Considered several times as a nominee for the U.S. Supreme Court, he was passed over for not being consistently conservative enough for Republican President Warren G. Harding and not consistently liberal enough for Democrat President Franklin Roosevelt.
His legal decisions, though, were so respected they were referenced in U.S. Supreme Court Cases.
His name was Learned Hand, who served as a judge for over 50 years, first on New York’s District Court, then on the U.S. Court of Appeals.
Though a political progressive, he was an advocate of judicial restraint.
Judge Learned Hand, nicknamed ‘the tenth justice of the Supreme Court’, died AUGUST 18, 1961.
In Gregory v. Helvering (2d Cir. 1934), Judge Hand wrote:
“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one’s taxes…Nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.”
Two weeks before the D-Day invasion in the last year of World War II, Judge Learned Hand was catapulted to national prominence when he gave a speech to the largest crowd ever assembled in New York City to that date.
Nearly one and a half million met in Central Park, May 21, 1944, for the annual “I Am an American Day,” including 150,000 newly naturalized citizens about to swear their oath of allegiance to the United States.
After comments by Mayor LaGuardia, Senator Wagner and clergymen of Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths, Judge Learned Hand gave his short speech, ‘The Spirit of Liberty,’ which was reprinted in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Life Magazine and Readers Digest.
Judge Learned Hand stated:
“We have gathered here to affirm a faith, a faith in a common purpose, a common conviction, a common devotion.
Some of us have chosen America as the land of our adoption; the rest have come from those who did the same…
We sought liberty; freedom from oppression, freedom from want, freedom to be ourselves…”
Judge Hand continued:
“I often wonder whether we do not rest our hopes too much upon constitutions, upon laws and upon courts. These are false hopes; believe me, these are false hopes.
Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it…”
Hand went on:
“And what is this liberty which must lie in the hearts of men and women?
It is not the ruthless, the unbridled will; it is not freedom to do as one likes. That is the denial of liberty, and leads straight to its overthrow.
A society in which men recognize no check upon their freedom soon becomes a society where freedom is the possession of only a savage few; as we have learned to our sorrow.”
“What then is the spirit of liberty?
I cannot define it; I can only tell you my own faith.
The spirit of liberty is the spirit which is not too sure that it is right;
the spirit of liberty is the spirit which seeks to understand the mind of other men and women;
the spirit of liberty is the spirit which weighs their interests alongside its own without bias;
the spirit of liberty remembers that not even a sparrow falls to earth unheeded;
the spirit of liberty is the spirit of Him who, near two thousand years ago, taught mankind that lesson it has never learned but never quite forgotten; that there may be a kingdom where the least shall be heard and considered side by side with the greatest.”
Judge Learned Hand ended, after which he led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance:
“In the spirit of that America which lies hidden in some form in the aspirations of us all;
in the spirit of that America for which our young men are at this moment fighting and dying;
in that spirit of liberty and of America I ask you to rise and with me pledge our faith in the glorious destiny of our beloved country.”
Judge Learned Hand wrote:
“The use of history is to tell us…past themes, else we should have to repeat, each in his own experience, the successes and the failures of our forebears.”
The Moral Liberal contributing editor, William J. Federer, is the bestselling author of “Backfired: A Nation Born for Religious Tolerance no Longer Tolerates Religion,” and numerous other books. A frequent radio and television guest, his daily American Minute is broadcast nationally via radio, television, and Internet. Check out all of Bill’s books here.
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