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About Hugo Lafayette Black
Hugo Lafayette Black (February 27, 1886 – September 25, 1971) was an American politician and jurist. A member of the Democratic Party, Black represented Alabama in the United States Senate from 1927 to 1937, and served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1937 to 1971. Black was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and confirmed by the Senate by a vote of 63 to 16. (6 Democratic Senators and 10 Republican Senators voted against him.) He was first of nine Roosevelt nominees to the Court, and outlasted all except for William O. Douglas. Black is widely regarded as one of the most influential Supreme Court justices in the 20th century. The fifth longest-serving justice in Supreme Court history, Black is noted for his advocacy of a textualist reading of the United States Constitution and of the position that the liberties guaranteed in the Bill of Rights were imposed on the states ("incorporated") by the Fourteenth Amendment. During his political career, Black was regarded as a staunch supporter of liberal policies and civil liberties. However, Black consistently opposed the doctrine of substantive due process (the anti-New Deal Supreme Court cited this concept in such a way as to make it impossible for the government to enact legislation that interfered with the freedom of business owners) and believed that there was no basis in the words of the Constitution for a right to privacy, voting against finding one in Griswold v. Connecticut. Black endorsed Roosevelt in both the 1932 and 1936 US Presidential elections and was a staunch supporter of the New Deal.
Hugo LaFayette Black was the youngest of the eight children of William Lafayette Black and Martha Toland Black. He was born on February 27, 1886, in a small wooden farmhouse in Ashland, Alabama, a poor, isolated rural Clay County town in the Appalachian foothills.
Because his brother Orlando had become a medical doctor, Hugo decided at first to follow in his footsteps. At age seventeen, he left school and enrolled at Birmingham Medical School. However, it was Orlando who suggested that Hugo should enroll at the University of Alabama School of Law. After graduating in June 1906, he moved back to Ashland and established a legal practice. His legal practice was not a success, so Black moved to Birmingham in 1907 to continue his law practice, and came to specialize in labor law and personal injury cases.
Following his defense of an African American forced into a form of commercial slavery following incarceration, Black was befriended by A. O. Lane, a judge connected with the case. When Lane was elected to the Birmingham City Commission in 1911, he asked Black to serve as a police court judge, an experience that would be his only judicial experience prior to the Supreme Court. In 1912, Black resigned that seat in order to return to practicing law full-time. He was not done with public service; in 1914, he began a four-year term as the Jefferson County Prosecuting Attorney.
Three years later, during World War I, Black resigned in order to join the United States Army, eventually reaching the rank of captain. He served in the 81st Field Artillery, but was not assigned to Europe. He joined the Birmingham Civitan Club during this time, eventually serving as president of the group. He remained an active member throughout his life, occasionally contributing articles to Civitan publications.
On February 23, 1921, he married Josephine Foster (1899–1951), with whom he would have three children: Hugo L. Black, II (1922-2013), an attorney; Sterling Foster (1924-1996), and Martha Josephine (b. 1933). Josephine died in 1951; in 1957, Black married Elizabeth Seay DeMeritte.
KKK and anti-Catholicism
In 1921, Black successfully defended E. R. Stephenson in the sensationalistic trial for the murder of a Catholic priest, Father James E. Coyle. He joined the Ku Klux Klan shortly after, thinking it necessary for his political career. Running for the Senate as the "people's" candidate, Black believed he needed the votes of Klan members. Near the end of his life, Black would admit that joining the Klan was a mistake, but he went on to say "I would have joined any group if it helped get me votes." Black, along with fellow politician and friend, Bibb Graves, were known in Alabama Klan circles as the Gold Dust Twins.
Scholars and biographers have recently examined Black's religious views. Ball finds regarding the Klan that Black "sympathized with the group's economic, nativist, and anti-Catholic beliefs." Newman says Black "disliked the Catholic Church as an institution" and gave numerous anti-Catholic speeches in his 1926 election campaign to KKK meetings across Alabama.
Retirement and death
The Hugo L. Black United States Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama Justice Black admitted himself to the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, in August 1971, and subsequently retired from the Court on September 17. He suffered a stroke two days later and died on September 25.
Services were held at the National Cathedral, and over 1,000 persons attended. Pursuant to Justice Black’s wishes, the coffin was “simple and cheap” and was displayed at the service to show that the costs of burial are not reflective of the worth of the human whose remains were present.
His remains were interred at the Arlington National Cemetery. He is one of twelve Supreme Court justices buried at Arlington. The others are Harry Andrew Blackmun, William J. Brennan, Arthur Joseph Goldberg, Thurgood Marshall, Potter Stewart, William O. Douglas, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Chief Justice William Howard Taft, Chief Justice Earl Warren, Chief Justice Warren Burger, and Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Justice Black is buried to the right of the main cemetery entrance, and up a hill, 200 yards behind the Taft monument. Black's headstone is "identical in size and shape to the tens of thousands of military headstones in Arlington." It says simply, "Hugo Lafayette Black, Captain, U. S. Army". President Richard Nixon first considered nominating Hershel Friday to fill the vacant seat, but changed his mind after the American Bar Association found Friday unqualified. Nixon then nominated Lewis Powell, who was confirmed by the Senate.