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Profile: Hugo Black

Hugo Black was a participant or observer in the following events:

The US Supreme Court upholds by a 6-3 vote the legitimacy of Executive Order 9066 issued by President Franklin Roosevelt on February 19, 1942 that mandated all Americans of Japanese heritage to report to internment camps during World War II. Writing for the Court in the case of Korematsu v. United States, Justice Hugo Black finds that an executive order based on race is “suspect,” but says that the “emergency circumstances” of wartime make the order necessary and constitutional. Forty-four years later, in 1988, Congress will formally apologize and issue monetary reparations to Japanese-American families who had been forced into the camps. [PBS, 12/2006; Los Angeles Times, 5/24/2011] In 2011, acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal will state that his predecessor during the case, Charles Fahy, deliberately hid evidence from the Court that concluded Japanese-Americans posed no security or military threat. The report from the Office of Naval Intelligence (ONI) found that no evidence of Japanese-American disloyalty existed, and that no Japanese-Americans had acted as spies or had signaled enemy submarines, as some at the time believed. Katyal will say that he has a “duty of absolute candor in our representations to the Court.” Katyal will say that two government lawyers informed Fahy he was engaging in “suppression of evidence,” but Fahy refused to give the report to the Court. Instead, Fahy told the Court that the forced internment of Japanese-Americans was a “military necessity.” Fahy’s arguments swayed the Court’s opinion, Katyal will state. “It seemed obvious to me we had made a mistake. The duty of candor wasn’t met,” Katyal will say. [Los Angeles Times, 5/24/2011]

Entity Tags: Neal Katyal, Office of Naval Intelligence, US Supreme Court, Charles Fahy, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hugo Black

