Felix Frankfurter Dies; Retired Judge Was 82

Felix Frankfurter, former professor at the Law School and retired Justice of the United States Supreme Court, died yesterday at the age of 82.

Justice Frankfurter was taken to George Washington University Hospital in Washington late Sunday after he suffered an acute heart attack at his home. Death came at 5:05 p.m. yesterday. The Justice had been in poor health since his retirement from the Court in August 1962. He had retired when he failed to regain his health after a stroke suffered in his chambers at the Court in April 1962.

Frankfurter, who was graduated from the Law School in 1906, was Professor of Law from 1914 to 1924 and Byrne Professor of Administrative Law from then to 1939. He was the ninth of 11 Law School graduates to sit upon the Supreme Court. In that list, which stretches from Justice Benjamin R. Cutis (1851-1857) to a sitting Justice, William J. Brennan, Frankfurter is certain to be ranked with two of his friends, Justices Holmes and Brandeis, as a giant figure in the shaping of American constitutional law.

The road to the Supreme Court began in Vienna, Austria, where Frankfurter was born in 1882. He came to the United States in 1894 and graduated from the College of the City of New York in 1902.

After graduation, Frankfurter took a job as clerk in the Tenement House Department in New York City to earn money for law school. He tried night schools, first New York Law School and then New York University Law School, and found them bad. After saving some money he decided to enroll at Columbia Law School as a day student. On his way to Morningside Heights to matriculate, Frankfurter met a City College classmate, and the two of them ended up going off to Coney Island for the day. Before Frankfurter ever got around to going up to Columbia to register, a friend in the Tenement House Department suggested that he go to Harvard Law School.


The Law School to which he came so casually was to change Frankfurter's life, and he was to change the school. His record at the Law School--first in his class in each of his three years--opened the doors to his career as public servant, teacher of law, and judicial statesman.

Eleven present members of the law faculty either served Frankfurter as law clerk while he was on the Court or were chosen by him as clerks for Justice Holmes or Brandeis. Those who were Frankfurter's clerks are: John H. Mansfield '51, Albert M. Sacks, Frank E. A. Sander '48, Donald T. Trautman '46, and James Vorenberg '49.

Frankfurter chose as clerks for Holmes: Mark DeWolfe Howe '28, professor of Law; W. Barton Leach '21, Story Professor of Law; and Arthur E. Sutherland, Bussey Professor of Law. Brandeis's clerks were: Paul A. Freund, Carl M. Loeb University Professor; Henry M. Hart Jr. '26, Dane professor of Law; W. Barton Leach '21, Byrne Professor of Administrative Law. One professor in the College, David Reisman '31, Henry Ford II Professor of Social Sciences, was also chosen by Frankfurter as a Brandeis clerk.

After his Law School graduation, Frankfurter joined the New York law office of Hornblower, Byrne, Miller & Potter. But within a year he left private practice to work for Henry L. Stimson, United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York. When Stimson became Secretary of War in Taft's cabinet, Frankfurter followed him to Washington, working as his assistant. In those years in Washington Frankfurter had a hand in the founding of the New Republic.

In 1914, he was called to the Law School. Although Frankfurter came to Cambridge, he continued to be deeply involved in national affairs. During the first World War, Wilson brought him back to Washington, first as Counsel of the President's Mediation Commission and then as Chairman of the War Labor Policies Board. In the thirties, Frankfurter was a close adviser of Franklin D. Roosevelt, and when Roosevelt became President, Frankfurter supplied him with bright young Harvard Law men to help staff the alphabet soup of New Deal agencies.

But the center of Frankfurter's life in those years was Harvard Law School. In his 23 years on the faculty he sent out hundreds of students fired by his personality, his learning, his passionate concern for justice under law. One of his students, Erwin N. Griswold, Dean and Langdell Professor of Law, has recalled that Frankfurter taught courses in public utilities, administrative law, and Federal jurisdiction, but that "all of these ... were essentially courses in Frankfurter--or perhaps more accurately, in being stimulated by Frankfurter."

In 1939 President Roosevelt appointed Frankfurter to the Supreme Court seat once held by Joseph Story. Story had taught at Harvard Law School while on the bench and Frankfurter too continued to be a teacher, although his formal connection with the school ended.

In Frankfurter's first Supreme Court conference, Chief Justice Hughes several times addressed him as "Professor Frankfurter," and then, catching the slip, apologetically retracted the term. Frankfurter interrupted, saying "Please, Mr. Chief Justice, don't apologize. I know of no more honorable title than that of Professor." Bereft of the formal title, Frankfurter nevertheless acted like the teacher he had been. Questioning lawyers who appeared before the Court as he had his students, writing opinions for the Court that might have been learned articles in the Harvard Law Review, Frankfurter served for 22 years.

His greatest contribution was not in the particular areas of the law he illuminated, but in the conception of a judge's role that he forged.

Deeply believing that judges must give wide scope to the other, elected, branches of government, Frankfurter sought to restrain the exercise of judicial power. The picture he painted of the place of a judge in a free society was a complex and subtle one about which lawyers and judges will argue for generations to come, but it is already clear that Frankfurter's influence on the way Americans think about law has been wide and deep.

Frankfurter is survived by his wife, the former Marion Denman