In 1915, at the age of 33, Harvard Law Professor Felix Frankfurter lectured the lawyers of the archconservative American Bar Association on law as an instrument of reform. Frankfurter made a special entreaty to young lawyers: “We make of them clever pleaders, but not lawyers, if they fail to catch the glorious vision of the law, not as a harsh Procrustean bed into which all persons and all societies must inexorably be fitted, but as a vital agency for human betterment.”

For his part, Frankfurter became deeply immersed in the constitutional challenge to major social and economic reform legislation of the day. His work followed that of his mentor, Louis Brandeis, who as a lawyer had successfully defended the constitutionality of state maximum hours legislation. Working pro bono, Professor Frankfurter represented the National Consumer’s League in several cases involving challenges to state maximum hours and minimum wage legislation. When Frankfurter argued one of these cases before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1916, his most hostile interrogator was the viciously anti-Semitic associate justice James McReynolds. While defending the constitutionality of the ten-hour maximum hour regulation for women workers, Frankfurter was repeatedly hectored by Reynolds.

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