Shreveport Times/August 3, 1948
New York. Aug. 2.—If Felix Frankfurter had taken only the part that a Supreme Court justice normally takes in the social and intellectual life of Washington, there would be no interest in his influence on the character and the political direction of the American government, at home and abroad. No written requirement forbids a justice to do any of the things Frankfurter did. He had a right to plant his protégés, friends, stooges or political and ideological agents wherever he could. He had a legal right to plant them in the War Department, where he finally did put in his old friend, Henry I. Stimson, as secretary at the age of 73, first jostling Harold Ickes and Frank Murphy out of the way. He had a right to stick in two more selected plants to assist Stimson and keep an eye on him. He had a legal right to recommend and see to the placement of men who were, to his mind and for his purposes, valuable servants of the government in the State Department and in the agencies which absolutely rule the radio industry under a policy saturated with communism. He had this right, but such interference certainly was unusual and unbecoming. And, by the standards of many Americans, it was unethical.
Frankfurter was a judge up to his eyes in politics. He was pushing, shoving, elbowing into business that was no proper affair of any man sitting on the Supreme Court. Foreign relations were none of his business. He was an intimate social friend and ideological comrade of Roosevelt and an avowed partisan of much of Roosevelt’s violent philosophy of government, often expressed in riots approaching wild insurrection.
Roosevelt was, in the most practical sense, a litigant in many cases coming before the court. His opponents were not mere adversaries in legal proceedings but political and social devils. Frankfurter could call on the one litigant, Roosevelt, wheedle favors out of him on the pretext of public service, as in his selection of Stimson to be secretary of war, and accept his hospitality on yachting trips, a touch of high-life that few judges could afford. But a litigant on the other side couldn’t approach Frankfurter and an invitation to dinner, even without the company of the fast babes that others provided for their guest. That would have been mighty like contempt of court.
Frankfurter was an old friend of Harold Laski, the English irritant who came over here to lecture at Harvard and, finally, after years of squirming on the issue of communism, was scotched in a lawsuit which was decisive. Laski denied that he was a Communist. In this case, however, he tried to mulct an English paper for saying he had counseled or given countenance to the use of violence for the achievement of political purposes. Laski lost. In the lack of any provable statement to the contrary by Frankfurter, it must be legally assumed that he does not think alike with his friend, Laski, in that particular. In broad political terms, however, they seem to have much in common. Laski’s program has now reduced the British to hunger and tatters.
David K. Niles, formerly Nelhaus, the White House confidential agent who trod a silent, shadowy course through the intrigues and rivalries of the palace plotters, was the third member of a congenial trio. The public never has been told who put Niles, or Neihaus, into his job. In ideology he was another Frankfurter man, and even if Frankfurter didn’t plant him he could have had no objection.
If Frankfurter did not write certain of the fateful speeches of his man, Stimson, which guided the Americans toward war, he easily might have. They expressed the views and purposes of the administratlon, of which he surely was an influential member, and the man who uttered them was selected by Frankfurter for the job with confident knowledge of his convictions and plans.
Old newsreels show Frankfurter and his man, Stimson, leaving the ceremony together after Stimson took the oath.
It makes no difference whether other personalities, whether Eleanor the Great or parasites loading canapes and cocktails at the brawls, received more notice than Frankfurter in the memoirs of the last few years. He may not be the high man but he certainly got his share of mention in the index columns under “T.” That is a measure of a person’s prominence and activity, propriety or the reverse.
We observed yesterday that Ickes, a friendly witness, conceded that Stimson was Frankfurter’s man.
In Jim Farley’s story, made melodious by the Irish poet Walter Trohan, Farley says that on Dec. 28, 1938, President Roosevelt casually accused Frankfurter of conduct which surely revolts the decency of men with a proper regard for the Supreme Court. Here is one office which surely should seek the man. But Frankfurter knew what power lay in the warrant of a justice and Farley writes that Roosevelt said to him: “Felix Frankfurter wants to get on the Supreme Court in the worst way. Some months ago I had to tell him I just couldn’t appoint him for many reasons.”
One reason was that Roosevelt thought the job should go to a western man. The other was that “I couldn’t appoint another Jew” until Louis D. Brandeis should die or resign. In that statement to Frankfurter, Roosevelt, the apostle of purity, meanly truckled to geography, or sectionalism, the domestic equivalent of “racial origin,” and, with the superb cynicism of which he was master, blandly told one of his craftiest disciples that religion, not ability, integrity or honor, was to be a second consideration but of equal importance. Even today the whole country is embroiled by the attempt of both parties to render illicit the very principles which Roosevelt here invoked toward the higher judicial office. What would Frankfurter say about a miscreant convicted of rejecting a six-foot negro showgirl for a chorus line of five-foot blondes? He would hang him, of course, for racial discrimination.
About a week later, Roosevelt did appoint Felix. Now he could really bore from within.
On page 341 Farley says Cordell Hull, though he was secretary of state, had not been consulted about the choice of John G. Winant to be ambassador to Great Britain. This was in March, 1941, long after Frankfurter might have been expected to get out of politics.
Farley says that Hull remarked to him: “I attribute the appointment (of Winant) to those I call the social welfare group. I’m sure Frankfurter was instrumental in bringing about the appointment.”
Ickes remarked in his memoirs that he thought Stimson might have been a better secretary of state than Hull. In that case, he thought. “Harry Hopkins would not have had the run of the place,” meaning the state department, “and even Roosevelt would have realized who was secretary of state.”
Yes, but who would have been?