As Alexander Solzhenitsyn pointed out in his famous 1978 Harvard Commencement Address, ‘The split in today’s world is perceptible even to a hasty glance. Any of our contemporaries readily identifies two world powers, each of them already capable of utterly destroying the other. However, the understanding of the split too often is limited to this political conception: the illusion according to which danger may be abolished through successful diplomatic negotiations or by achieving a balance of armed forces. The truth is that the split is both more profound and more alienating, that the rifts are more numerous than one can see at first glance. These deep manifold splits bear the danger of equally manifold disaster for all of us, in accordance with the ancient truth that a kingdom—in this case, our Earth—divided against itself cannot stand.’
“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. 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 the 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.”
Those who won our independence believed that the final end of the state was to make men free to develop their faculties, and that in its government the deliberative forces should prevail over the arbitrary. 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…
Fear of serious injury cannot alone justify suppression 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.
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.
Dissenting opinion in Olmstead v. United States The Constitutional Challenges of Prohibition Enforcement
Justice Louis D. Brandeis’s dissenting opinion is one of the more notable dissents in Supreme Court history. He attempted to define a general right of privacy based on the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Brandeis had long been interested in the problem of privacy in the modern age; years earlier he and his law partner, Samuel Warren, published what many consider the seminal article on the topic (Warren and Brandeis, “The Right to Privacy“4 Harv. L. Rev. 193 (1890)). Brandeis’s opinion in Olmstead attempted to apply to the current era what he said were the principles of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. Historians often overlook how much his approach draws on the dissenting opinion of Judge Rudkin in the circuit court, but Brandeis himself acknowledged his debt to Rudkin in the text. The quotation about “the form that evil had theretofore taken” referred to the Supreme Court decision in Weems v. United States, in which Justice Joseph McKenna wrote of the need for the Court to apply the general principles of the Constitution to new problems.
Governments, like people, must not be allowed to break the law.