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court rules that the federal government cannot seize the nation’s steel mills. In April, President Truman, fearing a nationwide strike that could impact the US war effort in Korea, ordered the seizure of all US steel mills; the lawsuit that resulted, Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, quickly made its way to the Supreme Court.
Rejection of 'Inherent Powers' Claim - During oral arguments, the justices grilled Acting Attorney General Philip Perlman, demanding to know what statutes he had relied on for his arguments and asserting that the president had limitations both on his emergency wartime powers and on his ability to claim that he is the “sole judge” of the existence of, and remedies for, an emergency. The justices are not convinced by the government’s arguments for the president’s “inherent powers.” They are also troubled by repeated refusals of the government to provide facts and documentary backing for its legal arguments, and its reliance instead on claims of “national security.” The attorney for the steel industry, John Davis, quoted Thomas Jefferson in his argument: “In questions of power, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.” Justice William O. Douglas noted that if the government’s claims were valid, there would be “no more need for Congress.”
Court Rejects Argument - In a 6-3 vote, the Court rules that the president has no inherent power to seize the steel mills. Writing for the majority, Justice Hugo Black states: “In the framework of our Constitution, the president’s power to see that the laws are faithfully executed refutes the idea that he is to be a lawmaker.… The founders of this nation entrusted the lawmaking power to the Congress alone in both good and bad times.… This is a job for the nation’s lawmakers.” In a concurring opinion, Justice Robert Jackson writes, “No penance would ever expiate the sin against free government of holding that a president can escape control of executive powers by law through assuming his military role.” In his dissent, Chief Justice Fred Vinson (see March 1952) argues that “the gravity of the emergency” overrides the Constitutional arguments accepted by the majority of the Court. “Those who suggest that this is a case involving extraordinary powers should be mindful that these are extraordinary times. A world not yet recovered from the devastation of World War II has been forced to face the threat of another and more terrifying global conflict.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 123; Siegel, 2008, pp. 163-164] In 2007, reporter and author Charlie Savage will observe that the Youngstown decision “turned out to be only a pause in the movement toward an increasingly authoritarian presidency.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 19]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, John Davis, Hugo Black, Charlie Savage, Fred Vinson, Harry S. Truman, Philip Perlman, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Chief Justice Fred Vinson.Chief Justice Fred Vinson. [Source: Kansas State Historical Society]The US Supreme Court upholds the power of the federal government’s executive branch to withhold documents from a civil suit on the basis of executive privilege and national security (see October 25, 1952). The case, US v Reynolds, overturns an appellate court decision that found against the government (see December 11, 1951). Originally split 5-4 on the decision, the Court goes to 6-3 when Justice William O. Douglas joins the majority. The three dissenters, Justices Hugo Black, Felix Frankfurter, and Robert Jackson, refuse to write a dissenting opinion, instead adopting the decision of the appellate court as their dissent.
'State Secrets' a Valid Reason for Keeping Documents out of Judicial, Public Eye - Chief Justice Fred Vinson writes the majority opinion. Vinson refuses to grant the executive branch the near-unlimited power to withhold documents from judicial review, as the government’s arguments before the court implied (see October 21, 1952), but instead finds what he calls a “narrower ground for defense” in the Tort Claims Act, which compels the production of documents before a court only if they are designated “not privileged.” The government’s claim of privilege in the Reynolds case was valid, Vinson writes. But the ruling goes farther; Vinson upholds the claim of “state secrets” as a reason for withholding documents from judicial review or public scrutiny. In 2008, author Barry Siegel will write: “In truth, only now was the Supreme Court formally recognizing the privilege, giving the government the precedent it sought, a precedent binding on all courts throughout the nation. Most important, the Court was also—for the first time—spelling out how the privilege should be applied.” Siegel will call the Reynolds ruling “an effort to weigh competing legitimate interests,” but the ruling does not allow judges to see the documents in order to make a decision about their applicability in a court case: “By instructing judges not to insist upon examining documents if the government can satisfy that ‘a reasonable danger’ to national security exists, Vinson was asking jurists to fly blind.” Siegel will mark the decision as “an act of faith. We must believe the government,” he will write, “when it claims [the accident] would reveal state secrets. We must trust that the government is telling the truth.”
Time of Heightened Tensions Drives Need for Secrecy - Vinson goes on to note, “[W]e cannot escape judicial notice that this is a time of vigorous preparation for the national defense.” Locked in the Cold War with the Soviet Union, and fighting a war in Korea, the US is, Vinson writes, in a time of crisis, and one where military secrets must be kept and even encouraged. [U. S. v. Reynolds, 3/9/1953; Siegel, 2008, pp. 171-176]
Future Ramifications - Reflecting on the decision in 2008, Siegel will write that while the case will not become as well known as many other Court decisions, it will wield significant influence. The ruling “formally recognized and established the framework for the government’s ‘state secrets’ privilege—a privilege that for decades had enabled federal agencies to conceal conduct, withhold documents, and block civil litigation, all in the name of national secrecy.… By encouraging judicial deference when the government claimed national security secrets, Reynolds had empowered the Executive Branch in myriad ways. Among other things, it had provided a fundamental legal argument for much of the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Enemy combatants such as Yaser Esam Hamdi (see December 2001) and Jose Padilla (see June 10, 2002), for many months confined without access to lawyers, had felt the breath of Reynolds. So had the accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui when federal prosecutors defied a court order allowing him access to other accused terrorists (see March 22, 2005). So had the Syrian-Canadian Maher Arar (see September 26, 2002), like dozens of others the subject of a CIA extraordinary rendition to a secret foreign prison (see After September 11, 2001). So had hundreds of detainees at the US Navy Base at Guantanamo Bay, held without charges or judicial review (see September 27, 2001). So had millions of American citizens, when President Bush, without judicial knowledge or approval, authorized domestic eavesdropping by the National Security Agency (see Early 2002). US v. Reynolds made all this possible. The bedrock of national security law, it had provided a way for the Executive Branch to formalize an unprecedented power and immunity, to pull a veil of secrecy over its actions.” [Siegel, 2008, pp. ix-x]

Entity Tags: William O. Douglas, Zacarias Moussaoui, US Supreme Court, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Robert Jackson, Jose Padilla, Felix Frankfurter, Bush administration (43), Fred Vinson, Barry Siegel, George W. Bush, Hugo Black, Maher Arar

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

In the case of United States v. Auto Workers, the Supreme Court reverses a lower court’s dismissal of an indictment against a labor union accused of violating federal laws prohibiting corporations and labor unions from making contributions or expenditures in federal elections (see June 23, 1947). Justice Felix Frankfurter writes the majority opinion; Chief Justice Earl Warren and Justices William O. Douglas and Hugo Black dissent. In a 5-3 decision, the Court finds the International Union United Automobile, Aircraft, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America liable for its practice of using union dues to sponsor television commercials relating to the 1954 Congressional elections. [UNITED STATES v. AUTO. WORKERS, 2011; Moneyocracy, 2/2012] Law professor Allison R. Hayward will later write that in her opinion the Court finding created “a fable of campaign finance reform… dictated by political opportunism. Politicians used reform to exploit public sentiment and reduce rivals’ access to financial resources.… [J]udges should closely examine campaign finance regulation and look for the improper use of legislation for political gain instead of simply deferring to Congress. Undue deference to the Auto Workers fable of reform could lead to punishment for the exercise of political rights. Correcting the history is thus essential to restoring proper checks on campaign finance legislation.” Hayward will argue that Frankfurter used a timeline of Congressional efforts to curb and reform campaign finance practices as an excuse to allow powerful political interests to exert restrictions on political opponents with less access to large election finance contributions. The case is used uncritically, and sometimes unfairly, to influence later campaign reform efforts, Hayward will argue. [Hayward, 6/17/2008 pdf file]

