Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (March 8, 1841 March 6, 1935) was an American jurist and legal scholar who served as an associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States from 1902 to 1932. He is one of the most widely cited United States Supreme Court justices and most influential American common law judges in history, noted for his long service, concise, and pithy opinionsparticularly for opinions on civil liberties and American constitutional democracyand deference to the decisions of elected legislatures. Holmes retired from the court at the age of 90, an unbeaten record for oldest justice on the United States Supreme Court. He previously served as a Brevet Colonel in the American Civil War, an Associate Justice and as Chief Justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, and was Weld Professor of Law at his alma mater, Harvard Law School. His positions, distinctive personality, and writing style made him a popular figure, especially with American progressives.During his tenure on the Supreme Court, to which he was appointed by President Theodore Roosevelt, he supported the constitutionality of state economic regulation and advocated broad freedom of speech under the First Amendment, although he upheld criminal sanctions against draft protestors with the memorable maxim that “free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic” and formulated the groundbreaking “clear and present danger” test for a unanimous court. In a famous dissent in Abrams v. United States (1919), he wrote that he regarded the United States Constitution’s theory “that the best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market” as “an experiment, as all life is an experiment” and believed that as a consequence “we should be eternally vigilant against attempts to check the expression of opinions that we loathe and believe to be fraught with death”.He was one of only a handful of justices to be known as a scholar; The Journal of Legal Studies has identified Holmes as the third-most cited American legal scholar of the 20th century. Holmes was a legal realist, as summed up in his maxim, “The life of the law has not been logic: it has been experience”, and a moral skeptic opposed to the doctrine of natural law. His jurisprudence and academic writing influenced much subsequent American legal thinking, including the judicial consensus upholding New Deal regulatory law, and the influential American schools of pragmatism, critical legal studies, and law and economics.


Works by Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.: