Justice Felix Frankfurter

Justice Felix Frankfurter joined the U.S. Supreme Court on January 30, 1939, replacing Justice Benjamin Cardozo. Frankfurter was born on November 15, 1882 in Vienna, Austria (then the Austro-Hungarian Empire). In 1894, his family came to the U.S., and he grew up in New York City. Frankfurter graduated from the City College of New York in 1902 and later attended Harvard Law School. He graduated at the top of his class in 1906.

Frankfurter entered private practice after law school, but he soon became an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York under Henry Stimson. After Stimson was appointed as U.S. Secretary of War in 1911, Frankfurter took a legal position in the Bureau of Insular Affairs in the War Department. A few years later, he started teaching at Harvard Law School. Frankfurter rejoined the War Department during the First World War as an assistant to Secretary of War Newton Baker. He served on a commission that sought to resolve labor strikes, and he was Chairman of the War Labor Policies Board.

In 1920, Frankfurter helped found the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). He became an advisor to the administration of President Franklin Roosevelt in the 1930s as Roosevelt guided the country out of the Great Depression. On January 5, 1939, Roosevelt nominated Frankfurter to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on January 17, and he took the judicial oath at the end of the month.

Frankfurter is most famous for his philosophy of judicial restraint. He once wrote that the Court must not "pronounce policy" but instead "must observe a fastidious regard for limitations on its own power, and this precludes the Court’s giving effect to its own notions of what is wise or politic." Thus, Frankfurter often felt that laws and government actions should be upheld unless a constitutional violation was obvious. He took a relatively narrow view of First Amendment rights, for example, and he urged the Court to stay aloof from political issues like legislative apportionment. Frankfurter had several public clashes with Chief Justice Earl Warren, who led the Court away from judicial restraint toward a more assertive role.

Frankfurter retired from the Court on August 28, 1962 and was replaced by Justice Arthur Goldberg. He received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President John F. Kennedy a year later. Frankfurter died on February 22, 1965 in Washington, D.C. and was buried in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Selected Opinions by Justice Frankfurter:

Gomillion v. Lightfoot (1960)

Topic: Voting & Elections

Even the broad power of a state to fix the boundaries of its municipalities is limited by the Fifteenth Amendment, which forbids a state to deprive any citizen of the right to vote because of their race.

Cooper v. Aaron (1958)

Topic: Role of Courts; Equal Protection

State officials have a duty to obey federal court orders resting on the Supreme Court's considered interpretation of the Constitution. Also, state support of segregated schools through any arrangement, management, funds, or property cannot be squared with the Equal Protection Clause.

Perez v. Brownell (1958)

Topic: Immigration & National Security

Congress had the authority under its power to regulate foreign relations to provide that anyone who votes in a foreign political election shall lose their U.S. citizenship.

Beauharnais v. Illinois (1952)

Topic: Free Speech

In the face of a history of tension and violence and its frequent obligato of extreme racial and religious propaganda, a state legislature was not without reason in seeking ways to curb false or malicious defamation of racial and religious groups, made in public places and by means calculated to have a powerful emotional impact on those to whom it was presented.

Rochin v. California (1952)

Topic: Due Process; Criminal Trials & Prosecutions

Involuntary verbal confessions are inadmissible in a criminal trial under the Due Process Clause even though statements contained in them may be independently established as true. Coerced confessions offend the community's sense of fair play and decency.

Universal Camera Corp. v. NLRB (1951)

Topic: Government Agencies

A reviewing court is not barred from setting aside an agency decision when it cannot conscientiously find that the evidence supporting that decision is substantial, when viewed in the light that the record in its entirety furnishes, including the body of evidence opposed to the agency view.

Wolf v. Colorado (1949)

Topic: Search & Seizure

In a prosecution in a state court for a state crime, the Fourteenth Amendment does not forbid the admission of relevant evidence, even though obtained by an unreasonable search and seizure.

SEC v. Chenery Corp. (Chenery I) (1943)

Topic: Government Agencies

An administrative order cannot be upheld unless the grounds on which the agency acted in exercising its powers were those on which its action can be sustained.

Minersville School District v. Gobitis (1940)

Topic: Religion

A regulation requiring that pupils in public schools salute the flag and recite the pledge of allegiance was constitutional as applied to children entertaining a conscientious religious belief that such obeisance to the flag is forbidden by the Bible. (This decision was overruled by West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.)