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...................................................Quotes & Maxims

Welcome to Wagoner Burgert's collection of law-related quotations and Latin maxims. Some are pithy, some are humorous, some are profound. All are enjoyable and edifying in one way or another, however, so enjoy browsing - -
| Legal QUOTES  || Latin MAXIMS |

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"The most overlooked advantage to owning a computer is that if they foul up there's no law against wacking them around a little."
    -    Porterfield

"And it should be the law: If you use the word `paradigm' without knowing what the dictionary says it means, you go to jail. No exceptions."
    -    David Jones @ Megatest Corporation

"We dedicated ourselves to a powerful idea -- organic law rather than naked power. There seems to be universal acceptance of that idea in the nation."
    -    Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart

"So act that your principle of action might safely be made a law for the whole world."

    -    Immanuel Kant

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"A judge is a law student who marks his own examination papers."
     -    H. L. Mencken (1880-1956)

 "A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer."
    -    Robert Frost

 "My fellow Americans, I am pleased to tell you I just signed legislation which outlaws Russia forever. The bombing begins in five minutes."
    -    Ronald Reagan, Radio test,1984

 "Lawyers, I suppose, were children once."
    -    Charles Lamb

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

    -    Anatole France

IN FORMA PAUPERIS. [Latin] In the character of a poor person -- a method by which a litigant without money for lawyers is considerately permitted to lose his case. When Adam long ago in Cupid's awful court (for Cupid ruled ere Adam was invented) sued for Eve's favor, says an ancient law report, He stood and pleaded unhabilimented. "You sue _in forma pauperis_, I see," Eve cried; "Actions can't here be that way prosecuted." So all poor Adam's motions coldly were denied: He went away -- as he had come -- nonsuited. G.J."

    -    Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), "The Devil's Dictionary", 1911

"The reason there is so little crime in Germany is that it's against the law."

    -    Alex Levin

"Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot."

    -    D. H. Lawrence

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

"Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty."
    -    Henry M. Robert

"No law or ordinance is mightier than understanding."    -    Plato, Laws

"The judge ought to give 'em a chance to tell what evolution is. Course we got them licked anyhow, but I believe in being fair and square and American. Besides, I'd like to know what evolution is myself."
    -    Tennessee State Representative John Washington Butler, author of the Tennessee Anti- Evolution Law, during the Scopes Monkey Trial

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Letters indicating the degree _Legumptionorum Doctor_, one learned in laws, gifted with legal gumption. Some suspicion is cast upon this derivation by the fact that the title was formerly _LL.d._, and conferred only upon gentlemen distinguished for their wealth.

    -    Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914), "The Devil's Dictionary", 1911

"The lawgiver, of all beings, most owes the law allegiance. He of all men should behave as though the law compelled him. But it is the universal weakness of mankind that what we are given to administer we presently imagine we own."
    -    H.G. Wells

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"Plant a kernel of wheat and you reap a pint; plant a pint and you reap a bushel. Always the law works to give you back more than you give."

    -    Anthony Norvell

"May you have a lawsuit in which you know you are in the right"

    -    Gypsy Proverb

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, n. In Law, a previous decision, rule or practice which, in the absence of a definite statute, has whatever force and authority a Judge may choose to give it, thereby greatly simplifying his task of doing as he pleases. As there are precedents for everything, he has only to ignore those that make against his interest and accentuate those in the line of his desire. Invention of the precedent elevates the trial-at-law from the low estate of a fortuitous ordeal to the noble attitude of a dirigible arbitrament.
  -    Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
..................        "The Devil's Dictionary", 1911

"The grandest of all laws is the law of progressive development. Under it, in the wide sweep of things, men grow wiser as they grow older, and societies better."

    -    John Christian Bovee

"When you can, always advise people to do what you see they really want to do, so long as what they want isn't dangerously unlawful, stupidly unsociable or obviously impossible. Doing what they want to do, they may succeed; doing what they don't want to do, they won't."

    -    James G. Cozzens

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"Thoughts, like fleas, jump from man to man, but they don't bite everybody."

