Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Hugo Black

A few years ago, I went through what was on the net at the time about, as well as through Roger K. Newman's biography of, Justice Hugo Lafayette Black, and saved my favorites of Black's sayings and writings, which I reproduce here.

To the extent that you still enjoy the Bill of Rights in the Age of Ashcroft is largely due to Hugo Black and a few others on the Warren Court of the 1950s-60s.

A brief biography may be found here. Some of his memoirs are collected here. Here is the entry on Black at Oyez; this is the Black bio at the Supreme Court History site. And last but not least, this is a copy of one of Black's lectures on the Bill of Rights.

Quotes are from Black's personal life, his Senate career, as well as his long residence at the High Court.

"I do not believe the word 'person' in the Fourteenth Amendment includes corporations."

"the history of the [14th] amendment proves that the people were told that its purpose was to protect weak and helpless human beings and were not told that it was intended to remove corporations in any fashion from the control of state governments... corporations have neither race nor color...[the amendment] was intended to protect the life, liberty and property of human beings."

"First in the catalogue of human liberties essential to the life and growth of a government of, for and by its people are those liberties written into the First Amendment of our Constitution. They are the pillars upon which popular government rests and without which a government of free men cannot long survive. History persuades me that the moving forces which brought about the creation of the safeguards contained in the other sections of our Bill of Rights sprang from a resolute determination to place the liberties defined in the First Amendment in an area wholly safe and secure against any invasion -- even by the government."


"..the First Amendment does not speak equivocally. It prohibits any law 'abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.' It must be taken as a command of the broadest scope that explicit language, read in the context of a liberty-loving society, will allow."


[The First Amendment] "rests on the assumption that the widest possible dissemination of information from diverse and antagonistic sources is essential to the welfare of the public, that a free press is a condition of a free society... Freedom to publish is guarnteed by the Constitution, but freedom to combine to keep others from publishing is not."


"Neither a state nor the federal government can set up a state church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force or influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance. No tax in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever form they may adopt to teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the federal government can, openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against establishment of religion by laws was intended to 'erect a wall of separation between Church and State.'"


"The only thing that troubles me at this present time is the effort of many people, allowedly backed by most of the press, to plunge this country into a new war with Russia. Such a thing is especially frightful to contemplate... There seems to be a widespread opinion that what this country should do is to attack Russia at once, destroy her cities with atomic bombs, and thus win an easy victory. Even if this could be done, the prospect of our engaging in such a wholesale slaughter as we did at Hiroshima is not inviting to a man of peaceful instincts." (1946)


[Harry Truman has] "no background or understanding .. no fundamental philosophy and very little knowledge of history."


In the Context of Loyalty Oaths and the Spying on Neighbours Climate of the 1950s:

"..whenever the test oath was in vogue, spies and informers found rewards far more tempting than truth. These experiences underline the wisdom of the basic constitutional precept that penalties should be imposed only for a person's conduct...
Like everyone else, individual Communists who commit overt acts in violation of valid laws can and should be punished. But the postulate of the First Amendment is that our free institutions can be maintained without proscribing or penalizing political belief, speech, press, assembly, or party affiliation..it is the heart of the system on which our freedom depends.

Fears of alien ideologies have frequently agitated the nation and inspired legislation aimed at suppressing advocacy of those ideologies. At such times the fog of public excitement obscures the ancient landmarks set up in out Bill of Rights. Yet then, of all times, should this Court adhere most closely to the course they mark."


"The First Amendment presumes that free speech will preserve, not destroy, the nation."


"My belief is that we must have freedom of speech, press and religion for all or we may eventually have it for none. I further believe that the First Amendment grants an absolute right to believe in any governmental system, discuss all governmental affairs, and argue for desired changes in the existing order.
This freedom is too dangerous for bad, tyrannical governments to permit. But those who wrote and adopted our First Amendment's unequivocal command that freedom of assembly, petition, speech and press shall not be abridged."


"The motives behind the state law [of censorship] may have been to do good. But the same can be said about most laws making opinions publishable as crimes. History indicates urges to do good have led to the burning of books and even to the burning of 'witches'".


"I believe the First Amendment forbids Congress to punish people for talking about public affairs, whether or not such discussion incites to action, legal or illegal. As the Virginia Assembly said in 1785, in its 'Statute for Religious Liberty,' written by Thomas Jefferson, 'it is time enough for the rightful purposes of civil government, for its officers to interfere when principles break out into overt acts against peace..'"



More Bill of Rights Stuff:


"I read 'no law abridging' to mean no law abridging. [The First Amendment] has thus fixed its own value on freedom of speech and press by putting these freedoms wholly 'beyond the reach' of federal power to abridge... While it is 'obscenity and indecency' before us today, the experiance of mankind -- both ancient and modern -- shows that this type of elastic phrase can, and most likely, will be synonymous with the political and maybe with the religious unorthodoxy of tomorrow. Censorship is the deadly enemy of freedom and progress. The plain language of the Constitution forbids it."


"It is my belief that there are 'absolutes' in our Bill of Rights, and that they were put there by men who knew what words meant, and meant their prohibitions to be 'absolute'".


