Quotations by Brandeis, Louis


Undoubtedly “a full dinner pail” is a great achievement as compared with an empty one, but no people ever did or can attain a worthy civilization by the satisfaction merely of material needs, however high these needs are raised. The American standard of living demands not only a high minimum wage, but a high minimum of leisure, because we must meet also needs other than material ones.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
“Hours of Labor,” speech, Civic Federation of New England (11 Jan 1906)
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Reprinted in his Business -- A Profession (1914).
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What are the American ideals? They are the development of the individual for his own and the common good; the development of the individual through liberty, and the attainment of the common good through democracy and social justice.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
“True Americanism” (1915)
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Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
“What Publicity Can Do,” Harper’s Weekly (20 Dec 1913)
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Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
(Attributed)
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We must make our choice. We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
(Attributed)
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Quoted by Raymond Lonergan in Irving Dilliard, Mr. Justice Brandeis, Great American (1941).
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At the foundation of our civil liberty lies the principle which denies to government officials an exceptional position before the law and which subjects them to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Burdeau v. McDowell, 256 U.S. 465, 477 (1921) [dissent]
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Stare decisis is usually the wise policy, because in most matters it is more important that the applicable rule of law be settled than that it be settled right. … This is commonly true even where the error is a matter of serious concern, provided correction can be had by legislation. But in cases involving the Federal Constitution, where correction through legislative action is practically impossible, this court has often overruled its earlier decisions. The court bows to the lessons of experience and the force of better reasoning, recognizing that the process of trial and error, so fruitful in the physical sciences, is appropriate also in the judicial function.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Burnet v. Coronado Oil & Gas Co., 285 U.S. 393 (1932) [dissent]
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Organization can never be a substitute for initiative and for judgment.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Business — A Profession (1914)
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In differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Business — A Profession (1914)
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Full and free expression of the right by the citizen is ordinarily also his duty; for its exercise is more important to the Nation than it is to himself. Like the course of the heavenly bodies, harmony in national life is a resultant of the struggle between contending forces. In the frank expression of conflicting opinions lies the greatest promise of wisdom in governmental action.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Gilbert v. Minnesota, 254 US 325 (1920) [Dissent]
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The prevalence of the corporation in America has led men of this generation to act, at times, as if the privilege of doing business in corporate form were inherent in the citizen; and has led them to accept the evils attendant upon the free and unrestricted use of the corporate mechanism as if these evils were the inescapable price of civilized life, and, hence to be borne with resignation.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Liggett Co. v. Lee, 288 U.S. 517 (1933) [dissent]
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The doctrine of the separation of powers was adopted by the Convention of 1787, not to promote efficiency but to preclude the exercise of arbitrary power. The purpose was, not to avoid friction, but, by means of the inevitable friction incident to the distribution of the governmental powers among three departments, to save the people from autocracy.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Myers v. United States, 272 U.S. 293, (1926) [Dissent]
Added on 25-Oct-07 | Last updated 30-May-13
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If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 262 (1932) [dissent]
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It is one of the happy incidents of the federal system that a single courageous State may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
New State Ice Co. v. Liebmann, 285 U.S. 311 (1932) [dissent]
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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.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438 (1928) [Dissent]
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Added on 13-Jun-11 | Last updated 16-Jun-14
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Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government’s purposes are beneficial. Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers. The greater dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Olmstead v. United States, 277 US 438 (1928) [Dissent]
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Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. For good or for ill, it teaches the whole people by its example. Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Olmstead v. United States, 277 US 438 (1928) [Dissent]
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Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 30-May-13
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Decency, security and liberty alike demand that government officials shall be subjected to the same rules of conduct that are commands to the citizen. In a government of laws, existence of the government will be imperiled if it fails to observe the law scrupulously.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Olmstead v. United States, 277 US 438 (1928) [Dissent]
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Added on 30-Oct-07 | Last updated 30-May-13
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Fear of serious injury alone cannot justify oppression of free speech and assembly. Men feared witches and burnt women. It is the function of speech to free men from the bondage of irrational fears.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927) [Concur]
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Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the State was to make men free to develop their faculties. … They valued liberty both as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. They believed that freedom to think as you will and to speak as you think are means indispensable to the discovery and spread of political truth; that without free speech and assembly discussion would be futile; that with them, discussion affords ordinarily adequate protection against the dissemination of  noxious doctrine; that the greatest menace to freedom is an inert people; that public discussion is a political duty; and that this should be a fundamental principle of the American Government.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927) [Concur]
Added on 5-Jul-10 | Last updated 16-Jun-14
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Those who won our independence by revolution were not cowards. They did not fear political change. They did not exalt order at the cost of liberty. To courageous, self-reliant men, with confidence in the power of free and fearless reasoning applied through the processes of popular government, no danger flowing from speech can be deemed clear and present, unless the incidence of the evil apprehended is so imminent that it may befall before there is opportunity for full discussion. If there be time to expose through discussion the falsehood and fallacies, to avert the evil by the processes of education, the remedy to be applied is more speech, not enforced silence.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Whitney v. California, 274 U.S. 357 (1927) [Concur]
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If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
In Cleveland Plain Dealer (15 Oct 1912)
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Strong, responsible unions are essential to industrial fair play. Without them the labor bargain is wholly one-sided. The parties to the labor contract must be nearly equal in strength if justice is to be worked out, and this means that the workers must be organized and that their organizations must be recognized by employers as a condition precedent to industrial peace.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
In The Curse of Bigness: Miscellaneous Papers of Louis D. Brandeis [ed. Fraenkel and Lewis] (1965)
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Added on 21-Oct-14 | Last updated 21-Oct-14
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When a man feels that he cannot leave his work, it is a sure sign of an impending collapse. … When men are so tired, they cannot be trusted in their business judgment and cannot properly tend to their affairs.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Letter to Alfred Brandeis (8 Mar 1897)
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Added on 23-Sep-14 | Last updated 23-Sep-14
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Secrecy necessarily breeds suspicion.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Letter to Cyrus Adler (10 Aug 1915)
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What I have desired to do is to make the people of Boston realize that the most important office, and the one which all of us can and should fill, is that of private citizen. The duties of the office of private citizen cannot under a republican form of government be neglected without serious injury to the public.

Louis Brandeis (1856-1941) American lawyer, activist, Supreme Court Justice (1916-39)
Statement to a reporter, Boston Record (14 Apr 1903)

Quoted in Alpheus Thomas Mason, Brandeis: A Free Man's Life (1946).
    Commonly paraphrased:
  • "The most important office is that of the private citizen"
  • "The most important political office is that of the private citizen"
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