    - Stanislaw Lec

PRECEDENT: From The Lunarian Astonished_ -- Pfeiffer & Co., Boston, 1803:  LUNARIAN: Then when your Congress has passed a law it goes directly to the Supreme Court in order that it may at once be known whether it is constitutional? TERRESTRIAN: Oh no; it does not require the approval of the Supreme Court until having perhaps been enforced for many years somebody objects to its operation against himself -- I mean his client. The President, if he approves it, begins to execute it at once. LUNARIAN: Ah, the executive power is a part of the legislative. Do your policemen also have to approve the local ordinances that they enforce? TERRESTRIAN: Not yet -- at least not in their character of constables. Generally speaking, though, all laws require the approval of those whom they are intended to restrain. LUNARIAN: I see. The death warrant is not valid until signed by the murderer. TERRESTRIAN: My friend, you put it too strongly; we are not so consistent. LUNARIAN: But this system of maintaining an expensive judicial machinery to pass upon the validity of laws only after they have long been executed, and then only when brought before the court by some private person -- does it not cause great confusion? TERRESTRIAN: It does. LUNARIAN: Why then should not your laws, previously to being executed, be validated, not by the signature of your President, but by that of the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? TERRESTRIAN: There is no precedent for any such course. LUNARIAN: Precedent. What is that? TERRESTRIAN: It has been defined by five hundred lawyers in three volumes each. So how can any one know?
-Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
..................        "The Devil's Dictionary", 1911

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The trouble with any unwritten law is that you don't know where to go to erase it.
    -    Glaser and Way

, n. The slaying of one human being by another. There are four kinds of homocide: felonious, excusable, justifiable, and praiseworthy, but it makes no great difference to the person slain whether he fell by one kind or another -- the classification is for advantage of the lawyers.
    -    Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
..................        "The Devil's Dictionary", 1911

A verbal contract isn't worth the paper it's written on.

    -    Samuel Goldwyn's Law of Contracts

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"We want to see three things in the 1988 Republican Party Platform... First, a constitutional amendment banning all abortions in the United States. Second, increased funding for law enforcement and a mandatory death penalty for drug dealers. Third, LESS GOVERNMENT."

    -    Speaker at a 1988 Republican Straw Poll in Iowa

Lawsuit (noun) -- A machine which you go into as a pig and come out as a sausage.

    -    Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)

Harry is heavily into camping, and every year in the late fall, he makes us all go to Assateague, which is an island on the Atlantic Ocean famous for its wild horses. I realize that the concept of wild horses probably stirs romantic notions in many of you, but this is because you have never met any wild horses in person. In person, they are like enormous hooved rats. They amble up to your camp site, and their attitude is: "We're wild horses. We're going to eat your food, knock down your tent and poop on your shoes. We're protected by federal law, just like Richard Nixon."
  Dave Barry, "Tenting Grandpa Bob":

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Our second completely true news item was sent to me by Mr. H. Boyce Connell Jr. of Atlanta, Ga., where he is involved in a law firm. One thing I like about the South is, folks there care about tradition. If somebody gets handed a name like "H. Boyce," he hangs on to it, puts it on his legal stationery, even passes it to his son, rather than do what a lesser person would do, such as get it changed or kill himself.

    -    Dave Barry, "This Column is Nothing but the Truth!"

"The sins of the fathers are often visited upon the sons-in-law."
    -    Joan Kiser

"In university they don't tell you that the greater part of the law is learning to tolerate fools."
    -    Doris Lessing

"While technically I did not commit a crime, an impeachable offense... these are legalisms, as far as the handling of this matter is concerned; it was so botched up, I made so many bad judgments. The worst ones, mistakes of the heart, rather than the head. But let me say, a man in that top job - he's got to have a heart, but his head must always rule his heart."
    --    Richard Nixon

"When the president does it, that means it is not illegal."
    -    Richard Nixon

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I followed his argument with the blank uneasiness which one might feel in the presence of a

logical lunatic.
    -    Victor Serge

Listening to both sides does not necessarily bring about a correct judgment.
    -    Donald Rumsfeld

Reason is the life of the law; nay, the common law itself is nothing else but reason.
  -- Coke

Law is beneficence acting by rule.
    -    Burke

And sovereign Law, that state's collected will O'er thrones and globes elate, Sits empress, crowning good, repressing ill.
    -    Sir W. Jones

He found law dear and left it cheap.
    --    Brougham

"There is nothing which so generally strikes the imagination and engages the affections of mankind, as the right of property."

