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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
“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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
“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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
“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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
“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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
(Attributed)

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

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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
(Attributed)

Quoted in Eugene Gerhart, America's Advocate: Robert H. Jackson (1958)
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 (1950)
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 (1950)
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 (1950)
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Intellectual freedom means the right to re-examine 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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382 70 S. Ct. 674, 94 L. Ed. 925 (1950)
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
American Communications Association v. Douds, 339 U.S. 382, 442 (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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

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

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Terminiello v. City of Chicago, 337 U.S. 1 (1949) (dissenting)

Common paraphrase of Jackson's actual comment: "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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
United States v. Ballard, 322 U.S. 78 (1944) [dissent]
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We can afford no liberties with liberty itself.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Wells v. Simonds Abrasive Co., 345 U.S. 514, 525 (1953)
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Those who begin coercive elimination of dissent soon find themselves exterminating dissenters. Compulsory unification of opinion achieves only the unanimity of the graveyard.

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

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Wickard v. Filburn, 317 U.S. 131 (1943)
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) [concurring]
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Zorach v. Clauson, 343 U.S. 306 (1952) [dissent]
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Zorach v. Clauson, 343 US 306, 324-325 (1952) [dissent]
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Nuremberg Trials, Opening remarks at trial of Hermann Goering (1946)
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Nuremberg Trials, Opening Statement (10 Nov 1945)
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Nuremberg Trials, Opening Statement (10 Nov 1945)
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Nuremberg Trials, Opening Statement (10 Nov 1945)
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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.

Justice Robert H. Jackson (1892-1954) US Supreme Court Justice
Speech, Second Annual Conference of United States Attorneys (1 Apr 1940)
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