Felix Frankfurter

In teaching con law this semester, I was struck by something that crosses my mind every so often. Felix Frankfurter was obviously an influential teacher, scholar, political advisor, and judge.  He was also a fearless advocate for liberal causes in situations such as the Sacco and Vanzetti case.

At the risk of incurring the wrath of Harvard, though, he was a terrible writer.  I wince every time I have to read one of his opinions.  They’re often meandering, filled with irrelevant commentary, and hard to understand.  His academic prose, unfortunately, isn’t any better.  (His colleague Robert H. Jackson blows him away in this respect.)

Indeed, I’d be hard pressed to name a single Frankfurter opinion that is influential today.

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6 Responses

  1. alkali says:

    Frank Murphy, whom Frankfurter openly derided when he was on the Court, also wrote some opinions that hold up very nicely.

  2. Patrick says:

    How about his dissent in Lincoln Mills?

  3. Joe says:

    Maybe Rochin v. California.

  4. Anon. says:

    You’re right, but in one respect your comparison is unfair: Justice Jackson’s writing blows away that of every other justice.

  5. Michael says:

    In his favor: (1) He writes a lot better than most of us do in our second language. (2) In the ad law world, his opinion in Universal Camera v. NLRB remains important.

    Against him: (1) Dissent in Baker v. Carr. (2) Dissent in W. Va. Board of Ed v. Barnette.

    Depends on who you ask: It was apparently Frankfurter who came up with, and insisted on, the oxymoronic “all deliberate speed” in Brown II (though he got the phrase from Holmes, who got it from somewhere else).

  6. Len Rotman says:

    What about S.E.C. v. Chenery Corp., 318 U.S. 80 (1943), where he said:

    “… to say that a man is a fiduciary only begins analysis; it gives direction to further inquiry. To whom is he a fiduciary? What obligations does he owe as a fiduciary? In what respect has he failed to discharge these obligations? And what are the consequences of his deviation from duty?”

    This is a seminal reference in fiduciary law, where far too often judges fail to follow this sage advice.