Tuesday, March 8, 2011
Today is the 170th birthday of Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr
Sir, You had some resume on your life in the History books thanks for being part of it especially being part of the Supreme Court and being the oldest man who was a Chief Justice, thanks, happy 170th birthday!
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (March 8, 1841 – March 6, 1935) was an American jurist who served as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932. Noted for his long service, his concise and pithy opinions, and his deference to the decisions of elected legislatures, he is one of the most widely cited United States Supreme Court justices in history, particularly for his "clear and present danger" majority opinion in the 1919 case of Schenck v. United States, and is one of the most influential American common law judges.
Holmes retired from the Court at the age of 90, making him the oldest Justice in the Supreme Court's history. He also served as an Associate Justice and as Chief Justice on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and was Weld Professor of Law at the Harvard Law School, of which he was an alumnus.
Profoundly influenced by his experience fighting in the American Civil War, Holmes helped move American legal thinking away from formalism and towards legal realism, as summed up in his maxim: "The life of the law has not been logic; it has been experience." Holmes espoused a form of moral skepticism and opposed the doctrine of natural law, marking a significant shift in American jurisprudence. As he wrote in one of his most famous decisions, his dissent in Abrams v. United States (1919), he regarded the United States Constitution as "an experiment, as all life is an experiment" and believed that as a consequence "we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death."
During his tenure on the Supreme Court, to which he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, he supported efforts for economic regulation and advocated broad freedom of speech under the First Amendment. These positions as well as his distinctive personality and writing style made him a popular figure, especially with American progressives, despite his deep cynicism and disagreement with their politics.
His jurisprudence influenced much subsequent American legal thinking, including judicial consensus supporting New Deal regulatory law, pragmatism, critical legal studies, and law and economics. The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Holmes as one of the three most cited American legal scholars of the 20th century.
On August 11, 1902, Holmes received a recess appointment from President Theodore Roosevelt naming Holmes to a seat on the United States Supreme Court vacated by Justice Horace Gray, who had retired in July 1902 as a result of illness. The appointment was made on the recommendation of Senator Henry Cabot Lodge (Roosevelt reportedly admired Holmes's "Soldier's Faith" speech as well). Holmes' appointment has been referred to as one of the few Supreme Court appointments in history not motivated by partisanship or politics, but strictly based on the nominee's contribution to law.
Formally nominated on December 2, 1902, Holmes was unanimously confirmed by the United States Senate on December 4, receiving his commission the same day. According to some accounts, Holmes assured Roosevelt that he would vote to sustain the administration's position that not all the provisions of the United States Constitution applied to possessions acquired from Spain, an important question on which the Court was then evenly divided. On the bench, Holmes did vote to support the administration's position in the "Insular Cases." However, he later disappointed Roosevelt by dissenting in Northern Securities Co. v. United States, a major antitrust prosecution.
In the year of his appointment to the United States Supreme Court.Holmes was known for his pithy, short, and frequently quoted opinions. In more than thirty years on the Supreme Court bench, he ruled on cases spanning the whole range of federal law. He is remembered for prescient opinions on topics as widely separated as copyright, the law of contempt, the antitrust status of professional baseball, and the oath required for citizenship. Holmes, like most of his contemporaries, viewed the Bill of Rights as codifying privileges obtained over the centuries in English and American law. Beginning with his first opinion for the Court, in Otis v. Parker, Holmes declared that "due process of law," the fundamental principle of fairness, protected people from unreasonable legislation, but was limited to only those fundamental principles enshrined in the common law and did not protect most economic interests.
In a series of opinions during and after the First World War, he held that the freedom of expression guaranteed by federal and state constitutions simply declared a common-law privilege to do harm, except in cases where the expression, in the circumstances in which it was uttered, posed a "clear and present danger" of causing some harm that the legislature had properly forbidden. In Schenck v. United States, Holmes announced this doctrine for a unanimous Court, famously declaring that the First Amendment would not protect a person "falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic."
The following year, in Abrams v. United States, Holmes — influenced by Zechariah Chafee's article "Freedom of Speech in War Time"— delivered a strongly worded dissent in which he criticized the majority's use of the clear and present danger test, arguing that protests by political dissidents posed no actual risk of interfering with war effort. In his dissent, he accused the Court of punishing the defendants for their opinions rather than their acts.
Although Holmes evidently believed that he was adhering to his own precedent, many later commentators accused Holmes of inconsistency, even of seeking to curry favor with his young admirers. The Supreme Court departed from his views where the validity of a statute was in question, adopting the principle that a legislature could properly declare that some forms of speech posed a clear and present danger, regardless of the circumstances in which they were uttered.
From Taft's departure on February 3, 1930 until Hughes took office on February 24, 1930, Holmes was briefly Acting Chief Justice under 36 Stat. 1152.
By the time Holmes was 80, he had dissented in so many opinions that he became known as "The Great Dissenter," a title which has been carried through the years to refer to various U.S. Supreme Court justices, including Justice John Marshall Harlan,with the latest being Justice William Brennan.
Retirement, death, honors and legacy:
Holmes served on the court until January 12, 1932, when his brethren on the court, citing his advanced age, suggested that the time had come for him to step down. By that time, at 90 years of age, he was the oldest justice to serve in the court's history.
Three years later, Holmes died of pneumonia in Washington, D.C. in 1935, two days short of his 94th birthday. In his will, Holmes left his residuary estate to the United States government (he had earlier said that "Taxes are what we pay for civilized society" in Compania General De Tobaccos De Filipinas vs. Collector of Internal Revenue, 275 U.S. 87, 100 (1927).
After his death, his personal effects included his Civil War Officer's uniform still stained with his blood and 'torn with shot' as well as the carefully wrapped Minié balls that had wounded him three times in separate battles. He was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. The United States Postal Service honored Holmes with a Prominent Americans series (1965–1978) 15¢ postage stamp.
Holmes's papers, donated to Harvard Law School, were kept closed for many years after his death, a circumstance that gave rise to numerous speculative and fictionalized accounts of his life. Catherine Drinker Bowen's fictionalized biography "Yankee from Olympus" was a long-time bestseller, and the 1951 Hollywood motion picture The Magnificent Yankee was based on a highly fictionalized play about Holmes's life. Since the opening of the extensive Holmes papers in the 1980s, however, there has been a series of more accurate biographies and scholarly monographs.
Harvard Medical School names one of its five student societies after his father, Doctor Oliver Wendell Holmes.