Born in Vienna, Austria, on November 15, 1882, Felix Frankfurter came to the United States in 1894, where he grew up in New York City. After graduating from the City College of New York and Harvard Law, he worked as an assistant to Henry Stimson in the office of the District Attorney for the Southern District of New York.
In 1914, Frankfurter became a member of the Harvard Law faculty. During the World War, he held a number of positions in government, returning to Harvard in 1919. One of the founders of the American Civil Liberties Union, Frankfurter was known as a staunch supporter of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the election of 1932 and was one of FDR`s leading advisers.
Roosevelt appointed Frankfurter to the Supreme Court in 1939. Expected to be a liberal judge, Frankfurter soon gained a reputation as a conservative, more due to his strongly held belief about the appropriate limits of judicial review than personal conservatism.
This position was clearly evident when Frankfurter wrote the majority opinion in Gobitis in 1940. The need of the state to promote patriotism overbalanced the individual liberty of noncompliance. When the Supreme Court reversed itself in 1943, Frankfurter wrote a dissent, in which he separated his personal inclinations from what he regarded as his duty to the law:
One who belongs to the most vilified and persecuted minority in history is not likely to be insensible to the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution. Were my purely personal attitude relevant, I should wholeheartedly associate myself with the general libertarian views in the Court`s opinion, representing, as they do, the thought and action of a lifetime. But, as judges, we are neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Catholic nor agnostic. We owe equal attachment to the Constitution, and are equally bound by our judicial obligations whether we derive our citizenship from the earliest or the latest immigrants to these shores.As a member of this Court, I am not justified in writing my private notions of policy into the Constitution, no matter how deeply I may cherish them or how mischievous I may deem their disregard.
Frankfurter remained on the court until 1962. He died in 1965.