Vanderbilt Law Review

First Page



In addition to foreshadowing Supreme Court decisions that followed his death, some of Justice Black's dissents noted in this book, though not yet adopted by a Supreme Court majority, have played a role in lower court decisions. His dissent in Tinker v. Des Moines Community School District expressed the idea that the disruptive activities of high school students are not protected by the first amendment. This view subsequently was reflected in a Ninth Circuit decision, and his Tinker opinion has been favorably cited in other lower court opinions." Justice Black's comments during oral argument in Swann v. Board of Education reflect his support of neighborhood schools. He stated that the Court is constitutionally bound to prevent racial discrimination in the schools, not to "challenge the whole arrangement of the living practices and the way of life of the people all over this nation." That idea seems to have been influential with the Fourth Circuit, which in a recent challenge to Norfolk's neighborhood school plan, stated that ab-sent discriminatory intent, there is nothing "constitutionally suspect" in the school board's preference for neighborhood schools. Some observers have commented that Justice Black's positions in these and other cases during his last few years on the Court represent a change on his part, that his constitutional views had shifted from those of his earlier years on the Court. This is a question that will bemuse students of the Court and of the law for years to come, as will other questions about Hugo Black's career. He was an unusually complicated public man in some respects. In other respects, however, he was at bottom a man easily understood in relation to his time and place. His memoirs of his early life in this book provide a key. From them one senses the indelible fixing of the values of study and work, ordered and civil behavior, and respect for authority and for one's elders. These values, I suspect,were embedded in him in the very special ways of small town life in the South. Elizabeth Black's diary entries show that the same values influenced Justice Black at the end of his life. Thus, the case can fairly be made that his views at the end were essentially what they were from the beginning. By making available such intimate and informative remembrances of his life, Hugo and Elizabeth Black have aided oncoming generations in understanding a major public figure and Supreme Court Justice.