A tribute to Justice Louis Brandeis

Indulge me in a little sesquicentennial sentiment about my favorite jurist. One hundred and fifty years ago this month, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis was born in Louisville, Ky., the son of immigrants from Czechoslovakia.

He graduated from Harvard Law School with some of the highest grades ever received there. He was named to the Supreme Court by President Woodrow Wilson as its first Jewish and most liberal member.

If he is remembered for nothing else, he will be remembered for discovering a constitutional right to privacy, which became the underpinning of the right to an abortion. But there is more.

Justice Brandeis upheld the right of an individual to "think as you will and to speak as you think," even against the government.

He enunciated a right to be left alone by the government as the right "most valued by civilized men."

He held that decency, security, and liberty require that "government officials be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen."

He asserted that the doctrine of separation of powers was adopted "not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power."

And, on an issue hotly debated during President Roosevelt's New Deal days, he held that there must be power in the states and in the nation to remold, through experimentation, our economic practices and institutions.

Here are a few other lines from Brandeis:

"Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants."

"The most important political office is that of the private citizen."

And, finally, "Those who won our independence ... did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty."

Full disclosure: I hold an honorary degree from Brandeis University.

Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to A tribute to Justice Louis Brandeis
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today