The Cyclopædia of American Biography/Brandeis, Louis Dembitz

The Cyclopædia of American Biography  (1918) 
James E. Homans, editor
Brandeis, Louis Dembitz

BRANDEIS, Louis Dembitz, associate justice of U. S. Supreme Court, b. in Louisville, Ky., 13 Nov., 1856, son of Adolph and Fredericka (Dembitz) Brandeis. He began his education in the public schools of his native city, and continued his studies at the Annen Realschule, in Dresden, which he attended from 1873 to 1875. He then entered the law school of Harvard University, where he was graduated LL.B. with the class of 1877. After another year of study he began practice in St. Louis, Mo., but in July, 1879, removed to Boston, where he formed a partnership with his classmate, Samuel D. Warren, under the firm style of Warren and Brandeis, which continued until 1897, when the firm was reorganized as Brandeis, Dunbar and Nutter. This style continued until Mr. Brandeis' confirmation as Supreme Court justice in 1916. Mr. Brandeis first attained local prominence in public affairs in the extensive investigations of the public institutions of Boston, which occupied most of the year 1894. From 1896 to 1902 he was engaged in the struggle which resulted in establishing Boston's municipal subway system. In 1903 he entered upon the great Boston gas controversy. For many years previously the Boston gas situation had been in constant turmoil, in which various financiers and speculators and some legislators had been concerned. Investors in the securities of the Boston gas companies had lost much money, and some of them felt that they had been robbed. Consumers were paying from $1.00 to $1.20 per thousand foot for gas and there was a strong feeling on the part of the general public that it was being robbed. There had been several legislative investigations, one of which, that in 1900 resolved itself into a most interesting and picturesque situation, recounted by Mr. Lawson in preliminary chapters of the work which later gained so wide a reading under the title “Frenzied Finance.” But none of these investigations had had any tangible result, and certainly no relief was afforded the consumers of gas. At last, in 1903, an application was made to the legislature to consolidate the several gas companies, which had previously been acting in combination. Mr. Brandeis had, meanwhile, been active in organizing the Public Franchise League which now, under his leadership, took a prominent part in the controversy, and eventually forced a solution of the problem by its powerful influence. It was as leader of this organization, representing the public interests, that Mr. Brandeis first developed and expounded his theories of efficiency and economy in industrial enterprises which were, some years later, to play so prominent a part in the railroad situation. Public sentiment had been strongly sweeping toward municipal ownership, but the final solution, based on Mr. Brandeis' theories, was the sliding-scale gas system which has since proved satisfactory to all parties concerned. In this same way, as leader of the Public Franchise League, and in the interests of the public, he also took the most prominent part in preserving the Boston municipal subway system, which had also been a warm topic for argument. It was not until 1910, however, that Mr. Brandeis began to assume the proportions of a national importance. The Ballinger investigation was then in full stride. Although Mr. Brandeis was nominally the counsel for Glavis, the discharged special agent of the government, who charged that the Secretary of the Interior, Ballinger, had favored large corporate interests in the disposal of the Alaskan coal lands, it was soon apparent that he here played the same role as he had played in the Boston gas situation; as the representative of the public. How bitter waxed the controversy may be judged from the phraseology employed in editorial attacks on Mr. Brandeis. “He occurs,” wrote one editorial critic, “to us as a mere specimen of consecrated mugwumpery, possessed by a scorn of legal limitations and devoted to the deep damnation of those who do not happen to agree with him.” But in spite of such attacks, the newspaper readers of the country continued intensely interested in the facts being brought forth by Mr. Brandeis. With never the least show of heat, he continued his probe, and his mind had a question ready to meet any attempted evasion from a hostile witness, and a silencing answer for any retort or innuendo by opposing counsel or senators, until even those who had acquitted Secretary Ballinger of any intentional wrong-doing had to deplore the manner in which the Administration met the charges. From that time dated the beginning of the “problem of conservation” as a political issue in national campaigns, and as a topic for discussion and editorial comment. Since then the legal cases with which Mr. Brandeis has been connected have all been of national scope and popular interest. In 1911 he represented the shippers in the advanced freight rate investigation before the Interstate Commerce Commission. Two years later he was special counsel of the Interstate Commerce Commission in the second advance freight rate case. He has also represented