I have been swamped at work and as a result gotten behind in my Brandeis duties. So here, almost five months late, is my write-up of Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet by law professor and journalist Jeffrey Rosen, which is part of Yale Press’s series called Jewish Lives. I haven’t read any of the other books in the series, but I suspect that Rosen’s book is different from them in that this book is not so much a biography as it is, as he puts it, “a passionate case of why Brandeis matters today.” And passionate it is; you can feel Rosen’s admiration for Brandeis emanating off of nearly every page.
Rosen doesn’t completely eschew biography as he gives a good summary of Brandeis’s life, peppered with new personal details gleaned from interviews with Brandeis’s grandchildren. But the bulk of the book is devoted to Brandeis’s various causes: regulated competition, industrial democracy, scientific management, unions, regularity of employment, savings bank life insurance, the Brandeis Brief, the Ballinger-Pinchot affair, size and efficiency, interlocking directorates, price fixing, commercial banking vs. investment banking, free speech, privacy, federalism, and Zionism. (I’m forgetting a few but you get the idea.)
The ongoing theme is about how Brandeis was “Jefferson’s philosophical successor.” Rosen posits a Jefferson vs. Hamilton model of economics and shows how reflects Brandeis’s philosophy and his causes: small vs. large, agricultural vs. industrial, liberty vs. efficiency, etc. He makes a particularly convincing argument as to how Jefferson (and Alfred Zimmern) influenced Brandies’s decision to become a Zionist.
In the last chapter, Rosen plays the dangerous game, and favorite conference topic, of predicting how Brandeis would react to current issues if he were alive today: such as privacy and the cloud, constant surveillance, Citizen’s United and the right to be forgotten. It is, of course, impossible to say how accurate Rosen’s guesses are, but they make for provocative reading.
In the course of preparing for this post, I found a video on YouTube of a conversation about Brandeis between Rosen, Mel Urofsky and Philippa Strum, which was recorded on June 1, the 100th anniversary of the Senate’s confirmation of Brandeis’s Supreme Court nomination. Rosen’s enthusiasm for the topic is palpable as it is for sharing the stage with Urofsky and Strum, although that doesn’t stop him from comically cutting off Urofsky a couple times. There is also a couple interesting debates over just how much Brandeis was influenced by Jefferson and just why Brandeis became a Zionist.
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(I have been doing this blog for so long that I am starting to lose track of what I have written. I thought I had addressed this issue in an earlier post but I cannot find it. If I do find an earlier post on this subject, I will probably delete it in favor of this one.)
I have discovered a series of YouTube videos that seem to have been created by robots that are trying to teach humans how to speak English correctly. There is even one that claims to show the correct pronunciation of Louis Brandeis. The most striking thing about this video is that it is dead wrong and is unfortunately muddying what is already a divisive (in the most minor way possible) issue: whether Brandeis’s first name is pronounced Lou-is or Lou-ee. The robots claim it is Lou-ee, but are they right?
The final word on this raging controversy has to be Todd C. Peppers in his article “A Justice by Any Other Name: the Case of Louis D. Brandeis,” which was published on pages 8-9 in the Volume 19, 2nd issue of The Supreme Court Historical Society Quarterly. (Unfortunately, I cannot find any copies of this article online.) Apparently, during a conversation with Brandeis’s grandson Frank Gilbert, Peppers made the mistake of referring to Brandeis as “Lou-is.” Gilbert quickly corrected him: “It was pronounced ‘Lou-ee’ not ‘Lou-is’.” After having heard it pronounced “Lou-is” his entire life, Peppers was intrigued and decided to look further into the matter. Brandeis’s other grandchildren, Alice Popkin and Walter Raushenbush also confirmed the “Lou-ee” pronunciation and he uncovered anecdotes about Brandeis’s daughter Elizabeth Raushenbush and the son of Brandeis’s law partner Edward McClennen that confirmed it as well.
One would think that this would be persuasive enough, but Brandeis biographer Lewis Paper holds a contrarian view. He suggests that Brandeis used the “Lou-ee” among close acquaintances and that he used “Lou-is” in formal and professional situations. One can understand his reluctance to accept what seems like unimpeachable evidence. Nowadays the name “Lou-ee” seems more appropriate for a pool hustler than a Supreme Court justice. But, not only is there no historical evidence for this dual pronunciation, I would argue that there is plenty of circumstantial evidence against it.
First of all, there is Brandeis’s uncle Lewis Dembitz. Dembitz’s first name was originally Ludwig, but once he emigrated to America, he anglicized it to Lewis. Lewis is clearly pronounced “Lou-is.” If Brandeis’s parents wanted their son’s name to be pronounced “Lou-is” surely they would have spelled it the same as his uncle’s.
