In "The Right to Privacy," Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren defined protection of the private realm as the foundation of individual freedom in the modern age.  Given the increasing capacity of government, the press, and other agencies and institutions to invade previously inaccessible aspects of personal activity, they argued that the law must evolve in response to technological change.   Traditional prohibitions against trespass, assault, libel, and other invasive acts had afforded sufficient safeguards in previous eras, but these established principles could not, in their view, protect individuals from the "too enterprising press, the photographer, or the possessor of any other modern device for rewording or reproducing scenes or sounds."  Consequently, in order to uphold the "right to one's personality" in the face of modern business practices and invasive inventions, they concluded that legal remedies had to be developed to enforce definite boundaries between public and private life.

Having co-authored what would become one of the most influential essays in the history of American law, Brandeis remained a stalwart champion of the right to privacy during his tenure as a member of the Supreme Court from 1916 to 1939.  Thus, in his famous dissent in Olmstead v. United States (1928), Brandeis defined the "right to be let alone" as "the most comprehensive of rights, and the right most valued by civilized men."

Ironically, Brandeis's  long-term defense of privacy was interwoven with strong support for government regulation of private enterprise.  Against those who viewed freedom of contract and the pursuit of economic self-interest as aspects of individual liberty, Brandeis consistently advocated political regulation of  working conditions and economic competition.  In 1908, in Muller v. Oregon, Brandeis wrote a famous brief that included sociological statistics and medical information, as well as traditional legal reasoning, that helped to convince the Supreme Court to uphold legislation that limited working hours for women.  Later, as he was nearing the end of his career, Brandeis stood with the minority of justices who defended the constitutionality of legislation passed under Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal.

Go to "The Right to Privacy" (full text)


   Child Labor in America

1908 - 1912

 Muller v. Oregon (1906)

Biographical Sketch

The Life of Louis D. Brandeis

Anti-Trust Cartoons