Brandeis, Louis D.
Brandeis, Louis D. (Dembitz)(1856–1941) Supreme Court justice; born in Louisville, Ky. During his private practice in St. Louis and Boston (1879–1916), he became known as "the people's attorney" for taking on cases—often for no fee—that fought against the "excesses of capital" in the insurance industry, public utilities, and railroads. His most notable case came in 1908 when he was the first to present to the U.S. Supreme Court what became known as a "Brandeis brief"—an argument (supporting minimum wage legislation) based on sociological, economic, and even physiological data, as opposed to traditional legal arguments. As an outspoken opponent of monopolies and an advocate of reform, he had a direct influence on the economic platform that Woodrow Wilson adopted in his presidential campaign in 1912. In 1914 he published Other People's Money: and How Bankers Use It, and when Wilson nominated him to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1916, he was regarded as so radical by many Americans that his nomination was debated for four months by the Senate Judiciary Committee before he was confirmed. He also became the first Jew appointed to the Supreme Court and he would take an active role in the Zionist movement. On the court (1916–39), he criticized the strict, absolutist approach to the Constitution, preferring decisions that took into account social and economic conditions; he even acknowledged that "prevailing public opinion concerning evil and the remedy is among the important facts deserving consideration"; and he was an early proponent of conservation. Such positions often left him with the dissenting minority, especially when President Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal legislation came up for review. Brandeis University (Waltham, Mass.), founded in 1948, was named after him.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.