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Charles Evans Hughes

When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.
No greater mistake can be made than to think that our institutions are fixed or may not be changed for the worse.

Charles Evans Hughes (April 11, 1862August 27, 1948) was a Republican politician and jurist who served as Governor of New York, United States Secretary of State, Associate Justice and Chief Justice of the United States.

SourcedEdit

While democracy must have its organizations and controls, its vital breath is individual liberty.
Our institutions were not devised to bring about uniformity of opinion; if they had we might well abandon hope.
I think that it is a fallacy to suppose that helpful cooperation in the future will be assured by the attempted compulsion of an inflexible rule.
  • We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is, and the judiciary is the safeguard of our liberty and of our property under the Constitution.
    • Speech before the Chamber of Commerce, Elmira, New York (3 May 1907); published in Addresses and Papers of Charles Evans Hughes, Governor of New York, 1906–1908 (1908), p. 139.
  • While democracy must have its organizations and controls, its vital breath is individual liberty.
    • Statement of May 1908, quoted in "Reauthorization of The Civil Rights Division of The United States Department of Justice" (15 May 2003) US House of Representatives.
  • No greater mistake can be made than to think that our institutions are fixed or may not be changed for the worse. … Increasing prosperity tends to breed indifference and to corrupt moral soundness. Glaring inequalities in condition create discontent and strain the democratic relation. The vicious are the willing, and the ignorant are unconscious instruments of political artifice. Selfishness and demagoguery take advantage of liberty. The selfish hand constantly seeks to control government, and every increase of governmental power, even to meet just needs, furnishes opportunity for abuse and stimulates the effort to bend it to improper uses. .. The peril of this Nation is not in any foreign foe! We, the people, are its power, its peril, and its hope!
    • Conditions of Progress in Democratic Government (1909).
  • A man has to live with himself, and he should see to it that he always has good company.
    • As quoted in Ethics and Citizenship (1924) by John Walter Wayland, p. 208.
  • When we lose the right to be different, we lose the privilege to be free.
    • Address at Faneuil Hall, Boston, Massachusetts, on the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Bunker Hill (17 June 1925).
  • The most ominous spirit of our times, as it seems to me, is the indication of the growth of an intolerent spirit. It is the more dangerous when armed, as it usually is, with sincere conviction. It is a spirit whose wrath must be turned away by the soft answers of a sweet reasonableness. It can be exorcised only by invoking the Genius which watched over our infancy and has guided our development— a good Genius— still potent let us believe — the American spirit of civil and religious liberty. Our institutions were not devised to bring about uniformity of opinion; if they had we might well abandon hope. It is important to remember, as has well been said, "the essential characteristic of true liberty is that under its shelter many different types of life and character and opinion and belief can develop unmolested and unobstructed."
    • Speech to the American Bar Association (2 September 1925).
  • …[I]n three notable instances the Court has suffered severely from self-inflicted wounds. The first of these was the Dred Scott case. … There the Supreme Court decided that Dred Scott, a negro, not being a citizen could not sue in the United States Courts and that Congress could not prohibit slavery in the territories. … [T]he grave injury that the Court sustained through its decision has been universally recognized. Its action was a public calamity. … [W]idespread and bitter attacks upon the judges who joined in the decision undermined confidence in the Court. … It was many years before the Court, even under new judges, was able to retrieve its reputation.…[The second instance was] the legal tender cases decided in 1870. … From the standpoint of the effect on public opinion there can be no doubt that the reopening of the case was a serious mistake and the overruling in such a short time, and by one vote, of the previous decision shook popular respect for the Court.… [The third instance happened] [t]wenty-five years later, when the Court had recovered its prestige, [and] its action in the income tax cases gave occasion for a bitter assault. … [After questions about the validity of the income tax] had been reserved owing to an equal division of the Court, a reargument was ordered and in the second decision the act was held to be unconstitutional by a majority of one. Justice Jackson was ill at the time of the first argument but took part in the final decision, voting in favor of the validity of the statute. It was evident that the result [holding the statute invalid] was brought about by a change in the vote of one of the judges who had participated in the first decision. … [T]he decision of such an important question by a majority of one after one judge had changed his vote aroused a criticism of the Court which has never been entirely stilled."
    • "The Supreme Court of the United States: Its Foundation, Methods and Achievements," Columbia University Press, p. 50 (1928). ISBN 1-893122-85-9.
  • The power of administrative bodies to make finding of fact which may be treated as conclusive, if there is evidence both ways, is a power of enormous consequence. An unscrupulous administrator might be tempted to say "Let me find the facts for the people of my country, and I care little who lays down the general principles."
    • "Important Work of Uncle Sam's Lawyers", American Bar Association Journal (April 1931), p. 238, reprinting an address to the Federal Bar Association, Washington, D.C. (February 11, 1931), where the chief justice spoke of the "extraordinary development of administrative agencies of the government and of the lawyer's part in making them work satisfactorily and also in protecting the public against bureaucratic excesses", according to the article's subtitle.
  • We still proclam the old ideals of liberty but we cannot voice them without anxiety in our hearts. The question is no longer one of establishing democratic institutions but of preserving them. … The arch enemies of society are those who know better but by indirection, misstatement, understatement, and slander, seek to accomplish their concealed purposes or to gain profit of some sort by misleading the public. The antidote for these poisons must be found in the sincere and courageous efforts of those who would preserve their cherished freedom by a wise and responsible use of it. Freedom of expression gives the essential democratic oppurtunity, but self-restraint is the essential civic discipline.
    • As quoted in Charles Evans Hughes (1951) by Merlo J. Pusey, Vol. II, p. 794.
  • I think that it is a fallacy to suppose that helpful cooperation in the future will be assured by the attempted compulsion of an inflexible rule. Rather will such cooperation depend upon the fostering of firm friendships springing from an appreciation of community ideals, interests, and purposes, and such friendships are more likely to be promoted by freedom of conference than by the effort to create hard and fast engagements.
  • At the constitutional level where we work, ninety percent of any decision is emotional. The rational part of us supplies the reasons for supporting our predilections.
  • [Dissents are] appeals to the brooding spirit of the law, to the intelligence of another day.
    • Reported in "Keeping Politics out of the Court", The New York Times (December 9, 1984); quoted in The HarperCollins Dictionary of American Government and Politics (1992) by Jay M. Shafritz, p. 407.

