Hugo L. Black

Media Items
1968 Interview on Broadcast Television

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Personal Information
Born 
Saturday, February 27, 1886
Died 
Saturday, September 25, 1971
Childhood Location 
Alabama
Childhood Surroundings 
Alabama
Religion 
Baptist
Ethnicity 
Scotch/Irish
Father 
William L. Black
Father's Occupation 
Storekeeper; farmer
Mother 
Martha A. Toland
Family Status 
Lower-middle
Position 
Associate Justice
Seat 
2
Nominated By 
Roosevelt, F.
Commissioned on 
Wednesday, August 18, 1937
Sworn In 
Thursday, August 19, 1937
Left Office 
Friday, September 17, 1971
Reason For Leaving 
Retired
Length of Service 
34 years, 0 months, 29 days
Home 
Alabama
Hugo L. Black
The Collection of the Supreme Court of the United States (Artist: John Black)
Biography 

Hugo Lafayette Black was born in the hill country of Alabama. He was raised and educated in Ashland where his father was a businessman. After a year of medical school, Black turned to law study; he entered legal practice in his home town where he came to specialize in labor law and personal injury cases.

In 1927, Black was elected to the United States Senate as a Democrat. Black was a strong advocate for the New Deal policies of President Franklin Roosevelt, including FDR's infamous Court-packing plan. It is not at all surprising that Black, a southern progressive, became Roosevelt's first appointment to the Supreme Court.

Shortly after his swearing-in but prior to taking his seat on the bench, Justice Black found himself in controversy. The Hearst newspapers reported that Black had been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Black gave a nationally broadcast radio address explaining his decision to join and then resign from the Klan. Protestors filed an unsuccessful petition urging the Court to deny Black his seat.

As a Justice, Black held to the view that the Court should literally enforce constitutional guarantees, especially the First Amendment free speech clause. Black was often labeled an "activist" because of his willingness to review legislation that arguably violated constitutional provisions. Black maintained that literalism was necessary to cabin judicial power.

In a rare 1968 public interview, Black reflected on his most important contributions. He put his dissent from Adamson v. California at the top of the list, but then spoke with great eloquence from one of his earliest opinions in Chambers v. Florida (1940).

Black resigned from the Court in 1971, following a debilitating stroke. He died eight days later.

Clerkships 
Clerksort icon Law School Terms Clerked
Walter E. Dellinger, III Yale (1966) 1968
William Joslin Columbia (1947) 1947

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Cite this Page
Hugo L. Black. The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law. 20 December 2014. <http://www.oyez.org/justices/hugo_l_black?order=title&sort=asc&page=2>.
Hugo L. Black, The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, http://www.oyez.org/justices/hugo_l_black?order=title&sort=asc&page=2 (last visited December 20, 2014).
"Hugo L. Black," The Oyez Project at IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law, accessed December 20, 2014, http://www.oyez.org/justices/hugo_l_black?order=title&sort=asc&page=2.