‘Anti-Semitic’ Taft letter opposing Brandeis nomination to be auctioned

Marcy Oster

(JTA) — A letter written by former President William Howard Taft opposing the nomination of Louis Brandeis to become a Supreme Court justice and called anti-Semitic is on the auction block.

The four-page letter, which Taft wrote to the Washington-based Jewish journalist Gus Karger and making reference to Brandeis’ Jewishness, is part of an online auction Thursday by Nate D. Sanders Auctions in Los Angeles.

Bidding for the letter, which the auction house calls “historically important and anti-Semitic,” has been set to start at $15,000. It is said to be in fair to good condition.

Brandeis, who would go on to be the first Jewish justice on the high court, was nominated by Taft’s successor, President Woodrow Wilson. Taft reportedly felt slighted at not being the nominee.


In the letter, Taft rips Wilson’s ”Machiavellian” and ”satanic skill” in his selection of Brandeis, whom he calls ”cunning,” a ”hypocrite” and a ”power for evil.”

Taft wrote: “The intelligent Jews of this country are as much opposed to Brandeis’ nomination as I am, but there are politics in the Jewish community, which with their clannishness embarrass leading and liberal and clear-sighted Jews. I venture to think that the leading Jews of New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and the other cities, who are not bound up in emotional uplifting, and who do not now tend to socialism, are as much troubled over this appointment and as indignant as any of us can be, but Brandeis’ foresight as to himself has strangled their expression lest they arouse bitter criticism against themselves by their own people.”

Taft called Brandeis’ “extreme Judaism” a “plant of very late growth,” alleging that he embraced Judaism  in order to secure an appointment as U.S. attorney general, which he did not get, Taft says, because “the leading Jews of the country told Wilson that Brandeis was not a representative Jew.”

Taft said “Brandeis has adopted Zionism, favors the new Jerusalem, and has metaphorically been re-circumcised. He has gone all over the country making speeches, arousing the Jewish spirit, even wearing a hat in the Synagogue while making a speech in order to attract those bearded Rabbis whose invitation to the silver wedding in such numbers you promoted. If it were necessary, I am sure he would have grown a beard to convince them that he was a Jew of Jews.”

In 1916, the Senate approved the Brandeis nomination by a vote of 47-22.

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