Judicial opinionsEdit

  • It is no longer open to doubt that the liberty of the press, and of speech, is within the liberty safeguarded by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment from invasion by state action. It was found impossible to conclude that this essential personal liberty of the citizen was left unprotected by the general guaranty of fundamental rights of person and property.
  • But it is recognized that punishment for the abuse of the liberty accorded to the press is essential to the protection of the public, and that the common law rules that subject the libeler to responsibility for the public offense, as well as for the private injury, are not abolished by the protection extended in our constitutions. The law of criminal libel rests upon that secure foundation. There is also the conceded authority of courts to punish for contempt when publications directly tend to prevent the proper discharge of judicial functions.
  • The exceptional nature of its limitations places in a strong light the general conception that liberty of the press, historically considered and taken up by the Federal Constitution, has meant, principally, although not exclusively, immunity from previous restraints or censorship.
  • Public officers, whose character and conduct remain open to debate and free discussion in the press, find their remedies for false accusations in actions under libel laws providing for redress and punishment, and not in proceedings to restrain the publication of newspapers and periodicals. The general principle that the constitutional guaranty of the liberty of the press gives immunity from previous restraints has been approved in many decisions under the provisions of state constitutions. The importance of this immunity has not lessened. While reckless assaults upon public men, and efforts to bring obloquy upon those who are endeavoring faithfully to discharge official duties, exert a baleful influence and deserve the severest condemnation in public opinion, it cannot be said that this abuse is greater, and it is believed to be less, than that which characterized the period in which our institutions took shape. Meanwhile, the administration of government has become more complex, the opportunities for malfeasance and corruption have multiplied, crime has grown to most serious proportions, and the danger of its protection by unfaithful officials and of the impairment of the fundamental security of life and property by criminal alliances and official neglect, emphasizes the primary need of a vigilant and courageous press, especially in great cities. The fact that the liberty of the press may be abused by miscreant purveyors of scandal does not make any the less necessary the immunity of the press from previous restraint in dealing with official misconduct. Subsequent punishment for such abuses as may exist is the appropriate remedy consistent with constitutional privilege.
  • In attempted justification of the statute, it is said that it deals not with publication per se, but with the "business" of publishing defamation. If, however, the publisher has a constitutional right to publish, without previous restraint, an edition of his newspaper charging official derelictions, it cannot be denied that he may publish subsequent editions for the same purpose. He does not lose his right by exercising it. If his right exists, it may be exercised in publishing nine editions, as in this case, as well as in one edition. If previous restraint is permissible, it may be imposed at once; indeed, the wrong may be as serious in one publication as in several. Characterizing the publication as a business, and the business as a nuisance, does not permit an invasion of the constitutional immunity against restraint. Similarly, it does not matter that the newspaper or periodical is found to be "largely" or "chiefly" devoted to the publication of such derelictions. If the publisher has a right, without previous restraint, to publish them, his right cannot be deemed to be dependent upon his publishing something else, more or less, with the matter to which objection is made. Nor can it be said that the constitutional freedom from previous restraint is lost because charges are made of derelictions which constitute crimes. With the multiplying provisions of penal codes, and of municipal charters and ordinances carrying penal sanctions, the conduct of public officers is very largely within the purview of criminal statutes. The freedom of the press from previous restraint has never been regarded as limited to such animadversions as lay outside the range of penal enactments. Historically, there is no such limitation; it is inconsistent with the reason which underlies the privilege, as the privilege so limited would be of slight value for the purposes for which it came to be established.
