Felix Frankfurter (November 15, 1882-February 22, 1965) was an American lawyer, professor, and jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States. He served on the Supreme Court from 1939 to 1962, and was a noted advocate of judicial restraint* in the judgments of the Court.
Frankfurter was born in Vienna, Austria and immigrated to New York City at the age of 12. After graduating from Harvard Law School, Frankfurter worked for Secretary of War Henry L. Stimson. During World War I, Frankfurter served as Judge Advocate General. After the war, he helped found the American Civil Liberties Union and returned to his position as professor at Harvard Law School. He became a friend and adviser of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who appointed him to fill the vacancy caused by the death of Benjamin Cardozo.
In May 1954, M. Paul Claussen, Jr., a 12 year old boy living in Alexandria, Virginia, sent a letter to Mr. Justice Felix Frankfurter in which he wrote that he was interested in “going into the law as career” and requested advice as to “some ways to start preparing myself while still in junior high school”.
This was the reply he received from Frankfurter:
“No one can be a truly competent lawyer unless he is a competent man. If I were you I would forget about any technical preparation for the law. The best way to prepare for the law is to be a well-read person. Thus, alone one can acquire the capacity to use the English language on paper and in speech and with the habits of clear thinking which only a truly liberal education can give. No less important for a lawyer is the cultivation of the imaginative faculties by reading poetry, seeing great paintings, in the original or in easily available reproductions, and listening to great music. Stock your mind with the deposit of much good reading, and widen and deepen your feelings by experiencing vicariously* as much as possible the wonderful mysteries of the universe, and forget about your future career”.
*Judicial Restraint is a theory of judicial interpretation that encourages judges to limit the exercise of their own power. It asserts that judges should hesitate to strike down laws unless they are obviously unconstitutional.
*vicariously – experienced in the imagination through the feelings or actions of another person.