"Our First Amendment was a bold effort this principle -- to establish a country with no legal restrictions of any kind upon the subjects people could investigate, discuss and deny. The Framers knew, perhaps better than we do today, the risks they were taking. they knew that free speech might be the friend of change and revolution. But they knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny... Loyalty comes from love of a good government, not a fear of a bad one."



"the men who founded this country and wrote our Bill of Rights were strangers neither to a belief in the 'right of revolution' nor the urgency of the need to be free from the control of government with regard to political beliefs and associations... This country's freedom was won by men who, whether they believed in it or not, certainly practiced revolution in the Revolutionary War."


"As time goes on, I am more persuaded that one of the worst blows struck against free speech in this country [was Justice Holmes's] cryptic statement about 'shouting fire in a crowded theater'. It is used everywhere to justify [the restriction of] First Amendment freedoms."


"It wouldn't bother me if there were no libel or slander laws. They infringe on free speech."


"The basic premise of the First Amendment is that people must be left to say their prayers in their own way, and to their own God, without express or explicit coercion from any political office holder. There are not many people with religion and intelligence who will think this constitutional principle wrong on mature second thought. To those who think prayer must be recited parrot-like in public places to be effective, the sixth chapter of Matthew, 1 to 19, might be reflected upon, particularly verses 5 through 8."


On Vietnam:

"It's immoral, our national interest isn't involved and the domino theory is silly."

"Vietnam is the worst thing that has ever happened to this country: it's insanity."


On Rexford Tugwell's nomination to undersecretary of agriculture:

In everything he has spoken, in every word he has uttered, we find him striking a sledge-hammer against inordinate profits, against long hours, against children in factories... I am not for Mr. Tugwell solely because the President has appointed him. I am for him because I think he represents a school of political thought of which the country has long been sorely in need... which will not deify money and property to the extent of adding to the destitution and human misery of the men, women and children of the United States who produce the wealth which the people themselves are entitled to have."


On national healthcare:

"I am firmly convinced that the health of the nation should be of national concern....Whether the betterment of national health can be worked out better by a system of national hospitals, or by a system of state and national health and accident insurance, nobody knows, but humanity and social justice demand that it must be studied -- it should also be studied from a viewpoint of national defense."


On Faith:

"I can't exactly believe, and I can't exactly not believe."


More jurisprudence:


"I am just old fashioned enough to believe that the Constitution means exactly what it says."

"The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach."

"The layman's constitutional view is that what he likes is constitutional and that which he doesn't like is unconstitutional."

"Compelling a man by law to pay his money to elect candidates or advocate law or doctrines he is against differs only in degree, if at all, from compelling him by law to speak for a candidate, a party, or a cause he is against."

"The very reason for the First Amendment is to make the people of this country free to think, speak, write and worship as they wish, not as the Government commands."

"I am not now, and have never been, a railroad, power company, or a corporation lawyer. I am not a millionaire."

[The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment's] first and most immediate purpose rested on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and degrade religion."


"Laws are made to protect the trusting as well as the suspicious."

"Without deviation, without exception, without any ifs, buts, or whereases, freedom of speech means you shall not do something to people for views they have, express, speak, or write."


"The history of governmentally established religion, both in England and in this country, showed that whenever government had allied itself with one particular form of religion, the inevitable result had been that it had incurred the hatred, disrespect and even contempt of those who held contrary beliefs. That same history showed that many people had lost their respect for any religion that had relied upon the support of government to spread its faith."


"The time has passed for promises and plans to desegregate.. [the court's duty] is to extirpate all racial discrimination from our system of public schools NOW."


On famous jackasses:

[JFK as Senator] "hasn't done anything yet. Whatever he is, he is no liberal."

"Dear [Fellow Associate Justice] Bill [Douglas]: If they [Gerald Ford and Nixon's other cronies] try to impeach you, I'll resign [from the Supreme Court] and be your lawyer. I have one more hard trial left in me." (1970)


On Life and Education:

"It is the paradox of life that the way to miss pleasure is to seek it first. The very first condition of lasting happiness is that a life should be full of purpose, aiming at something outside self."

"I hope you can do some part of your college work outside the particular section in which you have been reared. This will subject you to ideas and habits quite new to you, broadening your intellectual horizons. People in each section of our great nation tend to have their ideas fashioned by their own immediate environments -- that is they become provincial in their thinking. A man with a good education shakes off this habit, learns that no person, group, or section has a monopoly on knowledge or truth, and then has a chance to live a wiser and happier life. In this connection you might get some good thoughts from the story of the cavemen which you can find in Plato's Republic Book VII."


Black overcame his racist upbringing. He was an autodidact of the best sort and of the kind that is the bete noire of Academe as well as the punditry. He believed in the New Deal and was sensitive to the corruption of previous Courts and pretty much made it his life mission to correct those corrupt decisions so that the Bill of Rights could apply to everyone as the Framers intended. He didn't win, but he did much good work. Hugo Black is a severely underappreciated American.

[Revised 5-8-07]

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