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Copyright (c) 1995 New York University Law Review
New York University Law Review

BIOGRAPHIES OF TITANS: HOLMES, BRANDEIS, AND OTHER OBSESSIONS: THE CANONIZATION OF HOLMES AND BRANDEIS: EPISTEMOLOGY AND JUDICIAL REPUTATIONS

June, 1995

New York University Law Review

70 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 576

Author

G. Edward White *

Excerpt



Introduction:
The Canonization Phenomenon
 
I am concerned in this article with the singular elevation of Justices Oliver Wendell Holmes and Louis Brandeis to the status of professional and cultural icons in the decade of the 1930s. The phenomenon of Holmes's and Brandeis's canonization is unique in judicial historiography. Other Justices, such as John Marshall, have developed exalted reputations over time, but Marshall's reputation has maintained a relative constancy from the time of his death in 1835. 1 The images and reputations of additional Justices have fluctuated widely, such as those of John Harlan the Elder, who was transformed by commentators from an eccentric to a visionary as the jurisprudence of his dissenting opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson 2 took root, 3 or Felix Frankfurter, who passed from revered to ridiculed status in two recent decades. 4 Holmes's and Brandeis's canonization, however, has been unprecedented in three respects. It could not have been anticipated from the reaction to their early years on the Supreme Court. It came suddenly and overwhelmingly, as if their greatness had been grasped by everyone at once. Finally, it has endured, in the sense of Holmes and Brandeis remaining objects of academic fascination, for more than sixty years after its first flowering.

I began this exercise by attempting to discern why the canonization of Holmes and Brandeis was a singular event in judicial historiography. In the course of that exploration, I found that there were distinct stages in the canonization process. First was a period of ...
 
 
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