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Louis Brandeis

When Did the First Supreme Court Confirmation Hearing Happen?

The Supreme Court is profoundly rooted in its history: among the three arms of the federal government, it is the one that looks the most like it did when it was first established. The Supreme Court was established under the United States Constitution, and it has a long and illustrious history since its inception. But do you know when did the first Supreme Court Confirmation Hearing happen in the United States?

In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson nominated a Jew for the Supreme Court, and a confirmation hearing was held, making this the first-ever Supreme Court confirmation hearing.

The Controversial Nomination of Louis Brandeis

President Woodrow Wilson appointed his adviser Louis Brandeis to the Supreme Court in 1916. Lucas Powe, a law and government professor at the University of Texas, explains what happened next.

Brandeis was a spectacularly controversial nomination. First, he was the first Jew ever to be nominated for the court, and there was blatant anti-Semitism there. Second, he’d been a very successful lawyer. And after he got really rich, he became what seems to be the first public-interest lawyer in American history, and he started to take on corporations that formerly he would have been taking money from as their advocate, and thus he made a lot of enemies. And former President Taft, Harvard President Lowell, former Attorney General Wickersham, former Secretary of State Elihu Root and several former presidents of the American Bar Association all opposed his nomination.

Lucas Powe, Professor, Law and Government, University of Texas and Author of “The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789-2008”

(Source: NPR)

Why was Louis Brandeis’s Nomination Opposed by Several Former Presidents of the American Bar Association?

Brandeis was appointed to the United States Supreme Court by President Woodrow Wilson in 1916 after a contentious process that aimed to portray him as a radical reformer and was tainted with anti-Semitism. He was the first Jew to be appointed to the Supreme Court. The New York Times characterized Brandeis as a contender, a striver after change and reforms.

Brandeis had already left an apparent effect on the law long before joining the Supreme Court. He earned the nickname people’s attorney as a Boston lawyer for his pro gratis work in the public interest. He advocated for worker rights, such as fair wages and working hours. (Source: Brandeis University)

Guided by the Light of Reason

It is a photographic history of Louis Dembitz Brandeis’ life and times. The book was created during the 2006-07 academic year to commemorate the late Supreme Court Justice and university namesake’s 150th birthday. Louis D. Brandeis Legacy Fund for Social Justice gave support. (Source: Brandeis University)

Who was Professor Lucas A. Powe Jr.?

Professor Lucas A. Powe worked as a clerk for Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas before joining the University of Texas faculty in 1971. The Supreme Court and the American Elite, 1789-2008 is his most recent publication in 2009. His three award-winning books previously were American Broadcasting and the First Amendment in California 1987, The Fourth Estate and the Constitution in California 1991, and The Warren Court and American Politics, which reflected a split career as a historian and a First Amendment scholar, particularly of the electronic media. He has also co-authored and written other articles, including Regulating Broadcast Programming (MIT, 1994). Powe is also a Professor of Government and has been a primary contributor to the PBS series The Supreme Court since 2007. (Source: The Federal Society)

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