Justice Hugo Black’s KKK Speech
Given the commentary about Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony last week, I thought I might compare that performance to Justice Hugo L. Black’s 1937 radio address answering the charge that he had once been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. Justice Black, unlike Judge Kavanaugh, had already been confirmed by the Senate when the national press revealed that he had once been in the KKK. There were calls for Black to resign or be impeached, so he took to the radio to respond.
In his speech, Black stated: “During my recent absence on a short vacation abroad, a planned and concerted campaign was begun which fans the flames of prejudice and is calculated to create racial and religious hatred.” This was nonsense, but note that every Justice or would-be Justice who gets into trouble (such as Justice Black, Justice Thomas during his hearings, or Judge Kavanaugh) tends to reach for conspiratorial language.
Justice Black then summarized his Klan participation this way: “The insinuations of racial and religious intolerance made against me are based on the fact that I joined the Ku Klux Klan about fifteen years ago. I did join the Klan. I later resigned. I never rejoined. What appeared then, or appears now, on the records the organization, I do not know. I never have considered and I do not now consider the unsolicited card given to me shortly after my nomination to the Senate as a membership of any kind in the Ku Klux Klan. I never used it. I did not keep it. Before becoming a Senator I dropped the Klan. I have had nothing whatever to do with it.” This was not candid given Justice Black’s Klan membership and the role that the group played in his election to the Senate in 1926. Granted, Justice Black was not testifying under oath about these issues, but it’s hard to say that he told the truth. In private, he thought this this nothing more than an effort by FDR’s enemies to destroy his reputation.
And yet Black became one of the greatest Justices in the history of the Court. Food for thought.