Quotations by Black, Hugo


Citizenship is no light trifle to be jeopardized any moment Congress decides to do so under the name of one of its general or implied grants of power.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Afroyim v. Rusk, 387 U.S. 267–68 (1967)
Added on 2-Oct-07 | Last updated 2-Oct-07
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No higher duty, or more solemn responsibility rests upon this Court than that of translating into living law and maintaining this constitutional shield deliberately planned and inscribed for the benefit of every human being subject to our Constitution — of whatever race, creed, or persuasion.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Chambers v. Florida, 209 U.S. 227 (1938) – majority opinion
Added on 8-Aug-12 | Last updated 8-Aug-12
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Our Founders were no more willing to let the content of their prayers and their privilege of praying whenever they pleased be influenced by the ballot box than they were to let these vital matters of personal conscience depend upon the succession of monarchs. The First Amendment was added to the Constitution to stand as a guarantee that neither the power nor the prestige of the Federal Government would be used to control, support or influence the kinds of prayer the American people can say — that the people’s religions must not be subjected to the pressures of government for change each time a new political administration is elected to office. Under that Amendment’s prohibition against governmental establishment of religion, as reinforced by the provisions of the Fourteenth Amendment, government in this country, be it state or federal, is without power to prescribe by law any particular form of prayer which is to be used as an official prayer in carrying on any program of governmentally sponsored religious activity.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) – majority opinion
Added on 3-Oct-12 | Last updated 3-Oct-12
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But the purposes underlying the Establishment Clause go much further than that. Its first and most immediate purpose rested on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion. 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 Establishment Clause thus stands as an expression of principle on the part of the Founders of our Constitution that religion is too personal, too sacred, too holy, to permit its “unhallowed perversion” by a civil magistrate.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) – majority opinion
Added on 17-Oct-12 | Last updated 17-Oct-12
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Another purpose of the Establishment Clause rested upon an awareness of the historical fact that governmentally established religions and religious persecutions go hand in hand. The Founders knew that only a few years after the Book of Common Prayer became the only accepted form of religious services in the established Church of England, an Act of Uniformity was passed to compel all Englishmen to attend those services and to make it a criminal offense to conduct or attend religious gatherings of any other kind — a law which was consistently flouted by dissenting religious groups in England and which contributed to widespread persecutions of people like John Bunyan who persisted in holding “unlawful [religious] meetings … to the great disturbance and distraction of the good subjects of this kingdom ….” And they knew that similar persecutions had received the sanction of law in several of the colonies in this country soon after the establishment of official religions in those colonies. It was in large part to get completely away from this sort of systematic religious persecution that the Founders brought into being our Nation, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights with its prohibition against any governmental establishment of religion.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962) – majority opinion
Added on 24-Oct-12 | Last updated 24-Oct-12
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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.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) – majority opinion
Added on 4-Oct-11 | Last updated 7-Jun-12
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The “establishment of religion” clause of the First Amendment means at least this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to 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 non-attendance. 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 from 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 law was intended to erect “a wall of separation between Church and State.”