    -    William Blackstone, Book II, "Rights of Things", Commentaries on the Laws of England.

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Emergency does not create power. Emergency does not increase granted power or remove or diminish the restrictions imposed upon power granted or reserved. The Constitution was adopted in a period of grave emergency. Its grants of power to the federal government and its limitations of the power of the States were determined in the light of emergency, and they are not altered by emergency. What power was thus granted and what limitations were thus imposed are questions [290 U.S. 398, 426]which have always been, and always will be, the subject of close examination under our constitutional system. HOME BLDG. & LOAN ASS'N v. BLAISDELL, 290 U.S. 398 (1934)
    -    Mr. Chief Justice Hughes

Long wind hasn't given out on this side any more than on yours, nor so much, though the tendency is towards shorter opinions. I abhor, loathe and despise these long discourses, and agree with Carducci the Italian poet who died some years ago that a man who takes half a page to say what can be said in a sentence will be damned.

    -    Mr. Justice Holmes (June 1, 1917). Correspondence, 1874-1932

No doubt one may quote history to support any cause,
as the devil quotes scripture.
    -    Learned Hand, Sources of Tolerance (1930), p.79.f
The great object of the law is to encourage commerce.

    -     Judge Chambre (1739-1823) Beale v. Thompson, 1803

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I always think of the Frenchman's answer when he was asked if a gentleman must know of 
Greek & Latin: 
"No, but he must have forgotten
- Mr. Justice Holmes
(April 15, 1892).  Correspondence of Mr. Justice Holmes & Sir Frederick Pollock,  1874-1932.

L A T I N   M A X I M S


"No Man Is Above The Law"
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Leges vigilantibus, non dormientibus, subveniunt.
         -    " The laws aid the vigilant, not the negligent."
Leges humanae nascuntur, vivunt, moriuntur.
         -    "Human laws are born, live, and die."

In quo quis delinquit, in eo de jure est puniendus.
         - "In whatever thing one offends, in that is he rightfully to be punished."

Commodum ex injuria sua nemo habere debet. 
        -  "No person ought to have advantage from his own wrong."

Ei incumbit probatio, qui dicit, non qui negat; cum per rerum naturam factum negantis probatio nulla sit.

 -    "The proof lies upon him who affirms, not upon him who denies; since, by the nature of things, he who denies a fact cannot produce any proof."

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Ignorantia legis neminem excusat.
         -    "Ignorance of the law, which every one is bound to know, excuses no man."

Melius est in tempore occurrere, quam post causam vulneratum remedium quaerere.
       -    "It is better to meet a thing in time than after an injury inflicted to seek a remedy."

Res accedent lumina rebus.
         -    "One thing throws light upon others."

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  Short Latin Phrases Frequently 
       Encountered in the Law

amicus curiae - friend of the court
bona fide - good faith
caveat emptor - buyer beware
de jure / de facto - according to law / according to fact
ex post facto - resulting after the fact
habeas corpus - produce the body
ignorantia legis neminem excusat - ignorance of the law is no excuse
modus operandi - method of operation
nolo contendere - no contest
non compos mentis - not mentally competent
onus probandi - the burden of proof
pro tempore - for the time being

publicam bonum privato est praeferendumont  - the public good is preferred to the private good
sine die - With no day specified for a future meeting; indefinitely (sine, without + Latin ablative of di, day)

TAKE THIS QUIZ - Heracles Meets the Law - Choose the correct answer from multiple Latin maxims

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  Want MORE Latin maxims? Try visiting these links:

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A   f u ll - s e r v i c e   c i v i l  l a w   f i r m . . . .


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