Hugo Black Research Proposal

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Hugo Black

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When one considers the fact that Hugo Lafayette Black was appointed to the Supreme Court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, and confirmed by an overwhelming Senate vote due to Roosevelt and the Senate's joint goals of packing the Supreme Court so that it would further the goals of the Southern Democrats and allow New Deal programs, Black's judicial legacy differs from what one would expect. Rather than rubber-stamping Roosevelt- inspired legislation, Black proved himself to be a careful and cautious jurist, who showed tremendous respect for the Constitution and for the rights of the American people. It is true that Black's views of constitutional rights were expansive for his time period, though it would be inaccurate to describe Black as a judicial activist. As demonstrated in some Black's opinions, he did not believe that the Supreme Court's role was to create new constitutional rights, but merely to ensure that those rights guaranteed to the American people by the Constitution were not infringed by the government. As a result, he was able to view the Constitution in a manner that enabled much of Roosevelt's New Deal legislation because his expansive view of the Constitution permitted such programs. However, that expansive view also resulted in Black being considered one of the more liberal members of the Supreme Court in the 20th century, because of the pivotal role that Black played in civil rights disputes. Looking at Black's legal career, it is clear that Roosevelt did not accomplish both of his goals with Black's appointment. While Black permitted New Deal legislation to stand, his legal decisions often put him in opposition to the Southern Democrats.

Winning Southern Voters

TOPIC: Research Proposal on Hugo Black Assignment

It was certainly reasonable for Roosevelt to believe that Black would further the goals of Southern Democrat voters. After all, Black had been a legislator from Alabama and had furthered the goals of the Southern Democrats. Support for New Deal legislation was something that most Southern Democrats encouraged, because the Deep South was disproportionately impacted by the Great Depression. Moreover, one must recall that America at that time was still struggling with how to reconcile African-American rights with hundreds of years of treating African-Americans as chattel. The Deep South was firmly entrenched in Jim Crow, and southern blacks had little chance of being treated as equal human beings under any laws in the nation. Black seemed to embody this attitude towards African-Americans. He was a deeply southern man and very proud of his southern heritage, which carried with it a tremendous legacy of racism. Not only had he been a member of the Ku Klux Klan, but he also engaged in a famous filibuster with the goal of preventing an anti-lynching law. (Novel Guide). Therefore, it seemed certain that Black would continue to further the goals of Southern Democrats once he was a member of the Supreme Court, just as he had when he was a legislator. While many politicians seem unaware of the distinction, Black seemed acutely aware that his role as Supreme Court justice was materially different from his role as a legislator, and he frequently voted in ways that alienated southerners. However, there were several decisions where Black's votes placated Southern Democrats and helped further Roosevelt's goal of currying the southern vote. In fact, it must be remembered that from the time of the New Deal until Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the south was predominantly Democratic.

Just like the modern southern United States, the South of Black's day contained the Bible belt, and many southern voters were concerned about the issues of sexuality and morality. Black was able to demonstrate his support for this moral point-of-view, ironically enough, in a case that involved a challenge of a Connecticut law. In Griswold v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479 (1965), the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives, based on a woman's right to privacy. This reasoning would be expanded upon by the Supreme Court at later times, and, ultimately proved to be the foundation of the Court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973). In Griswold, the Appellants the Executive Director of the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut and its medical director were convicted as accessories for giving married persons information and medical advice on contraceptives and prescribing contraceptives in violation of a Connecticut statute prohibiting use of contraceptives. The Supreme Court invalidated the statute, based on the concept that marital privacy was one of the rights guaranteed by the Constitution. Black dissented to the Court's decision.

Black began his dissent by making it clear that he, personally, did not believe that Connecticut's contraceptive policy was an appropriate one. In fact, he stated:

In order that there may be no room at all to doubt why I vote as I do, I feel constrained to add that the law is every bit as offensive to me as it is to my Brethren of the majority and my Brothers HARLAN, WHITE and GOLDBERG who, reciting reasons why it is offensive to them, hold it unconstitutional. There is no single one of the graphic and eloquent strictures and criticisms fired at the policy of this Connecticut law either by the Court's opinion or by those of my concurring Brethren to which I cannot subscribe - except their conclusion that the evil qualities they see in the law make it unconstitutional. (381 U.S. 479, 507).

Black distinguished speech from conduct, and made it clear that the fact that speech accompanied the appellants' actions, much like it accompanies the vast majority of actions, does not mean that those actions are then protected by the First Amendment. (381 U.S. 479, 508). Furthermore, while Black acknowledged that privacy was part of the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches and seizures, he believed that it belittled "that Amendment to talk about it as though it protects nothing but "privacy." To treat it that way is to give it a niggardly interpretation, not the kind of liberal reading I think any Bill of Rights provision should be given." (381 U.S. 479. 509). The average man would very likely not have his feelings soothed any more by having his property seized openly than by having it seized privately and by stealth. He simply wants his property left alone. And a person can be just as much, if not more, irritated, annoyed and injured by an unceremonious public arrest by a policeman as he is by a seizure in the privacy of his office or home.

The reason that the Griswold case was so important for southern voters went beyond the religious issues tied in with contraceptive laws. While many modern Americans believe that the issue of slavery was the sole reason for the Civil War, it is important to realize that many southerners, especially those who did not own slaves, viewed the dispute leading to the Civil War as a question of states' rights vs. The rights of the federal government. An activist interpretation of the Constitution, which granted state citizen greater rights than those guaranteed by the Constitution, was likely to result in the Supreme Court invalidating laws passed by individual states, which posed a tremendous threat to states that were still in the process of expanding their laws in the period after Reconstruction.

However, it must be remembered that not all of Black's opinions supported Southern Democrat ideals. In fact, it is reasonable to wonder if civil rights would have advanced to their current position had Black not been a member of the Supreme Court during that pivotal period in American history. There is certainly a difference between the Supreme Court's opinions regarding race and equal protection when Black is a member of the Court and those decisions made both before and after his tenure with the Court. Of course, Black was part of the Court's unanimous decision in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954). However, Justice Warren wrote the Court's decision in that case, giving little insight into how Black would view that issue. However, Black's feelings on the issue of desegregation were made perfectly clear in the opinion he wrote for the majority of the Court in Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education, 396 U.S. 1218 (1969). In that case a group of African-American litigants was seeking to challenge Mississippi's request for a delay in implementing the desegregation that had been mandated by prior Supreme Court decisions. As a supervisory justice overseeing the states' desegregation plans, Black had reluctantly agreed to the delay, but had urged the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to challenge the delay, which they did.

On its surface, the fact that Black denied the petitioner's request challenging the delay makes it appear that he was hindering desegregation. However, a reading of Alexander v. Holmes County Board of Education illuminates just how wrong that first impression is. According to Black:

For a great many years Mississippi has had in effect what is… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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APA Style

Hugo Black.  (2009, April 28).  Retrieved September 19, 2021, from

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"Hugo Black."  28 April 2009.  Web.  19 September 2021. <>.

Chicago Style

"Hugo Black."  April 28, 2009.  Accessed September 19, 2021.