Hand, Augustus N. (1868–1954)

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HAND, AUGUSTUS N. (1868–1954)

Born in upstate New York to a prominent legal family, Augustus Noble ("Gus") Hand, after graduating from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, practiced law in New York City from 1897 to 1914. President woodrow wilson appointed him in 1914 to the united states district court for the Southern District of New York. A defendant in a trial over which Hand presided described him as a judge of such integrity and impartiality that he could have sustained the dignity of the law in a hurricane. In 1927 President calvin coolidge, deferring to the acclaim of the bench and bar, promoted Hand, a Democrat, to the united states court of appeals, Second Circuit, where he joined his famous cousin, learned hand.

No appellate judge was more austere than Gus Hand, who commanded the respect and influenced the votes of his brethren for a quarter of a century. He preferred judicial self-restraint to judicial activism. a moderate, he once declared that the ignorance of conservatives hardly exceeded the intolerance of liberals obsessed with change. The ardent crusaders who administered new deal agencies, he declared, should be left to "fry in their own fat" until Congress reformed them.

Hand dissented rarely and cultivated a passionless style, though he could be eloquent. His opinions tended to favor prosecutors in cases involving the rights of the criminally accused and the government in cases involving subversive activities. For example, he sustained the summary contempt conviction of the lawyers who defended the Communist party leaders tried under the smith act, even though the trial judge who convicted the lawyers gave them no hearing and waited until the trial's end, months after their contemptuous acts. Hand upheld the separate but equal doctrine and ruled that the Army's racially based quota system during world war ii did not violate the selective service act. But he championed religious liberty and extended the benefits of conscientious objection to persons who founded their claims on philosophical and political considerations as well as purely religious ones. "A mighty oak has fallen," said one of his colleagues on his death.

Leonard W. Levy


Schick, Marvin 1970 Learned Hand's Court. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.