A comprehensive biography of an American legal giant.
A lawyer, reformer, Zionist and judge who demonstrated a unique blend of idealism and pragmatism, Louis Brandeis (1856–1941) was an unusual specimen whose career at the bar was every bit as distinguished as his tenure on the bench. From the outset of this detailed study, likely to become the standard biography, Urofsky (Law & Public Policy/Virginia Commonwealth Univ.; Money and Free Speech: Campaign Finance Reform and the Courts, 2005, etc.) confesses the difficulty of getting at the inner life of a man little given to introspection. As a Boston practitioner for nearly 40 years, Brandeis doggedly pursued “all the facts that surround” a case, and his penchant for incorporating sociological and economic materials in his legal arguments created a model later known as a “Brandeis brief.” He pioneered the modern law-office practice, and his pro bono work on behalf of a variety of progressive reforms covering insurance, transportation and utilities earned him the title of the “People’s Attorney.” In 1916, as the first Jew ever nominated to the Supreme Court, Brandeis withstood fierce opposition from conservatives opposed to his liberal views. For the next 23 years he continued to entertain arguments and author opinions attacking the then-prevailing legal classicism that obstructed innovation. Often with his colleague and friend, Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Brandeis famously dissented in a number of civil-liberties cases, most notably insisting on the right of all Americans “to be let alone.” Urofksy assembles every fact pertinent to Brandeis’s personal and professional life—with a few needlessly repeated—and he’s especially good at placing the Justice in a proper historical and legal context, at explaining Brandeis’s passionate attachment to the Zionist cause and at making complex legal issues comprehensible for the general reader.
An authoritative, impressive assessment of a man whose legal reasoning continues to influence our republic.