Louis Brandeis: The People’s Justice

Daniel Breen
Daniel Breen
Brandeis University

Daniel Breen is Senior Lecturer in Legal Studies at Brandeis University, and a recipient of the Louis Brandeis Award for Excellence in Teaching. While his primary academic interests lay in the law and politics of the Early Republic, he also holds a Ph.D. in American History and enjoys lecturing on a wide variety of subjects. Professor Breen is currently working on an article about the secession movement in New England during the Jefferson and Madison administrations.

Overview

We remember Louis Brandeis, if we remember him at all, mostly as the first Jewish Justice of the Supreme Court, where he soon made a reputation for himself as the author of a series of brilliant dissenting opinions that would influence in profound ways the course of Constitutional Law.  It is important to recall, however, that Brandeis joined the Court at the age of 59, following a long career in which—perhaps more than any other American of is time—he demonstrated the potential of private persons to shape the course of public life.  How did this son of German-speaking immigrants forge a vital role for himself in modern American life, and how do his ideas continue to cast their shadows over the America of the 21st century?  These are the questions we will explore as we evaluate the “great American life” of Louis D. Brandeis.

 

Discussion Questions:

1) How do you think the experience of being the son of immigrants might have helped shape Brandeis’s response to American life and society?

2) Brandeis came to be very concerned about threats to privacy in the late 19th century.  What do you think is the value of privacy–of having what Brandeis called “the right to be left alone?”

Do you think that technologies these days have become so invasive that we really don’t have much

reason any more to expect a significant measure of privacy?

3) Brandeis’s views on Free Speech were radical in their time, but they are now widely accepted and have been adopted by the Supreme Court.  Because of these views, it is almost impossible for the government to regulate the content of speech, especially if it is a public figure doing the talking. But did Brandeis go too far?  Is our speech “too free?” Should, for example, political candidates be subject to legal penalties if they tell intentional lies?

 

 

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