The Eating Habits of Supreme Court Justices, Part I

08Jan18

Everyone at my library is excited because we just received our copy of Table For 9: Supreme Court Food Traditions & Recipes by Clare Cushman, editor of The Journal of Supreme Court History. It’s a really nice looking book, with lots of photos, recipes and tidbits about the eating habits of the justices, both present and past. Everyone here has been eyeing the book, but they are going to have to wait. Since I’m the one who catalogs books here, I get first dibs on it.

Not surprisingly, there are no recipes in the book from Louis D. Brandeis. There is a page devoted to him though which described how his wife Alice served only ginger snaps and tea at her Monday gatherings, and how he was fond of ice cream and the country hams sent to him by his brother Alfred. Cushman also reports that the dinners held in the Brandeis’s apartment were considered to be Spartan affairs. This is confirmed in an article written by Paul Freund (“Historical Reminiscence,” American Jewish History, vol. 68, no. 1, pp. 7-18, September 1978), who claimed that Julian Mack said that whenever he went to the Brandeises for dinner, he had two meals: one before and another one afterwards.

I have always been curious about what Brandeis liked to eat and whenever I find out about a particular food he liked, I file it away. Here is what I have learned so far:

Cushman is right about the ice cream–I have found many references to his fondness for the dessert. In a Boston Globe article published on January 30, 1916 (“Brandeis Man of Simple Tastes”), it was claimed that “ice cream is his favorite dish no matter what the temperature or even the time of day.” And in an interview with his secretary published the day before in the Boston Post (“Secretary Praises Brandeis”), Alice Grady specified that his favorite flavor of ice cream was chocolate, and she added that he was also fond of gingerbread and baked apples. And in an article published on June 4, 1916 in the Boston American (“Boyhood of Brandeis”), it was revealed that as a child his favorite foods were waffles, poached eggs and hot doughnuts.

Melvin Urofsky and David Levy’s collection The Family Letters of Louis D. Brandeis has a couple letters to Alfred thanking for the country hams (and bourbon!) he sent, while others letters indicate that he enjoyed Budweiser (presumably a taste picked up during the year he spent practicing law in St. Louis) and animal crackers.

This information has impacted life here at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law in interesting ways. Former dean Laura Rothstein likes to give a lecture to her students every year on Brandeis’s birthday and as a treat she will bring in doughnuts. (My suggestion that she also serve poached eggs and waffles have fallen on deaf ears.) At the end of the lecture, she will give an impromptu trivia quiz on Brandeis and every student who gives a correct answer gets a box of animal crackers. These last items seem to have taken a hold on the students’ imaginations. There has been a long standing tradition here of students placing pennies on Brandeis’s grave out side the school at the end of the semester for good luck on their finals. Now however, there is always one student who adds a box of animal crackers to the offerings.

If you are interested in more information on this topic, you check out a C-SPAN recording of a panel on the Supreme Court and food featuring Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Supreme Court curator Catherine Fitts and moderated by Ms. Cushman.

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