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Louis Dembitz Brandeis

Brandeis, Louis Dembitz (brănˈdĪs) [key], 1856–1941, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1916–39), b. Louisville, Ky., grad. Harvard law school, 1877. As a successful Boston lawyer (1879–1916), Brandeis distinguished himself by investigating insurance practices and by establishing (1907) Massachusetts savings-bank insurance. After defending (1900–1907) the public interest in Boston utility cases, he served (1907–14) as counsel for the people in proceedings involving the constitutionality of wages and hours laws in Oregon, Illinois, Ohio, and California. In Muller v. Oregon (1908) he persuaded the U.S. Supreme Court that minimum-hours legislation for women was reasonable—and not unconstitutional—with a brief primarily consisting of statistical, sociological, economic, and physiological information. This "Brandeis brief," as it came to be called, revolutionized legal practice by ensuring that the law would not be viewed as rigid and unchanging, but would be responsive to new situations, new realities, and new facts as they arose.

Brandeis opposed (1907–13) the monopoly of transportation in New England and successfully argued (1910–14) before the Interstate Commerce Commission against railroad-rate increases. In 1910 as a counsel in the congressional investigation of Richard A. Ballinger, he exposed the anticonservationist views of President Taft's secretary of the interior. As an arbitrator (1910) of a strike of New York garment workers, who were mainly Jewish, Brandeis, a largely secular Jew, became acutely aware of Jewish problems and afterward became a leader of the Zionist movement. An enemy of industrial and financial monopoly, he formulated the economic doctrine of the New Freedom that Woodrow Wilson adopted in his 1912 presidential campaign.

In 1916, over the protests of vested interests whom Brandeis had alienated in his role as "people's attorney" and despite opposition voiced by anti-Semites and certain business interests, Wilson appointed him to the U.S. Supreme Court. Long an advocate of social and economic reforms, he maintained a position of principled judicial liberalism on the bench. With Oliver Wendell Holmes, he often dissented from the majority. After Franklin Delano Roosevelt became (1933) president, Brandeis was one of the few justices who voted to uphold most of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation. He retired from the bench in 1939. Brandeis Univ. is named after him. He wrote Other People's Money (1914) and Business, a Profession (1914). For selections of his writings, see Alfred Lief, ed., The Social and Economic Views of Mr. Justice Brandeis (1930); O. K. Fraenkel, ed., The Curse of Bigness (1935); Solomon Goldman, ed., The Words of Justice Brandeis (1953).

See his letters, ed. by M. I. Urofsky and D. W. Levy (1971); biographies by A. T. Mason (1946, repr. 1956) and M. I. Urofsky (2009); studies by M. I. Urofsky (1971, repr. 1981), P. Strum (1984), and N. L. Dawson, ed. (1989); A. M. Bickel, The Unpublished Opinions of Mr. Justice Brandeis (1957).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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