1890 December 15

Louis Brandeis Co-Authors Pioneering Article, “The Right to Privacy”


Future Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis and attorney Samuel Warren published a pioneering article, “The Right to Privacy,” in the Harvard Law Review (V. 4, No. 5). The article marked the beginning of serious discussion of a legal right to privacy in the United States. By today’s standards, the article takes a much more limited view of privacy, focusing on the problem of invasions of individual privacy by photography and gossip-oriented journalism.

Brandeis expanded his view of privacy in a historic dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States, a wiretapping case, on June 4, 1928. The Supreme Court established a constitutional right to privacy in Griswold v. Connecticut on June 7, 1965.

Brandeis in Olmstead (1928): “The protection guaranteed by the Amendments is much broader in scope. The makers of our Constitution undertook to secure conditions favorable to the pursuit of happiness. They recognized the significance of man’s spiritual nature, of his feelings, and of his intellect. They knew that only a part of the pain, pleasure and satisfactions of life are to be found in material things. They sought to protect Americans in their beliefs, their thoughts, their emotions and their sensations.  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.”

Read the new biography: Jeffrey Rosen, Louis D. Brandeis: American Prophet (2016)

Watch a documentary on Brandeis: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwDP5vWXd3g

Learn more about Brandeis: Melvin I Urofsky, Louis D. Brandeis: A Life (2009)

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