Judge Learned HandJudge Learned Hand, (1872-1961), Judge, U. S. Court of Appeals

Famous Judge Learned Hand Quote

“Anyone may arrange his affairs so that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which best pays the treasury. There is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes. Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands.”

Judge Learned HandJudge Learned Hand
~ Judge Learned Hand

in the case of Gregory v. Helvering 69 F.2d 809, 810 (2d Cir. 1934), aff'd, 293 U.S. 465, 55 S.Ct. 266, 79 L.Ed. 596 (1935)

Ratings and Comments

J.C Hancock, Lincoln,Nebraska

An excellent quote. I will use it a lot to make my "liberal" tax and spend friends lives miserable.

Nick, Connecticut
  • 2
  • Reply
Nick, Connecticut J.C Hancock, Lincoln,Nebraska 2/22/20

The comment has nothing to do with the right-wing, libertarian "I
don't wanna pay taxes!" whining. He's saying: what taxes are due, pay. It is not incumbent on you (or patriotic) to pay more than you actually owe. It is not an argument against taxation, a comment about the level of taxation, or an excuse to complain because you want something for nothing.

Richard S, Sioux City, IA

It says it all. We need to be careful that everyone pays some taxes in order for this to be clear to all. At present 90% of taxes are paid by only 50% of us, and over 33% of all taxes are paid by the top 1%. For many, there is no motivation or need to understand Hand's words.

eric, vegas
  • 1
  • Reply
eric, vegas Richard S, Sioux City, IA 7/13/21

and hardly any of those taxes paid actually go to where they say it does. If no one paid taxes wed all be better off

Logan, Memphis, TN

What do you want to bet that Annonymous works for the I.R.S. lol. Why is it that all the Socialists never provide their names? Is this because they don't feel that they are individuals, but merely a drone of the masses? They must be pretty intuitive, because that's all a Socialist is.

Mike, Norwalk

The statement may be accurate in most instances under Democratic Socialism where compelled compliance by the mob is called law; BUT!, the U.S. is a Christian Based Republic where such concept is outside the domain of law, and I am personally aware of an account being prosecuted by the IRS for providing such information. “His tax” places in the mind of the individual and enforces to the once noble sovereign (‘We The People’) who tenuously now owns an unlawful (as apposed to illegal) position of social victim in a system of larceny. The U.S. collected all the taxes it needed prior to the introduction of income tax while becoming the richest (less poor, less debt, more middle class, etc.) nation on earth. The referenced income tax is but one of the elements that is eroding the moral fabric that was once America.

Terry Berg, Occidental, CA

Good Grief! 'Accuracy' has nothing to do with this quote. It only says 'Don't pay more than the tax code says you owe'. The one tiny problem is that not even a single person at the IRS can make enough sense of the thousands of pages of it to be able to explain it. BTW, the notion that "the U.S. is a Christian Based Republic" is purest ignorant rot that's nevertheless earnestly wished for by some zealots in the same way they wish for some 'higher power' or 'sky fairy' to supplant their lost 'forgiving protector/causative agent' archetypes. The wish doesn't make it so. The assertion of a 'higher law' is always a good excuse for the likes of Tim McVeigh. It's the most tawdry, cheapest sort of hypocritical 'religion of convenience'. No wonder it's so popular.

Logan, Memphis, TN

Terry, you clearly missed Mike's point. The quote is misleading when looking at it from the point of a Republic. Take for instance a government who unlawfully decided to cut all men's right hands off; however, in the process it gave you an allowance to keep one or two finger - Would you then be thankful to the government who unlawfully sought to cut off your hand, just because they let you keep a few fingers? Hell no! So what, if you saved a few fingers in the process, it wasn't the government's "right" to take the other fingers... Mike's argument is clearly in the realm of "accuracy". In a "Democratic Socialist" society, man has no rights, and therefore, government can come in whenever it wants and take the same. This quote - within this premis - has clearly placed us within the realm of a Democratic Socialist society, by it's own definition. What are "We the People" now suppose to say to our government? "Gee, thanks for not taking EVERYTHING from me, and allowing me to find a way to structure myself to be in the lowest possible tax bracket?" Are you kidding?! In a Republic, there can clearly be NO Income Tax -- it violates the very foundation of a Republican form of government... The "accuracy" that Mike was talking about had nothing to do with the tax code or the IRS, but about our Republican form of government against our present Socialist form of government.

