1950 January 21

“Fear Obscures Reason,” Justice Hugo Black Warns of Cold War Hysteria


Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, one of the greatest civil libertarians in the history of the Court, warned of the impact of Cold War anti-Communist hysteria on American liberties in a speech to 500 delegates at a conference of the American Jewish Committee. His speech on this day was titled “Fear Obscures Reason.” In one of his most famous opinions, Black and his colleague William O. Douglas were the only two Justices to dissent in the case of Dennis v. United States (decided June 4, 1951), in which the Court upheld the constitutionality of the Smith Act, making it a crime to advocate the overthrow of the government.

Justice Black gave his warning about hysteria just two weeks before Senator Joe McCarthy burst onto the political scene on February 9, 1954, introducing the most hysterical and irrational chapter of the Cold War.

Read more about Justice Black: Roger K. Newman, Hugo Black: A Biography (1994)

Watch Justice Black discuss the Bill of Rights: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HAgQdeup2v0

Learn more about Hugo Black’s life and career: http://www.encyclopediaofalabama.org/face/Article.jsp?id=h-1848

Learn more about the Cold War: Ellen Schrecker, Many Are the Crimes: McCarthyism in America (1998)

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