Louis Dembitz Brandeis (November 13, 1856 – October 5, 1941)
He was born in Louisville, Kentucky to Jewish Immigrant parents. He enrolled at Harvard Law School, which was then a two year program. Unfortunately, his eyesight began failing as a result of the large volume of required reading and the poor visibility under gaslights. Doctors suggested he consider giving up school entirely. However, he found a creative solution by paying fellow law students to read his textbooks aloud as he tried to memorize the legal principles. Despite the challenges, his methods and abilities were so impressive that he graduated as valedictorian and further achieved the highest grade point average in the history of the school.
Following graduation, he practiced at a firm in St. Louis, then moved back to Boston to start a firm with a friend. While his law firm was still getting established, he was appointed law clerk to Horace Gray, the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Court, where he worked for two years.
During private practice, he worked to protect privacy rights, and was opposed to monopolies, big corporations, and mass consumerism. After a while, he became a sort of "People's Lawyer," whereby he stopped accepting payment for cases, and took on public interest cases. In a 1905 statement to Harvard Law students, he said of the profession:
- The great achievement of the English-speaking people is the attainment of liberty through law. It is natural, therefore, that those who have been trained in the law should have borne an important part in that struggle for liberty and in the government which resulted . . . .
Instead of holding a position of independence, between the wealthy and the people, prepared to curb the excesses of either, able lawyers have, to a large extent, allowed themselves to become adjuncts of great corporations and have neglected the obligation to use their powers for the protection of the people. We hear much of the 'corporation lawyer,' and far too little of the 'people's lawyer.' The great opportunity of the American Bar is and will be to stand again as it did in the past, ready to protect also the interests of the people.
His nomination to the Supreme Court, by President Woodrow Wilson, was so controversial that it was the first time ever that the Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing. It was also the first time that the confirmation did not occur on the same day as the nomination, but rather four months later, by a vote of 47 to 22.
- Along with Justice Cardozo and Stone, Brandeis was considered one of the more liberal members of the court, sometimes referred to as the "Three Musketeers."
- One of his most famous opinions dealt with whether federal judges should apply state or federal law (common law principles) when parties to a lawsuit are from different states. The resulting decision is referred to as the Erie Doctrine (Erie Railroad Co. v. Tompkins).
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