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Felix Frankfurter - Supreme Court Justice

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When Roosevelt was given the opportunity to refill a number of the Supreme Court justice positions after a series of retirements, he nominated Frankfurter. Frankfurter was sworn in as an associate justice on January 30, 1939. Frankfurter's passion for the democratic process dominated his case deliberations. He dedicated his twenty-three years on the Supreme Court as a leading proponent of judicial restraint, meaning he believed the country's best hope for the protection of democratic values rested within the elected branches of government —the legislative and executive branches—not the judicial branch. (The legislative branch makes laws; the executive branch puts the laws into effect; and the judicial branch enforces the laws by administering justice.)

Frankfurter argued in favor of leaving it to the legislative branch to pass the nation's laws, which the courts would then interpret. This legal position angered and frustrated many of those who had initially been pleased with his appointment to the Supreme Court. Many wanted Frankfurter to be much more aggressive in expanding the constitutional safeguards for defendants in criminal cases, as he had during the Red Scare of the 1920s.

Nonetheless Frankfurter remained true to his earliest convictions of judicial restraint throughout his career. He retired from the Court on August 28, 1962, following a stroke. Felix Frankfurter died on February 22, 1965, at the age of eighty-two. The Supreme Court adopted many of his earlier beliefs concerning defendants' rights to fair trials after his death. The Court passed a series of rulings in the late 1960s greatly altering the criminal justice process.

[back] Felix Frankfurter - A Harvard Legal Adviser

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