On This Date in Legal History

On January 26, 1987,  Justice Lewis Powell retired from the United States Supreme Court.

Justice Lewis F. Powell

Justice Lewis F. Powell

Justice Powell served on the Court for 15 years.  He was appointed by President Nixon in October 1971. Listen to a very informative interview with John Jeffries, author of Judge Lewis F. Powell, Jr. at https://goo.gl/4g3CZz.

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In The News

This past week the United States Supreme Court held that a federal law banning the registration of disparaging trademarks violates the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment.  Take a look at this interesting case– Matal v. Tam– at https://goo.gl/LJoD8k.

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1958, a New York school district required the following prayer be recited each morning in its public schools:

“Almighty God, we acknowledge our dependence upon Thee, and we beg Thy blessings upon us, our parents, our teachers and our Country.”

Parents of students brought a lawsuit, Engel v. Vitale, claiming that the denominationally neutral prayer was incompatible with their religious beliefs. They alleged that the government-sponsored prayer violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.  Lower courts disagreed, focusing on the fact the school excused students from participating if their parents objected. The United States Supreme Court, however, sided with the parents in a 6-1 decision.

Photo obtained from Pace Law School Library

This photo was obtained from Pace Law Library Research Guides @ https://goo.gl/4rrgZV, where you can hear JFK’s response to the Supreme Court decision.

On June 25, 1962, the Court held that the policy violated the “constitutional wall of separation of church and state.” Justice Hugo Black explained—“It was in large part to get completely away from this sort of systematic religious persecution that the Founders brought into being our Nation, our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights with its prohibition against any governmental establishment of religion. The New York laws officially prescribing the…prayer are inconsistent both with the purposes of the Establishment Clause and with the Establishment Clause itself.”

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 24, 1992, the United States Supreme Court decided Lee v. Weisman. Daniel Weisman sued his daughter’s public school to bar them from inviting clergy to offer invocation and benediction prayers at her graduation. Weisman claimed that the practice violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Court ruled (in a 5 -4 decision) in his favor.

For more information watch this interview with plaintiffs Daniel Weisman and his daughter.

To learn more watch this C-Span interview with Daniel Weisman and his daughter.

Justice Kennedy, who authored the majority opinion, explained– “The sole question presented is whether a religious exercise may be conducted at a graduation ceremony in circumstances where, as we have found, young graduates who object are induced to conform. No holding by this Court suggests that a school can persuade or compel a student to participate in a religious exercise. That is being done here, and it is forbidden by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.” You can read the entire decision at https://goo.gl/CAZJWF.

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On This Date in Legal History

On July 23, 1936, Justice Anthony Kennedy was born in Sacramento, California.

Justice Anthony Kennedy

Justice Anthony Kennedy

In November 1987, President Reagan nominated him to the United States Supreme Court. The Senate confirmed his nomination in a vote of 97 yeas to 0 nays. Take a look at the Congressional Record from that day at http://1.usa.gov/1VBpWin.

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 22, 1970, President Nixon signed the Voting Rights Act Amendments, albeit with serious reservations. The legislation included a rider that lowered the voting age to 18. Read the President’s speech from that day at http://goo.gl/rz2oKW.

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1984, protesters gathered in Dallas, Texas, to voice objections to policies adopted by the Reagan administration. During the demonstration, Gregory Lee Johnson doused an American flag with kerosene, and set it on fire. He was arrested for violating a Texas statute that made it a criminal offense to desecrate the flag.  Johnson was convicted, sentenced to one year in jail, and fined $2,000. That decision was appealed up to the Supreme Court.

Attorney William Kunstler with defendant, Gregory Lee Johnson, in 1989, after giving a talk about Texas v. Johnson at Bronx High School of Science. Source: Scan of a photo taken byJoel Seidenstein in 1989

Attorney William Kunstler with Gregory Lee Johnson in 1989, after speaking about Texas v. Johnson at a New York high school. This is a scanned image of a photo taken by Joel Seidenstein.

