1937 August 12

Hugo Black Nominated for Supreme Court

 

Hugo Black, one of the greatest civil libertarians in the history of the Supreme Court, was nominated for the Court on this day by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Soon after his nomination, reports arose that early in his political career he had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The controversy continued through his confirmation process and even after he was sworn in as a justice (see September 14, 1937). There were also less publicized allegations about his use of questionable investigative techniques while chair of a Senate committee.

Despite the controversy over his early KKK membership, on the Court Black became a strong supporter of racial justice and one of the greatest civil libertarians ever to sit on the Court. On June 29, 1947, when President Harry Truman became the first president ever to address the NAACP, Hugo Black joined him on the dais at the Lincoln Memorial for the speech.

Black’s important opinions include his passionate dissent in Dennis v. United States (June 4, 1951), regarding freedom of speech and the Smith Act; and representing majority opinions in Everson v. Board of Education (February 10, 1947), in which he articulated the doctrine of the “wall of separation” between church and state; Engel v. Vitale (June 25, 1962), ruling that school prayers are unconstitutional; Gideon v. Wainwright (March 18, 1963), affirming a right to an attorney for criminal defendants facing felony charges; and important concurring opinions in many cases. Particularly important was his belief that the Fourteenth Amendment incorporates all of the protections of the Bill of Rights; a majority of the Court never accepted this view, opting instead for a piecemeal process of selective incorporation.

Learn more: Howard Ball, Hugo L. Black: Cold Steel Warrior (1996)

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

Read: Roger Newman, Hugo Black: A Biography (1994)

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

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