Quotes on Law

The 4th Amendment and the personal rights it secures have a long history. At the very core stands the right of a man to retreat into his own home and there be free from unreasonable governmental intrusion.

— Justice Potter Stewart

It [is] more beneficial, that many guilty persons should escape unpunished, than one innocent person should suffer. The reason is, because it is of more importance to the community, that innocence should be protected, than it is, that guilt should be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in the world, that all of them cannot be punished; and many times they happen in such a manner, that it is not of much consequence to the public, whether they are punished or not. But when innocence itself, is brought to the bar and condemned, especially to die, the subject will exclaim, it is immaterial to me whether I behave well or ill, for virtue itself is no security. And if such a sentiment as this should take place in the mind of the subject, there would be an end to all security whatsoever.

— John Adams

We may be tossed upon an ocean where we can see no land— nor, perhaps, the sun or stars. But there is a chart and a compass for us to study, to consult, and to obey. That chart is the Constitution.

— Daniel Webster

The jury has the power to bring a verdict in the teeth of both law and fact.

— Oliver Wendell Holmes

Laws are silent in times of war.

— Marcus Tullius Cicero, Pro Milone

There are not enough jails, not enough policemen, not enough courts to enforce a law not supported by the people.

— Hubert H. Humphrey

My body is my own, at least I have always so regarded it. If I do harm … it is I who suffers, not the state.

— Mark Twain

The aim of the law is not to punish sins.

— Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

When your response to everything that is wrong with the world is to say, ‘there ought to be a law,’ you are saying that you hold freedom very cheap.

— Thomas Sowell

We’re not really going to get anywhere until we take the criminality out of drugs.

— George P. Schultz, McNeil-Lehrer News Hour

I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a disgrace, two men are called a Law Firm, and three or more are called a Congress.

— John Adams

The merit of our Constitution was, not that it promotes democracy, but checks it.

— Horatio Seymour

Ignorance of the law is no excuse, in any country. If it were, the laws would lose their effect, because it can always be pretended.

— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to André Limozin (22 December, 1787)

Whenever the offense inspires less horror than the punishment, the rigor of penal law is obliged to give way to the common feelings of mankind.

— Edward Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

[The Bill of Rights is] designed to protect individuals and minorities against the tyranny of the majority, but it’s also designed to protect the people against bureaucracy, against the government.

— Judge Lawrence Tribe

Crime is contagious. If the government becomes a law breaker, it breeds contempt for the law.

— Louis D. Brandeis

The First Amendment has erected a wall between church and state. That wall must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach.

— Justice Hugo Black

Ignorance of the law excuses no man; not that all men know the law, but because ’tis an excuse every man will plead, and no man can tell how to confute him.

— John Selden, Table Talk (1689)

The Constitution is not neutral. It was designed to take the government off the backs of people.

— Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas

Where there is Hunger, Law is not regarded; and where Law is not regarded, there will be Hunger.

— Benjamin Franklin, Poor Richard’s Almanack (1755)

To live outside the law you must be honest.

— Lao Tse

Capital punishment is our society’s recognition of the sanctity of human life.

— Orrin Hatch

The 10 Commandments contain 297 words. The Bill of Rights is stated in 463 words. Lincon’s Gettysburg Address contains 266 words. A recent federal directive to regulate the price of cabbage contains 26,911 words.

— The Atlanta Journal

The prestige of government has undoubtedly been lowered considerably by the Prohibition law. For nothing is more destructive of respect for the government and the law of the land than passing laws which cannot be enforced. It is an open secret that the dangerous increase of crime in this country is closely connected with this.

— Albert Einstein, Ideas and Opinions (1954)

Where there is no law, there is no freedom.

— John Locke

Judges . . . rule on the basis of law, not public opinion, and they should be totally indifferent to pressures of the times.

— Justice Warren E. Burger

Law and morality may succeed for a time in holding human appetites, ambitions and propensities in check, but when opportunities arise, they will break out again from the depths of the human heart.

— Theophrastus

Here the great art lies, to discern in what the law is to be to restraint and punishment, and in what things persuasion only is to work.

