Brandeis celebrates namesakeReleased on November 17, 2006
His ears must have been burning.
Wherever Louis D. Brandeis marked his 150th birthday Nov. 13, he had to have known he was the talk of this campus, from one end to the other, as the university paused to celebrate its namesake’s extraordinary life and enduring legacy. And from a special symposium to a packed birthday celebration in the Shapiro Campus Center atrium, the sentiment was the same: come back Louis, the country could really use you right about now.
Standing beside President Jehuda Reinharz, Margaret H. Marshall, chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, invoked the spirit of the famed jurist for hundreds gathered in the campus center. On a landing above the crowd, she unveiled Andy Warhol’s painting of Louis Brandeis – a gift from the family of New York art dealer Ronald Feldman.
It is impossible to overestimate Louis Brandeis’ significance to the law or this nation, Marshall said, highlighting his contributions to discussions on the First Amendment, privacy and higher education.
“Justice Brandeis was remarkable for his insights, his persuasiveness and his prescience,” she said. “It was almost as if he anticipated challenges, the seriousness of which would not emerge for decades.”
Before the celebration, the legal studies and journalism programs sponsored a talk where individual-rights proponents Floyd Abrams and Anthony Lewis reflected on Justice Brandeis’ work on the Supreme Court as the first Jew appointed to that august panel. Lewis and Abrams chastised the current Bush administration, arguing it has wielded a supreme-like executive power and trampled the Constitution since Sept. 11, 2001.
Lewis said Justice Brandeis could well remind President Bush of the checks and balances inherent in the Constitution, put there by the framers to guarantee a government “of laws and not men” and to “save the people from autocracy.” He chided the administration, arguing it has allowed suspected enemies of the United States to be imprisoned illegally and tortured, and conducted warrant-less wire tapping in the struggle against Al Queda and the insurgency in Iraq. He said Congress has “shown the backbone of a blob” in not standing up to the executive branch’s wartime transgressions.
Some 100 students, faculty and staff attended the talk, the 10th annual held in honor of Louis Brandeis’ birth in Louisville, Ky.
Lewis recalled meeting Louis Brandeis when he was roughly 12 years old and visited the Chatham, Cape Cod, Brandeis family cottage where Justice Brandeis is said to have enjoyed suppers with his family and canoe trips with his wife.
“There he was,” said Lewis, “sitting on the lawn with those piercing blue eyes…”
He told the audience that among other timelessly monumental accomplishments, Justice Brandeis created the modern form of free speech.
“To paraphrase an English poet,” said Lewis, “Brandeis, you should be living at this hour.”
Abrams cited Justice Brandeis’s observations regarding 4th Amendment rights and how nothing justifies their being breached. “(He said) if the government is a law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law.” “We all owe a lot to Justice Brandeis,” he said.
The Nov. 13 events were the highlight of the university’s yearlong celebration of the life and legacy of its namesake. Academic symposia, art and archival exhibitions, and other events throughout the Justice Brandeis Jubilee year honor the legacy of the late U.S. Supreme Court justice.
On Nov. 8, faculty from various disciplines gathered for “Privacy Rites: Space, Surveillance, and Power in Historical Perspective,” a symposium convened by Mark Auslander, assistant professor of anthropology, and Andreas Teuber, associate professor of philosophy.
Using Louis Brandeis and Samuel Warren’s landmark essay, “The Right to Privacy,” and the current Rose Art Museum exhibition “Balance and Power: Performance and Surveillance in Video Art” as a backdrop, scholars examined how the notion of privacy has evolved from Roman times when bathing was public yet houses had no windows, to the “post privacy” age when citizens involuntarily become actors for surveillance cameras, and consumers willingly give private data to retailers.
“This is less a change away from valuing privacy for its own sake, which has never been an especially strong trait in American culture,” said Laura Miller, assistant professor of sociology. “Rather, it's more a change away from resentment of government and private industry directing our lives.”
In the spring, the university will also host a premiere of a new documentary chronicling the life and career of Louis D. Brandeis, as well as an academic symposium examining his enduring legacy.
For more information about the Justice Brandeis Jubilee, visit http://www.brandeis.edu/jubilee.