Legal Quotes

On Law

Law is a solemn expression of the will of the supreme power of the State.

- California Civil Code § 22

No man is above the law, and no man is below it; nor do we ask any man’s permission when we require him to obey it.

- President Theodore Roosevelt

Only man has law. Law must be built, do you understand me? You must build the law. (Responding to criticism of his efforts to pass the United Nations Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.)

- Raphael Lemkin

Let every man remember that to violate the law is to trample on the blood of his father, and to tear the charter of his own and his children’s liberty. Let reverence for the laws be breathed by every American mother to the lisping babe that prattles on her lap. Let it be taught in schools, in seminaries, and in colleges. Let it be written in primers, spelling books, and in almanacs. Let it be preached from the pulpit, proclaimed in legislative halls, and enforced in the courts of justice. And, in short, let it become the political religion of the nation.

- President Abraham Lincoln

We should stop looking to law to provide the final answer… Law cannot save us from ourselves… We have to go out and try to accomplish our goals and resolve disagreements by doing what we think is right. That energy and resourcefulness, not millions of legal cubicles, is what was great about America. Let judgment and personal conviction be important again.

- Philip K. Howard

Revolt and terror pay a price. Order and law have a cost.

- Carl Sandburg

Freedom isn’t free.

- Anonymous

The purpose of the law is to prevent the strong from always having their way.

- Ovid

The good of the people is the greatest law.

- Cicero

All that makes existence valuable to any one depends on the enforcement of restraints upon the actions of other people.

- John Stuart Mill

The law often allows what honor forbids.

- Bernard Joseph Saurin

Many laws as certainly make bad men, as bad men make many laws.

- Walter Savage Landor

The more laws the more offenders.

- Thomas Fuller

It ain’t no sin if you crack a few laws now and then, just so long as you don’t break any.

- Mae West

Somebody recently figured out that we have 35 million laws to enforce the ten commandments.

- Attributed to both Bert Masterson and Earl Wilson

I’ve never had a problem with drugs.  I’ve had problems with the police.

- Keith Richards

The United States is the greatest law factory the world has ever known.

- Charles Evans Hughes

As civilization progresses, we should improve our laws basically, not superficially. Many things that are lawful are highly immoral and some things which are moral are unlawful.

- Henry L. Doherty

Laws are felt only when the individual comes into conflict with them.

- Suzanne Lafollette

The business of the law is to make sense of the confusion of what we call human life to reduce it to order but at the same time to give it possibility, scope, even dignity.

- Archibald MacLeish

When the severity of the law is to be softened, let pity, not bribes, be the motive.

- Miguel de Cervantes

Morality cannot be legislated, but behavior can be regulated. Judicial decrees may not change the heart, but they can restrain the heartless.

- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

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.

- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.


On Justice

Justice, justice shall you pursue.

- Deuteronomy 16:20

Justice is open to everyone in the same way as the Ritz Hotel.

- Judge Sturgess

It is the spirit and not the form of law that keeps justice alive.

- Chief Justice Earl Warren

It is, indeed, hard for the strong to be just to the weak.

- Eamon de Valera

Although the legal and ethical definitions of right are the antithesis of each other, most writers use them as synonyms. They confuse power with goodness, and mistake law for justice.

- Charles T. Sprading

Justice may be blind, but she has very sophisticated listening devices.

- Edgar Argo

No man suffers injustice without learning, vaguely but surely, what justice is.

- Isaac Rosenfeld

An earthquake achieves what the law promises but does not in practice maintain – the equality of all men.

- Ignazio Silone

This is a court of law, young man, not a court of justice.

- Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

Justice is the tolerable accommodation of the conflicting interests of society, and I don’t believe there is any royal road to attain such accommodation concretely.

- Judge Learned Hand

People who love sausage and people who believe in justice should never watch either of them being made.

- Otto Bismark

A scholar who heeds not the appeal of the oppressed and declines to work justice on the ground of being too busy is as one who destroys the earth.

- Exodus Rabbah 30:13

Justice remains the greatest power on earth. To that power alone will we submit.

- President Harry S. Truman

The notion that most people want black-robed judges, well-dressed lawyers, and fine paneled courtrooms as the setting to resolve their dispute is not correct. People with problems, like people with pains, want relief, and they want it as quickly and inexpensively as possible.

- Chief Justice Warren E. Burger

The nature of men and of organized society dictates the maintenance in every field of action the highest and purest standards of justice and of right dealing. By justice the lawyer generally means the prompt, fair and open application of impartial rules; but we call ours a Christian civilization, and a Christian conception of justice must be much higher. It must include sympathy and helpfulness and a willingness to forego self interest in order to promote welfare, happiness, and contentment of others and of the community as a whole.

- President Woodrow Wilson

If we do not maintain justice, justice will not maintain us.

- Francis Bacon

Every man loves justice at another man’s expense.

- Anonymous

By the just we mean that which is lawful and that which is fair and equitable.

- Aristotle

The aim of justice is to give everyone his due.

- Cicero

There is no such thing as justice – in or out of court.

- Clarence Darrow, Esq.

Justice? You get justice in the next world; in this world you have the law.

- William Gaddis

The law isn’t justice. It’s a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be.