— John Milton, 1644

Prohibition will work great injury to the cause of temperance. It is a species of intemperance within itself, for it goes beyond the bounds of reason in that it attempts to control a man’s appetite by legislation, and makes a crime out of things that are not crimes. A prohibition law strikes a blow at the very principles upon which our government was founded.”

— Abraham Lincoln, Speech to the Illinois House of Representatives; 18 Dec. 1840

One with the law is a majority.

— Calvin Coolidge, Republican National Convention, 27 July 1920.

It may be true that the law cannot make a man love me. But it can keep him from lynching me, and I think that’s pretty important.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Every actual state is corrupt. Good men must not obey laws too well.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

The strength of the Constitution lies entirely in the determination of each citizen to defend it. Only if every single citizen feels duty bound to do his share in this defense are the constitutional rights secure.

— Albert Einstein

If the First Amendment means anything, it means that a state has no business telling a man, sitting alone in his own house, what books he may read or what films he may watch.

— Justice Thurgood Marshall, 1969

Power is the great evil with which we are contending. We have divided power between three branches of government and erected checks and balances to prevent abuse of power. However, where is the check on the power of the judiciary? If we fail to check the power of the judiciary, I predict that we will eventually live under judicial tyranny.

— Patrick Henry

I consider trial by jury as the only anchor yet imagined by man by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution.

— Thomas Jefferson

The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the force of the Crown. It may be frail; its roof may shake; the wind may blow through it; the storms may enter, the rain may enter, — but the King of England cannot enter; all his forces dare not cross the threshold of the ruined tenement!

— William Pitt, the Elder, Speech on the Excise Bill

Just as it is the duty of all men to obey just laws, so it is the duty of all men to disobey unjust laws.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

The general rule is that an unconstitutional statute, though having the form and name of law, is in reality no law, but is wholly void, and ineffective for any purpose; since unconstitutionality dates from the time of it’s enactment, and not merely from the date of the decision so branding it. No one is bound to obey an unconstitutional law, and no courts are bound to enforce it.

— 16 Am Jur 2d, Sec 177 late 2d, Sec 256

For most Americans the Constitution had become a hazy document, cited like the Bible on ceremonial occasions but forgotten in the daily transactions of life.

— Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr.

On every question of construction carry ourselves back to the time when the Constitution was adopted, recollect the spirit manifested in the debates and instead of trying what meaning may be squeezed out of the text or invented against it, conform to the probable one in which it was passed.

— Thomas Jefferson

A Bill of Rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse to rest on inference.

— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to James Madison December 20, 1787

Members of society must obey the law because they personally believe that its commands are justified.

— Judge David Bazelon

Every law is an evil for every law is an infraction of liberty.

— Jeremy Bentham

After 20 years on the bench I have concluded that federal drug laws are a disaster. It is time to get the government out of drug enforcement.

— Judge Whitman Knapp, New York Times; May 14, 1993

Where law ends, tyranny begins.

— William Pitt, the Elder

The more corrupt the state, the more laws.

— Tacitus, The Annals

The pages of history shine on instances of the jury’s exercise of its prerogative to disregard instructions of the judge

— U.S. vs. Dougherty, 1972

Life, faculties, production — in other words, individuality, liberty, property — this is man. And in spite of the cunning of artful political leaders, these three gifts from God precede all human legislation, and are superior to it. Life, liberty, and property do not exist because men have made laws. On the contrary, it was the fact that life, liberty, and property existed beforehand that caused men to make laws in the first place.

— Frederic Bastiat, The Law

The jury has a right to judge both the law as well as the facts in controversy.

— John Jay

The law will never make men free; it is men who have got to make the law free. They are the lovers of law and order, who observe the law when the government breaks it.

— Henry David Thoreau, Slavery in Massachusetts

The duty of government is to leave commerce to its own capital and credit as well as all other branches of business, protecting all in their legal pursuits, granting exclusive privileges to none.

— Andrew Jackson

Unnecessary laws are but traps for money.