Secondly, Brandeis is the only one of his siblings to have been born in Louisville, Kentucky. There is no evidence to back this up, but I have have always felt that he was given the name Louis in honor of their new home. And as natives from the city are quick to point out, the city’s name is pronounced “Lou-ee-ville,” not “Lou-is-ville.”
And for a final bit of evidence, we can look to, of all places, HBO’s comedy Veep (or for you classicists out there, Seinfeld). Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus has always had to tell people, her name is pronounced “Lou-ee-Dreyfus” not “Lou-is-Dreyfus.” As she explained in an interview once, “It’s a French thing.” That is why Louisville is pronounced the way it is; it is named after the French king Louis XVI. And Brandeis’s parents were cultured people, and the idea of 19th century cultured people giving their children names with French pronunciation is not that extreme.
But what about those YouTube robots? Should artificial intelligence finally be considered more accurate than human intelligence? Apparently not. Not only do they mis-pronounce Louis but they can’t even pronounce Brandeis right.
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October 9, 2016 is the 100th anniversary of Louis D. Brandeis’s first day on the Supreme Court. To help celebrate the anniversary, Laura Rothstein has published on SSRN an expanded version of her post on this blog about Michael H. Roffer’s The Law Book, which is a compilation of 250 legal milestones from history. In her original post, she discussed the milestones Brandeis was directly responsible for as well as the many others that were the result of his influence. Rothstein’s new article uses The Law Book as a starting point to discuss the ten issues Brandeis is best known for and how his influence in these areas continues to shape the world today. It’s a great article for people looking to see just how pervasive Brandeis’s ideas are.
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Louis D. Brandeis had four grandchildren, three of whom are still alive. Alice Popkin and Frank Gilbert were the children of Brandeis’s daughter Susan and her husband Jack Gilbert. (Their eldest brother, Louis Brandeis Gilbert, died in 2002.) Walter Raushenbush was the son of Brandeis’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband Paul Raushenbush. While on the Supreme Court, Brandeis would spend his summers in a cottage in Chatham, Massachusetts, and often his daughters and their children would join him there. The children spent all their time together, swimming, playing cards, and even publishing their own newspaper called the Chatham Chatter.
Even though the Chatham Chatter ceased publication in 1942, it made the news recently when Frank Gilbert discovered a complete set of the newspaper’s issues while cleaning out a storage unit. He donated the issues to the Chatham Historical Society, which inspired a write up in the Cape Cod Chronicle. The article is a charming look at what sounds like an idyllic childhood.
Speaking donations of donations from the grandchildren, I recently came across this story about the library at Brandeis University and their collection of Brandeis’s personal effects.
And speaking of Brandeis University, Frank Gilbert has also made the news in his own right: he was awarded an honorary degree from Brandeis during their May 2016 commencement.
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As interested as I am in Louis D. Brandeis’s uncle, Lewis Dembitz, I was quite happy when I ran into a recent article in the Jewish Telegraphic Agency about his great-granddaughter Shoshana Dembitz and her recent marriage to her partner of 18 years, Abigail Grafton.
As interesting as the marriage is, I was more intrigued by the account of Ms. Dembitz’s life. Her father, named like his grandfather, Lewis N. Dembitz, worked at the Federal Reserve System. Her mother, Florence de Haas, was the daughter of Jacob de Haas, the man who introduced Brandeis to Zionism and who wrote the first biography of Brandeis. She was an attorney, who, like Brandeis, appeared often before the Interstate Commerce Commission. Apparently, she later worked as a civil rights attorney until her career was derailed by accusations of communist affiliations. Shoshana seems to have spent her life working for progressive and Jewish causes. She founded a non-profit elementary school, a community credit union, as well as a couple Jewish communities. It would appear that she has inherited her great-grandfather’s sense of commitment towards public service as well as his devotion to his faith.
Abigail Grafton does not appear to be a slouch either. In the sixties, she was active in civil rights and anti-war protests and lived in an anarchists’ collective. She later became a psychotherapist and founded the Sonoma Institute, which according to the article, “trained therapists with a feminist slant.” In the last paragraph of the article, Grafton identified with people who are “conscientious objectors and shit disturbers.” That description sounds like it could apply to Dembitz and Grafton as well.
Mazel tov Shoshana and Abigail!
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Today is June 1, 2016, which is the 100th anniversary of the Senate’s confirmation of President Wilson’s nomination of Louis D. Brandeis to the US Supreme Court. Newspapers across the country are marking the occasion with editorials. There are so many of them I cannot link to them all here, so I will limit myself to one. Laura Rothstein (who was kind enough to guest write one of the posts here) penned an op-ed piece on Brandeis’s nomination and the role Louisville and his family played on his judicial philosophy. It was published, appropriately enough, in the Courier-Journal, Brandeis’s hometown newspaper.
