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Americans Who Tell the Truth

Justice Louis Brandeis

Appointed and Elected Public Figures

Justice Louis Brandeis

U.S. Supreme Court Justice (1856-1941)

Our government is the potent, the omnipresent teacher. … Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law-breaker, it breeds contempt for the law: it invites every man to become a law unto himself, it invites anarchy.


Additional Quotes by Justice Louis Brandeis

America has believed that in differentiation, not in uniformity, lies the path of progress. It acted on this belief; it has advanced human happiness, and it has prospered. 'Experience teaches us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the government's purposes are beneficent. 

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. 

I abhor averages. I like the individual case. A man may have six meals one day and none the next, making an average of three meals per day, but that is not a good way to live. 

If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable. 

If we would guide by the light of reason we must let our minds be bold. 

If you would only recognize that life is hard, things would be so much easier for you.  

In the frank expression of conflicting opinions lies the greatest promise of wisdom in governmental action. 

Men long for an afterlife in which there apparently is nothing to do but delight in heaven's wonders. 

Most of the things worth doing in the world had been declared impossible before they were done. 

Neutrality is at times a graver sin than belligerence. 

Organisation can never be a substitute for initiative and for judgement. 

Our government... teaches the whole people by its example. If the government becomes the lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. 

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.  

The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in the insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without understanding. 

The logic of words should yield to the logic of realities. 

The most important political office is that of the private citizen. 

The world presents enough problems if you believe it to be a world of law and order; do not add to them by believing it to be a world of miracles.  

There are no shortcuts in evolution. 

Those who won our independence... valued liberty as an end and as a means. They believed liberty to be the secret of happiness and courage to be the secret of liberty. 

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 conviction of a private criminal would bring terrible retribution.  

We are not won by arguments that we can analyze, but by tone and temper; by the manner, which is the man himself. 

We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we can't have both.



Long before Louis Brandeis made his mark as a Justice on the United States Supreme Court, where he served from 1916 to 1939, as the first Jewish member of the Court, he had a brilliant career as an advocate for social justice issues. He was known as the “People’s Attorney” for taking on causes such as workplace conditions, fairness by banks and insurance companies, government corruption, and unreasonable restraint of trade. His commitment to using the law to promote social justice was a major reason some members of the Senate opposed his confirmation to the Court. Once confirmed, Brandeis’s brilliantly crafted opinions (often dissents) provided legal analysis and guidance that continue to be cited by scholars and judges today. He influenced in a variety of ways on President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Justice Brandeis is still known as one of the architects of the right to privacy and one of the most eloquent protectors of the freedom of speech. His commitment to having facts before making decisions is found in the quote “Knowledge is essential to understanding and understanding should precede judging.” His vigilance against government encroachment of civil liberties is noted when he wrote that we should “be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent.”

Justice Brandeis was born in Louisville, Kentucky, and chose the law school at the University of Louisville as his final resting place. In 1997, the law school (founded in 1846) was renamed the Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. His personal papers are housed at the law school, and can be accessed at These papers have provided source material for a number of biographies have been written about Justice Brandeis, including the comprehensive Louis Brandeis: Justice For the People, by Philippa Strum and several publications by Melvin I. Urofsky and David W. Levy. Brandeis University was founded in 1948 in Waltham, Massachusetts and was named for Justice Brandeis at its founding.



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