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Hughes, Charles Evans

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Summary Article: Hughes, Charles Evans from The Columbia Encyclopedia

Hughes, Charles Evans (hyz), 1862-1948, American statesman and jurist, associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court (1910-16), U.S. secretary of state (1921-25), and 11th chief justice of the United States (1930-41), b. Glens Falls, N.Y.

Political and Diplomatic Career

A graduate of Columbia law school, he was admitted to the bar in 1884 and practiced law in New York City, where he advanced rapidly in his profession. He served (1905) as counsel for a committee of the New York state legislature investigating gas companies and, as counsel (1905-6) for another state investigating committee, achieved national prominence for his exposure of corrupt practices of insurance companies in New York. This led to his election (1906) as Republican governor of New York. In this post (1907-10), Hughes brought about the establishment of the public service commission, the passage of various insurance-law reforms, and the enactment of much labor legislation. He resigned the governorship after President Taft appointed him (1910) associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, but left the Court in 1916 to run for President on the Republican ticket.

The election was one of the closest presidential contests in American history, Woodrow Wilson defeating Hughes by an electoral vote of 277 to 254 and a popular vote of 9,129,606 to 8,538,221. The vote of California, which went to Wilson by less than 4,000 votes largely because of the disaffection of Hiram Johnson, decided the election. Hughes again devoted himself to his law practice. In 1921, President Warren Harding appointed him Secretary of State. He continued in this office under President Coolidge. Hughes prepared plans for the limitation of naval armaments at the Washington Conference (see naval conferences), directed negotiations for several important foreign treaties, and vastly increased the prestige of the U.S. Dept. of State. He was a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (1926-30) and a judge of the Permanent Court of International Justice (1928-30).

Supreme Court Chief Justice

In 1930, Hughes was appointed chief justice of the United States by President Hoover; he retired in 1941. As chief justice, Hughes generally held a moderately conservative position, and was often a swing vote on a court divided between conservative and liberal factions. The Hughes court helped develop the modern notion of freedom of speech through such decisions as Near v. Minnesota (1931), which largely voided all laws permitting prior restraint of press publication. More often than not, he voted to uphold controversial legislation of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's New Deal, though in Schechter Poultry Corp. v. United States (1935), he wrote the opinion that found the act that created the National Recovery Administration to be unconstitutional. He vigorously opposed Roosevelt's unsuccessful effort to reorganize the Supreme Court in 1937.

  • Many of Hughes's addresses were published in The Pathway to Peace (1925), The Supreme Court of the United States (1928), Our Relations to the Nations of the Western Hemisphere (1928), Pan-American Peace Plans (1929), and Nations United for Peace (1945). See his autobiographical notes, ed. by D. J. Danelski and J. S. Tulchin (1973).
  • biographies by B. Glad (1966) and R. F. Wesser (1967).
  • study by J. F. Simon (2012).
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