; and a Supreme Court Justice between 1939 and 1962. Frankfurter was the third individual of Jewish ancestry to be appointed to the Supreme Court. His close friend and mentor (and, some biographers add, father figure), Louis D. Brandeis, was the second. Before President Franklin Delano Roosevelt appointed Frankfurter to the Supreme Court when Brandeis retired in 1939, Frankfurter had served as an unofficial advisor to Roosevelt.

Brandeis was one of three very different mentors Frankfurter met during and after his time at Harvard. Brandeis and Frankfurter shared a devotion to defending the civil rights of all Americans, particularly the immigrants and racial minorities who often received poor legal protection. Both were also active in the post-World War I movement to establish a Jewish homeland, a movement then known as Zionism.

Frankfurter's early work as a civil servant brought him into direct contact with many of the issues in which progressives and muckrakers were interested. The Sacco-Vanzetti case is probably the best-known example. In that case, two immigrants with minimal English skills and radical political affiliations were convicted of robbery and murder with questionable evidence. Frankfurter and others labored unsuccessfully to secure a new trial for those two defendants, who were executed in 1927. His book about the trial, "The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti: A Critical Analysis for Lawyers and Laymen" (1927), remains influential.

In 1920, he was a key participant in the establishment of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU was largely founded in response to the so-called Red Scare of 1917-1920, during which fear of communists and political radicals led to the widespread arrest of immigrants and others suspected of subversive activities. Frankfurter was also associated with similar organizations, including the Jewish American Congress, the National Association of Colored People (NAACP), and the National Consumers League. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Felix Frankfurter: The Influential Jurist
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Author Advanced search

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.