Brandeis was the first Jew ever appointed to the Supreme Court – in a day when anti-Jewish sentiment was much more common than at present. President Wilson’s choice to appoint him was frankly and openly contested because people didn’t want a Jew to serve.
Brandis’s parents, Jewish immigrants from Prague to Louisville, were secular Jews -- the family celebrated Christmas and other non-Jewish holidays. They were supporters of Lincoln and of abolishing slavery, and had to flee north during the Civil War, while many southern Jews actively supported the South.
Brandeis became a leader in defining civil rights and other liberal commitments while on the Supreme Court from 1916-1939. His support of Zionism was extremely important in the American context.