Thursday, September 24, 2009

Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis on Labor Issues

On Wednesday, September 30, Professor Melvin Urofsky joins us for a Tenement Talk about Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice and a passionate, outspoken man who sat on the Court during an electrifying time in US history (1916-39). Professor Urofsky will be guest-blogging the next two days to give us a little bit of insight into Justice Brandeis.

History records Brandeis as a friend of labor—the man who devised the Brandeis brief to win Court approval of wages and hours laws, the lawyer that both sides trusted in the great New York garment strike of 1910, and who in 1916 received the full-hearted support of labor leaders like Samuel Gompers when Woodrow Wilson nominated him to the Supreme Court.

Yet there is another side of Brandeis as well. As the attorney for the Typothetae, the association of Boston printers, he broke a strike by going to court to get an injunction, the very judicial tool hated and feared by organized labor in the early twentieth century. He debated Samuel Gompers over whether labor unions should be incorporated. Brandeis believed they should be, so they would be both responsible in court for ill-advised actions and also be able to sue when wronged.

Although some of my fellow historians paint Brandeis as a great liberal friend of organized labor, I think they are mistaken. He believed in the right to organize and bargain collectively, but he would have been just as appalled by the excesses of Big Labor after World War II as he was by the actions of Big Business in the progressive period.

- Posted by Melvin Urofsky. Special thanks to Pantheon Books,

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