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Rethinking the Political Judge: The Civil Liberties Jurisprudence of Learned and Augustus Hand, 1909-1961

Allen, Jak (2021) Rethinking the Political Judge: The Civil Liberties Jurisprudence of Learned and Augustus Hand, 1909-1961. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.87796) (KAR id:87796)


Allegations of voting on partisan or political lines has become a regular feature of discussions on the role of the U.S. judiciary. The result has been the framing of judges within the conventional political binary of liberalism and conservatism. This tendency has also extended to the scholarly analysis of historical judicial actors. However, this thesis argues that the application of such labels distorts and simplifies the complex role of judges, both past and present. It does so by investigating the role of fellow lower federal court judges, and cousins, Learned and Augustus Hand, in civil liberties cases in the early-to-mid twentieth century. Although both men have been popularly regarded as symbols of judicial independence, their contributions to law have typically been framed in political terms. This thesis examines the Hands through a judicial biography focused on civil liberties cases to reveal the ways in which their opinions and rulings reflected a complex philosophical methodology that transcended political labels. In turn, it exposes the limitations of the contemporary political binary as an accurate measure of judicial decision making.The thesis traces this approach through the Hands' formative years and the legal areas of political speech, obscenity, immigration, and criminal rights. It scrutinises landmark and highly contentious civil liberties cases, as well as lesser known and unstudied cases, to highlight how they reshaped law whilst maintaining judicial independence. Furthermore, it draws on new documents and letters to display how their relationship dynamic prompted differing views on the optimal approach to maintaining judicial restraint. In so doing, the thesis shows how the Hands were able to avoid political and personal inclinations to provide lasting contributions that continue to influence and shape current legal debates. With the Supreme Court under intensifying calls for reform, this thesis adds timely nuance to our historical understanding of the delicate relationship between politics and law.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Jones, Karen
Thesis advisor: Long, Emma
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.87796
Uncontrolled keywords: Legal History Supreme Court Learned Hand Augustus Hand Political Judges Law Civil Liberties Biography United States Judicial Restraint
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of History
Funders: Organisations -1 not found.
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 28 Apr 2021 10:10 UTC
Last Modified: 01 Mar 2024 00:00 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Allen, Jak.

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