Robin Hood of the Law
Louis Dembitz Brandeis (1856-1941) was born in Kentucky to Jewish immigrants from Prague. Despite his own family’s secularism, Brandeis’ role model and inspiration growing up was his uncle Naphtali Dembitz, a religious Jew, and in his honour Brandeis changed his middle name to Dembitz. A graduate of Harvard Law School, he achieved the highest grade point average in the school’s history – a record that stood for 80 years. This distinction, among others, led to his acceptance to the Massachussets bar without even taking the exam! Working at a Boston law firm, Brandeis quickly became famous as the “People’s Lawyer”, always defending the little guy, focusing on the public good, and refusing to take cases where he believed the defendant was guilty. Brandeis fought successfully against corruption, corporate power and consumerism, monopolies and banks; he fought for healthy workplace hours and wages, better living conditions for the poor and a host of other public causes. More amazingly, he stopped accepting payment for this work. In 1916, Brandeis was nominated to the Supreme Court, one of the most controversial events in U.S. political history. It caused such a great furor that for the first time ever a public hearing was held. Brandeis was termed “dangerous”, not only because he was a Jew, but as was later said, “because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible…” Brandeis’ confirmation to the Supreme Court came a month later, in a process that normally took a single day. He would serve as supreme court justice for 23 years. Meanwhile, Brandeis was also a lifelong Zionist, and served as president of the Provisional Executive Committee for Zionist Affairs. In his later years he donated generously to Israel. Nicknamed ‘Robin Hood of the Law’, he is most remembered for upholding free speech and individual privacy, crusading for the public, and revolutionizing many aspects of American law. Brandeis passed away on the eve of Sukkot.
Words of the Week
He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger.