Columbians Ahead of Their Time
Charles Evans Hughes

Charles Evans Hughes

"We are under a Constitution, but the Constitution is what the judges say it is."

Charles Evans Hughes (1862–1948)
Law 1884
Faculty 1884–87
LLD (hon.) 1907

Known as a master of building consensus, the two-time Supreme Court justice Charles Evans Hughes was lauded for his brilliant legal mind. As chief justice from 1930 to 1941, he is credited with maintaining the Supreme Court's ability to function as an independent, coequal branch of government, and for balancing the progressive forces unleashed by the Depression against the conservative forces that sought to confine regulation to a narrow sphere. A prolific and talented writer, he penned twice as many opinions as any of his contemporaries on the Supreme Court. Hughes was elected governor of New York in 1906 and appointed as an associate justice of the U.S. Supreme Court in 1910. He resigned from the bench in 1916 to run for president and returned to private law practice after losing one of the closest elections in American history to Woodrow Wilson. Appointed secretary of state by President Warren Harding in 1921, he later served as a judge of the Permanent Court of Arbitration and the Permanent Court of International Justice before President Herbert Hoover appointed him chief justice of the United States in 1930. In that post, he wrote the opinions in key cases concerning the New Deal, such as West Coast Hotel v. Parris, National Labor Relations Board v. Jones & Laughlin Steel Corporation, and Schecter Poultry Corp. v. United States. In 1937, he opposed Roosevelt's court reorganization plan, which, opponents labeled as "court-packing."

Graduating at the top of his law school class in 1884, Hughes was selected as a Prize Fellow, which allowed him to stay on at the law school (for 500 dollars a year) to tutor and conduct quizzes for law students. He did this from 1884 to 1887 while also maintaining a private practice. After his death, the law school endowed the Charles Evans Hughes Professorship. Currently, second-year law students can be awarded Charles Evans Hughes Fellowships. On April 11, 1962, the centenary of Hughes's birth, a bust of the late Columbian was presented to the School by his son-in-law, William T. Gossett (Law 1928).

Read more about Hughes in the Columbia Encyclopedia.


Two Centuries of "Columbian" Constitutionalism.


Hughes writes about the high court.


Columbian Court colleague.

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