News & Politics

Supreme Court Concerns about Science


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February 7, 1963, Vol. VIII, No. 16

Scientific Revolution is Liberty’s Greatest Danger

Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas took almost all of American society to task, in a speech at New York University last week, for allowing the civil liberties contained in the Bill of Rights to be diluted and the voice of dissent in the country to be intimidated.

The press, the police, the government, the courts, the legal profession were all charged by Justice Douglas with failing to instruct the people in their civil liberties or to encourage their practice. In delivering the fourth annual James Madison Lecture at the NYU Law School, he pointed to the persisting economic, social and political inequality of the Negro in the North as well as the South, despite the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, and to “police inquisition methods” such as arrests without investigation and wire-tapping.

He referred to legislative committees calling witnesses just “to see how many times the Fifth Amendment is invoked” and charged the press with helping “to make spectacles of people on trial before legislative committees.”

“One has only to read the press to realize how remote from basic constitutional issues the editors are,” Justice Douglas said. “They sounds an alarm when a non-conformist is loose on a campus; they administer a sedative when a crime is ‘solved’ by use of the third-degree method or a man is imprisoned for his beliefs.” The church too, he said, has been too timid…

But the greatest danger to civil liberties, Justice Douglas contended, is the scientific revolution. “The scientific revolution has created new centers of power in those who finance it — federal officials or more particularly, the Pentagon and the Atomic Energy Commission. The autonomy of universities is threatened…The scientific revolution displaces men and substitutes the machine, with the result that we have the promise of a permanent surplus of unemployed people.”

[Each weekday morning, we post an excerpt from another issue of the Voice, going in order from our oldest archives. Visit our Clip Job archive page to see excerpts back to 1956.]


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