On June 21, 1989, the United States Supreme Court held (in a 5-4 decision) that Johnson’s conviction violated the First Amendment. Justice Brennan, who authored the majority opinion for the Court, explained—“We do not consecrate the flag by punishing its desecration, for in doing so we dilute the freedom that this cherished emblem represents.” Listen to each side of the debate at http://goo.gl/xURQpf.

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 20, 2002, the United States Supreme Court held in Atkins v. Virginia that the Eighth Amendment prohibited the sentencing of an intellectually disabled person to death.

Justice John Paul Stevens

Justice John Paul Stevens

Justice John Paul Stevens, who authored the majority opinion for the Court, explained–“We are not persuaded that the execution of mentally retarded criminals will measurably advance the deterrent or the retributive purpose of the death penalty. Construing and applying the Eighth Amendment in the light of our ‘evolving standards of decency,’ we therefore conclude that such punishment is excessive and that the Constitution ‘places a substantive restriction on the State’s power to take the life’ of a mentally retarded offender.”  You can listen to the attorneys argue this case before the Supreme Court, as well as hear the opinion announced at http://bit.ly/1Dyr7Vd.

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On This Date in Legal History

Fred Vinson was our 13th Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. Prior to his appointment to the Court he practiced law, was a congressman, a judge on the United States Court of Appeals, and he served in both President Roosevelt and President Truman’s administrations. On June 6, 1946, President Truman nominated him as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court, to replace Harlan Stone.

Fred M. Vinson

Fred M. Vinson

On June 20, 1946, the Senate confirmed his appointment. He served on the court for over seven years. To learn more about Chief Justice Vinson, I recommend you listen to this very informative interview with Linda Gugin, a co-author of the book, “Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson of Kentucky: A Political Biography” at http://goo.gl/p1dFdy.

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On This Date in Legal History

Louisiana passed the” Creationism Act,” also known as the “Balanced Treatment for Creation-Science and Evolution-Science in Public School Instruction Act.” The law forbade the teaching of evolution, unless creationism was taught as well, in public elementary and secondary schools. Parents, teachers, and religious leaders brought a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the law. The case, Edwards v. Aguillard, was appealed up to the United States Supreme Court.

Justice William J. Brennan served on the Supreme Court from 1956-1990

Justice William Brennan served on the Supreme Court from 1956-1990

On June 19, 1987, the Court held that the Act violated the Establishment Clause. Justice Brennan explained—“because the primary purpose of the Creationism Act is to endorse a particular religious doctrine, the Act furthers religion in violation of the Establishment Clause.” Learn more at https://goo.gl/dCwrIJ.

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 18, 2015, the United States Supreme Court held (in a 5:4 decision) that Texas couldn’t be forced to issue license plates with the confederate flag. You can read the entire decision at http://1.usa.gov/1JWTN0G.

License plate at issue in the case.

License plate at issue in the case.

Justice Breyer, who authored the majority decision, explained– “When government speaks, it is not barred by the Free Speech Clause from determining the content of what it says.”

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On This Date in Legal History

Susan B. Anthony was arrested after she voted in the 1872 New York State congressional election, because New York restricted the right to vote to men. Her trial concluded on June 18, 1873– when she was found guilty of voting without a legal right to do so. The judge presiding over her case, Judge Ward Hunt, denied her motion for a new trial, and fined her $100, plus costs of the prosecution.

The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum showcases artifacts from the women's rights movement.

The Susan B. Anthony Birthplace Museum showcases artifacts from the women’s rights movement.

I recommend you read the trial transcript from United States v. Anthony at http://goo.gl/xl3qrh. You can also review the indictment in this case at http://goo.gl/Zl8vz6, and record of conviction from June 28, 1873, at http://goo.gl/gjH8n1.

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 17, 1963, the United States Supreme Court decided School District of Abington Township, Pennsylvania v. Schempp. The case dealt with prayer in the public schools.  Under Pennsylvania law, at the beginning of each school day, at least ten verses were to be read from the bible, along with the Lord’s prayer. In an 8-1 decision, the United States Supreme Court found this “opening exercise…to be a religious ceremony.” As such, it violated the First Amendment, even though students were permitted to opt out.

