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U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy on civil liberties and privacy

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy discusses freedom, liberty, autonomy and personal dignity and the case Wooley v. Maynard, and technology.  

U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in conversation with Elliot Gerson of the Aspen Institute.

Created by Aspen Institute.

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  • hopper cool style avatar for user Madeliv
    Why does U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy say that the government always wants to control the destiny of its citizens? (Surely there are nanny states, but there are night-watchman states where governments are not so intrusive, right? And isn't the US government broadly speaking more similar to night-watchman states than nanny states?)
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Video transcript

I'm Elliot Gerson with the Aspen Institute and I'm here with Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and we are going to be discussing liberty and the Constitution Justice Kennedy how did the founding fathers view the right to privacy and the concept of personal autonomy of course the Fourth Amendment prohibits the government from engaging in unreasonable searches and seizures of people's homes how else does the Constitution protect privacy and Liberty the right to privacy as such is not spelled out in the Constitution of course the word Liberty is the reason the framers used the word Liberty is that it has a spacious meaning and it's true meaning becomes apparent to us over time the framers were very concerned with risked writs of assistance in which soldiers could come breaking into your home and your home is ultimately your sanctuary where you define yourself and where you have freedom to do what you want freedom is the absence of government control government always wants to control your life and you need protections against that so it does not succeed you are perhaps the strongest advocate on the Supreme Court for the importance of personal autonomy you believe the government should not coerce individuals into a predetermined course of life why do you feel so strongly about personal autonomy freedom is what our Constitution stands for and certainly one of the essential meanings of freedom is that you define who you are by what you read by what music you like by what you sing by who you choose to be members of your family and your friends the whole point of the Constitution is that it protects a human life a human person that's why we have it constitutions don't belong to governments they belong to you and they're to protect you you are the Supreme Court's leading advocate for constitutional Liberty one author wrote a book about you called the time goes to Liberty why do you believe the Constitution's protections for Liberty are so important again as I've indicated Liberty has a meaning that becomes apparent to us over time in their new ways that we have to protect Liberty what the framers thought about most were the idea that we talked about earlier your home your space your physical space that they cannot invade but the autonomy also means your own dignity your own self definition your own idea of the person that you are so Liberty has both a spatial and a more transcendent dimension why is it so important for judges to preserve constitutional Liberty in the face of legislative assaults once again government is always gonna want to plan your destiny for you a majority will always want a minority to conform majorities have legislators so we need a check you've heard about checks and balances separation of powers I could go into this a little more they have a really slightly different meaning but separation of powers is designed so that you a person can go to court if the legislature infringes upon your rights let me give you a case if I have just a minute there's a wonderful case that came to our court from the state of New Hampshire New Hampshire has a motto which is live free or die wonderful model I like that model yeah - sometimes defend freedom with your life and it was on the license plate so if you're in New Hampshire you bought a license plate the state motto was on it a driver didn't like this idea he didn't like to have to carry the state's message so he put duct tape over the the slogan you could see his license number and you could see stated no but you couldn't see the slogan and a police officer stopped him and gave him a $25 ticket for obscuring the state's license plate a $25.00 case came to the Supreme Court of the United States and we said this citizen was right he did not have to carry the state's message the state can have its own message it can't have the individual carry it for him I teach in China ask yourself in your studies if you taught in China if you had an hour with students your age what would you about America what cases would you bring them would you bring them a Constitution or e would you bring them the Declaration of Independence would you read the preamble of the Constitution to them as beautiful dreary and the preamble of the Declaration to them it's magnificent one of the things I bring is the license plate case they're fascinated with cars in China and it's a great case to show that there must be limits where the government stops and your personhood begins how can we protect constitutional Liberty in an age of new technologies one reason it's very difficult is it's changing so fast many scientists many thinkers say that we're just seeing the beginning of what the internet means an iPad is not good or bad in itself just like this pen isn't good or bad in itself it's a thing but it can be used for a good purpose or a bad purpose and we have to understand as a nation we have to talk about ethics and decency and privacy and honor and respect so that in in this age where we have this wonderful new communication system we can use it for the good things not for the bad my grandson was going to play a game on the Internet and it's gonna take an hour and a half we were babysitting and his parents had told us that on this one day Thursday night he could play the game for an hour and a half and he had those ear phones and other kids were on the line and it said now my cloud fills on your side Phil's gonna be on your team and they said now Phil you've got to protect my cloud in case it gets captured and they had a wonderful time and everybody said goodbye well I'm a cloud goodbye George goodbye Phil and I asked my cloud I said are you gonna see Phil in school tomorrow he said no he lives in Singapore this is your age young people are connected worldwide in a way which is unimaginable just a decade ago and you can use this for good you can use this to teach freedom to defend freedom what Mr Justice do you think is most important for people to know about the u.s. constitute I might think about something else after this interview but for now I would say the most important thing to remember about the Constitution is that it's yours it's not mine doesn't belong to a bunch of judges and attorneys what are the first three words in the Constitution We the People it's your Constitution and you have to remember that as an American you have certain duties you know just live your own life and not care about what happens to your country about what happens to your children your duty is to make sure that that Constitution is strong so that it's yours now and it will be your children's later and then it'll be stronger when it's theirs than it is now mr. justice thank you very much thank you you