2 New Looks at New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann


A new issue of the Journal of Supreme Court History has come out and as is often the case, that means there is a new article about Louis D. Brandeis. This issue’s (volume 39, number 2) article was written by Jessie Steffan while she was a law student (she is now a clerk at the District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri) and it won the Supreme Court Historical Society’s 2013 Hughes-Gossett student prize. Titled “Doing Brandeis Justice: the Development of the Liebmann Dissent.” Steffan attempts to reconcile a seeming paradox that has perplexed many commentators: how a man famous for his stance against monopolies could uphold a state law that seemed to promote monopolies in a particular business (in this instance, ice manufacturers in Oklahoma.) Ms. Steffan argues that there is no contradiction at all and buttresses her case with looks at previous opinions and articles written by Brandeis as well as his views on public utilities versus private businesses. She makes a well reasoned argument and it makes for compelling reading for anyone interested in learning more about one of Brandeis’ most famous dissents. Once again, since the article appeared in the Journal of Supreme Court History, it will be hard to find. It is available online, but that link will likely not for anyone who does not have access to the Wiley Online Library. Everyone else is going to have to read a paper copy at their local law library. Or buy a subscription to the journal.

Another nice thing about Ms. Steffen’s article is that it led me to another article about the case that I was not previously aware of. Thirteen years ago historian Nigel Anthony Sellars published an article titled “‘Cold, Hard Facts’: Justice Brandeis and the Oklahoma Ice Case” (63 Historian 249-267). This article is a behind the scenes look at the facts of the case. Just who was Liebmann and why did he refuse to buy a license to manufacture ice? And why did Oklahoma, that “laboratory of democracy”, think that ice needed regulating anyway? The answers are all here and they give some interesting background to the decision. This article is also available through the Wiley Online Library.

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