  • The statute in question cannot be justified by reason of the fact that the publisher is permitted to show, before injunction issues, that the matter published is true and is published with good motives and for justifiable ends. If such a statute, authorizing suppression and injunction on such a basis, is constitutionally valid, it would be equally permissible for the legislature to provide that at any time the publisher of any newspaper could be brought before a court, or even an administrative officer (as the constitutional protection may not be regarded as resting on mere procedural details) and required to produce proof of the truth of his publication, or of what he intended to publish, and of his motives, or stand enjoined. If this can be done, the legislature may provide machinery for determining in the complete exercise of its discretion what are justifiable ends, and restrain publication accordingly. And it would be but a step to a complete system of censorship.
  • The recognition of authority to impose previous restraint upon publication in order to protect the community against the circulation of charges of misconduct, and especially of official misconduct, necessarily would carry with it the admission of the authority of the censor against which the constitutional barrier was erected. The preliminary freedom, by virtue of the very reason for its existence, does not depend, as this Court has said, on proof of truth.
  • Equally unavailing is the insistence that the statute is designed to prevent the circulation of scandal which tends [p722] to disturb the public peace and to provoke assaults and the commission of crime. Charges of reprehensible conduct, and in particular of official malfeasance, unquestionably create a public scandal, but the theory of the constitutional guaranty is that even a more serious public evil would be caused by authority to prevent publication. To prohibit the intent to excite those unfavorable sentiments against those who administer the Government is equivalent to a prohibition of the actual excitement of them, and to prohibit the actual excitement of them is equivalent to a prohibition of discussions having that tendency and effect, which, again, is equivalent to a protection of those who administer the Government, if they should at any time deserve the contempt or hatred of the people, against being exposed to it by free animadversions on their characters and conduct. There is nothing new in the fact that charges of reprehensible conduct may create resentment and the disposition to resort to violent means of redress, but this well understood tendency did not alter the determination to protect the press against censorship and restraint upon publication. [...] The danger of violent reactions becomes greater with effective organization of defiant groups resenting exposure, and if this consideration warranted legislative interference with the initial freedom of publication, the constitutional protection would be reduced to a mere form of words.
  • Freedom of speech and of the press are fundamental rights which are safeguarded by the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. [...] The right of peaceable assembly is a right cognate to those of free speech and free press, and is equally fundamental. As this Court said in United States v. Cruikshank, 92 U.S. 542, 552:
    The very idea of a government, republican in form, implies a right on the part of its citizens to meet peaceably for consultation in respect to public affairs and to petition for a redress of grievances.
    The First Amendment of the Federal Constitution expressly guarantees that right against abridgment by Congress. But explicit mention there does not argue exclusion elsewhere. For the right is one that cannot be denied without violating those fundamental principles of liberty and justice which lie at the base of all civil and political institutions — principles which the Fourteenth Amendment embodies in the general terms of its due process clause. [...]
    These rights may be abused by using speech or press or assembly in order to incite to violence and crime. The people, through their legislatures may protect themselves against that abuse. But the legislative intervention, can find constitutional justification only by dealing with the abuse. The rights themselves must not be curtailed. The greater the importance of safeguarding the community from incitements to the overthrow of our institutions by force and violence, the more imperative is the need to preserve inviolate the constitutional rights of free speech, free press and free assembly in order to maintain the opportunity for free political discussion, to the end that government may be responsive to the will of the people and that changes, if desired, may be obtained by peaceful means. Therein lies the security of the Republic, the very foundation of constitutional government.
  • The liberty of the press is not confined to newspapers and periodicals. It necessarily embraces pamphlets and leaflets. … the press in its historic connotation comprehends every sort of publication which affords a vehicle of information and opinion.

