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Hugo Black was a progressive Democratic Senator representing the State of Alabama when President Roosevelt nominated him for the Supreme Court in 1937. As an ardent supporter of the New Deal, and a strong believer in Federalism, Roosevelt believed Black would help change the balance of the a Court hostile to the President's political agenda.

Black's tenure on the Court was marked less by a particular political ideology than by a strict legal philosophy, which could be categorized variously as originalist, textualist, and absolutist.

Black's approach toward interpreting the Constitution was often at odds with the other Justices' during his early years on the bench. He believed the law of the Constitution was absolute and inviolable (absolutist). He evaluated the Framers' edicts in terms of common language, without abstracting their ideas (textualist). And his deep appreciation of history lead him to consider the Founding Fathers authoritative on the structure of government and liberty. These views formed the basis of his decisions during his tenure on the bench. "It is my belief that there are "absolutes" in our Bill of Rights, and that they were put there on purpose by men who knew what the words meant and meant their prohibitions to be "absolutes."" (Justice Hugo Black)

In some respects, Justice Black's opinions were consistent: When his colleagues sought to expand certain constitutional protections to include corporations, Black dissented on the grounds that the Amendments were only written to apply to individuals. When they supported Congress in imposing limitations on free speech, Black dissented on the grounds that the First Amendment was "at the heart of the Bill of Rights," and unassailable. But when the Court decided the First Amendment should be interpreted broadly to include "expressive conduct," Black again dissented on the grounds that the Constitution specified only freedom of speech and freedom of the press. He could see no justification for protecting conduct, such as flag burning and wearing obscene t-shirts, because these weren't expressly protected by the Founders' document.

In other respects, Black's opinions seemed to contradict each other. For example, he strongly supported the "one man, one vote" principle that called for Congressional redistricting, to ensure each vote was fairly represented and carried the same weight; yet he also supported poll taxes, which prevented poor people from exercising the freedom to vote.

As a young man, Hugo Black had joined the Ku Klux Klan (which he later admitted was a mistake), believing he needed their political support. On the bench, however, he was an ardent supporter of civil rights, taking part in the Warren Court's unanimous decision to end segregation and extend constitutional protection to African-Americans.

Some people have labeled Black an activist for his support of civil rights; in fact, he was simply upholding the words of the 14th Amendment. "All persons" literally meant everyone, as far as Black was concerned, without regard to race. He held personal liberty more sacred than contrived concern for the public interest, and wouldn't allow States to hold hostage African-American rights "for the sake of the community."

Black, the alleged activist, was, in reality, a strong proponent of judicial restraint, believing the States and Legislature should be restricted as little as possible as long as their legislation didn't blatantly violate the words of the Constitution.
Justice Black was a complex man who described his life's mission as "Human advancement within the limits of constitutional interpretation." He is credited with being one of the most influential justices of the 20th century.
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Q: What were US Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black's political views?
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