Hugo L. Black
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.