Through much of time certain behaviors have been universally accepted as immoral – the exploitation of women (in particular) through pornography being among them. However, perhaps it’s my age showing, but when did “Since legislating morality rarely changes behavior, let’s eliminate such legislation” become the modus operandi? As a former teacher I knew some of my students would likely cheat, but I still had rules and consequences regarding cheating. As a parent I understood my children might decide that hitting one another was a good way of handling disputes, but I still taught proper means of dealing with conflict and used my parental platform to legislate against hostile behavior. The recent (albeit well intended?) legalization of child prostitution in California in order to “protect” them from the consequences of being caught just doesn’t seem to make sense, and continues our slide down the slippery slope of immorality. I could be a bit off, but my gut tells me something is horribly wrong.
It is with these thoughts in mind I was struck by the front page of The Reform Bulletin from March 1, 1929 (see below), which focused on an effort in the State of New York to pull back on the decade old legalization of “obscene literature.” What’s “obscene literature”? Should morality be legislated, and if so, who makes the call as to which behaviors are moral and which are not? Should government take a role in the personal affairs of its citizens? Has the government overreached in this area in the past? While the answers to these questions and similar are quite complex, I think most would agree we’re not headed in the right direction – and the consequences are guaranteed to be non-partisan.
Today I traveled to New York City by the way of The New York Times dated June 6, 1916. I found that history took place in Washington, D.C. “Every available seat in the courtroom of the United States Supreme Court was occupied at noon today when Louis D. Brandeis of Boston took his seat on the bench as an Associate Justice of that august tribunal… Chief Justice White, rising announced the appointment of Mr. Brandeis,… then announce the readiness of Mr. Brandeis to take the judicial oath, which was administered,… Justice Brandeis was then escorted by Frank Key Green, the Marshal of the court, to his seat on the extreme left of the bench. Members of the court bowed as he passed…. Mr. Brandeis took his seat…”.
Mr. Brandeis was the first Jewish Supreme Court Justice, which was bitterly contested as he “…was a militant crusader for social justice whoever his opponent might be. He was dangerous not only because of his brilliance, his arithmetic, his courage. He was dangerous because he was incorruptible . . . [and] the fears of the Establishment were greater because Brandeis was the first Jew to be named to the Court.” He was eventually confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 47 to 22 in 1916, to become one of the most famous and influential figures ever to serve on the high court. His opinions were, according to legal scholars, some of the “greatest defenses” of freedom of speech and the right to privacy ever written by a member of the Supreme Court…” per wikipedia.