The Pathway of Peace (1923)Edit

Speech to the Canadian Bar Association, Montreal, Ontario (4 September 1923); published in The Pathway of Peace : Representative Addresses Delivered During His Term as as secretary of state (1921-1925) (1925)
Time has shown how illusory are alliances of great powers so far as the maintenance of peace is concerned. In considering the use of international force to secure peace, we are again brought to the fundamental necessity of common accord.
There is no path to peace except as the will of peoples may open to it. The way of peace is through agreement, not through force.
  • We may gain something in our quest for peace if we recognize at once that war is not an abnormality. In the truest sense, it is not the mere play of brute force. It is the expression of the insistent human will, inflexible in its purpose.
    When we consider the inability to maintain a just peace attests to the failure of civilization itself, we may be less confident of the success of any artificial contrivances to prevent war.
    We must recognize that we are dealing with the very woof and warp of human nature. The war to end war has left its curse of hate, its lasting injuries, its breeding grounds of strife, and to secure an abiding peace appears to be more difficult than ever. There is no advantage to shutting our eyes to the facts; nor should we turn in disgust of panaceas to the counsel of despair. The pathway of peace is the longest and most beset with obstacles the human race has to tread; the goal may be distant, but we must press on.
  • It is not surprising that many should be captivated by the proposal, with its delusive simplicity and adequacey, for the outlawry of war. War should be made a crime, and those who instigate it should be punished as criminals. The suggestion, however futile in itself, has at least the merit of bringing us to the core of the problem. Even among its sponsors appear at once the qualifications which reflect the old distinction, so elaborately argued by Grotius, between just and unjust wars. "The grounds of war," said he, " are as numerous as those of judicial actions. For where the power of law ceases, there war begins." He found the justifiable causes generally assigned for war to be three — defense, indemnity, and punishment. War is self-help, and the right to make war has been recognized as the corollary of independence, the permitted means by which injured nations protect their territory and maintain their rights. International law leaves aggrieved states who cannot obtain redress for their wrongs by peaceful means to exact it by force. If war is outlawed, other means of redress of injuries must be provided. Moreover, few, if any, intend to outlaw self-defense, a right still accorded to individuals under all systems of law. To meet this difficulty, the usual formula is limited to wars of aggression. But justification for war, as recently demonstrated, is ready at hand for those who desire to make war, and there is rarely a case of admitted aggression, or where on each side the cause is not believed to be just by the peoples who support the war.
    There is a further difficulty that lies deeper. There is no lawgiver for independent States. There is no legislature to impose its will by majority vote, no executive to give effect even to accepted rules. The outlawry of war necessarily implies a self-imposed restraint, and free peoples, jealous of their national safety, of their freedom of opportunity, of the rights and privileges they deem essential to their well-being, will not forego the only sanction at their command in extreme exigencies. The restraints they may be willing to place upon themselves will always be subject to such conditions as will leave them able to afford self-protection by force, and in this freedom there is abundant room for strife sought to be justified by deep-seated convictions of national interests, by long-standing grievances by the apprehension of aggression to be forestalled. The outlawry of war, by appropriate rule of law making war a crime, requires the common accord needed to establish and maintain a rule of international law, the common consent to abandon war; and the suggested remedy thus implies a state of mind in which no cure is needed. As the restraint is self-imposed it will prove to be of avail only while there is a will to peace.
  • Time has shown how illusory are alliances of great powers so far as the maintenance of peace is concerned.
    In considering the use of international force to secure peace, we are again brought to the fundamental necessity of common accord.
    If the feasibility of such a force be conceded for the purpose of maintaining adjudications of legal right, this is only because such an adjudication would proceed upon principles commonly accepted, and thus forming part of international law, and upon the common agreement to respect the decision of an impartial tribunal in the application of such principles. This is a limited field where force is rarely needed and where the sanctions of public opinion and the demands of national honor are generally quite sufficient to bring about acquiescence in judicial awards. But in the field of conflicting national policies, and what are deemed essential interests, when the smoldering fires of old grievances have been fanned into a flame by a passionate sense of immediate injury, or the imagination of peoples is dominated by apprehension of present danger to national safety, or by what is believed to be an assault upon national honor, what force is to control the outbreak? Great powers agreeing among themselves may indeed hold small powers in check. But who will hold great powers in check when great powers disagree?
  • There is no path to peace except as the will of peoples may open to it. The way of peace is through agreement, not through force. The question then is not of any ambitious scheme to prevent war, but simply of the constant effort, which is the highest task of statesmanship in relation to every possible cause of strife, to diminish a people's disposition to resort to force and to find a just and reasonable basis for accord. If the energy, ability, and sagacity equal to that now devoted to preparation for war could be concentrated upon such efforts aided by the urgent demands of an intelligent public opinion, addressed not to impossibilities but to the removal or adjustment of actual differences, we should make a sure approach to our goal.
  • The only real progress to abiding peace is found in the friendly disposition of peoples and … facilities for maintaining peace are useful only to the extent that this friendly disposition exists and finds expression. War is not only possible, but probable, where mistrust and hatred and desire for revenge are the dominant motives. Our first duty is at home with our own opinion, by education and unceasing effort to bring to naught the mischievous exhortation of chauvinists; our next is to aid in every practicable way in promoting a better feeling among peoples, the healing of wounds, and the just settlement of differences.

