Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes

Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes first joined the U.S. Supreme Court as an Associate Justice on October 10, 1910, replacing Justice David Josiah Brewer. After six years of service, he resigned and spent a period of time away from the Court before returning as Chief Justice on February 24, 1930, replacing Chief Justice William Howard Taft. Hughes was born on April 11, 1862 in a small city on the Hudson River in New York State. However, his family later moved to New York City. Hughes attended Madison University (now Colgate University) from 1876 to 1878 but received his undergraduate degree from Brown University in Rhode Island in 1881. He graduated from Columbia Law School three years later.

Over the next two decades, Hughes blended a career in private practice with some forays into legal academia. He tutored law students at Columbia for a few years after he graduated, and he taught for two years in the 1890s at Cornell Law School. In 1906, Hughes defeated William Randolph Hearst in the New York gubernatorial election. He was reelected as Governor of New York in 1908, but he did not complete his second term.

On April 25, 1910, President William Howard Taft nominated Hughes to the U.S. Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on May 2, and he took the judicial oath in the fall. Hughes wrote one of his most notable opinions during this first span on the Court in Houston East and West Texas Railway Co. v. U.S., voicing a broad interpretation of congressional power under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution. He resigned from the Court on June 10, 1916 to run for President. Justice John Hessin Clarke replaced him on the Court.

In a tightly contested election, Hughes lost to incumbent Woodrow Wilson. He returned to private practice for a few years before joining the cabinet of President Warren G. Harding as U.S. Secretary of State in 1921. He continued in that role under President Calvin Coolidge after Harding died in 1923, but he resigned in 1925 and again returned to private practice. Between 1928 and 1930, Hughes served on the Permanent Court of International Justice, which was part of the League of Nations.

On February 3, 1930, President Herbert Hoover nominated Hughes to the Chief Justice seat on the Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed him on February 13 in a 52-26 vote, and he took the judicial oath later that month. Hughes is one of only two Associate Justices (and the only Associate Justice since 1800) who left the Court and returned as Chief Justice.

Hughes served as Chief Justice for slightly over a decade. His tenure largely coincided with the New Deal of President Franklin Roosevelt. Many of the key cases in this era involved the constitutionality of economic regulations. Four Associate Justices formed a conservative bloc known as the Four Horsemen, which tended to oppose the New Deal and similar legislation. Three other Associate Justices formed a liberal bloc known as the Three Musketeers, which tended to support these laws. Together with Justice Owen Josephus Roberts, Hughes was a relative moderate and a potential swing vote.

In 1936, Hughes joined Roberts and the Four Horsemen in a decision that struck down the Agricultural Adjustment Act, a key component of the New Deal. This followed several decisions that were similarly hostile to Roosevelt’s agenda, including an opinion written by Hughes that largely invalidated the National Industrial Recovery Act. Roosevelt responded with a proposal to "pack the Court" by increasing the number of seats.

The Court then changed course for reasons that continue to be debated by historians. In the spring of 1937, Hughes and Roberts joined the Three Musketeers in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, in which Hughes wrote for the Court in upholding a state minimum wage law. Shortly afterward, he wrote for the same five-Justice majority in upholding the National Labor Relations Act. These decisions signaled a permanent shift in favor of the New Deal and toward deferential judicial review of economic regulations.

Hughes left the Supreme Court on June 30, 1941 and was replaced by Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone, who had been one of the Three Musketeers on the Hughes Court in the 1930s. After a relatively quiet retirement, Hughes died on August 27, 1948 in Massachusetts and was buried in New York City.

Selected Opinions by Chief Justice Hughes:

Coleman v. Miller (1939)

Topic: Role of Courts

In determining whether a question falls within the category of political non-justiciable questions, the appropriateness of attributing finality to the action of the political departments and the lack of satisfactory criteria for a judicial determination are dominant considerations.

NLRB v. Fansteel Metallurgical Corp. (1939)

Topic: Labor & Employment

In recognizing the right to strike, the National Labor Relations Act contemplates a lawful strike. When a strike, even if it arose from unfair labor practices, is initiated and conducted in lawlessness by the seizure and retention of the employer's property, and the strikers are discharged because of their lawlessness, they do not remain employees under the NLRA.

Missouri ex rel. Gaines v. Canada (1938)

Topic: Equal Protection

If a state furnishes higher education to white residents, it is bound to furnish substantially equal advantages to African-American residents, although not necessarily in the same schools.

Consolidated Edison Co. v. NLRB (1938)

Topic: Government Agencies

Substantial evidence (the standard of review for formal rulemaking or adjudication) means relevant evidence that a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.

NLRB v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corp. (1937)

Topic: Powers of Congress

Although activities may be intrastate in character when separately considered, if they have such a close and substantial relation to interstate commerce that their control is essential or appropriate to protect that commerce from burdens and obstructions, Congress has the power to exercise that control.

West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish (1937)

Topic: Due Process; Labor & Employment

A restraint or regulation of the liberty to contract is due process if it is reasonable in relation to its subject and adopted for the protection of the community against evils menacing the health, safety, morals, and welfare of the people. Also, in dealing with the relation of employer and employed, the legislature has a wide field of discretion in order that there may be suitable protection of health and safety, and that peace and good order may be promoted through regulations designed to ensure wholesome conditions of work and freedom from oppression.

Blair v. Commissioner (1937)

Topic: Taxes

A beneficiary of a testamentary trust was not liable for a tax on the income that he had assigned to his children prior to the tax years, and that the trustees had paid to the children. The person who is to receive the income as the owner of the beneficial interest is to pay the tax.

A.L.A. Schechter Poultry Corp. v. U.S. (1935)

Topic: Separation of Powers; Government Agencies

Congress is not permitted by the Constitution to abdicate, or to transfer to others, the essential legislative functions with which it is vested. Congress may leave to selected instrumentalities the making of subordinate rules within prescribed limits, and the determination of facts to which the policy declared by Congress applies, but it must lay down the policies and establish standards. A law was an unconstitutional delegation of legislative power when it did not undertake to prescribe rules of conduct to be applied to particular states of fact determined by appropriate administrative procedure but instead authorized the making of codes to prescribe them and set up no standards for that legislative undertaking.

Panama Refining Co. v. Ryan (1935)

Topic: Separation of Powers; Government Agencies

Congress may leave to selected instrumentalities the making of subordinate rules within prescribed limits and the determination of facts to which the policy as declared by the legislature is to apply. However, this should not obscure the limitations of the authority to delegate if the constitutional system is to be maintained. An attempted delegation is plainly void when the power sought to be delegated is legislative power, yet nowhere in the statute has Congress declared or indicated any policy or standard to guide or limit the President when acting under such delegation.

Spring City Foundry Co. v. Commissioner (1934)

Topic: Taxes

Keeping accounts and making returns on the accrual basis, as distinguished from the cash basis, import that it is the right to receive, rather than the actual receipt, that determines the inclusion of the amount in gross income. When the right to receive an amount becomes fixed, the right accrues.

Crowell v. Benson (1932)

Topic: Government Agencies

The use of the administrative method for determining facts (assuming due notice and opportunity to be heard and that findings are based on evidence) is consistent with due process and is not an unconstitutional invasion of the judicial power.

Near v. Minnesota (1931)

Topic: Free Speech

In determining the extent of the constitutional protection for the freedom of the press, it has been generally considered that it is the chief purpose of the guaranty to prevent previous restraints upon publication.

Houston East and West Texas Railway Co. v. U.S. (1914)

Topic: Powers of Congress

In taking measures necessary to foster and protect interstate commerce, it may be necessary for Congress to control the intrastate transactions of interstate carriers.