Sunday, September 27, 2009

Books of Note: Brandeis Biography


The new biography of Justice Louis Brandeis by Melvin I. Urofsky is excerpted in the NYT today here.  There are also several reviews:  The Boston Globe Review is here;   Adam Liptak's review for the daily NYT is here;  Alan Dershowitz's glowing review in the Sunday NYT Book Review here.  Dershowitz describes Brandeis with a contemporary flair:

Today, Brandeis is seen by liberals as their patron saint because of his views on speech, privacy, liberty and social welfare, yet conservatives claim him as well, because of his commitment to judicial restraint. In many ways he defies labeling. He demonstrated through his judicial decisions that a living constitution, responsive to changing needs, is not incompatible with a modest view of the role of judges. He rejected judicial activism in favor of allowing legislatures β€” the voice of the people β€” to expand rights and extend protections to the most vulnerable. He said of the Supreme Court that β€œthe most important thing we do is not doing.”

This was, of course, easier to say in his day, when legislatures, for the most part, were more progressive than courts.

At more than 950 pages, the biography promises to be comprehensive.   In the excerpt, Urofsky notes that Brandeis was not an introspective man, making the biographer's efforts at portraying Brandeis' inner life rather difficult.  But given Brandeis' active and multiple careers, there is certainly much to interest readers.


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