— Thomas Hobbes

There’s no way to rule innocent men. The only power government has is the power to crack down on criminals. Well, when there aren’t enough criminals, one makes them. One declares so many things to be a crime that it becomes impossible for men to live without breaking laws.

— Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957)

Wrong must not win by technicalities.

— Aeschylus, The Eumenides

We don’t seem to be able to check crime, so why not legalize it and then tax it out of business?

— Will Rogers

It is not only vain, but wicked, in a legislator to frame laws in opposition to the laws of nature, and to arm them with the terrors of death. This is truly creating crimes in order to punish them.

— Thomas Jefferson, 1779

If the Government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself; it invites anarchy. To declare that in the administration of the criminal law the end justifies the means — to declare that the Government may commit crimes in order to secure the conviction of a private criminal — would bring terrible retribution.

— Louis D. Brandeis

If you support the war on drugs in its present form, then you’re only paying lip-service to the defense of freedom, and you don’t really grasp the concept of the sovereign individual human being.

— Neal Boortz

I’m in favor of legalizing drugs. According to my value system, if people want to kill themselves, they have every right to do so. Most of the harm that comes from drugs is because they are illegal.

— Milton Friedman

When law and morality contradict each other, the citizen has the cruel alternative of either losing his moral sense or losing his respect for the law.

— Frederick Bastiat

One single object…[will merit] the endless gratitude of the society: that of restraining the judges from usurping legislation.

— Thomas Jefferson

Written laws are like spiders’ webs, and will like them only entangle and hold the poor and weak, while the rich and powerful will easily break through them.

— Anacharsis, Life of Solon

We must reject the idea that every time a law’s broken, society is guilty rather than the lawbreaker. It is time to restore the American precept that each individual is accountable for his actions.

— Ronald Reagan

It is not the business of the law to make anyone good or reverent or moral or clean or upright.

— Murray Rothbard

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.

— Edmund Burke

The more corrupt the Republic, the more the laws.

— Giovanni Sartori

It’s easy for people to assume that the Bill of Rights will be, as somebody once called the Constitution, a machine that runs itself. I disagree. I think eternal vigilance is the price of keeping it in working order.

— Judge Lawrence Tribe

There is no man so good that if he submitted all his actions and thoughts to the scrutiny of the laws, he would not deserve hanging ten times in his life.

— Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essais

The privilege against self-incrimination is one of the great landmarks in man’s struggle to make himself civilized. … The Fifth is a lone sure rock in time of storm… a symbol of the ultimate moral sense of the community, upholding the best in us.

— Erwin Griswold, Dean of the Harvard Law School

Natural justice is a symbol or expression of usefullness, to prevent one person from harming or being harmed by another.

— Epicurus

The law of self-preservation is higher than written law.

— Thomas Jefferson

Laws do not persuade just because they threaten.

— Lucius Annaeus Seneca

We can never forget that everything Adolf Hitler did in Germany was “legal” and everything the Hungarian freedom fighters did in Hungary was “illegal.”

— Martin Luther King Jr., Letter from Birmingham Jail (16 April, 1963)

The more laws and order are made prominent, the more thieves and robbers there will be.

— Lao Tsu

The First Amendment makes confidence in the common sense of our people and in the maturity of their judgment the great postulate of our democracy.

— Justice William O. Douglas

A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.

— Robert Frost

Distrust all men in whom the impulse to punish is powerful.

— Friedrich Nietzsche

Constitutions are checks upon the hasty action of the majority. They are the self-imposed restraints of a whole people upon a majority of them to secure sober action and a respect for the rights of the minority.

— William Howard Taft

Outside of the Constitution we have no legal authority more than private citizens, and within it we have only so much as that instrument gives us. This broad principle limits all our functions and applies to all subjects.

— President Andrew Johnson

A principal source of errors and injustice are false ideas of utility. For example: that legislator has false ideas of utility who considers particular more than general conveniences, who had rather command the sentiments of mankind than excite them, and dares say to reason, `Be thou a slave’; who would sacrifice a thousand real advantages to the fear of an imaginary or trifling inconvenience; who would deprive men of the use of fire for fear of their being burnt, and of water for fear of their being drowned; and who knows of no means of preventing evil but by destroying it.

