A majestic biography of the man who shed his Ku Klux Klan robes to become one of the most influential and liberal justices...


HUGO BLACK: A Biography

A majestic biography of the man who shed his Ku Klux Klan robes to become one of the most influential and liberal justices in Supreme Court history. Newman (Law/New York Univ.) spent 26 years researching Black's life, and the result is a massive work of uncommon depth and grace. In subtle, luminous prose, he describes Black's merchant-class childhood in Clay County, Ala., haunted by his drunkard father; his prosperous years as ""Ego"" Black, the personal-injury lawyer whose courtroom oratory and theatrical cross-examination style brought him statewide fame and a position in the Klan; his two terms as Alabama's senator, during which he transformed himself from an intolerant populist into a power-brokering New Dealer, well-versed in ancient classics and modern politics; and his 34 years on the Supreme Court, championing the Bill of Rights and judicial restraint. Newman plainly reveres his subject, but he is clear-eyed and sometimes critical: He presents Black's various self-contradictory rationalizations for having served as KKK ""Kladd"" (whose job it is to induct new members into the Invisible Empire), then notes that Black ""never really grasped, or could admit, the genuine outrage that the Klan caused, and not only among Catholics, Jews and Negroes."" Newman also criticizes Black's failure to grasp ""the profound meaning gathered within the Fourth Amendment's words"" (forbidding unreasonable searches and seizures). But he celebrates and illuminates the rest of the enormous body of Black's jurisprudence, which includes the ideas that the Bill of Rights applies in its entirety to the states and that the First Amendment right of free speech is ""absolute."" The author is equally astute in analyzing Black's complex relationships with his depressive first wife, Josephine, the brilliant but libertine Justice William O. Douglas, and the devious and divisive Justice Felix Frankfurter. More than just a major contribution to Supreme Court history: a master's finely etched portrait of an American hero.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 1994

ISBN: 0823217868

Page Count: 944

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994