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Louis D. Brandeis, Supreme Court Justice

In this Et Cetera, a man who changed the face of the U.S. Supreme Court – Justice Louis D. Brandeis.

Born in Louisville on November 13, 1856, Louis Brandeis was the youngest of four children in a German-Jewish household.

According to Brandeis at 150: The Louisville Perspective from Butler Books, economic hardship forced his father Adolph Brandeis to dissolve his once successful business and moved the family to Europe when Louis was 16 years-old.

Louis continued his studies first in Germany, then back in the States at Harvard Law School, where he graduated first in his class. At that time, he was less than 21 years of age!

Known as “the people’s attorney,” he became the first Jewish justice on the U.S. Supreme Court at age 60.

Although Justice Brandeis never again lived in Louisville, he continued to visit and correspond frequently with family.

He also showed great generosity to the University of Louisville, in particular to its law school. Brandeis, a champion of education, donated a very important collection to the university’s library and secured several other collections in various fields to its benefit.

Due to failing health, Justice Louis Brandeis retired from the Supreme Court in 1939; he died in 1941. His ashes are buried at the U of L law school, which was renamed in his honor in 1997.

More quick facts:

  • Like the Brandeis family, more than half of Louisville’s foreign-born population in the mid-19th Century were German.
  • Born Louis David Brandeis, the justice was named after his mother’s brother, Lewis N. Dembitz. Dembitz, a lawyer and abolitionist, was one of three nominators of Abraham Lincoln at the Chicago National Republican Convention of 1860. Louis adopted his uncle’s surname as his middle name to honor his mentor.
  • The Brandeis family once lived in Madison, IN before settling across the river in Louisville.
  • According to the Courier-Journal, Brandeis handed out hot biscuits to Union soldiers as a young boy during the Civil War. (Stephen J. Ford, “Louis Dembitz Brandeis: A Sesquicentennial Appraisal,” Nov. 12, 2006)
  • Louis Brandeis attended Louisville’s Male High School, where he excelled in his studies.
  • According to Brandeis at 150: The Louisville Perspective, Brandeis was one of the first attorneys to organize his office according to specialties, although he considered himself a general practitioner.
  • The Encyclopedia of Louisville, states that Louis Brandeis was a key advisor to Woodrow Wilson during the presidential campaign of 1912.
  • In 1922, Louis Brandeis made his last trip to Louisville, to visit his brother, Alfred.
  • His wife, Alice, is also buried at the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law at the University of Louisville. The couple married in 1891 and had two daughters, Susan and Elizabeth.
Program 209
The LEO weekly, photographer Keith Auerbach, a visit to the Little Loomhouse, and remembering Justice Louis Brandeis. Plus, an interview with Bennie Ivory, executive editor and vice president for news at The Courier-Journal. (#209)