Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Felix Frankfurter

American Jurist, Teacher, Supreme Court Justice

"Gratitude is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it is deep."

"If err we must, let us err on the side of tolerance."

"The ultimate foundation of a free society is the binding tie of cohesive sentiment."

"Ultimately there can be no freedom for self unless it is vouchsafed for others; there can be no security where there is fear, and democratic society presupposes confidence and candor in the relations of men with one another and eager collaboration for the larger ends of life instead of the pursuit of petty, selfish or vainglorious aims."

"There can be no security where there is fear."

"To regard teachers - in our entire educational system from the primary grades to the university - as priests of our democracy is therefore not to indulge in hyperbole. It is the special task of teachers to foster those habits of open-mindedness and critical inquiry which alone make for responsible citizens, who in turn, make possible an enlightened and effective public opinion."

"Civil liberties mean liberties for those we like and those we don't like, or even detest."

"Democracy is always a beckoning goal, not a safe harbor. For freedom is an unremitting endeavor, never a final achievement."

"Freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of a free society."

"Government... is neither business, nor technology, nor applied science. It is the art of making men live together in peace and with reasonable happiness."

"If facts are changing, law cannot be static."

"To be a success, devote three or four hours a day to being an executive and the rest of the time to thinking."

"If nowhere else, in the relation between Church and State, “good fences make good neighbors.”"

"All our work, our whole life is a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, the material out of which laws are made, out of which the Constitution was written. Everything depends on our understanding of them. "

"Anybody can decide a question if only a single principle is in controversy. "

"Answers are not obtained by putting the wrong question and thereby begging the real one. "

"It simply is not true that war never settles anything. "

"The history of liberty has largely been the history of the observance of procedural safeguards. "

"The mode by which the inevitable is reached is effort. "

"It is a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals. "

"It must take account of what it decrees for today in order that today may not paralyze tomorrow. "

"The mark of a truly civilized man is confidence in the strength and security derived from the inquiring mind."

"Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late."

"The dynamo of our economic system is self-interest which may range from mere petty greed to admirable types of self-expression."

"Old age and sickness bring out the essential characteristics of a man."

"It must never be forgotten, however, that the Bill of Rights was the child of the Enlightenment. Back of the guarantee of free speech lay faith in the power of an appeal to reason by all the peaceful means for gaining access to the mind. It was in order to avert force and explosions due to restrictions upon rational modes of communication that the guarantee of free speech was given a generous scope. But utterance in a context of violence can lose its significance as an appeal to reason and become part of an instrument of force. Such utterance was not meant to be sheltered by the Constitution."

"A phrase begins life as a literary expression; its felicity leads to its lazy repetition; and repetition soon establishes it as a legal formula, undiscriminatingly used to express different and sometimes contradictory ideas."

"One who belongs to the most vilified and persecuted minority in history is not likely to be insensible to the freedoms guaranteed by our Constitution... But as judges we are neither Jew nor Gentile, neither Catholic nor agnostic."

"If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny. Legal process is an essential part of the democratic process."

"The Procrustean bed is not a symbol of equality. It is no less inequality to have equality among unequals."

"The indispensible judicial requisite is intellectual humility."

"Ambiguity lurks in generality and may thus become an instrument of severity."

"There is torture of mind as well as body; the will is as much affected by fear as by force. And there comes a point where this Court should not be ignorant as judges of what we know as men."

"Congress is, after all, not a body of laymen unfamiliar with the commonplaces of our law. This legislation was the formulation of the two Judiciary Committees, all of whom are lawyers, and the Congress is predominately a lawyers' body."

"Convictions following the admission into evidence of confessions which are involuntary, i.e., the product of coercion, either physical or psychological, cannot stand. This is so not because such confessions are unlikely to be true but because the methods used to extract them offend an underlying principle in the enforcement of our criminal law: that ours is an accusatorial and not an inquisitorial system — a system in which the State must establish guilt by evidence independently and freely secured and may not by coercion prove its charges against an accused out of his own mouth."

"In a democratic society like ours, relief must come through an aroused popular conscience that sears the conscience of the people's representatives."

"The words of the Constitution ... are so unrestricted by their intrinsic meaning or by their history or by tradition or by prior decisions that they leave the individual Justice free, if indeed they do not compel him, to gather meaning not from reading the Constitution but from reading life."

"Morals are three-quarters manners."

"I do take law very seriously, deeply seriously, because fragile as reason is and limited as law is as the institutionalized medium of reason, that's all we have standing between us and the tyranny of mere will and the cruelty of unbridled, undisciplined feeling."

"A court which yields to the popular will thereby licenses itself to practice despotism, for there can be no assurance that it will not on another occasion indulge its own will."

"After all, advocates, including advocates for States, are like managers of pugilistic and election contestants, in that they have a propensity for claiming everything."

"A license cannot be revoked because a man is redheaded or because he was divorced, except for a calling, if such there be, for which redheadedness or an unbroken marriage may have some rational bearing. If a State licensing agency lays bare its arbitrary action, or if the State law explicitly allows it to act arbitrarily, that is precisely the kind of State action which the Due Process Clause forbids."

"Appeal must be to an informed, civically militant electorate."

"As a member of this court I am not justified in writing my private notions of policy into the Constitution, no matter how deeply I may cherish them or how mischievous I may deem their disregard."

"Decisions of this Court do not have intrinsic authority."

"After all, this is the Nation's ultimate judicial tribunal, nor a super-legal-aid bureau."

"Emerson said to him, "Young man, have you read Plato?" Holmes said he hadn't. "You must. You must read Plato. But you must hold him at arm's length and say, 'Plato, you have delighted and edified mankind for two thousand years. What have you to say to me?'" Holmes said, "That's the lesson of independence." So off he went and read Plato for a few moths or a year, and then wrote a piece doing in Mr. Plato in one of those ephemeral literary things at Harvard. He laid this, as it were, at the feet of Mr. Emerson and awaited the next morning's mail, hoping to get a warm appreciation from Emerson. And the next day and the next and the next — no sign of life. No acknowledgment from Mr. Emerson. Holmes didn't see him again for about a year. When he saw him, this, that, and the other thing was again talked about. Emerson said, "Oh, by the way, I read your piece on Plato. Holmes, when you strike at a king, you must kill him." Holmes said, "That was the second great lesson — humility.""

"For the highest exercise of judicial duty is to subordinate one's personal pulls and one's private views to the law of which we are all guardians - those impersonal convictions that made a society a civilized community, and not the victims of personal rule."

"Fragile as reason is and limited as law is as the institutionalized medium of reason, that's all we have between us and the tyranny of mere will and the cruelty of unbridled, undisciplined feelings."

"Freedom of expression is the well-spring of our civilization... The history of civilization is in considerable measure the displacement of error which once held sway as official truth by beliefs which in turn have yielded to other truths. Therefore the liberty of man to search for truth ought not to be fettered, no matter what orthodoxies he may challenge."