On This Date in Legal History

In 1964 James Chaney, Andy Goodman and Michael Schwerner traveled to Mississippi to help African-Americans register to vote, but in the process were murdered.

James Chaney, Andy Goodman and Michael Schwerner

James Chaney, Andy Goodman and Michael Schwerner

The United States Justice Department filed charges against eighteen defendants for violating the civil rights of the three victims. On October 20, 1967, seven men were found guilty. You can read the trial transcript at http://goo.gl/j73MQq. Also, there’s an excellent documentary called Neshoba: The Price of Freedom. The film focuses on Edgar Ray Killlen’s trial. He purportedly organized the murders.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 19, 1961, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Hoyt v. Florida. The case arose after an all-male jury convicted Gwendolyn Hoyt of killing her husband. Hoyt argued the lack of women on her jury left her at a disadvantage. She felt “women jurors would have been more understanding or compassionate than men in assessing the quality of [her] act and her defense of ‘temporary insanity.'” She asserted that Florida’s law–excluding women from jury service unless they proactively registered with the clerk of the court– was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court disagreed.

John Marshall Harlan II

John Marshall Harlan II

Justice Harlan explained the Constitution “does not entitle one accused of [a] crime to a jury tailored to the circumstances of the particular case, whether relating to the sex or other condition of the defendant, or to the nature of the charges to be tried.” The Court also found that it was reasonable to exempt women from jury service–because unlike men, “they were responsible for home and family life.” Hoyt’s conviction was affirmed. You can listen to the attorneys argue this case before the Supreme Court at https://goo.gl/cXhB1H. Notably, the Court overruled the Hoyt decision in Taylor v. Louisiana. Learn more at https://goo.gl/uxYNIx.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 17, 1967, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Katz v. United States. Katz was arrested after the government placed an eavesdropping device on the outside of a telephone booth he used to discuss criminal activity. The government listened in on, and recorded his conversations. Katz argued his constitutional rights were violated. Both Katz and the government focused their arguments on whether the phone booth was a “constitutionally protected area.” However, Justice Stewart, writing for the majority of the Court, explained– the Fourth Amendment “protects people not places.” The Court held that Katz had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and his Fourth Amendment rights were violated. You can listen to the attorneys argue this case at https://goo.gl/rdxeaS.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 16, 1974, oral arguments took place at the United States Supreme Court in Taylor v. Louisiana. Billy Taylor challenged his conviction (for aggravated kidnapping) by an all-male jury. Louisiana excused women from jury service. Taylor claimed that he was denied his right to a jury that represented a cross-section of his community. The Supreme Court agreed. The Court held (in an 8-1 decision) that the Louisiana law that exempted women from jury service was unconstitutional.

Justice Byron R. White

Justice Byron R. White

You can listen to the attorneys argue this case, and Justice White announce the Court’s opinion at https://goo.gl/zkAa55.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 15, 1956, President Dwight D. Eisenhower appointed William J. Brennan to the United States Supreme Court.  He remained on the Court for over 33 years, until July 20, 1990.  In July 1997, he passed away, however his legacy lives on through the 1,573 opinions he authored.

William J. Brennan

William J. Brennan

For an extremely thorough biography of the justice, and a review of his judicial decisions, read the “Proceedings in the Supreme Court of the United States in Memory of Justice Brennan,” at https://goo.gl/vBpgcR.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 14, 1911, former Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan passed away. From 1877 to 1911 he served as an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court where he earned the reputation as the “great dissenter.” He’s probably best known for his lone dissent in the Plessy v. Ferguson case.

Supreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan

xSupreme Court Justice John Marshall Harlan

In Plessy the Court found segregation of the races permissible. Justice Harlan disagreed.  He explained, “in the eye of the law, there is in this country no superior, dominant, ruling class of citizens. There is no caste here. Our Constitution is color-blind, and neither knows nor tolerates classes among citizens. In respect of civil rights, all citizens are equal before the law. The humblest is the peer of the most powerful. The law regards man as man, and takes no account of his surroundings or of his color when his civil rights as guaranteed by the supreme law of the land are involved. It is therefore to be regretted that this high tribunal, the final expositor of the fundamental law of the land, has reached the conclusion that it is competent for a State to regulate the enjoyment by citizens of their civil rights solely upon the basis of race.” You can learn more about Plessy at http://goo.gl/mChVLy, and Justice John Marshall Harlan at http://goo.gl/df79Ba.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 13, 2004, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Roper v. Simmons.  Roper involved a high school student, Christopher Simmons, who confessed to a murder and was tried and sentenced to death.  He was 17 at the time. The Supreme Court held that the execution of juvenile offenders, younger than 18 when the crime was committed, violated the Eighth Amendment.  So Christopher Simmons’ death sentence was overturned.

