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February 22: Justice Frankfurter

February 22, 2014

Frankfurter-Justice-FelixVienna-born Felix Frankfurter, a City College graduate who became, after Louis Brandeis and Benjamin Cardozo, the third Jew to serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, died at 82 on this date in 1965. Frankfurter, a descendant of many generations of rabbis, was a graduate of Harvard Law and a founder of the American Civil LIberties Union at the height of the Palmer Raids. He was a progressive in the Progressive Era mold, supporting the minimum wage, workers rights, the League of Nations, and anti-trust legislation, but once he was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1939, Frankfurter proved to be a zealous advocate of judicial restraint and states’ rights. This led him late in his career to dissent often from the groundbreaking civil rights decisions of the Warren Court and to find language that would postpone their implementation. A non-observant, intermarried Jew, Frankfurter was involved with the Zionist movement and helped lobby President Woodrow Wilson to encourage Great Britain’s Balfour Declaration. In 1918, Frankfurter participated in the founding conference of the American Jewish Congress, and the following year he was a Zionist delegate to the Paris Peace Conference.

“[U]nsatisfactory, remediable social conditions, if unattended, give rise to radical movements far transcending the original impulse.” —Felix Frankfurter