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) – majority opinion
Added on 18-Oct-11 | Last updated 7-Jun-12
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That Amendment requires the state to be a neutral in its relations with groups of religious believers and nonbelievers; it does not require the state to be their adversary. State power is no more to be used so as to handicap religions than it is to favor them.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Everson v. Board of Education, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) – majority opinion
Added on 15-Aug-12 | Last updated 15-Aug-12
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Bad men, like good men, are entitled to be tried and sentenced in accordance with law, and when it is shown to us that a person is serving an illegal sentence our obligation is to direct that proper steps be taken to correct the wrong done, without regard to the character of a particular defendant or to the possible effect on others who might also want to challenge the legality of their sentences as they have the right to do ‘at any time’ under Rule 35. If it has any relevance at all, the fact that there may be other prisoners in this country’s jails serving illegal sentences would seem to me to make it all the more imperative that we grant appropriate relief in this case rather than search for some obviously dubious excuse to deny this petitioner’s claim.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Green v. United States, 365 U.S. 301, 309-310 (1961) – dissenting opinion
Added on 26-Sep-12 | Last updated 26-Sep-12
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To hold that a state cannot, consistently with the First and Fourteenth Amendments, utilize its public school system to aid any or all religious faiths or sects in the dissemination of their doctrines and ideals does not, as counsel urge, manifest a governmental hostility to religion or religious teachings. A manifestation of such hostility would be at war with our national tradition as embodied in the First Amendment’s guaranty of the free exercise of religion. For the First Amendment rests upon the premise that both religion and government can best work to achieve their lofty aims if each is left free from the other within its respective sphere.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
McCollum v. Board of Education, 333 U.S. 203 (1948) – majority opinion
Added on 29-Aug-12 | Last updated 29-Aug-12
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This Nation, I suspect, can live in peace without libel suits based on public discussions of public affairs and public officials. But I doubt that a country can live in freedom where its people can be made to suffer physically or financially for criticizin their government, its actions, or its officials. … An unconditional right to say what one pleases about public affairs is what I consider to be the minimum guarantee of the First Amendment. … I regret tha the Court has stopped short of this holding indispensible to preserve our free press from destruction.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254 (1964) – concurring opinion
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Jun-12
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The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) [Majority Opinion]
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Added on 24-Feb-17 | Last updated 24-Feb-17
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In the First Amendment the Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to fulfill its essential role in our democracy. The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
New York Times Co. v. United States 403 U.S. 713 (1971) – concurring opinion
Added on 21-Jan-08 | Last updated 7-Jun-12
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The word “security” is a broad, vague generality whose contours should not be invoked to abrogate the fundamental law embodied in the First Amendment.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) – concurring opinion
Added on 10-Oct-12 | Last updated 10-Oct-12
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In revealing the workings of government that led to the Vietnam War, the newspapers nobly did precisely that which the Founders hoped and trusted they would do.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
New York Times Co. v. United States, 403 U.S. 713 (1971) – concurring opinion (30 Jun 1971)
Added on 23-Apr-08 | Last updated 7-Jun-12
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I think most Americans do not understand the Constitution. It’s all because each one of them believes that the Constitution prohibits that which they think should be prohibited, and permits that which they think should be permitted.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Newsweek, interview (9 Dec 1968)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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The First Amendment’s language leaves no room for inference that abridgments of speech and press can be made just because they are slight. That Amendment provides, in simple words, that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press.” I read “no law … abridging” to mean no law abridging.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Smith v. California, 361 U.S. 147 (1959) – concurring opinion
Added on 5-Sep-12 | Last updated 5-Sep-12
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The Framers [of the Constitution] knew that free speech is the friend of change and revolution. But they also knew that it is always the deadliest enemy of tyranny.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
Address at the New York University School of Law (1960)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 1-Feb-04
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It is my belief that there are “absolutes” in our Bill of Rights, and that they were put there on purpose by men who knew what the words meant and meant their prohibitions to be “absolutes.”

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
James Madison Lecture, New York University School of Law (17 Feb 1960)
Added on 12-Sep-12 | Last updated 12-Sep-12
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My view is, without deviation, without exception, without ifs, buts or whereases, that freedom of speech means that you shall not do something to people either for the views they have or the views they express or the words they speak or write.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
News Conference, New York (1962)
Added on 1-Feb-04 | Last updated 7-Jun-12
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The layman’s Constitutional view is that what he likes is Constitutional and that which he doesn’t like is un-Constitutional. That about measures up the Constitutional acumen of the average person.

Hugo Black (1886-1971) American politician and jurist, US Supreme Court Justice (1937-71)
News Conference, Washington, DC (25 Feb 1971)
Added on 9-Apr-08 | Last updated 7-Jun-12
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