Louis D. Brandeis and the Legal Implications of the Rapture


One of the problems of maintaining a blog on a couple of people who have been dead for decades is that it is hard to come up with timely stories. But with the Rapture allegedly occurring eight days from now, I have a rare opportunity to be topical. As the two letters from our collection (reprinted below) show, the Rapture presents a whole new set of legal problems. And who better to address those problems than Louis D. Brandeis? Unfortunately, one doesn’t get any legal insight into the matter as Brandeis deftly sidesteps the issue. Instead, I’m presenting the letters as an example of the type of correspondence Supreme Court justices can expect to get while in office. No doubt Justices Breyer and Ginsburg are answering similar letters now.

Mar. 19, 1917
My dear Mr. Brandeis:
Your night letter of the 18th was received this morning and I thank you for the privilege of writing you in this confidential manner.
Referring to my letter of January 29th, I would emphasize again my conviction that the mightiest proof of the truth and reliability of Scripture prophecy is immediately impending, and that is in the personal return to the earth of Jesus, according to His promise in John 14:3.
The whole foundation of the New Testament prophecies falls to the ground if He does not literally fulfill this great promise. I believe He will. And after years of patient study and faithful service, I believe I have through the teaching of the Holy Spirit, a true conviction that His coming is right at hand, and may occur within the next few months. If so, professing Christians who are ready, are caught away, it must have a convincing effect, at least in the minds of many conscientious believers in the Word of God, who may not be in the true attitude of mind and heart to participate in the glorious Rapture of being caught up to meet Him in the air, as described in 1 Thess. 4:13-18.
May I ask you, dear Mr. Brandeis, that if such an event shall occur, will it not be convincing to you that I am holding a right understanding of Scripture prophecy?
Now, what I wish to ask is, if the Rapture does come, and you are not among those who participate in it, can there be any arrangement made with you, by which one’s earthly substance can be assured to be used for the benefit of those who may be by the Rapture, convinced, and who will thereby be led to hold to believe the Word, and work for Israel’s welfare in the awful troublous times which are to follow?
There are apparently no human laws which provide for any such event as this. If I understand correctly, absence for seven years constitutes a legal presumption of a person’s death, but that is altogether too tardy to have the desired effect concerning the earthly affairs of those who will participate in the Rapture. Can you suggest any method by which one may provide for the legal disposition of property under these circumstances?
I say in the strictest confidence that in God’s providence, during the past year, several million dollars of marketable stock have been put in my hands for evangelistic work. I have been able to use only a few hundred thousand dollars thus far.
Both Mr. Stewart and I will be glad of any suggestion which you can make as to how this could be put into your hands in case the Rapture does occur. Please write me whether you will be willing to consider some such arrangement; make suggestions so that I may write you more fully by immediate mail.
Assuring you that this is prompted by an intense and overwhelming love for Israel, God’s chosen people, who “though they have lain among the sheepcotes, are yet to be as the wings of a dove, covered with silver and her feathers of yellow gold,” Psalms 68:14, I am
Very sincerely yours,
William E. Blackstone

March 26, 1917
My Dear Dr. Blackstone:
I appreciate the high trust suggested in yours of the 19th, but my office of Justice of the Supreme Court prevents my assuming it or advising in relation to it. The trust might conceivably become a subject of litigation, and questions concerning it be submitted to our Court for decision.
This precludes my giving the subject consideration.
With great regard.
Most cordially,

Update: The Wikipedia article on Blackstone has quite a bit on his relationship with Brandeis and Zionism. And for a much better written account of the letter, check Peter Smith’s article about it in the Louisville Courier-Journal.

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