the people in the proceedings involving the constitutionality of the Oregon and Illinois women's ten-hour laws, the California eight-hour law, the Ohio nine-hour law, and the Oregon minimum wage law. He probably attracted most attention, however, in the fight, covering the whole of this period, to restrain the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad from acquiring a monopoly of transportation in the New England States. In his various cases against the railroads Mr. Brandeis had been maintaining that the waste through inefficient methods was causing a loss of nearly $300,000,000 a year. Railroad presidents who heard the testimony which Mr. Brandeis presented in behalf of this contention were almost unanimous in their assertion that the further application of efficiency methods in the business of railroading to the saving of anything approaching the amount specified was a wild dream. The committee of presidents of some of the Western lines, however, showed themselves sufficiently impressed to send Mr. Brandeis a telegram to the effect, that if he could point out how the railroads could save any substantial part of the million dollars a day which they were alleged to be losing through wasteful methods, they would be glad to give him instant employment at his own figures. Mr. Brandeis replied by offering to meet them in conference at which he promised to point out how scientific management could effect such a vast saving. “I must decline,” he continued, “to accept any salary from the railroads for the same reason that I have declined compensation from the shipping organizations that I represent; namely, that the burden of increased rates, while primarily affecting the Eastern manufacturers and merchants, will ultimately be borne in a large part by the consumer through increasing the cost of living, mainly of those least able to bear the added burdens. I desire that any aid I can render in preventing such added burdens shall be unpaid services.” In those few lines is couched the economic philosophy which has been the guiding factor in all of Mr. Brandeis' public activities for the past twenty years and which he has been the first to expound in this country, or at least the first to make it heard. And this theory is that in every adjustment of interests between the various groups of capital, the ultimate consumer is directly involved, be it between the shippers and the railroads, or between manufacturers and merchants. He presented a full exposition of this theory in a series of articles during the early part of 1914, which were published in “Harper's Weekly.” One of the solutions he proposed in these articles was that the American consumers should follow the example of the Europeans, especially of the British, in establishing in this country the Rochdale system of co-operation, wherein the consumers, organized through their local co-operative societies, federate and own and operate their own industries, within the limits of food supply at least, a sort of voluntary socialism which has met with a tremendous measure of success in all European countries, and which has made astonishing strides during the past few years. The effort to get at the facts in many public matters, and to set them forth in their proper relationship, has been to Mr. Brandeis almost a form of recreation. From the time that he first came into prominence in Boston there has hardly been a year or a month in which he has not been connected with some public movement. Indeed, during the past twenty years, leadership in one matter of public concern or another has been absolutely continuous. This has given him a versatility which constitutes, in a considerable measure, his power. It has led him, without tiring, through a multitude of subjects, to any one of which many an able man would devote his whole lifetime. Coupled with this he possesses a certain analytical ability and a practical sense, which is, perhaps, the rarest element in such a combination. It has enabled him to select here and there for attention such factors as appeared vital, to examine these, and come to know them, without wasting time on inconsequentials, or upon that detail which, however necessary for the daily operation of a given number of industrial units, affects the fundamental relationships and the basic principles, only as cumulative testimony affects the proof in a case at law. On 28 Jan., 1916, President Wilson selected Mr. Brandeis to be associate justice of the U. S. Supreme Court, to succeed the late Justice Lamar. The nomination brought forth a great deal of discussion on account of Mr. Brandeis' alleged racial tendencies, the contention by certain parties being that he possessed too much the qualities of an “agitator” to be a member of so impartial and judicial a body as the U. S. Supreme Court should be. But, in spite of the opposition, the nomination was finally approved by the Senate. Aside from his interests in economic and industrial problems, Mr. Brandeis, who is of Jewish extraction, has also been active in the Zionist movement, and has been chairman of the provisional commission for general Zionist affairs (1914-15). On 23 March, 1891, Mr. Brandeis married Alice Goldmark, of New York City.