Louis BrandeisU.S. Supreme Court Justice / Lawyer
Born: 13 November 1856
Died: 5 October 1941
Birthplace: Louisville, Kentucky
Best known as:
The first Jewish Supreme Court justice
Name at birth: Louis Dembritz Brandeis
Louis Dembritz Brandeis became the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice in United States history when he was sworn in on 5 June 1916. He was the brilliant son of successful Bohemian immigrants, and he set academic records at Harvard Law School. Without a college degree, he was accepted to Harvard's law school in 1875, at the age of 18. He zipped through school so fast, the university made a special case for him, granting him a law degree in 1877, even though he was still not yet 21 (the required minimum). After a brief spell in St. Louis, he settled his law practice in Boston in 1879, and by 1890 his connections through his legal practice had made him a wealthy man. That allowed him to work for free, in cases pitting the average American against flourishing industrialists and bankers, and Brandeis became well known as a champion for the rights of the individual in the face of more powerful corporations. An active campaigner for President Woodrow Wilson, Brandeis was an influential voice in the creation of the the Federal Reserve and the Federal Trade Commission. President Wilson nominated Brandeis for the Supreme Court in January of 1916, but the confirmation process was difficult. His critics cited his lack of judicial experience and painted him as a political patron. His admirers chalked all that up to anti-Semitism and cited his long-held belief in individual freedom. Brandeis, brought up without much religious training, nonetheless became a Zionist around 1912 and advocated the creation of a Jewish state in Palestine. As a dissenter whose opinions later took the form of law, Brandeis is considered one of the most influential Supreme Court justices in history. He was particularly known for his legal briefs, which were lengthy and supported by scientific data (as opposed to established legal arguments). He retired from the court in 1939, at the age of 83.
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