Richard Nisley

The People's Attorney
History - American Released - Oct 07, 2018
In a world rife with political cynicism, reading a biography of Louis Brandeis is a refreshing experience. Here is proof that one man committed to the best in humanity can make a difference. The author, Jeffrey Rosen, is a clear and focused writer who examines Brandeis’ remarkable life (1856-1939) in a mere 206 pages. The book, entitled “Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet,” concentrates on three aspects of his public career: (1) as a crusader against “the curse of bigness” in both business and government, (2) as a Supreme Court Justice committed to individual rights, and, (3) later in life, as a leader of the Zionist movement.

Like many exceptional people, Brandeis had exceptional parents. While Jewish, his parents insisted on rigorous moral standards but not on organized religion. His mother, Frederika, in her “Reminiscences,” explained why she chose to raise her four children this way: “Love, virtue, and truth are the foundation upon which the education of the child must be based. They endure forever. . . . And this is my justification for bringing up children without any definite religious belief: I wanted to give them something that neither could be argued away nor would have to be given up as untenable, namely a pure spirit and the highest ideals as to morals and love.”

Brandeis was incredibly bright. At the age of 20, he graduated from Harvard Law—first in class—with the highest marks ever achieved in the history of that school. Said a classmate: “The professors listened to his opinions with the greatest deference. And it is generally correct.” As an attorney, Brandeis invented the “Brandeis Brief”—a comprehensive collection of empirical studies designed to persuade judges about the importance of facts as opposed to legal precedent and long-winded arguments. The Brandeis Brief would later transform civil rights litigation—and inspire both Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg in their arguments for equal rights for African Americans and for women—by introducing the idea that constitutional decisions should be informed by facts and evidence rather than purely deductive analysis.

Thanks to a prosperous legal practice in Boston, Mass., Brandeis became financially independent, allowing him to pursue his real interest, social reform, and take on numerous pro bono cases. As a result, he was soon known as “the People’s Attorney.” He wrote two books that garnered national attention: “The Right to Privacy” (co-written with his law partner Samuel Warren) and “Other People’s Money And How Banks Use It.” Several of the reforms that Brandeis advocated in “Other People’s Money” would eventually become law, including the Federal Trade Commission Act and the Clayton Antitrust Act.

As an advisor to President Woodrow Wilson, Brandeis was instrumental in framing The Federal Reserve System. As a progressive, he targeted business monopolies that destroyed competitive balance in the marketplace. He also attacked how Big Business hoarded capital and power among the management elite, thus keeping democracy out of the workplace (in conflict with the nation’s democratic principles). Brandeis’ goal was to see management and labor problem-solve together in true democratic spirit, thus making him an early advocate of what later would be called “quality circle management” (as adopted by the Ford Motor Company in the 1990s, which made Ford the leader in quality and in sales and profits). Brandeis also denounced what he called “interlocking directorates” whereby financial oligarchs such as George F. Baker, chairman of the board of the First National Bank, who also served as one of the directors of 22 railroad and industrial corporations whose securities the First National Bank underwrote, guaranteed, or distributed. Said Brandeis: such practices “tends to disloyalty and to violations of the fundamental law that no man can work for two masters.”

In 1916, President Wilson appointed Brandeis to the Supreme Court where he wrote landmark court opinions concerning free speech, freedom from government surveillance, and freedom of thought and opinion. Brandeis’ opinion in Whitney v. California offered a unique philosophical justification for free speech that in the process (according to the author) achieved a kind of constitutional poetry: “Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth. . . .”

From indifference about Judaism to becoming a crusader for Zionism concerns the final third the book. By his own account, Brandeis had come to Zionism through Americanism. In particular, he was influenced by the work of Horace Kallen, the leading American theorist of cultural pluralism. Hugely influenced by the writings of Thomas Jefferson, Brandeis concluded that Zionism would extend the Jeffersonian values of liberty and equality to all members of a self-governing Jewish state. As the leader of the Zionist movement, he convinced Woodrow Wilson and the British government to recognize a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

Conclusion: This is a remarkable biography of a remarkable American who advanced democracy on several fronts and made America a freer and better place to live–for common people, regardless of race or gender.

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