Terry Berg, Occidental, CA

Logan, I think I got Mike's point - at least what he regards as a point (of morality). Poor thing, he never checked his premises for validity. He makes stuff up out of thin air. You can't arrive at a valid conclusion (no matter how sound the intervening logic may be) if you start with a faulty premise. (Paranoid personalities frequently have impeccable logic conjoined with illusory premises. Their reasoning is perfect. Their assumptions are fantastic. Their conclusions, by way of perfect logic, necessarily then end up being as fantastic as their premises.) You can't reason your way out of a faulty premise or fantasy. Mike's 'point' was off the mark by the degree to which his obsession with some 'socialist' bogeyman has narrowed his field of vision. This quote is from a context within a case in which a corporate reorganization was asserted by the IRS to have had no function other than to reduce the tax burden. The IRS lost their case. If we're going to now insist on viewing the quote through our own favorite individual ideological (fantastical) prisms and divorce it from its intent then we can of course assert whatever we wish to assert. BTW, don't you think your 'analogy', such as it is, is just a tiny bit strained - to the point of not passing the giggle test? One more thing, we have a federation of republican governments (republic: A political order in which the supreme power lies in a body of citizens who are entitled to vote for officers and representatives responsible to them. - AHD) whose collective Constitution spells out the bounds of the powers that accrue to which body. If you can convince your 'elected' representatives that your ideas have merit then you should do so. I certainly, along with not just a few others, I imagine, am inclined to think the tax code is too unwieldy. I don't, however, think you or I or anyone else would be very happy for very long if our favorite government functions ceased, for lack of resources, to work tomorrow. Please let me know what aspects of our government you regard as 'socialist'. I really have no clue. As far as I can detect, this obsession with 'socialist'/'socialism'/'socialistic' is as faddish recently as the nation's fantastic obsession with 'communism' was during the Joe McCarthy/HUAC years. You remember that time don't you? - LOL

Joe, Rochester, MI

What law makes me liable? Not even the IRS will answer. So much for the IRS mission statement, "Provide America's taxpayers top quality service by helping them understand and meet their tax responsibilities and by applying the tax law with integrity and fairness to all."

Jim, Warner Robins, GA

"What law makes me liable?" ... try the US Constitution, Amendment XVI quoted here for your convenience. The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several states, and without regard to any census or enumeration. The IRS Code is a collection of laws passed to support and implement the above. Granted The Code could use some serious "simplification" and possibly changing to a different system, such as "The Fair Tax" idea which is circulating now. (I'm not advocating this new system but it could possibly work.) But as to Judge Learned Hand's quote, my suggestion is for people to learn as much about the current Code as it applies to their individual situation and quit over paying their taxes. Tax "evasion" is illegal but using the current Code to your advantage is perfectly legal and expected.

H. Clinton, WDC

Old and out of date.

  • 5
  • Reply
    Anonymous    9/29/07

    Your reference for the Judge Learned Hand quote "Anyone may so arrange...." is incorrect. The proper case name is Gregory v. Helvering not "Helvering v. Gregory." The citation should be Gregory v. Helvering 69 F.2d 809, 810 (2d Cir. 1934), aff'd, 293 U.S. 465, 55 S.Ct. 266, 79 L.Ed. 596 (1935). Just trying to be helpful.

    Editor, Liberty Quotes

    Thanks for the correction -- it has been made.

