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Robert Jackson

“Progress generally begins in skepticism about accepted truths. Intellectual freedom means the right to reexamine much that has been long taken for granted. A free man must be a reasoning man, and he must dare to doubt what a legislative or electoral majority may most passionately assert. The danger that citizens will think wrongly is serious, but less dangerous than atrophy from not thinking at all… The priceless heritage of our society is the unrestricted constitutional right of each member to think as he will. Thought control is a copyright of totalitarianism, and we have no claim to it. It is not the function of our Government to keep the citizen from falling into error; it is the function of the citizen to keep the Government from falling into error. We could justify any censorship only when the censors are better shielded against error than the censored. […]

I think that, under our system, it is time enough for the law to lay hold of the citizen when he acts illegally, or in some rare circumstances when his thoughts are given illegal utterance. I think we must let his mind alone.”

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A section from Justice Robert Jackson’s decision in American Communications Association v. Douds (1950).

Robert Jackson, who in addition to serving as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court also oversaw the Nuremberg Tribunal, never earned his Juris Doctor. Incredibly, he dropped out of Albany law school after only two semesters.

More from the Court:

  • Robert Jackson’s solemn, powerful opening to the Nuremberg tribunals
  • Justice Louis Brandeis explains why a government’s contempt for law is contagious
  • Brandeis describes the resilience of the American founders

Robert Jackson at Nuremberg

Above: Jackson opens Nuremberg, November, 1945.