Entity Tags: US Supreme Court, Earl Warren, Allison R. Hayward, Felix Frankfurter, International Union United Automobile, Aircraft, and Agricultural Implement Workers of America, William O. Douglas, Hugo Black

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The US Supreme Court, in the case of Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections, finds Virginia’s law upholding “poll taxes” to be unconstitutional. The 7-2 decision finds that poll taxes—fees demanded of voters, which have been used for over a century to disenfranchise minority voters (see February 4, 1964 and December 6, 1937)—violate the Constitution by imposing discriminatory restrictions on voting. Justice William O. Douglas writes the majority opinion, with Justice Hugo Black and John Marshall Harlan II dissenting. Douglas cites the landmark Brown v. Board decision (see May 17, 1954) and the recently passed Voting Rights Act (see August 6, 1965) in his ruling. [Legal Information Institute, 2011]

Entity Tags: Hugo Black, William O. Douglas, US Supreme Court, John Marshall Harlan II

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

The Supreme Court rules 6-3 not to permanently enjoin the New York Times and other press organs from publishing articles derived from the Pentagon Papers (see June 26, 1971). Three justices, William O. Douglas, Hugo Black, and Thurgood Marshall, insist that the government can never suppress the publication of information no matter what the threat to national security; the other three in the majority, Potter Stewart, Byron White, and William Brennan, use a more moderate “common sense” standard that says, though the government can suppress publication of sensitive information under circumstances of war or national emergency, this case did not meet the criteria for such suppression. Chief Justice Warren Burger is joined by Harry Blackmun and John Harlan in dissenting; they believe that the president has the unrestrained authority to prevent confidential materials affecting foreign policy from being published. The Times’s lawyer says that the ruling will help ensure that a federal court will not issue a restraining order against a news outlet simply because the government is unhappy with the publication of a particular article. [Herda, 1994]

Entity Tags: Thurgood Marshall, Harry Blackmun, Byron White, Hugo Black, John Harlan, New York Times, Potter Stewart, William O. Douglas, Warren Burger, William Brennan, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, Nixon and Watergate

The Los Angeles City Council unanimously votes into effect a resolution declaring that corporations are not people and are not entitled to the same constitutional protections. The vote is spurred in part by the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision (see January 21, 2010) that allowed corporations and labor unions to spend unlimited amounts in independent expenditures on behalf of candidates, and the recent claim by Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney that “corporations are people” (see August 11, 2011). Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa must sign the resolution into effect. It is non-binding, which means that its value is largely symbolic. Nevertheless, the vote, taken in a chamber packed with Occupy LA members and other activists, draws a standing ovation when it is concluded. If Villaraigosa signs the resolution into effect, Los Angeles will be on record as supporting federal legislation that would ensure corporations are not entitled to the same rights as people, particularly in the area of money spent on elections and campaigning. The resolution also proposed language for a constitutional amendment especially when it comes to spending money to influence elections. It also proposed language for a constitutional amendment declaring that money is not a form of speech and affirming the right of the federal government to regulate corporations (see November 1, 2011). Council President Eric Garcetti, who co-sponsored the resolution with Councilman Bill Rosendahl, says: “Every American should have an equal voice in their government. But unless there are big changes, your voice is only as loud as your bank account. And its the big corporations that have the largest bank accounts of all.… The flood of corporate money since Citizens United is literally drowning our democracy. It’s drowning the people’s voice in the government.” During open debate, activist Sylvia Moore tells the assemblage: “Corporations have taken over our society. They are deciding what we eat, how people educate their children, and whether or not we have health care. Corporations are polluting our environment. Some refuse to pay their fair share in taxes. And they are even deciding who gets to vote. They are making our laws when it’s government officials that should be making our laws.” The resolution cites Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black’s 1938 opinion on the subject, in which Black wrote, “I do not believe the word ‘person’ in the Fourteenth Amendment includes corporations.” [City News Service, 12/6/2011; Think Progress, 12/7/2011]

Entity Tags: Hugo Black, Antonio Villaraigosa, Eric Garcetti, Sylvia Moore, Willard Mitt Romney, Los Angeles City Council, Bill Rosendahl

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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