The laws of this nature are those which forbid to wear arms, disarming those only who are not disposed to commit the crime which the laws mean to prevent. Can it be supposed, that those who have the courage to violate the most sacred laws of humanity, and the most important of the code, will respect the less considerable and arbitrary injunctions, the violation of which is so easy, and of so little comparative importance? Does not the execution of this law deprive the subject of that personal liberty, so dear to mankind and to the wise legislator? And does it not subject the innocent to all the disagreeable circumstances that should only fall on the guilty? It certainly makes the situation of the assaulted worse, and of the assailants better, and rather encourages than prevents murder, as it requires less courage to attack unarmed than armed persons.

— Cesare Beccaria, Of Crimes and Punishments

The judiciary of the United States is the subtle corps of sappers and miners constantly working under ground to undermine the foundations of our confederated fabric. They are construing our constitution from a co-ordination of a general and special government to a general and supreme one alone.

— Thomas Jefferson

All bad precedents begin with justifiable measures.

— Julius Caesar

If you have ten thousand regulations you destroy all respect for the law.

— Winston Churchill

He who decides a case without hearing the other side, though he decide justly, cannot be considered just.

— Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Medea

Judge: a law student who marks his own papers.

— H. L. Mencken

I submit that an individual who breaks a law that conscience tells him is unjust, and willingly accepts the penalty by staying in jail in order to arouse the conscience of the community over its injustice, is in reality expressing the very highest respect for law.

— Martin Luther King Jr.

Whenever the offence inspires less horror than the punishment, the rigour of penal law is obliged to give way to the common feelings of mankind.

— Edward Gibbson

Rightful liberty is unobstructed action according to our will within limits drawn around us by the equal rights of others. I do not add ‘within the limits of the law’, because law is often but the tyrant’s will, and always so when it violates the rights of the individual.

— Thomas Jefferson

Can any of you seriously say the Bill of Rights could get through Congress today? It wouldn’t even get out of committee.

— F. Lee Bailey

Where the constitution is mute, we should vote about these matters rather than litigate them.

— Robert Bork

If we desire respect for the law, we must first make the law respectable.

— Louis D. Brandeis

Laws should be constructed so as to leave as little as possible to the decision of those who judge.

— Aristotle

Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.

— Charles Louis de Secondat, De L’Esprit des Lois

This provision speaks for itself. Its plain object is to secure the perfect enjoyment of that great right of the common law, that a man’s house shall be his own castle, privileged against all civil and military intrusion.

— Justice Joseph Story, 1833

Laws are like Cobwebs, which may catch small Flies, but let Wasps and Hornets break through.

— Jonathan Swift, A Critical Essay upon the Faculties of the Mind (1707)

It would be an absurdity for jurors to be required to accept the judge’s view of the law, against their own opinion, judgment, and conscience.

— John Adams

We are slaves of the law in order that we may be able to be free.

— Marcus Tullius Cicero

Our peculiar security is in the possession of a written Constitution. Let us not make it a blank paper by construction.

— Thomas Jefferson

The clatter of arms drowns the voice of the law.

— Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essais

Bear in mind this sacred principle, that though the will of the majority is in all cases to prevail, that will to be rightful must be reasonable; that the minority possess their equal rights, which equal law must protect, and to violate would be oppression.

— Thomas Jefferson, 1801

The American Constitution, one of the few modern political documents drawn up by men who were forced by the sternest circumstances to think out what they really had to face, instead of chopping logic in a university classroom.

— George Bernard Shaw

You can’t legislate morality; We legislate little else.

— Robert Bork

Only in a police state is the job of a policeman easy.

— Orson Welles

Hold on, my friends, to the Constitution and to the Republic for which it stands. Miracles do not cluster, and what has happened once in 6000 years, may not happen again. Hold on to the Constitution, for if the American Constitution should fail, there will be anarchy throughout the world.

— Daniel Webster
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