The Legacy of Supreme Court Justice Brandeis

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NPR Senior News Analyst Daniel Schorr looks back at the legacy of Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis, best known for discovering a constitutional right to privacy.

DANIEL SCHORR: Indulge me in a little sesquicentennial sentiment about my favorite jurist.


NPR's senior news analyst, Daniel Schorr.

SCHORR: A hundred and fifty years ago this month, Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis was born in Louisville, the son of immigrants from Czechoslovakia. He was graduated from Harvard Law School with some of the highest grades ever received there. He was named to the Supreme Court by President Wilson as its first Jewish and its most liberal member.

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

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 a 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 the Roosevelt New Deal days, he held that there must be power in the states and in the nation to re-mold through experimentation our economic practices and institutions.

And a few other lines from Brandeis. The best disinfectant is sunshine. 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. And as full disclosure - I hold an honorary degree from Brandeis University.

This is Daniel Schorr.

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