- Raymond Chandler

The test, after all, is not whether a certain law is popular, but whether the law is based upon fundamental justice, fundamental decency and righteousness, fundamental morality and goodness. What we need is not law enforcement, but law observance. In a modern society there is no real freedom from law. There is only freedom in law.

- Peter Marshall

It is not possible to form a lasting power upon injustice, perjury and treachery.

- Demosthenes

The more laws, the less justice.

- German proverb

An unjust law is itself a species of violence. Arrest for its breach is more so.

- Mohandas K. Gandhi

Who thinks the law has anything to do with justice? It’s what we have because we can’t have justice.

- William McIlvanney

Law and order exist for the purpose of establishing justice and . . . when they fail in this purpose they become the dangerously structured dams that block the flow of social progress.

- Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Of all injustice, that which is greatest which goes under the name of law, and all sorts of tyranny the forcing of the letter of the law against the equity, is the most insupportable.

- Roger L'Estrange

We win justice quickest by rendering justice to the other party.

- Mahatma Gandhi

If we are to keep our democracy, there must be one commandment: Thou shalt not ration justice.

- Judge Learned Hand

Force without justice is tyrannical; justice without force is impotent.

- Blaise Pascal

Justice is the great interest of man on earth. It is a ligament which holds civilized beings and civilized nations together.

- Daniel Webster


On Bad Law

An eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

- Mahatma Gandhi

I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it.

- Voltaire

Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

- Benjamin Franklin

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

- Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes

When the state is most corrupt, the laws are most multiplied.

- Tacitus

When it is the will rather than the law that is effective in the country, it is a bad phenomenon.

- Victor Dallakian

It is the responsibility of the patriot to protect his country from its government.

- Thomas Paine

I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.

- President Ulysses S. Grant

The victim of too severe a law is considered a martyr, rather than a criminal.

- Charles Caleb Colton

No oppression is so heavy or lasting as that which is inflicted by the perversion and exorbitance of legal authority.

- Joseph Addison

Bad laws is the worst sort of tyranny.

- Edmund Burke

It is difficult to make our material condition better by the best law, but it is easy enough to ruin it by bad laws.

- President Theodore Roosevelt

When your conscience says law is immoral, don’t follow it.

- Jack Kevorkian, MD

Some things are easier to legalize than to legitimate.

- Sebastien-Roch Nicolas de Chamfort


On Lawsuits and Trials

The wisdom of our ages and the blood of our heroes has been devoted to the attainment of trial by jury. It should be the creed of our political faith.

- President Thomas Jefferson

Discourage litigation. Persuade your neighbor to compromise whenever you can. As a peacemaker the lawyer has a superior opportunity of being a good man. There will still be business enough.

- President Abraham Lincoln

The due process of law as we use it, I believe, rests squarely on the liberal idea of conflict and resolution.

- June L. Trapp

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

- Thomas Jefferson

Scarcely any political question arises in the United States that is not resolved, sooner or later, into a judicial question.

- Alexis de Tocqueville

Lawsuit: A machine which you go into as a pig and come out of as a sausage.

- Ambrose Bierce

Litigant: A person about to give up his skin for the hope of retaining his bones.

- Ambrose Bierce

On Lawyers

Lawyers are men who hire out their words and anger.

- Martial

We are objects of fear and respect.

We are the butt of jokes.

We are working lawyers.

We can act with surpassing nobility; we can do what has to be done.

We can raise fundamental issues of constitutional law; we can fuss over matters so seemingly trivial that our adversaries scream in frustration.

We live lives of furious action: impossible deadlines, contentious negotiations, courtroom confrontations.

We live lives, also, of bookish research and quiet meditation.

We are conversant not only with the law, but with all the world’s knowledge and experience.

We can speak knowledgeably with neurosurgeons; we understand the dynamics of a barroom brawl.

We can be wealthy beyond the dreams of Croesus; we can scramble for rent money while the other side lingers over a settlement offer.

One day, overwhelmed by setbacks, we curse the day we entered law school; the next day, a favorable verdict or ruling intoxicates us into thinking, once again, that the life of the working lawyer is the sweetest in the world.

To our clients, we are knights in shining armor; to adversaries, unscrupulous pettifoggers.

We are working lawyers.

We love it.

We hate it.

And, when all is said and done, we can’t think of anything else we’d rather be.

- Anonymous


On Law’s Place in the Order of Things

Judicial judgment must take deep account…of the day before yesterday in order that yesterday may not paralyze today.

- Justice Felix Frankfurter

No civilization . . . would ever have been possible without a framework of stability, to provide the wherein for the flux of change. Foremost among the stabilizing factors, more enduring than customs, manners and traditions, are the legal systems that regulate our life in the world and our daily affairs with each other.

- Hannah Arendt

I have spent all my life under a Communist regime, and I will tell you that a society without any objective legal scale is a terrible one indeed. But a society with no other scale but the legal one is not quite worthy of man either.

- Alexander Solzhenitsyn

A multitude of laws in a country is like a great number of physicians, a sign of weakness and malady.

- Voltaire

The law, in its majestic equality, forbids rich and poor alike to sleep under bridges, beg in the streets or steal bread.

- Anatole France

We should have learnt by now that laws and court decisions can only point the way. They can establish criteria of right and wrong. And they can provide a basis for rooting out the evils of bigotry and racism. But they cannot wipe away centuries of oppression and injustice however much we might desire it.

- Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey

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