Quotations by:
    Jackson, Robert H.


Your job today tells me nothing of your future — your use of your leisure today tells me just what your tomorrow will be.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Speech, Dedication of new building, Jamestown High School, New York (1935)

In Gerhjart, America's Advocate: Robert H. Jackson, ch. 24 (1958)
 
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I used to say that, as Solicitor General, I made three arguments in every case. First came the one I had planned – as I thought, logical, coherent, complete. Second was the one actually presented – interrupted, incoherent, disjointed, disappointing. The third was the utterly devastating argument that I thought of after going to bed that night.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
“Advocacy Before the Supreme Court,” Morrison Lecture, California State Bar (23 Aug 1951)

Reprinted in the Cornell Law Quarterly (Fall 1951) (full text). Also cite "Advocacy Before the Supreme Court," 37 A.B.A.J. 801, 803 (1951)
 
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On your first appearance before the Court, do not waste your time and ours telling us so. We are likely to discover for ourselves that you are a novice but will think none the less of you for it. Every famous lawyer had his first day at our bar, and perhaps a sad one …. Be respectful, of course, but also be self-respectful, and neither disparage yourself nor flatter the Justices. We think well enough of ourselves already.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
“Advocacy Before the Supreme Court,” Morrison Lecture, California State Bar (23 Aug 1951)
 
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There is no such thing as an achieved liberty; like electricity, there can be no substantial storage and it must be generated as it is enjoyed, or the lights go out.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
“The Task of Maintaining Our Liberties: The Role of the Judiciary”, 39 A.B.A. J. 961 (1953)
 
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Not every defeat of authority is a gain for individual freedom, nor every judicial rescue of a convict a victory for liberty.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
“The Task of Maintaining Our Liberties: The Role of the Judiciary”, 39 A.B.A. J. 961 (1953)
 
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The advocate can make no greater mistake than to ignore or attempt to conceal the weak points in his case. The most effective strategy is at an early stage of the argument to invite attention to your weakest point before the court has discovered it, then to meet it with the best answers at your disposal, to deal with all the remaining points with equal candor, and to end with as powerful a presentation of your strongest point as you are capable of making.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
(Attributed)

Quoted in E. Gerhard, America's Advocate: Robert H. Jackson, ch. 24 (1958)

 
Added on 20-Dec-08 | Last updated 20-Dec-08
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When we went to school we were told that we were governed by laws, not men. As a result of that, many people think there is no need to pay any attention to judicial candidates because judges merely apply the law by some mathematical formula and a good judge and a bad judge all apply the same kind of law. The fact is that the most important part of a judge’s work is the exercise of judgment and that the law in a court is never better than the common sense judgment of the judge that is presiding.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
(Attributed)

Quoted in Eugene Gerhart, America's Advocate: Robert H. Jackson (1958)
 
Added on 3-May-12 | Last updated 3-May-12
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Progress generally begins in skepticism about accepted truths. Intellectual freedom means the right to reexamine much that has been long taken for granted. A free man must be a reasoning man, and he must dare to doubt what a legislative or electoral majority may most passionately assert. The danger that citizens will think wrongly is serious, but less dangerous than atrophy from not thinking at all.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442 (1950) [concurrence and dissent]
    (Source)
 
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Our Constitution relies on our electorate’s complete ideological freedom to nourish independent and responsible intelligence and preserve our democracy from that submissiveness, timidity and herd-mindedness of the masses which would foster a tyranny of mediocrity.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442 (1950) [concurrence and dissent]
    (Source)
 
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The priceless heritage of our society is the unrestricted constitutional right of each member to think as he will. Thought control is a copyright of totalitarianism, and we have no claim to it. It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error. We could justify any censorship only when the censors are better shielded against error than the censored.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Assn. v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442-443 (1950) [concurrence and dissent]
    (Source)
 
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Our forefathers found the evils of free thinking more to be endured than the evils of inquest or suppression. They gave the status of almost absolute individual rights to the outward means of expressing belief. I cannot believe that they left open a way for legislation to embarrass or impede the mere intellectual processes by which those expressions of belief are examined and formulated.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 (1950)
 