    • 4
    • Reply
    Anonymous    9/30/07

    Glad to help - - and thanks. I enjoy your page. I too collect quotations - - you never know when you are going to need a good quote for something. Gregory is a personal favorite of mine and I use the quote from Learned Hand as well as the "substance over form" doctrine advanced by the IRS in the case frequently, particularly to non-tax matters. Here are some more Tax quotes for you. If you need more, I have tons! (I am particularly partial to the one attributed to Mark Twain and the one attributed to Will Rogers): What is the difference between a taxidermist and a tax collector? The taxidermist takes only your skin. --Author and Humorist Mark Twain Taxes must be laid by general rules. --Harlan F. Stone The arm of the tax-gatherer reaches far. --Wiley B. Rutledge It took an IRS accountant to catch Al Capone. --IRS Recruiting Poster Income taxes are the most imaginative fiction written today. --Author Herman Wouk [Speaking of the IRS:] Thank God they're not doing brain surgery. --Fred Allen There is untold wealth in America -- especially at income tax time. --Anonymous Income tax, if I may be pardoned for saying so, is a tax on income. --Lord Macnaghten It is the part of the good shepherd to shear his flock, not flay it. --Tiberius Caesar Internal Revenue Service: The world's most successful mail order business. --Bob Goddard We must get rid of the IRS. It's a bureaucracy fraught with totalitarianism. --Sonny Bono Nothing makes a man and wife feel closer, these days, than a joint tax return. --Gil Stern Gross inequalities may not be ignored for the sake of ease of collection. --Owen J. Roberts Every child born in America can hope to grow up to enjoy tax loopholes. --TRB (Richard Stout) I wouldn't mind paying taxes -- if I knew they were going to a friendly country. --Dick Gregory [W]e do not have, and never had, and could not have a "voluntary" tax system. --Donald C. Alexander Most voters would rather have their purse or wallet stolen than be audited by the IRS. --Frank Luntz [Suggested simplified tax form:] How much money did you make last year? Mail it in. --Stanton Delaplane It would be nice if we could all pay our taxes with a smile, but normally cash is required. --Anonymous Next to being shot at and missed, nothing is quite as satisfying as an income tax refund. --F.J. Raymond In levying taxes and in shearing sheep it is well to stop when you get down to the skin. --Austin O'Malley Nuclear physics is much easier than tax law. It's rational and always works the same way. --Jerold Rochwald Few of us ever test our powers of deduction, except when filling out an income tax form. --Laurence J. Peter We [Internal Revenue Service employees] are not the bosses of taxpayers; they are ours. --T. Coleman Andrews The payment of taxes is an obvious and insistent duty, and its sanction is usually punitive. --Joseph McKenna The tight net which the Treasury Regulations fashion is for the protection of the revenue. --Felix Frankfurter "I pay my taxes," says somebody, as if that were an act of virtue instead of one of compulsion. --Robert G. Menzies It is impossible to escape nice distinctions in the application of complicated tax legislation. --Felix Frankfurter This [i.e., preparing my tax return] is too difficult for a mathematician. It takes a philosopher. --Albert Einstein Love will find you when you least expect it. Which makes it more like the IRS than we think. --Jeff MacNelly ("Shoe") The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has. Will Rogers (1879 - 1935), Illiterate Digest (1924), "Helping the Girls with their Income Taxes"

    Gigi, Charlotte, NC

    I only wish we had a few like this great judge today instead of THIEVES, LIARS, CROOKS AND SNAKE OIL SALESMEN! These traits appear to be a prerequisite to being elected PRESIDENT, TO CONGRESS, JUDGESHIPS AND ALL ELECTED OFFICES!

    Jared, Clevleand

    Learned Hand is learned (See what I did there?)

    • 2
    • 1
    • Reply
      Anonymous    10/1/08

      "Over and over again, courts have said that there is nothing sinister in arranging one's affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everybody does so, rich and poor; and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands: taxes are enforced exactions not voluntary contributions" Commissioner of Internal Revenue v. Newman, 159 F.2d 848 (2d Cir. 1947)

      Waffler, Smith

      It is great to see someone identify the paranoids and schizophrenics and the unknowledeabe and misinformation specialists on this site. Arranging your tax situation can be as simple as buying a home rather than renting so that you can deduct the interest.

