Felix Frankfurter

Frankfurter headshot
Born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary, Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965) was the third of six children of a Jewish merchant who emigrated with his family from Vienna to New York in 1894. He graduated from City College of New York in 1902 and first in his class from Harvard Law School, where he later taught (1914-39). He served as assistant to Henry L. Stimson, US attorney for the Southern District of New York (1906-09) and secretary of war under President Taft (1911-13). Frankfurter’s influence on President Franklin Roosevelt was largely responsible for Stimson’s return as secretary of War in 1940.

Frankfurter was a legal adviser to President Woodrow Wilson at the Paris Peace Conference (1919). Immediately after World War I, he was an active
American Zionist and helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (1920). He delivered blistering attacks on the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti, encouraged by Justice Louis Brandeis under an arrangement that was not revealed until 1982. Brandeis, from his appointment on the Supreme Court in 1916 corresponded frequently with Frankfurter until 1939, when FDR appointed Frankfurter to the Supreme Court, and sent him stipends for legislative research and activities such as the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti.

When FDR became president in 1933, Frankfurter, who had advised FDR when he was governor of New York, advised him on New Deal legislation and other matters. He served on the Supreme Court from 1939 until 1962 when he retired. In July 1963 President John F. Kennedy awarded him the Medal of Freedom. Among his books are
The Business of the Supreme Court (with James Landis); Mr. Justice Holmes and the Supreme Court; The Case of Sacco and Vanzetti; and Felix Frankfurter Reminisces.

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