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But we must not forget that in our country are evangelists and zealots of many different political, economic and religious persuasions whose fanatical conviction is that all thought is divinely classified into two kinds — that which is their own and that which is false and dangerous. Communists are not the only faction which would put us all in mental straitjackets.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 (1950)
 
Added on 1-Apr-10 | Last updated 10-Jan-12
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It is not to be supposed that the age-old readiness to try to convert minds by pressure or suppression, instead of reason and persuasion, is extinct. Our protection against all kinds of fanatics and extremists, none of whom can be trusted with unlimited power over others, lies not in their forbearance, but in the limitations of our Constitution.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 (1950)
 
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Civil liberties had their origin and must find their ultimate guaranty in the faith of the people. If that faith should be lost, five or nine men in Washington could not long supply its want.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Douglas v. Jeannette 319 U.S. 157, 182 (1943) [Concurring]
 
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[T]he effect of the religious freedom Amendment to our Constitution was to take every form of propagation of religion out of the realm of things which could directly or indirectly be made public business, and thereby be supported in whole or in part at taxpayers’ expense. That is a difference which the Constitution sets up between religion and almost every other subject matter of legislation, a difference which goes to the very root of religious freedom[…] This freedom was first in the Bill of Rights because it was first in the forefathers’ minds; it was set forth in absolute terms, and its strength is its rigidity. It was intended not only to keep the states’ hands out of religion, but to keep religion’s hands off the state, and, above all, to keep bitter religious controversy out of public life by denying to every denomination any advantage from getting control of public policy or the public purse.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Everson v. Board of Education of Ewing Township, 330 U.S. 1 (1947) [dissent]
 
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The most odious of all oppressions are those which mask as justice.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Krulewitch v. United States (1949)
 
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The Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 37 (1949) [dissenting]
    (Source)

Common paraphrase of Jackson's actual comment:

This Court has gone far toward accepting the doctrine that civil liberty means the removal of all restraints from these crowds, and that all local attempts to maintain order are impairments of the liberty of the citizen. The choice is not between order and liberty. It is between liberty with order and anarchy without either. There is danger that, if the Court does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact.
 
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[T]he price of freedom of religion or of speech or of the press is that we must put up with, and even pay for, a good deal of rubbish.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944) [dissent]
    (Source)
 
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It is plain that there is wide variety in American religious taste. The [defendants] are not alone in catering to it with a pretty dubious product.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944) [dissent]
 
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The United States has a system of taxation by confession. That a people so numerous, scattered and individualistic annually assesses itself with a tax liability, often in highly burdensome amounts, is a reassuring sign of the stability and vitality of our system of self-government. What surprised me in once trying to help administer these laws was not to discover examples of recalcitrance, fraud or self-serving mistakes in reporting, but to discover that such derelictions were so few.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
United States v. Kahriger, 345 U.S. 36 (1953) [concurring]
    (Source)

This is often misattributed to Hugo Black, who wrote a dissent in the case.
 
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We can afford no liberties with liberty itself.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
United States v. Spector, 343 US 169, 180 (1952) (dissenting)
 
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But the validity of a doctrine does not depend on whose ox it gores.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Wells v. Simonds Abrasive Co., 345 U.S. 514, 525 (1953)
 
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Struggles to coerce uniformity of sentiment in support of some end thought essential to their time and country have been waged by many good, as well as by evil, men. Nationalism is a relatively recent phenomenon, but, at other times and places, the ends have been racial or territorial security, support of a dynasty or regime, and particular plans for saving souls. As first and moderate methods to attain unity have failed, those bent on its accomplishment must resort to an ever-increasing severity. […] Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, 318-319 U.S. 624 (1943) [majority opinion]
    (Source)
 
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If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943) [majority opinion]
    (Source)
 
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The very purpose of a Bill of Rights was to withdraw certain subjects from the vicissitudes of political controversy, to place them beyond the reach of majorities and officials and establish them as legal principles to be applied by the courts. One’s rights to life, liberty, and property, to free speech, a free press, freedom of worship and assembly, and other fundamental rights may not be submitted to vote; they depend on the outcome of no elections.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, 319 U.S. 624 (1943) [majority opinion]

