Quotes on Law

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

We have the right as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money.

— Davy Crockett, Speech in the US House of Representatives

The Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens.

— John Marshall Harlan, Plessy v. Ferguson (1896)

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

— Louis D. Brandeis

Christianity neither is, nor ever was, a part of the common law.

— Thomas Jefferson, Whether Christianity is Part of the Common Law (1764)

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

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

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 no law, there is no freedom.

— John Locke

There are no compacts between lions and men, and wolves and sheep have no concord.

— Homer

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

— Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Medea

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, Commencement address at Harvard University (7 June, 1978)

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

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

Let justice be done though the heavens should fall.

— John Adams

The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.

— John Locke

All bad precedents begin with justifiable measures.

— Julius Caesar

Pity for the guilty is treason against the innocent.

— Ayn Rand

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

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

— Jeremy Bentham

To live outside the law you must be honest.

— Lao Tse

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

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

No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another; and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him.

— Thomas Jefferson, Letter to Francis W. Gilmer (27 June 1816)

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

— Hubert H. Humphrey

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

— Louis D. Brandeis

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

All that is good is not embodied in the law; and all that is evil is not proscribed by the law. A well-disciplined society needs few laws; but it needs strong mores.

— William F. Buckley

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

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)

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

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

Where law ends, tyranny begins.

— William Pitt, the Elder

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

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

— Winston Churchill

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

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

— Robert Bork

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

— Orson Welles

Sometimes the law defends plunder and participates in it. Sometimes the law places the whole apparatus of judges, police, prisons and gendarmes at the service of the plunderers, and treats the victim — when he defends himself — as a criminal.

— Frederic Bastiat, The Law

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.

Useless laws weaken the necessary laws.

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

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)

It is much more important to kill bad bills than to pass good ones.

— Calvin Coolidge

Bad laws are the worst sort of tyranny.

— Edmund Burke

The clatter of arms drowns the voice of the law.

— Michel Eyquem de Montaigne, Essais

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

— Oliver Wendell Holmes

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

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.

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 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

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

A law against property is a law against industry.

— Edmund Burke

Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.

— Herbert Spencer, The Ethics of Social Life: Justice

The more laws, the less justice.

— Marcus Tullius Cicero

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 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)

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

— Judge David Bazelon

All persons shall have full and free liberty of religious opinion; nor shall any be compelled to frequent or
maintain any religious institution.

— Thomas Jefferson, Draft Constitution for Virginia (June 1776)

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

— John Jay

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

— Lao Tsu

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

— Aristotle

Unnecessary laws are but traps for money.

— Thomas Hobbes

Wrong must not win by technicalities.

— Aeschylus, The Eumenides

Silent leges inter arma. (Laws are silent in times of war.)

— Marcus Tullius Cicero, Oratio Pro Annio Milone, IV.

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

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

[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

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.

We should forgive our enemies, but not before they are hanged.

— Heinrich Heine

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

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

— George P. Schultz, McNeil-Lehrer News Hour

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.

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

A Bill of Rights that means what the majority wants it to mean is worthless.

— Antonin Scalia

The power of the Executive to cast a man in prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers is in the highest degree odious and is the foundation of all totalitarian government.

— Winston Churchill, 21 November, 1942

One of the greatest delusions in the world is the hope that the evils in this world are to be cured by legislation.

— Thomas Brackett Reed, 1886

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

— Thomas Jefferson

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

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

— Robert Frost

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)

When the fox administers justice, the chickens will always be found guilty.

— Cat Farmer

I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws.

— Martin Luther King, In a letter on 16 April, 1963.

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

— Thomas Jefferson

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

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

The aim of the law is not to punish sins.

— Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes

The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence.

— John Adams

Justice is the set and constant purpose which gives every man his due.

— Marcus Tullius Cicero

In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

— Thomas Jefferson, The Kentucky Resolutions of 1798 (16 November 1798)

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

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)

Nobody has a more sacred obligation to obey the law than those who make the law.

— Sophocles

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)

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

Men do not make laws. They do but discover them. Laws must be justified by something more than the will of the majority. They must rest on the eternal foundation of righteousness.

— Calvin Coolidge

Try to imagine a regulation of labor imposed by force that is not a violation of liberty; a transfer of wealth imposed by force that is not a violation of property. If you cannot reconcile these contradictions, then you must conclude that the law cannot organize labor and industry without organizing injustice.

— Frederic Bastiat, The Law

It is a besetting vice of democracies to substitute public opinion for law. This is the usual form in which masses of men exhibit their tyranny.

— James Fenimore Cooper

Every law that was ever written opened up a new way to graft.

— Robert Heinlein, Red Planet

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

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, The Law

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

— Friedrich Nietzsche

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

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

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

— Thomas Jefferson

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

— Marcus Tullius Cicero

It is not, what a lawyer tells me I may do; but what humanity, reason, and justice, tells me I ought to do.

— Edmund Burke

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

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

— Orrin Hatch

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

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

— Ralph Waldo Emerson

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

I consider the foundation of the Constitution as laid on this ground: That “all powers not delegated to
the United States, by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States or to
the people.” To take a single step beyond the boundaries thus specially drawn around the powers of
Congress, is to take possession of a boundless field of power, no longer susceptible of any definition.

— Thomas Jefferson

It will be of little avail to the people, that the laws are made by men of their own choice, if the laws be so voluminous that they cannot be read, or so incoherent that they cannot be understood.

— James Madison, The Federalist No. 62

Opium and morphine are certainly dangerous, habit-forming drugs. But once the principle is admitted that it is the duty of the government to protect the individual against his own foolishness, no serious objections can be advanced against further encroachments … Is not the harm a man can inflict on his mind and soul even more disastrous than any bodily evils.? Why not prevent him from reading bad books and bad plays, from looking at bad paintings and statues and from hearing bad music? The mischief done by bad ideologies, surely, is much more pernicious both for the individual and for the whole society, than that done by narcotic drugs.

— Ludwig von Mises, Human Action

Criminals are not the victims of society; society is the victim of criminals.

— Bob Dole

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

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

— Robert Bork

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

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

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

An unjust law is no law at all.

— Saint Augustine, On Free Choice Of The Will

Judge: a law student who marks his own papers.

— H. L. Mencken

Justice is conscience, not a personal conscience but the conscience of the whole of humanity. Those who clearly recognize the voice of their own conscience usually recognize also the voice of justice.

— Alexander Solzhenitsyn, A letter to three students in October 1967.

The more corrupt the Republic, the more the laws.

— Giovanni Sartori

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

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

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

— Will Rogers

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

Laws do not persuade just because they threaten.

— Lucius Annaeus Seneca

One with the law is a majority.

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

The Founding Fathers understood what happens when you give power to people with good intentions. That’s why they wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights — to prevent politicians from foisting their good intentions on us. Jefferson said we must bind them down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution.

— Harry Browne

An undefinable law is not a law, but merely a license for some men to rule others.

— Ayn Rand

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

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)

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

— Epicurus

The more corrupt the state, the more laws.

— Tacitus, The Annals

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

When plunder becomes a way of life for a group of men living together in society, they create for themselves in the course of time a legal system that authorizes it and a moral code that glorifies it.

— Frederic Bastiat, Economic Sophisms

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