1928 June 4

Historic Louis Brandeis Dissent About Privacy: “Olmstead v. United States”


The case of Olmstead v. United States, decided on this day, involved the appeal of a bootlegger who had been convicted in part on the basis of wiretap evidence. The Court upheld his conviction 5 to 4, but Justice Louis Brandeis delivered a historic dissent that articulated a constitutional right to privacy. Brandeis’ opinion came 37 years before the Supreme Court finally affirmed a constitutional right to privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut on June 7, 1965.

With co-author Samuel Warren, Louis Brandeis published the first-ever article on “The Right to Privacy” in the Harvard Law Review on December 15, 1890.

Justice Brandeis: “The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. . . . They conferred, as against the Government, the right to be let alone—the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men. To protect that right, every unjustifiable intrusion by the Government upon the privacy of the individual, whatever the means employed, must be deemed a violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

Learn more about privacy today at the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse: https://www.privacyrights.org/

Learn more about Justice Brandeis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XjT53pbk1Tk

And more about Prohibition: Lisa McGirr, The War on Alcohol: Prohibition and the Rise of the American State (2015)

Learn more about the Olmstead  Case: http://www.fjc.gov/history/home.nsf/page/tu_olmstead_background.html

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