Quotes about HughesEdit

  • Now largely forgotten, Hughes was one of the great political figures of his age, both in America and on the world stage, and was very much the intellectual rival of his opponent in the narrowly lost presidential election of 1916, Woodrow Wilson. Hughes public career was distinguished and wide-ranging. A progressive Republican New York City lawyer catapulted overnight into the public eye by his service on public commissions investigating corruption in the utility and insurance industries, Hughes served as governor of New York from 1907 to 1910, stepping down to accept William Howard Taft's appointment as associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite pressures from supporters in the Republican Party, Hughes refused to leave the court to run for president in 1912; in 1916, he declined to seek his party's nomination (or, indeed, even to indicate a willingness to accept it) but having received it, stepped down from the court to take up the race against Wilson.
    • Edward Rhodes, in "Charles Evans Hughes Reconsidered, or: Liberal Isolationism in the New Millennium" in The Real and the Ideal : Essays on International Relations in Honor of Richard H. Ullman (2001)
  • Always a Progressive in outlook, Hughes believed in the organic growth and evolution of polities and political relationships; any effort to freeze conditions would inevitably become a reactionary defense of the rights of the privileged against what might, in some cases, be the reasonable and legitimate demands of the dispossessed and the interests of the community as a whole.
    • Edward Rhodes, in "Charles Evans Hughes Reconsidered, or: Liberal Isolationism in the New Millennium" in The Real and the Ideal : Essays on International Relations in Honor of Richard H. Ullman (2001)
  • I don’t know the man I admire more than Hughes. If ever I have the chance I shall offer him the Chief Justiceship.

External linksEdit

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Legal opinions as Chief Justice