      Mike, Norwalk

      Back in the real world, the courts are so corrupt that the above quote (and the concept there of) is all but impossible to get introduced into court. One accountant friend was so good at reducing his clients taxes the IRS was instrumental in taking him to criminal court He was originally charged, not with a statute violation, but simply he had defrauded the government because by normal accounting practices his clients would have paid more in taxes. As to 'income's pre-1913 and XVI Amendment meaning, it was a corporate excise. Labor was not income. The excise extended to an individual, by way of example, if he had an increase from another's efforts. (If the individual could make $10 for cutting, marketing, and selling a cord of wood, that would be an equal exchange, not an income. If the same individual bought a cord of wood for $5. and then sold it for $10, after taking out marketing and sales costs, the rest was income. The XVI gave the federal government no new powers, only access to the state's corporate activities, i.e. income. Once the Amendment had passed, the corrupt courts spent little time in unlawfully expanding the definition of income to include all individuals - participating in corporate excise or otherwise. As Joe and Jim said, "What law makes me liable?" With out the lawless alien's corrupt courts, destruction of We The People's Constitution and Representative Republic, threat and duress by armed thugs, forced larceny and an ignorant public the income tax would be non-existent. Though income tax is a larcenous immorality, morality can not be legislated. Only law can be legislated. Criminal larceny, such as the 2nd plank in the Communist Manifesto, can only exist at the point of a gun. My previous statement is exactly on point and is understood by all except those avid parishioners of theocratic socialism.

      warren, olathe

      You make a good point Mike. Waffler you are the main misinformation specialist on this site. If it wasn't for propaganda you wouldn't know what to think.

      Ben, Orem, UT

      Terry, not everyone who denounces socialism is a hypocrite. Some people actually live by what they believe. This is largely untrue for the majority of "moderates" or even "conservatives". They attack the WORD socialism while participating in it all the while. Even so, I would not be in the least injured if the government stopped all its "programs" one day. If it meant people had to get new jobs, that would be good and more efficient. Not everyone is addicted to government doles.

      Ken, Allyn, WA

      What's this? You mean I'm not more patriotic by volunteering to be some socialist leech's slave? What kind of propaganda is this?

      • Reply
      Anonymous    9/10/09

      this quote is inaccurate. The quote reads "Any one may so arrange his affairs that his taxes shall be as low as possible; he is not bound to choose that pattern which will best pay the Treasury; there is not even a patriotic duty to increase one's taxes." BUT the case DOES NOT INCLUDE the following quote: "Over and over again the Courts have said that there is nothing sinister in so arranging affairs as to keep taxes as low as possible. Everyone does it, rich and poor alike and all do right, for nobody owes any public duty to pay more than the law demands."

      Kenny, Sacramento

      If we take the quote to meant that we should not overpay our taxes, the real question here is: "What is the difference between 'tax evasion' and 'tax avoidance'? The answer would be - "About 15 years."

      Ben, San Diego, CA

      Learned Hand was a liberal; he believed in government intervention. The rest of the quote explains that we all owe a duty to pay the correct amount too. "The power of taxing people and their property is essential to the very existence of government.'' -- James Madison. "Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor." -- Romans 13:7 (I guess, even if the US was a Christian country, taxes would be okay.

      Outlaw 6538, Las Vegas

      Hello- The quote from J. Learned Hand re: "...arrange affairs so that taxes shall be as low as possible..., etc. stems from his 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals opinion deciding the case entitled Helvering v. Gregory; 69 F. 2d 809, 810 (2nd Circuit, 1934). Alternatively, Gregory v. Helvering; 293 U.S. 465, 55 S.Ct. 266, 79 L.Ed. 596, 97 A.L.R. 1355, 35-1 USTC P 9043, 14 A.F.T.R. 1191, (1935) is a Supreme Court decision, the opinion of which was written by Justice Sutherland. Regardless of who decided what, any reliance upon the Hand quote in... e.g. court, will more than likely be counter-productive. In this case, the tax commissioner rejected Gregory's tax machinations; then the tax board of appeals overruled the commissioner. Next the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, in the Hand opinion containing his famous quote, reversed the decision of the tax board of appeals. The case then landed on the docket of the U.S. Supreme Court; where the case was renamed Gregory v. Helvering; 293 U.S. 465, etc. The Supreme Court affirmed the Circuit Court's decision and Gregory's tax scheme was deemed "...in fact an elaborate and devious form of conveyance masquerading as a corporate reorganization..."; and, " ...the transaction upon its face lies outside the plain intent of the statute. To hold otherwise would be to exalt artifice above reality and to deprive the statutory provision in question of all serious purpose." In other words, the quote is quaint and superficially appealing... until you realize the quote falls into the category of "obiter dictum"; harboring no legally binding effect whatsoever. What would be worse than no legally binding effect, is to cite the quote (if you must) and then attribute it to the wrong case, especially when doing so inside a courtroom.

