Rhetoric & Composition I Rotating Header Image

The “right to be let alone” in 1890

Instantaneous photographs and newspaper enterprise have invaded the sacred precincts of private and domestic life; and numerous mechanical devices threaten to make good the prediction that “what is whispered in the closet shall be proclaimed from the house-tops.”

Warren and Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy” (4 Harvard L.R. 193 (Dec. 15, 1890).

“Competing Interests in Apple Standoff Split U.S. Agencies” — NYT March 5, 2016:

Driven by competing and sometimes clashing interests about privacy, national security and the economy, some of the president’s most senior aides are staking out a variety of positions on the issue.

Erwin Chemerinsky, “Rediscovering Brandeis’s Right to Privacy.” 45 Brandeis Law Journal 643-657 (2007).

The first research paper I remember writing was in fifth grade and it was a short biography of Louis Brandeis. What was most special to me was that he was Jewish. As a ten-year-old Jewish boy in 1963, I aspired to be Sandy Koufax.But lacking any semblance of athletic ability, Brandeis offered the possibility of another, more realistic path. I never met a single lawyer growing up and probably Brandeis was one of the first that I ever even heard about.

At the wonderful symposium at the University of Louisville on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Brandeis’s birth, his grandchildren told me that his Jewishness was a key part of his identity. Undoubtedly, it shaped how the world treated him and how he saw the world. The intense opposition to his confirmation in 1916 surely was fueled, in part, by anti-semitism. Once on the Court, he had a colleague, Justice James McReynolds who refused to have a photo taken together or to allow his law clerks to speak to Brandeis’s clerks.  Brandeis was instrumental in the early days of the Zionist movement.

Brandeis’s work as a lawyer and as a Justice seems obviously to have been influenced by the Jewish concept of “tikkun olam” — the duty that each of us has to heal a broken world. Brandeis certainly did this as a public advocate, as an attorney, and as a Justice. One other way he accomplished this was as a legal scholar.

Context. So much context. For example? Why Online Privacy Should Be The Defining Cause Of The Millennial Generation.