As Justice Holmes said …
Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. on free speech & related matters: selected quotations
Introduction by Ronald K.L. Collins
First Amendment scholar
05.21.08Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Holmes case tables
Modern free-speech jurisprudence begins with the words and wisdom of Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.
Whatever one may make of that, it is impossible to deny. Whether Holmes was a liberal or a libertarian, a pragmatist or a nihilist, a defender of individual rights or majority will, a social Darwinist or a totalitarian, or a “Jekyll-Holmes and Hyde-Holmes” as law professor Albert Alschuler has branded him, is difficult to say without nuanced elaboration. What is easier to gauge is his enormous impact on how we — laypeople and lawyers alike — think and talk about our system of freedom of expression. This is not necessarily because of the analytical soundness of his opinions, but rather, to echo Judge Richard Posner, because of his “rhetorical skill.” That is, “Holmes was a great judge because he was a great literary artist.”
Mindful of all of this and more, the selection of 60 quotes offered below is submitted for the reader’s examination, duly mindful of his or her right to dissent.
The 60 quotes contain the obvious, including:
“The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre and causing a panic” (Holmes J for the Court in Schenck v. United States, 249 U.S. 47, 52 (1919));
“[I]f there is any principle of the Constitution that more imperatively calls for attachment than any other it is the principle of free thought — not free thought for those who agree with us but freedom for the thought that we hate” (Holmes J dissenting in United States v. Schwimmer, 279 U.S. 644, 654-655 (1929)); and
“[T]he best test of truth is the power of the thought to get itself accepted in the competition of the market, and that truth is the only ground upon which their wishes safely can be carried out” (Holmes J dissenting in Abrams v. United States, 250 U.S. 616, 630 (1919).