Full decision
 
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Freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of the substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
West Virginia State Board v. Barnette (1943)
 
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It is hardly lack of due process for the Government to regulate that which it subsidizes.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 131 (1943)
 
Added on 17-Jan-08 | Last updated 17-Jan-08
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No one will question that this power is the most dangerous one to free government in the whole catalogue of powers. It usually is invoked in haste and excitement when calm legislative consideration of constitutional limitation is difficult. It is executed in a time of patriotic fervor that makes moderation unpopular. And, worst of all, it is interpreted by judges under the influence of the same passions and pressures. Always, as in this case, the Government urges hasty decision to forestall some emergency or serve some purpose and pleads that paralysis will result if its claims to power are denied or their confirmation delayed.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Woods v. Cloyd W. Miller Co., 333 U.S. 138, 146 (1948) (concurring)

On the executive "war power".
 
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Nothing in our Constitution is plainer than that declaration of a war is entrusted only to Congress. Of course, a state of war may in fact exist without a formal declaration. But no doctrine that the Court could promulgate would seem to me more sinister and alarming than that a President whose conduct of foreign affairs is so largely uncontrolled, and often even is unknown, can vastly enlarge his mastery over the internal affairs of the country by his own commitment of the Nation’s armed forces to some foreign venture.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) [concurring]
 
Added on 25-Apr-08 | Last updated 10-Jan-12
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No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a President can escape control of executive powers by law through assuming his military role.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) [concurring]
 
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The day that this country ceases to be free for irreligion it will cease to be free for religion — except for the sect that can win political power.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952) [dissent]
 
Added on 22-Jul-08 | Last updated 10-Jan-12
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My evangelistic brethren confuse an objection to compulsion with an objection to religion. It is possible to hold a faith with enough confidence that what should be rendered to God does not need to be decided and collected by Caesar.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Zorach v. Clauson, 343 US 306, 324-325 (1952) [dissent]
 
Added on 2-May-11 | Last updated 10-Jan-12
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If certain acts of violation of treaties are crimes, they are crimes whether the United States does them or whether Germany does them, and we are not prepared to lay down a rule of criminal conduct against others which we would not be willing to have invoked against us.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
International Conference on Military Trials, London (1945)

US Dept. of State Publication No. 3080 (1949), p.330.
 
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We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants today is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well. We must summon such detachment and intellectual integrity to our task that this trial will commend itself to posterity as fulfilling humanity’s aspirations to do justice.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Nuremberg Trials, Opening remarks at trial of Hermann Goering (1946)
 
Added on 18-Jul-07 | Last updated 10-Jan-12
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The wrongs which we seek to condemn and punish have been so calculated, so malignant, and so devastating, that civilization cannot tolerate their being ignored, because it cannot survive their being repeated.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Nuremberg Trials, Opening Statement (10 Nov 1945)
 
Added on 18-Jul-08 | Last updated 10-Jan-12
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If we can cultivate in the world the idea that aggressive war-making is the way to the prisoner’s dock rather than the way to honors, we will have accomplished something toward making the peace more secure.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Nuremberg Trials, Opening Statement (10 Nov 1945)
 
Added on 22-Mar-12 | Last updated 22-Mar-12
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We must never forget that the record on which we judge these defendants is the record on which history will judge us tomorrow. To pass these defendants a poisoned chalice is to put it to our own lips as well.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Nuremberg Trials, Opening Statement (10 Nov 1945)
 
Added on 12-Apr-12 | Last updated 12-Apr-12
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The qualities of a good prosecutor are as elusive and as impossible to define as those which mark a gentleman. And those who need to be told would not understand it anyway. A sensitiveness to fair play and sportsmanship is perhaps the best protection against the abuse of power, and the citizen’s safety lies in the prosecutor who tempers zeal with human kindness, who seeks truth and not victims, who serves the law and not factional purposes, and who approaches his task with humility.

Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice, lawyer, jurist, politician
Speech, Second Annual Conference of United States Attorneys (1 Apr 1940)
 
Added on 17-May-12 | Last updated 17-May-12
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