Lewis Lapham: Harvard Chief Hated Brandeis for High Court

Source: Putnam via Bloomberg

"Wilson," by A. Scott Berg. Close

"Wilson," by A. Scott Berg.

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Source: Putnam via Bloomberg

"Wilson," by A. Scott Berg.

When presidential candidate Woodrow Wilson wanted an expert adviser on trusts, he summoned attorney Louis Brandeis from Boston. At 20, he’d graduated from Harvard Law School as class valedictorian and in his practice had gained a reputation for legal brilliance.

(To listen to the podcast, click here.)

With the advice of Brandeis, Wilson’s platform came to include positions against monopolistic trusts and unfair business practices: We “will look after the men who are on the make rather than the men who are already made.”

President Wilson later nominated Brandeis to the Supreme Court, where he would be the first Jew. It ignited a firestorm: The lawyer was denounced by the establishment for his radical ideas, his Zionism, his character and temperament.

Harvard President A. Lawrence Lowell, who was about to recommend a quota on Jewish students, gathered more than 50 signatures on a petition opposing the appointment.

After a bitter four-month process, on June 1, 1916, the Senate voted 47-22 to confirm Brandeis as the 67th Supreme Court Justice.

I spoke with A. Scott Berg, author of “Wilson,” on the following topics:

1. Scholar-President.

2. Public Intellectual.

3. Passionate Lover.

4. Idealist Warrior.

Photographer: Aloma/Putnam via Bloomberg

A. Scott Berg, author of "Wilson." Close

A. Scott Berg, author of "Wilson."

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Photographer: Aloma/Putnam via Bloomberg

A. Scott Berg, author of "Wilson."

5. Tragic Hero.

To buy this book in North America, click here.

(Lewis Lapham is the founder of Lapham’s Quarterly and the former editor of Harper’s magazine. He hosts “The World in Time” interview series for Bloomberg News.)

Muse highlights include Zinta Lundborg’s NYC Weekend and Greg Evans on movies.

To contact the writer on the story: Lewis Lapham in New York at lhl@laphamsquarterly.org.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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