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Felix Frankfurter Edit Profile

judge , lawyer

Felix Frankfurter was a jurist, who served as an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Frankfurter was born in Vienna and immigrated to New York at the age of 12. He graduated from Harvard Law School and was active politically, helping to found the American Civil Liberties Union. He was a friend and adviser of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1939. Frankfurter served on the Supreme Court f


Felix Frankfurter was born in Vienna, Austria, on November 15, 1882, to Leopold and Emma Winter Frankfurter. He immigrated to New York City with his parents when he was 12 years old and became, later in life, a naturalized citizen.


Frankfurter obtained his early education from the public schools of New York City and later graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1902. After working for a year, he enrolled in Harvard Law School, graduating with an outstanding academic record in 1906. While he was in law school he was challenged by Louis Brandeis, whose devotion to a variety of public causes had earned him renown as “the people’s lawyer,” to devote himself to public service. Similarly, he was chastised by the philosopher William James when the latter discovered that Frankfurter intended to work for a New York firm after graduation.


After being admitted to the bar, he became an assistant U.S. attorney in New York under Henry L. Stimson in 1906 and, when Stimson became secretary of war, took a legal post in the War Department in Washington in 1911. In 1914 Frankfurter was appointed a professor of law at Harvard, and he retained that post until 1939. He took a leave of absence in 1917 to return to Washington, first as counsel to the industrial Mediation Commission under President Woodrow Wilson and for the next two years as chairman of the War Labor Policies Board. Frankfurter returned to the law school in the fall of 1919. He became a founder of the American Civil Liberties Union (1920) and over a period of years was an adviser to the National Consumers League and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

While at Harvard Frankfurter was a prolific writer for legal journals and a constant contributor to the New Republic.

Frankfurter's influence while he was at Harvard was widespread. Many of his students, after graduation, went into government service, especially during the early New Deal period.

In 1932 Frankfurter rejected a proffered seat on the supreme judicial court of Massachusetts. In 1933 he refused President Roosevelt's offer to name him solicitor general. Instead, in 1933 and 1934 he was a visiting professor at Oxford University, in England. He gave up his Harvard post in 1939, when Roosevelt appointed him an associate justice of the Supreme Court.

Considering his overall civil liberties record, it can perhaps be said that he was a middle-of-the-roader. As the Fred M. Vinson Court retreated from some of the expansions of civil liberties made by the Stone Court, Frankfurter more often than not swung to the side represented by Hugo Black and William O. Douglas, generally strong civil libertarians. As the Earl Warren Court significantly enlarged individual rights, Frankfurter more often sided with Thomas C. Clark and John M. Harlan, who were, on the whole, rather conservative. In his last three full court terms, Frankfurter dissented only once from decisions that rejected claims of invasion of liberty and he dissented from most of the decisions that recognized those claims.

As a justice Frankfurter wrote several hundred opinions. Many of these were special concurrences, often of considerable length. A few weeks before illness compelled his withdrawal from active service early in 1962 and his resignation in August.

Frankfurter retired in 1962 after suffering a stroke and was succeeded by Arthur Goldberg. He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963.

Felix Frankfurter died from congestive heart failure in 1965 at the age of 82. His remains are interred in the Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

There are two extensive collections of Frankfurter's papers: one at the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress and the other at Harvard University. Both are fully open for research and have been distributed to other libraries on microfilm. However, in 1972 it was discovered that more than a thousand pages of his archives, including his correspondence with Lyndon Johnson and others, had been stolen from the Library of Congress; the crime remains unsolved (2015), and the perpetrator and motive are unknown.


As a justice Frankfurter consistently adhered to that view, often to his liberal admirers' dismay, as when he carried it over from the field of economic regulation, to which it properly belonged, to the field of civil liberties. In 1940 he wrote the Court decision upholding disciplinary action taken against children of Jehovah's Witnesses who refused to obey laws requiring them to salute the flag, which they felt violated their religious belief against the worship of any symbol.

In cases challenging confessions or searches and seizures, Frankfurter insisted on strict observance of the rules the Constitution laid down to protect individuals from the excessive zeal of law enforcement agencies.


Frankfurter’s philosophy of judicial restraint gave greater weight to federal or state legislative action than to individual rights or the victims of legal injustice. In Wolf v. Colorado (1949), for example, he insisted that the evidence illegally seized did not have to be excluded by the court, and in Baker v. Carr (1962) he unsuccessfully argued that inequitable legislative representation is a “political controversy” not subject to judicial review. Thus, Frankfurter’s pre-court liberal reputation gave way to a conservative label at a time when the liberal philosophy called for an active judicial process.