      Outlaw6538, Las Vegas

      In case I didn't write clearly enough above: 1) When J. Learned Hand wrote the opinion containing the quote above, he was not yet a U.S. Supreme Court justice, he was serving on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals; 2) the complete lowdown on the entire saga of the Helvering v. Gregory tax case is found in a scholarly thesis located at this website: http://law.bepress.com/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1070&context=taulwps&sei-redir=1#search=%22learned+hand+tax+decisions%22

      bill, miami

      Right on!

      Al, Roanoke

      Hand was never on the Supreme Court. He once called it the "God damn thing!" His highest appointment was the US Second Circuit, where he served 1924 - 1961. "Hand has been quoted more often than any other lower-court judge by legal scholars and by the Supreme Court of the United States." -- G. Stone

      Fred, Baltimore

      Remember this quote when you righties whine about people whose incomes are so low that they don't owe any federal income taxes.

      Al, Auburn
      • 2
      • Reply
        Al, Auburn    5/8/12

        The individual income tax levid on the worker's wages, salary or other compensation for labor is nothing but slavery. Slaveowners never owned slaves for their meat or hide. They owned them for their labor. Whether 1% or 100% of a man's labor is confiscated, he is thereby enslaved. Slaveowners almost never took all of the produce of a man's labor. The slave would soon die. He had to be permitted to have something to eat and drink. He had to be allowed time to sleep. As a practical matter, he also had to be allowed some time to himself (recreation) or he would become despondent, lie down and die. All of it is slavery just the same. The US CONstitution never granted any power to the government to confiscate anyone's labor except as punishment for crime duly convicted. The Anti-Slavery amendment forbade ANYONE, including the government (especially - the Bill of Rights and the following similar amendments are first and foremost restrictions on government), from owning another human being. Fred, NO one owes any federal income taxes. They are VOLUNTARY contributions. 'Course, the IRS says, "Volunteer or we'll break your leg." "Your income tax is 100% voluntary tax, and your liquor tax is 100% enforced tax. The situation is as different as night and day" Dwight E. Avis Head of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax Division Bureau of Internal Revenue Testimony before Congress

        jim k, Austin, Tx

        The IRS definition of the word voluntary is slightly different from the dictionary definition.

        jim k, Austin, Tx

        Operating within the Tax code, it's fine to keep your taxes as low as possible. The problem is that no one understands the code and this includes the IRS.

        Robert, Somewhere in Europe

        Unfortunately, the rich and big corporation can pay to get around the law, which poor people are unable to do. Immorality, is also party of the equation - immorality, may (a big may) have nothing to do with abiding by the law but it has everything to do with the lives of a community. If you ship jobs abroad so you get labor at 5 cents on the dollar and avoid paying social security, healthcare, unemployment, etc. etc. and into the bargain, totally devastate a small community, then you make the world homologous without individual or state cultural differences.
        This makes the rich and corporations richer but leaves the people in the poor house.

        William Leslie, Sandy, Oregon

        Terry Berg, I disagree. John Adams:


        The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.1

        William Leslie, Sandy, Oregon

        Robert, somewhere in Europe. Excuse me? You make a giant leap from the flattening affect of economics to the destruction of individual and cultural differences, a leap without foundation. And you ignore that corporations are owned by... wait for it... individuals, either through direct stock ownership, or indirect stock ownership, such as through pensions.


        Get a Quote-a-Day!

        Liberty Quotes sent to your mail box daily.