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Augustus Noble Hand (July 26, 1869 – October 28, 1954) was a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York and later was a United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. His most notable rulings restricted the reach of obscenity statutes in the areas of literature and contraceptives. He was the older first cousin of famed judge Learned Hand, who served on both courts with his cousin during most of Augustus Hand's tenure.

Augustus Noble Hand
Augustus Noble Hand.jpg
Senior Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
June 30, 1953 – October 28, 1954
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
In office
May 19, 1927 – June 30, 1953
Appointed byCalvin Coolidge
Preceded byCharles Merrill Hough
Succeeded byJohn Marshall Harlan
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
In office
September 30, 1914 – June 1, 1927
Appointed byWoodrow Wilson
Preceded byGeorge Chandler Holt
Succeeded byFrank Joseph Coleman
Personal details
Born
Augustus Noble Hand

(1869-07-26)July 26, 1869
Elizabethtown, New York
DiedOctober 28, 1954(1954-10-28) (aged 85)
Middlebury, Vermont
EducationHarvard University (A.B.)
Harvard Law School (LL.B.)

Education and careerEdit

Born in Elizabethtown, New York, Hand received an Artium Baccalaureus degree from Harvard University in 1890, and earned a Bachelor of Laws from Harvard Law School in 1894. He then established a private practice in New York City, which he maintained until 1914.[1]

Federal judicial serviceEdit

Hand was nominated by President Woodrow Wilson on September 28, 1914, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York vacated by Judge George Chandler Holt. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on September 30, 1914, and received his commission the same day. His service terminated on June 1, 1927, due to his elevation to the Second Circuit.[1]

Hand received a recess appointment from President Calvin Coolidge on May 19, 1927, to a seat on the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit vacated by Judge Charles Merrill Hough. He was nominated to the same position by President Coolidge on December 6, 1927. He was confirmed by the Senate on January 18, 1928, and received his commission the same day. He assumed senior status on June 30, 1953. His service terminated on October 28, 1954, due to his death in Middlebury, Vermont.[1]

Notable decisionsEdit

ContraceptivesEdit

One of Hand's best-known decisions was rendered in the case of United States v. One Package, 86 F.2d 737 (2d Cir. 1934), in which he ruled that contraceptives, when imported by a licensed physician, were not immoral or obscene devices banned under the Comstock Law provisions incorporated into the Tariff Act of 1930. Hand wrote that "we are satisfied that this statute, as well as all the acts we have referred to, embraced only such articles as Congress would have denounced as immoral if it had understood all the conditions under which they were to be used. Its design, in our opinion, was not to prevent the importation, sale, or carriage by mail of things which might intelligently be employed by conscientious and competent physicians for the purpose of saving life or promoting the well being of their patients."[citation needed]

CensorshipEdit

 
Ulysses, Egoist Press, 1922

The same year, Hand further limited the Tariff Act's restrictions in United States v. One Book Entitled Ulysses by James Joyce, 72 F.2d 705 (2nd Cir. 1934), which ruled that the novel Ulysses, by James Joyce, was not obscene and therefore could not be banned from import into the United States. The opinion was significant in its urging that any test of obscenity could not rely on mere isolated passages but instead had to consider the work as a whole, a test the Supreme Court later endorsed.[2] These principles, filtered through a long line of later cases, ultimately influenced the United States Supreme Court's case law on obscenity standards.[2] Hand's opinion also displayed a historical perspective of the harm of overzealous censorship:

Art certainly cannot advance under compulsion to traditional forms, and nothing in such a field is more stifling to progress than limitation of the right to experiment with a new technique. The foolish judgments of Lord Eldon about one hundred years ago, proscribing the works of Byron and Southey, and the finding by the jury under a charge by Lord Denman that the publication of Shelley's "Queen Mab" was an indictable offense are a warning to all who have to determine the limits of the field within which authors may exercise themselves. We think that Ulysses is a book of originality and sincerity of treatment and that it has not the effect of promoting lust. Accordingly it does not fall within the statute, even though it justly may offend many.[3]

Hand's cousin, Judge Learned Hand, joined in Augustus Hand's opinion; Chief Judge Martin Manton dissented.

Motion Picture AntitrustEdit

In 1946, Hand was temporarily assigned to a three-judge panel of the New York Southern District Court for the U.S. government's antitrust case against the eight largest movie distributors. The court's per curiam decree in United States v. Paramount Pictures, 70 F.Supp. 53 (S.D.N.Y. 1946), significantly altered the motion picture industry in the United States, by forbidding the distributors from colluding with movie theaters in such anti-competitive licensing practices as price-fixing.[citation needed]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c "Hand, Augustus Noble - Federal Judicial Center". www.fjc.gov.
  2. ^ a b Pagnattaro, Marisa Anne (Summer 2001). "Carving a literary exception: The obscenity standard and Ulysses". Twentieth Century Literature. BNET. 47 (2): 217–240. JSTOR 827850..
  3. ^ United States v. One Book Entitled Ulysses by James Joyce, 72 F.2d 705 (2nd Cir. 1934)

SourcesEdit

Legal offices
Preceded by
George Chandler Holt
Judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York
1914–1927
Succeeded by
Frank Joseph Coleman
Preceded by
Charles Merrill Hough
Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
1927–1953
Succeeded by
John Marshall Harlan