Justice Kagan's visit highlights milestone year

By Professor Laura Rothstein

On January 28, 1916, Louis D. Brandeis was nominated to serve as a Justice on the United States Supreme Court. It would prove to be the longest nomination approval process in the history of the Supreme Court. It was contentious primarily because a number of special interest groups (big money and big power) were concerned about the impact he would have on shaping public policy. These special interests recognized the extraordinary influence that a man with such intelligence and persuasive power could have.

That influence has withstood the test of time. One hundred years after his nomination (which was finally approved on June 1, 1916), Justice Brandeis is known not only for his Supreme Court jurisprudence, but also his impact prior to his appointment, influencing the role of lawyers in public service, advocating for government accountability and transparency, and protecting privacy.

Louis D. Brandeis was born on November 13, 1856. His earliest memories were rooted in service, including helping his mother serve Union soldiers food and coffee from their front yard.

Brandeis left Louisville after the Civil War and finished his formal education in Europe and law school at Harvard. Although he never returned to live in Louisville, he visited family members often and remained closely connected to the city until his death in 1941.  He chose the Law School portico as the final resting place for his remains.

The University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law (named for him in 1997) has planned a year of special events to highlight not only the Brandeis impact on the Supreme Court and the legal profession, but also his connection to Louisville. We hope members of the community, including the legal community, can join us for the following events planned to date.

January 28 (the nomination date) marks (Professor Rothstein's) annual presentation to the Law School community to kick off the year. Every year, she gives a talk to students and others at the Law School about Brandeis and his connection to Louisville and the school.

In February (Black History Month), the Diversity Committee will sponsor a program that highlights the Brandeis Brief methodology of using economics and social policy in the development of desegregation and affirmative action theories. The February 9 event topic for the program is "Diversity in Schools: From Parents Involved to Fisher." At the program, the panel will present Louisville’s affirmative steps to achieve diversity before and after Parents Involved, as well as the looming implications of Fisher. The panel will include Frank Mellen Jr. (one of the Parents Involved attorneys) and Dr. Mikkaka Overstreet, faculty member in the College of Education.

The Jewish Community will host Dr. David Dalin in April. Dr. Dalin is an ordained rabbi and widely published scholar on American Jewish history.He is the author, co-author, or editor of 11 books, including The Presidents of the United States and the Jews. He is now completing a forthcoming book, The Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court, from Brandeis to Kagan - Their Lives and Legacies, that is scheduled for publication by the Brandeis University Press. The exact date and location are yet to be determined.

On May 11, members of the Kentucky Bar Association will be treated to a panel moderated by Howard Fineman (nationally recognized journalist and graduate of the Brandeis School of Law) that will feature Melvin Urofsky, author of numerous works on Brandeis and past recipient of the Brandeis Medal. The program will ask “What wisdom from Louis Brandeis can guide us today?” about a number of today’s most current issues. Urofsky will draw in his most recent book, Dissent and the Supreme Court, as the program addresses questions such as:

  • Could Brandeis be confirmed today?
  • What can we learn from Brandeis that would guide us about recent developments on issues such as free speech; big data; Edward Snowden; legalization of marijuana sales in some states; voting rights issues; the abortion debate; minimum wage increases; Facebook; the Affordable Care Act; the Citizens United decision?
  • How did his life in Kentucky and Louisville shape his judicial philosophy?
  • What influence remains in Supreme Court and lower court decisions?
  • What was his impact on legal education and legal developments as a result of his influence with his judicial clerks (many of whom became law professors and/or judges)?
  • The program will take place at the Galt House in Louisville on May 11 at the Kentucky Bar Association Convention.

On June 9 at the Warns-Render Institute on Labor and Employment Law, Professor Lance Liebman, former Executive Director of American Law Institute and former Dean of Columbia Law School, will be the featured speaker. His keynote address will discuss Brandeis and labor and employment law.

The highlight of the year will be the presentation of the Brandeis Medal to Justice Elena Kagan at a dinner event on September 15. Justice Kagan traces her seat to Justice Brandeis. Justice Kagan's life’s work reflects shared values with Justice Brandeis, even before she became a member of the Court. Having clerked for Justice Thurgood Marshall, she can appreciate the Brandeis Brief technique used by then-attorney Thurgood Marshall in the NAACP cases leading to Brown v. Board of Education. She also shares with Justice Brandeis an appreciation of the value of legal education, careful thought and attention to First Amendment speech regulation, and praise for eloquence in her judicial opinions. Details of the event will be provided later this year.

The Brandeis School of Law will also co-host an event honoring all past Brandeis Medal recipients in Washington D.C. in October.

The influence of Louis Brandeis on American jurisprudence and numerous policy issues is profound. Our legal community can be proud of his connection to Louisville. We hope you can join us for some of the planned events to honor and recognize that connection and his influence.

Laura Rothstein is Distinguished University Scholar and Professor of Law, University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law. She served as Dean of the Brandeis School of Law from 2000 to 2005. Appreciation is extended to Professors Leslie Abramson, Kurt Metzmeier, and Scott Campbell for their assistance on planning these programs.