Felix Frankfurter

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Judicial judgment must take deep account...of the day before yesterday in order that yesterday may not paralyze today.

Felix Frankfurter (November 15, 1882February 22, 1965) was an Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court.


  • In this Court dissents have gradually become majority opinions.
    • Graves v. New York ex rel. O'Keefe, 306 U.S. 446 (1939)
  • It must never be forgotten, however, that the Bill of Rights was the child of the Enlightenment. Back of the guarantee of free speech lay faith in the power of an appeal to reason by all the peaceful means for gaining access to the mind. It was in order to avert force and explosions due to restrictions upon rational modes of communication that the guarantee of free speech was given a generous scope. But utterance in a context of violence can lose its significance as an appeal to reason and become part of an instrument of force. Such utterance was not meant to be sheltered by the Constitution.
    • Milk Wagon Drivers Union of Chicago, Local 753. v. Meadowmoor Dairies, Inc., 312 U.S. 287, 293 (1941).
  • No court can make time stand still.
    • Scripps-Howard Radio, Inc. v. FCC, 316 U.S. 4, 9 (1942).
  • A phrase begins life as a literary expression; its felicity leads to its lazy repetition; and repetition soon establishes it as a legal formula, undiscriminatingly used to express different and sometimes contradictory ideas.
    • Tiller v. Atlantic Coast Line Railroad Co., 318 U.S. 54, 68 (1943) (concurring).
  • If one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny. Legal process is an essential part of the democratic process.
    • United States v. Mine Workers, 330 U.S. 312 (1946)
  • Wisdom too often never comes, and so one ought not to reject it merely because it comes late.
    • Henslee v. Union Planters Bank, 335 U.S. 600 (1948)
  • It is a wise man who said that there is no greater inequality than the equal treatment of unequals.
    • Dennis v. United States, 339 U.S. 184 (1949)
  • The words of the Constitution ... are so unrestricted by their intrinsic meaning or by their history or by tradition or by prior decisions that they leave the individual Justice free, if indeed they do not compel him, to gather meaning not from reading the Constitution but from reading life.
    • The Supreme Court, vol. 3, no. 1, Parliamentary Affairs (London, Winter 1949)
  • [It is anomalous] to hold that in order to convict a man the police cannot extract by force what is in his mind, but can extract what is in his stomach.
    • Unanimous opinion that reversed conviction of an alleged drug addict because evidence was obtained by forced stomach pumping (January 2, 1952)
  • Freedom of the press is not an end in itself but a means to the end of [achieving] a free society.
    • New York Times (November 28, 1954)
  • Lincoln’s appeal to “the better angels of our nature” failed to avert a fratricidal war. But the compassionate wisdom of Lincoln’s first and second inaugurals bequeathed to the Union, cemented with blood, a moral heritage which, when drawn upon in times of stress and strife, is sure to find specific ways and means to surmount difficulties that may appear to be insurmountable.
    • Concurring opinion in unanimous ruling that ordered racial desegregation of schools in Little Rock, AR (September 29, 1958)
  • Time and experience have forcefully taught that the power to inspect dwelling places, either as a matter of systematic area-by-area search or, as here, to treat a specific problem, is of indispensable importance in the maintenance of community health; a power that would be greatly hobbled by the blanket requirement of the safeguards necessary for a search of evidence of criminal acts.
    • Majority opinion in 5-4 ruling that allowed health inspectors to enter a private home without a search warrant (May 4, 1959)
  • [C]onvictions following the admission into evidence of confessions which are involuntary, i.e., the product of coercion, either physical or psychological, cannot stand. This is so not because such confessions are unlikely to be true but because the methods used to extract them offend an underlying principle in the enforcement of our criminal law: that ours is an accusatorial and not an inquisitorial system—a system in which the State must establish guilt by evidence independently and freely secured and may not by coercion prove its charges against an accused out of his own mouth.
    • Rogers v. Richmond, 365 U.S. 534, 540-41 (1961).
  • The mode by which the inevitable is reached is effort.
    • Quoted by Garson Kanin in Atlantic (March 1964)
  • I came into the world a Jew, and although I did not live my life entirely as a Jew, I think it is fitting that I should leave as a Jew. I don’t want to … turn my back on a great and noble heritage.
    • Quoted by Garson Kanin in Atlantic (March 1964)
  • All our work, our whole life is a matter of semantics, because words are the tools with which we work, the material out of which laws are made, out of which the Constitution was written. Everything depends on our understanding of them.
    • Reply to counsel who said a challenge from the bench was “just a matter of semantics,” Reader’s Digest (June 1964)
  • Litigation is the pursuit of practical ends, not a game of chess.
    • News summaries (August 9, 1964)
  • As a member of this court I am not justified in writing my private notions of policy into the Constitution, no matter how deeply I may cherish them or how mischievous I may deem their disregard.
    • News summaries (August 9, 1964)
  • Judicial judgment must take deep account...of the day before yesterday in order that yesterday may not paralyze today.
    • Quoted in National Observer (Silver Spring, Maryland, March 1, 1965)


  • Answers are not obtained by putting the wrong question and thereby begging the real one.
  • Fragile as reason is and limited as law is as the institutionalized medium of reason, that's all we have standing between us and the tyranny of mere will and the cruelty of unbridled, undisciplined feeling.
  • Gratitude is one of the least articulate of the emotions, especially when it is deep.
  • The ultimate touchstone of constitutionality is the Constitution itself and not what we have said about it.
  • To some lawyers, all facts are created equal.

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