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Furious Confirmation Battle 1916

Louis D. Brandeis—called the “People’s Lawyer”— had built a national reputation by fighting monopolies and defending consumers. He also was the first person of Jewish descent nominated to the Supreme Court. In the furious 1916 confirmation battle, opponents of the controversial lawyer, some veiling their anti-Semitism, called Brandeis a dangerous radical lacking judicial temperament.

The Senate Judiciary Committee held unprecedented public hearings on the Brandeis nomination. Prominent witnesses assailed Brandeis as unfit to serve. President Woodrow Wilson staunchly defended his nominee as “a friend of all just men and a lover of the right.” The Senate ultimately confirmed Brandeis by a vote of 47–22. During his 23 years on the bench, Louis Brandeis earned a place as one of the Supreme Court’s most respected and influential members.

"... a friend of all just men and a lover of the right."
—President Woodrow Wilson, describing Louis D. Brandeis, May 5, 1916

  • Louis D. Brandeis, ca. 1910

    Louis D. Brandeis, ca. 1910

    Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

  • In this early 1930s image of the Supreme Court in its Capitol quarters, Justice Brandeis, seated third from the left, concentrates on a counsel’s argument.

    In this early 1930s image of the Supreme Court in its Capitol quarters, Justice Brandeis, seated third from the left, concentrates on a counsel’s argument.

    Bildarchiv Preussischer Kulturbesitz / Art Resource, NY, Photo by Erich Salomon, June 1932.

  • The New York Times, February 13, 1916

    Harvard University president Lawrence Lowell and other Bostonians published a petition attacking the judicial fitness of Brandeis, who had graduated first in his Harvard Law School class.

    Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

  • The New York Times, June 2, 1916

    On June 1, 1916, after five months, the Senate confirmed Brandeis. President Wilson said, “I never signed any commission with such satisfaction as I signed his.”

    Serial and Government Publications Division, Library of Congress

  • Roll Call Vote on the Confirmation of Louis Brandeis, 1916

    The confirmation of Justice Brandeis to the Supreme Court was managed by Senator William Chilton of West Virginia—whose name is at the top of the clerk's tally sheet. Clerks maintain a running vote count with totals at the bottom.

    Records of the U.S. Senate, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C.