A conversation with Brandeis

26Feb09

Going through the collection this week, I stumbled upon a small gem I hadn’t seen before.  It’s a typed transcription of a conversation held between Brandeis, his wife Alice, British economist Redvers Opie, and one of Brandeis’ nieces, presumably Fannie (who typed the transcription.)

While nothing earth-shattering, the transcription is intriguing in a number of ways. Brandeis’ apartment in Washington was a required stop for dignitaries visiting the city, and it is interesting to get a fly-on-the-wall view of one of these visits.  The conversation also dates from 1939, which is a fairly undocumented time of his life. It was about a year after his retirement from the Supreme Court (and about two years before his death) when he had mostly dropped from public view. Since he had pretty much stopped giving interviews once he joined the bench, this is the only instance I know of where he gives his opinion of the war and the situation in Germany. He also touches on a difference between him and Oliver Wendell Holmes and gives an anecdote about his Harvard Law School days.

Finally, it is interesting to hear Brandeis speak in an unguarded voice.  Some of letters to his family are written in an informal voice, but this may be the closest we can get to “hear” what a conversation with Brandeis was like. I only know of one other instance of a transcribed conversation: the notes Frankfurter took of various conversations he had that were published in The Supreme Court Review in 1985.  But those are too fragmentary to give the flavor of  an entire conversation.

I have re-typed the transcribe and posted it on the Brandeis Collection website.

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