Simmons Mug Shot

Justice Kennedy, who authored the Court’s opinion, remarked that a majority of states had already banned the execution of juveniles under 18. In fact, the world frowned upon it. He wrote, “Our determination that the death penalty is disproportionate punishment for offenders under 18 finds confirmation in the stark reality that the United States is the only country in the world that continues to give official sanction to the juvenile death penalty.” You can listen to the attorneys argue this case before the Supreme Court at http://www.oyez.org/cases/2000-2009/2004/2004_03_633/.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 12, 1944, the case Korematsu v. United States was argued before the United States Supreme Court.  Two years earlier a military order required Fred Korematsu to leave his home in San Leandro, California, and live in a detention camp for Americans of Japanese ancestry.  He refused.  He was charged and convicted of violating the order.  He petitioned the United States Supreme Court to overrule his conviction arguing that the order wasn’t justified.

Fred Korematsu at a press conference

Fred Korematsu at a press conference

Justice Hugo Black, who wrote the decision for the majority of the Court, didn’t agree.  The Court affirmed Korematsu’s conviction, refusing to second-guess the military’s decision to hold hostage an entire community of Americans, simply because of their ancestry. (Notably, Korematsu’s loyalty to the United States was never questioned.)  Justices Roberts, Murphy, and Jackson dissented, finding the military order unconstitutional.  Justice Roberts likened the detention areas to concentration camps.  Justice Murphy characterized the military order as racist. These three dissenting Justices proved correct.  In hindsight there was no need for these internment camps.  To learn more, visit http://www.korematsuinstitute.org/homepage/.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 11, 1872, former Chief Justice Harlan Fiske Stone was born.

Harlan Fiske Stone

Harlan Fiske Stone

Learn more about this justice at http://goo.gl/KROcZ7.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 10, 1973, Spiro Agnew resigned as the 39th Vice President of the United States. His resignation was prompted by an accusation of tax evasion, which he pleaded no contest to, in a Baltimore courtroom.

Former Vice President Spiro Agnew

Former Vice President Spiro Agnew

Once Agnew resigned President Nixon nominated Gerald Ford to succeed him (pursuant to the 25th Amendment, Section 2).  Read Agnew’s resignation letter at http://goo.gl/FXuzDv.

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1941 President Roosevelt appointed Robert H. Jackson to the U.S. Supreme Court, where he served until Oct 9, 1954, when he passed away. 

Robert H. Jackson

Robert H. Jackson

He might be best remembered, however, as the  Chief U.S. Prosecutor at the Nuremberg trials.  Learn more at https://goo.gl/WtbXGd and https://goo.gl/Er1n2v.

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1888 President Grover Cleveland nominated Melville W. Fuller to be chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed his appointment (41 to 20), and on October 8, 1888, he was sworn in. Notably, it was Chief Justice Fuller who instituted the tradition of the justices shaking one another’s hands before taking the bench, and at the beginning of each private conference (when they discuss cases).

The 8th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

The 8th Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court

Chief Justice Fuller served on the court for over 21 years– during his tenure the regrettable Plessy v. Ferguson decision was handed down. Learn more about that case at http://goo.gl/xadXc4, and Chief Justice Fuller at http://goo.gl/GeJ9V6.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 7, 2014, oral argument took place before the United States Supreme Court in Holt v. Hobbs.  A devout Muslim prisoner objected to a prison policy that prevented him from growing a ½-inch beard in accordance with his religious beliefs.  The prison claimed that their grooming policy was necessary to maintain security.  It prevented prisoners from altering their appearance to avoid detection and precluded inmates from hiding contraband in facial hair.

