United States Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas on Freedom & the Constitution

“Those in power need checks and restraints lest they come to identify the common good for their own tastes and desires, and their continuation in office as essential to the preservation of the nation.

As nightfall does not come all at once, neither does oppression. In both instances, there is a twilight when everything remains seemingly unchanged. And it is in such twilight that we all must be most aware of change in the air – however slight – lest we become unwitting victims of the darkness.

Since when have we Americans been expected to bow submissively to authority and speak with awe and reverence to those who represent us?

The right to be let alone is indeed the beginning of all freedom.

It is better, so the Fourth Amendment teaches us, that the guilty sometimes go free than the citizens be subject to easy arrest.

Big Brother in the form of an increasingly powerful government and in an increasingly powerful private sector will pile the records high with reasons why privacy should give way to national security, to law and order, to efficiency of operation, to scientific advancement and the like.

The privacy and dignity of our citizens

[are] being whittled away by sometimes imperceptible steps. Taken individually, each step may be of little consequence. But when viewed as a whole, there begins to emerge a society quite unlike any we have seen — a society in which government may intrude into the secret regions of a [person’s] life.

The Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.

The framers of the constitution knew human nature as well as we do. They too had lived in dangerous days; they too knew the suffocating influence of orthodoxy and standardized thought. They weighed the compulsions for restrained speech and thought against the abuses of liberty. They chose liberty.

The Fifth Amendment is an old friend and a good friend. It is one of the great landmarks in men’s struggle to be free of tyranny, to be decent and civilized.

The struggle is always between the individual and his sacred right to express himself and…the power structure that seeks conformity, suppression and obedience.

The dominant purpose of the First Amendment was to prohibit the widespread practice of government suppression of embarrassing information.

A people who extend civil liberties only to preferred groups start down the path either to dictatorship of the right or the left.

The First Amendment makes confidence in the common sense of our people and in the maturity of their judgment the great postulate of our democracy.

Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.

The function of free speech under our system of government is to invite dispute. It may indeed best serve its high purpose when it invites a condition of unrest, creates dissatisfaction with conditions as they are, or even stirs people to anger. Speech is often provocative and challenging. It may strike at prejudices and preconceptions and have profound unsettling effects as it passes for acceptance of an idea.

The function of the prosecutor under the federal Constitution is not to tack as many skins of victims as possible against the wall. His function is to vindicate the rights of the people as expressed in the laws and give those accused of crime a fair trial.

It is our attitude toward free thought and free expression that will determine our fate. There must be no limit on the range of temperate discussion, no limits on thought. No subject must be taboo. No censor must preside at our assemblies.”

2017-01-20T19:03:16+00:00 By |0 Comments

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About the Author:

Rick Keyt has practiced law in Arizona since 1980. He flew the F-4 Phantom for five years in the United States Air Force, including combat missions over South Vietnam, North Vietnam and Laos in 1972. For more about Rick's bio including his F-4 bio see his resume on his law website. Connect with Richard at 480-664-7478 or on Google+

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