Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court: From Brandeis to Kagan. By David G. Dalin. Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2017. xiii + 384 pp.
The eight Jews who have been appointed to the US Supreme Court personify Jewish political power and/or professional success. David G. Dalin never says as much, but it is presumably this supposition that inspired his book Jewish Justices of the Supreme Court: From Brandeis to Kagan. This work spotlights the Jews who have served or currently serve on America's highest court. Dalin's book proceeds chronologically. Chapter One examines presidents' appointment of Jewish lawyers to less prominent posts. The eight subsequent chapters discuss the justices' careers and relationships with the presidents who appointed them and then assess their Jewish legacies.
Scholarship about American Jewish legal practitioners can be divided into a handful of categories: biographies, autobiographies, texts that address the nexus between Jewish lawyers and antisemitism, and those that discuss Jewish lawyers and judges but not as Jews. Dalin's work, a collective biography that presents short narratives of the justices' lives, falls neatly into the first of these. It is not a group biography, as it does not draw parallels between the justices' lives or reveal much interaction between them. Yet Dalin's text is also something of a departure from contemporary American Jewish histories, which tend to define "Jewish" broadly. Dalin's work, by contrast, defines Jewish primarily as a religious designation. His evaluation of the justices' Jewishness measures the degree to which they performed normative religious practices and, to a lesser extent, considers their encounters with antisemitism and involvement with Jewish communal organizations.
Using this definition, Dalin concludes that Louis D. Brandeis's Jewish legacy is "complicated" (75). Brandeis was cremated, which is against Jewish law, and Kaddish was not recited at his funeral, yet he legitimized Zionism for many American Jews and Christians. Felix Frankfurter's legacy is "enigmatic" (181). He worked for a Protestant firm, never attended synagogue, and married a Protestant. He did, however, request that Kaddish be read at his funeral. Abe Fortas wed a non-Jew, abandoned Orthodoxy, and avoided Jewish communal life, and thus his "Jewish religious legacy was negligible" (241). Arthur Goldberg, a lifelong Zionist, hired many Jewish law clerks, advancing their careers at a time when...