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How an Ex-KKK Member Made His Way Onto the U.S. Supreme Court

October 10, 2018 in History

By Thad Morgan

FDR nominated the Alabama Senator as his first U.S. Supreme Court nominee.

Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black.

During his time on the by Roger K. Newman.

Even as the Klan’s numbers grew to more than 5 million nationwide, Black knew that he could only get so much political leverage from associating with the KKK and that public knowledge of his Klan membership could sink any chances of his winning a Senate seat. So as he readied his Senate campaign, he sent a letter of resignation to the Klan in order to officially cut ties with the organization, while still maintaining their support.

Black then shifted his focus to rallying against out-of-state corporations that, he argued, siphoned money from Alabama’s working class. By setting his crosshairs on big corporations, he avoided publicly targeting minority groups.

His plan worked. Black secured the democratic primary and cleared the way for an easy win against his Republican opponent in 1926. And while he had provided his letter of resignation from the Klan the year prior in 1925, his time as a member of the Klan would eventually come back to haunt him.

Black supported FDR and the New Deal.

As Alabama Senator, Black became an avid supporter of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and FDR’s New Deal. In particular, Black supported Roosevelt’s “court packing” bill, which would have increased the number of members on the Supreme Court in support of the president. Although the bill failed to pass, Black’s consistent and public support of the president helped earn him a nomination to the Supreme Court in 1937.

Read More: This Is How FDR Tried to Pack the Supreme Court

Since 1853, every candidate nominated for executive or judicial office was confirmed without hesitation. But the Senate took a different approach when approving their former colleague. Black was sent before the Judiciary Committee before gaining their recommendation and moving forward with a contentious confirmation hearing with the Senate.

Justice Hugo Black surrounded by journalists with whom he declined to discuss his Ku Klux Klan membership.

Although rumors of his allegiance to the KKK began to surface during the hearing, it was his time as a Senator that became a point of debate. As a senator, Black voted to recognize retirement laws that would benefit those on the Supreme Court. Since Black would become a beneficiary of those new retirement perks upon his confirmation, it was …read more


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