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This post is less of a sequel to my previous post on Brandeis’s fight against the Charles Mellen and the New Haven Railroad and more of a side note. One of the revelations that came from the ICC’s hearings was that Mellen authorized the expenditure of New Haven money to fund various publications to tell their side of the story. One of the more notorious of these was a magazine ironically named The Truth. The Truth‘s attacks on Brandeis were particularly vicious, often bordering on anti-Semitic. The articles make for incendiary reading, but it must be said, they had some good artists on their staff. The cartoons collected in Brandeis’s scrapbooks (and I have reason to suspect that there were others that did not make it there), despite their offensiveness, are some great examples from the early days of editorial cartoons, as well an illumination into some of the issues surrounding the New Haven fight.
The first cartoon is a nice piece of caricature from the December 14, 1912 issue that lampoons what they perceived as Brandeis’s hypocrisy and sanctimoniousness.
I have to apologize for the next one and a couple of the later ones. The original copy is very large and in poor shape and so I had to scan the image from a microfilm reel, and the set up of the reader made it impossible to capture the whole thing. It is from the February 15, 1913 issue. There was a lot of talk around this time about whether President Wilson was going to appoint Brandeis to a cabinet position. The Truth is making hay here with the fact that until Wilson’s candidacy, Brandeis had always been a Republican. There was certainly true if a little misleading. The Republican Party before this time had been filled with Progressives. But Brandeis had become disenchanted with Theodore Roosevelt and (especially) Taft, particularly with their economic policies. As a result, Brandeis was not only a supporter of Wilson’s, but he was also a key adviser during Wilson’s campaign on economic issues.
The right portion, which is missing in the scan, reveals a child shining a spotlight on Brandeis.
The next cartoon is from the March 15, 1913 and is fairly self-evident. It also is a little clipped on the right hand side.
The next two cartoons are from the May 3, 1913 issue which came out during the ICC hearing. The first depicts the Boston Fruit and Produce Exchange’s dismissal of Brandeis as its counsel during the ICC’s hearings. Of course, there is no indication of the pressure the New Haven put on the Exchange to accomplish this.
The next one is missing the left side, which is a real shame because a lot of the meaning of the picture is left out as a result. This cartoon depicts an accusation the New Haven made repeatedly: that Brandeis was not the altruistic citizen he claimed to be. Instead, they charged, he was attacking the railroad for the financial gain of other parties. You can see Brandeis dressed up in traditional robber’s garb and stealing New Haven stock certificates from a figure representing New England (dressed up as a Pilgrim, no less!) whom he has just knocked out. What you cannot see if that he is also passing the stocks to a shadowy figure in the missing left frame who is labeled “New York Banking Interests.”
The final drawing is significant in a number of ways. It is from the cover of the April 25, 1914 issue of The Truth. This is almost a year after the ICC hearing was over and after Mellen had been ousted from the board of the New Haven and four months before the US government finally forced the company to divest itself of its control of the Boston and Maine Railroad. It is presumably one of the last issues of the magazine (I have not been able to verify this yet) and interestingly this is the ugliest of the drawings from the magazine I’ve seen. I wonder if the poor artwork is a sign of the troubles of the railroad and the magazine. Maybe with less money to spend they could no longer afford good artists? Another interesting thing about the drawing got cropped out in the scan. Right above the drawing there is a handwritten note to Brandeis’s secretary: “Miss Grady – This is an outrage (MAW?)”
This drawing repeats the accusation of the previous one. Here, however, the mastermind of the whole plot is “revealed” to be Jacob Schiff, a prominent Jewish New York banker. The subtext, of course, is that since both Brandeis and Schiff were both well known Jews the campaign against the New Haven was some sort of Jewish conspiracy.
It’s hard to tell if the directors of the New Haven really believed these charges or whether they invented them to undermine Brandeis’s arguments. If Mellen really did believe it at one time, there is evidence that he changed his mind later on. The New Haven fight was brought up during the Senate hearings over Brandeis’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Senators hostile to the nomination invited Mellen to testify in support of the claim that Brandeis had been the agent of outside interests. To everyone’s surprise, Mellen declined and instead sent a telegram that read: “I am absolutely without information as to anything that I would be justified to testify under oath. I think it would be a waste of the committee’s time and mine for me to go to Washington to testify. I am not at all unfriendly to Brandeis, and I know nothing about his career except hearsay.”
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