Louis D. Brandeis: An Inspiring Life
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Letter from President Woodrow Wilson to the U.S. Senate

Printed on May 9, 1916


Congressional Record - Senate
The White House
Washington, May 5, 1916

MY DEAR SENATOR: I am very much obliged to you for giving me an opportunity to make clear to the Judiciary Committee my reasons for nominating Mr. Louis D. Brandeis to fill the vacancy in the Supreme Court of the United States created by the death of Mr. Justice Lamar, for I am profoundly interested in the confirmation of the appointment by the Senate.

There is probably no more important duty imposed upon the President in connection with the general administration of the Government than that of naming members of the Supreme Court; and I need hardly tell you that I named Mr. Brandeis as a member of that great tribunal only because I knew him to be singularly qualified by learning, by gifts, and by character for the position.

Many charges have been made against Mr. Brandeis; the report of your subcommittee has already made it plain to you and to the country at large - how unfounded these charges were. They threw a great deal more light upon the character and motives of those with whom they originated than upon the qualifications of Mr. Brandeis. I myself looked into them three years ago when I desired to make Mr. Brandeis a member of my Cabinet and found that they proceeded for the most part from those who hated Mr. Brandeis because he had refused to be serviceable to them in the promotion of their own selfish interests, and from those whom they had prejudiced and misled. The propaganda in this matter has been very extraordinary and very distressing to those who love fairness and value the dignity of the great professions.

I perceived from the first that the charges were intrinsically incredible by anyone who had really known Mr. Brandeis. I have known him. I have tested him by seeking his advice upon some of the most difficult and perplexing public questions about which it was necessary for me to form a judgment. I have dealt with him in matters where nice questions of honor and fair play, as well as large questions of justice and the public benefit, were involved. In every matter in which I have made test of his judgment and point of view I have received from him counsel singularly enlightening, singularly clear-sighted and judicial, and, above all, full of moral stimulation. He is a friend of all just men and a lover of the right; and he knows more than how to talk about the right--he knows how to set it forward in the face of its enemies. I knew from direct personal knowledge of the man what I was doing when I named him for the highest and most responsible tribunal of the Nation.

Of his extraordinary ability as a lawyer no man who is competent to judge can speak with anything but the highest admiration. You will remember that in opinion of the late Chief Justice Fuller he was the ablest man who ever appeared before the Supreme Court of the United States. “He is also,” the Chief Justice added, “absolutely fearless in the discharge of his duties.”

Those who have resorted to him for assistance in settling great industrial disputes can testify to his fairness and love of justice. In the troublesome controversies between the garment workers and manufacturers of New York City, for example, he gave a truly remarkable proof of his judicial temperament and had what must have been the great satisfaction of rendering decisions which both sides were willing to accept as disinterested and even-handed.

Mr. Brandeis has rendered many notable services to the city and State with which his professional life has been identified. He successfully directed the difficult campaign which resulted in obtaining cheaper gas for the city of Boston. It was chiefly under his guidance and through his efforts that legislation was secured in Massachusetts which authorized savings banks to issue insurance policies for small sums at much reduced rates. And some gentlemen who tried very hard to obtain control by the Boston Elevated Railroad Company of the subways of the city for a period of ninety-nine years can probably testify as to his ability as the people’s advocate when public interests call for an effective champion. He rendered these services without compensation, and earned, whether he got it or not, the gratitude of every citizen of the State and city he served. These are but a few of the services of this kind he has freely rendered. It will hearten friends of community and public rights throughout the country to see his quality signally recognized by his elevation to the Supreme Bench; for the whole country is aware of his quality and is interested in this appointment.

I did not in making choice of Mr. Brandeis ask for or depend upon “endorsements.” I acted upon public knowledge and personal acquaintance with the man, and preferred to name a lawyer for this great office whose abilities and character were so widely recognized that he needed no endorsement. I did, however, personally consult many men whose judgment I had great confidence, and am happy to say was supported in my selection by the voluntary recommendation of the Attorney General of the United States, who argued Mr. Brandeis upon my consideration independently of any suggestion from me.

Let me say by way of summing up, my dear Senator, that I nominated Mr. Brandeis for the Supreme Court because it was, and is, my deliberate judgment that, of all the men now at the bar whom it has been my privilege to observe, test, and know, he is exceptionally qualified. I cannot speak to highly of his impartial, impersonal, orderly, and constructive mind, his rare analytical powers, his deep human sympathy, his profound acquaintance with the historical roots of our institutions and insight into their spirit, or of the many evidences he has given of being imbued to the very heart with our American ideals of justice and equality of opportunity; of his knowledge of modern economic conditions and of the way they bear upon the masses of the people, or of his genius in getting persons to unite in common and harmonious action and look with frank and kindly eyes into each other’s minds, who had before been heated antagonists. This friend of justice and of men will ornament the high court of which we are all so justly proud. I am glad to have had the opportunity to pay him this tribute of admiration and of confidence; and I beg that your committee will accept this nomination as coming from me quick with a sense of public obligation and responsibility.

With warmest regard,
Cordially and sincerely, yours, Woodrow Wilson.

CREATOR Woodrow Wilson
DATE 05/09/1916
LOCATION Washington, D.C.
DESCRIPTION Extract from the Congressional Record
FORMAT Text (Letter)
COLLECTION Louis Dembitz Brandeis Collection
BOX, SERIES 63, I.IV.a.1
RIGHTS Copyright restrictions may apply. For permission to copy or use this image, contact the Robert D. Farber University Archives & Special Collections Department, Brandeis University Library