Samuel Alito

Samuel Alito

The Supreme Court unanimously held in a 9-0 opinion that the policy violated the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act.  Justice Alito explained, “the [prison’s] policy substantially burdens [the inmate’s] religious exercise.   Although we do not question the importance of the [prison’s] interests in stopping the flow of contraband and facilitating prisoner identification, we do doubt whether the prohibition against [the inmate’s] beard furthers its compelling interest about contraband.  And we conclude that the [the prison] has failed to show that its policy is the least restrictive means of furthering its compelling interests.”  You can listen to the oral argument at https://goo.gl/3O3eY4, or read the decision at https://goo.gl/ZWQFWW.

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On This Date in Legal History

President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to the United States Supreme Court.  On October 6, 1991, news organizations reported that a law professor, Anita Hill, claimed that Judge Thomas had formerly sexually harassed her at work. She had worked for him at the Department of Education and at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.  You can read Newsday’s article at http://goo.gl/mTsOhR.

Anita Hill

Anita Hill

The Senate delayed voting on his nomination to investigate the allegations– Anita Hill testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee. You can hear her testimony at https://goo.gl/SZvY3W.  In the end, the Senate voted 52 to 48 to confirm Judge Thomas’s nomination (in spite of the testimony given). You can find the Senate roll call vote at http://goo.gl/RsM0ih. On October 18, 1991, he was sworn in as an associate justice on the United States Supreme Court.

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On This Date in Legal History

President Eisenhower nominated Earl Warren as the 14th chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. On October 5, 1953, he was sworn in.

14th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren

14th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court Earl Warren

Soon after, the Court decided the landmark case of Brown v. Board of Education. The justices unanimously declared separate educational facilities for the races were inherently unequal. Another well-known case, Miranda v. Arizona, was also handed down during Chief Justice Warren’s tenure. That case held police must recite the “Miranda warning” before interrogating any suspected criminal in custody. The warning advises suspects—they have the right to remain silent, and if they choose not to exercise that right, what’s said could be used against them. They’re entitled to an attorney, and if they can’t afford one, an attorney will be provided. After sixteen years on the Court, and many more landmark decisions, Chief Justice Earl Warren retired in 1969.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 4, 1983, Lynch v. Donnelly was argued before the Supreme Court.  The Court was asked to decide whether the City of Pawtucket violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment when it included a nativity scene in its annual holiday display.

Warren Burger was the 15th Chief Justice of the Supreme Court

Chief Justice Warren Burger authored the majority opinion

The Supreme Court (in a 5 to 4 decision) held that it didn’t. You can listen to the attorneys argue this case before the Court ar https://goo.gl/NbkYbz.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 3, 1965, President Johnson signed into law the  Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965.   Former immigration laws focused on the immigrants country of birth. The new bill stated “those wishing to immigrate to America shall be admitted on the basis of their skills and their close relationship to those already here.” Learn more at https://goo.gl/41LrWi.

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On This Date in Legal History

On October 1, ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­1924, William H. Rehnquist was born. In 1972 President Nixon nominated him to the United States Supreme Court, and the Senate confirmed his nomination as an associate justice.  The vote was 68 to 26.  Then in 1986 President Reagan nominated him to replace retiring Chief Justice Warren Burger. The Senate confirmed his nomination, again, and this time the vote was 65 to 33.

William Hubbs Rehnquist

William Hubbs Rehnquist

Chief Justice William Rehnquist remained on the Court until his death in 2005.  Learn more about this influential justice at http://goo.gl/2EMHsU.

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On This Date in Legal History

On September 30, 1857, Associate Justice Benjamin Robbins Curtis resigned from the United States Supreme Court. He’s probably best known for his dissenting opinion in the infamous Dred Scott v. Sandford decision.

Benjamin Robbins Curtis

Benjamin Robbins Curtis

In Dred Scott the Court held that African-American slaves (and their descendants) were not citizens; so they had no standing to sue (for their freedom) in a United States court. Chief Justice Taney wrote, “in the opinion of the court, the legislation and the histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.” Learn more about Justice Curtis at goo.gl/TzL2xP.

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On This Date in Legal History

On September 29, 2005, John Roberts was sworn in as the 17th chief justice of the United States Supreme Court. Senior Associate Justice John Paul Stevens administered the oath of office in the East Room of the White House.

John Roberts

John Roberts

You can watch the entire ceremony at http://goo.gl/XbsFhl, and listen to an informative report about the justice at http://goo.gl/sXs5DZ.

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