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Felix Frankfurter

Frankfurter, Felix, 1882–1965, American jurist, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1939–62), b. Vienna, Austria. He emigrated to the United States as a boy and later received (1906) his law degree from Harvard law school. He was assistant U.S. attorney (1906–10) in New York state and legal officer (1911–14) in the Bureau of Insular Affairs. A professor (1914–39) at Harvard law school, Frankfurter was also active during these years outside the academic world. A frequent appointee to special government posts, he fought for the release of Sacco and Vanzetti, helped found the American Civil Liberties Union, and played an important part in staffing the agencies of the New Deal. His appointment by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the U.S. Supreme Court brought a man of marked liberal tendencies to the high bench; but Frankfurter was also a firm adherent of judicial restraint. Although much concerned with fair legal procedure, he upheld legislation limiting civil liberties in the belief that the government has a right to protect itself through investigative committees and legislation, and that the court must exercise self-restraint in interfering with the popular will as expressed by its representatives. Among his works are The Public and Its Government (1930), The Commerce Clause under Marshall, Taney, and Waite (1937), and Of Law and Men (1956). His lectures appear in Law and Politics, ed. by Archibald MacLeish and E. F. Pritchard (1939, repr. 1962).

See also his reminiscences, ed. by H. B. Phillips (1960, repr. 1962); his correspondence with F. D. Roosevelt, ed. by M. Freedman (1967), and with O. W. Holmes, ed. by R. M. Mennel and C. L. Compston (1996); biography by L. Baker (1969); studies by H. S. Thomas (1960) and P. B. Kurland (1971); W. Mendelson, ed., Felix Frankfurter (2 vol., 1964) and Justices Black and Frankfurter (2d ed. 1966); N. Feldman, Scorpions: The Battles and Triumphs of FDR's Great Supreme Court Justices (2010).

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

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