The chapter on Justice Felix Frankfurter
includes another unique story—especially
knowing the intense competition to be selected as a justice’s clerk. Impressed with his
academic credentials and intellect, Justice
Frankfurter once offered a Supreme Court
clerkship to McGeorge Bundy, a mathematics major who never went to law school. The
offer respectfully declined, Bundy eventually
became a tenured professor of government—even though he had never taken
courses in political science.
Like the other biographical descriptions,
the chapter on Justice Ginsburg reinforces
an important theme of the book, namely
that the Jewish justices have tended to liberal
viewpoints not necessarily for reasons of faith
but more as an outgrowth of their upbring-
ing and personal circumstances. As Dalin
shows, like other minorities, America’s Jews
observed or experienced firsthand the effects
of discrimination in housing, employment,
and economic advancement. Overcoming
social barriers and encouraged by their fami-
lies, the eight Jewish justices saw how educa-
tion could open a pathway to opportunity in
medicine, law, academia, and business.
Growing up in the Flatbush area of
Brooklyn, Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s parents
were Russian immigrants of modest means.
Her father made a living as a haberdasher.
With the support of a closely knit family who
urged her to study hard and learn to develop
a sense of community, in high school Ginsburg was an editor on the school newspaper, cellist in the school orchestra,
and served as a camp rabbi during summer vacations in the Adirondacks.
As an undergraduate at Cornell, she
was Phi Beta Kappa, the top woman in
her class, and it was where she met and
later married her husband, Morris Gins-
burg. When she arrived at Harvard Law
School in 1954, she was one of nine
article to stop annoying press coverage of his
wife’s social gatherings where snooping re-
porters sometimes gained admittance posing
as waiters. Social attitudes toward Jews being
such, the Warren family still did not invite
Brandeis to their son’s wedding.)
Hoping to increase the role of the federal
government in the areas of antitrust, banking, labor law, interstate transportation, and
social welfare, Justice Brandeis consulted with
President Wilson and later President Franklin Roosevelt on progressive and New Deal
legislation. Developing a friendship with Felix Frankfurter while Frankfurter was still a
professor at Harvard, Brandeis later admitted to having maintained a private bank account for Frankfurter to provide an annual
allowance to support his friend’s public causes. Nominated to the Court in 1916 with no
prior judicial experience, Brandeis overcame
opposition to his positions as an advocate for
consumer rights as well as the anti-Semitism
of some members of the Senate. He became
the first of what was called the “Jewish seat,”
a designation that may not remain in the future as the appointment process undergoes
its own changes.
As Dalin describes the paths taken by
the justices, the reader is provided with interesting details and anecdotes. Benjamin
Cardozo’s father, by outward appearances a
well-respected judge in New York, was immersed in scandal and subsequently resigned
from the bench when it became known that
he had steered receivership work to a close
relative and also signed off on court orders
designed to help Jay Gould’s efforts to obtain control of the Erie Railroad from Cornelius Vanderbilt. Dalin makes a good case
that much of the son’s motivation to succeed
as a lawyer was to redeem the family name.
A brilliant student, Cardozo was privately
tutored by Horatio Alger, a Unitarian minister who authored the popular rags-to-riches
serialized short stories. Enrolled at Columbia University at age 15, Cardozo received
perfect scores in Latin, Greek, and German.
Religion in the Great Chamber
When the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court take the bench,
depictions with religious meanings or contexts are present on
the North Frieze and the South Frieze. Ironic perhaps, but
in the very building where the Court has invalidated certain
public displays of the Ten Commandments, the lawgivers
depicted include Hammurabi, Solon, Confucius, Menes,
Moses, Justinian, and Solomon.
In the first draft, Thomas Jefferson
wrote that this truth was “sacred” and
“un-deniable.” Benjamin Franklin edited the phrase to its present wording in
the Declaration of Independence, the
“self-evident” truth that all men are
For certain minorities, however, especially women and Jews, that maxim
has been more rhetorical than real.
By the 12th Century in England, Jews
were considered the personal property
of the king, who was free to tax them as
he chose. Enacted for financial and political reasons, the Edict of Expulsion in
1290 by Edward the First forced Jews
to leave the country and generated revenue for the crown with the appropriation of
Jewish loans and property.
The edict was reversed by Oliver Cromwell in 1656. In America, it was not until
1948 in Shelley v. Kraemer that restrictive covenants prohibiting conveyances to Blacks,
Asians, and Jews were declared unconstitutional.
In Great Britain, the Act of Settlement of 1701 still forbids a Catholic or non-Protestant from being king or queen, although the Perth Agreement of 2011 allows marriage to someone outside the Church of England.
Equality as a Human