Associate Justice Tom C. Clark served on the Supreme Court from Aug 24, 1949 to June 12, 1967

Associate Justice Tom C. Clark served on the Supreme Court from Aug 24, 1949 until June 12, 1967

Justice Clark, who authored the majority opinion, wrote– “The place of religion in our society is an exalted one, achieved through a long tradition of reliance on the home, the church and the inviolable citadel of the individual heart and mind. We have come to recognize through bitter experience that it is not within the power of government to invade that citadel, whether its purpose or effect be to aid or oppose, to advance or retard. In the relationship between man and religion, the State is firmly committed to a position of neutrality. Though the application of that rule requires interpretation of a delicate sort, the rule itself is clearly and concisely stated in the words of the First Amendment.”

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 16, 1918, Eugene Debs gave a speech intending to encourage others not to join the military. Debs was indicted and convicted by a jury for violating the Espionage Act. The Act made it a crime to obstruct military recruitment during World War 1. He argued that he was exercising his right to free speech under the First Amendment, and the Espionage Act was unconstitutional.  On January 28, 1919, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case Debs v. United States.

Eugene Victor Debs in 1897

Eugene Victor Debs in 1897

The Supreme Court disagreed with Debs and affirmed his conviction. Clarence Darrow labored to obtain a pardon for Debs, or have his sentence commuted. President Wilson refused to comply, but on Christmas Day in 1921, President Harding agreed to commute his sentence to time served. Read more at http://goo.gl/EqRpX4.

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On This Date in Legal History

Today is the Magna Carta’s birthday.  Learn more about this “Great Charter” at https://goo.gl/Uw7Y0k.

This photo was obtained from the British Library digital collection.

This photo of the Magna Carta was obtained from the British Library digital collection.

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On This Date in Legal History

Today we celebrate Flag Day.flag-75047_1280 You can read about the history of Flag Day at http://1.usa.gov/SMCrvj 

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 13, 1966, the United States Supreme Court decided  (in a 5-4 decision) the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona.

A mug shot of Ernesto Miranda courtesy of the Arizona Department of Corrections

A mug shot of Ernesto Miranda courtesy of the Arizona Department of Corrections

Chief Justice Earl Warren, who delivered the opinion of the Court, summarized the holding as follows– “we hold that an individual held for interrogation must be clearly informed that he has the right to consult with a lawyer and to have the lawyer with him during interrogation under the system for protecting the privilege we delineate today. As with the warnings of the right to remain silent and that anything stated can be used in evidence against him, this warning is an absolute prerequisite to interrogation.” To learn more about this case, I recommend you listen to an excellent C-Span program at https://goo.gl/wP9LWh.

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1958 Mildred Jeter, part Black and part Native American, and Richard Loving, a white man, married in Washington, D.C. Afterwards, they returned to Virginia where they planned to settle down. According to state law, interracial marriages were forbidden at the time. So a grand jury indicted them for violating the ban. They pled guilty and were sentenced to one year in prison. The judge suspended their sentences if they left Virginia, so they did. The trial judge stated—“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he didn’t intend for the races to mix.” After the trial judge issued his written opinion, the couple filed a motion in state court to set aside their convictions, but the request was denied. They appealed to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. That Court upheld the constitutionality of the law and affirmed the couple’s convictions. The Lovings appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

Mildred_Jeter_and_Richard_Loving

Photo of the Lovings on display at the National Museum of African American History and Culture

On June 12, 1967, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decisions. Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote—“There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.” In addition, he stated–  “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

HBO filmed a documentary about the Lovings and their fight up through the Supreme Court decision. I recommend you watch this engaging and informative film called The Loving Story.

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Get Ready for Father’s Day

LAWSUIT!™ board game was created as a Father’s Day Gift.  It was created so a lawyer dad could have fun teaching his kids what he did every day when he left the house.  The game has since won several “Game of the Year” awards.  Take a look.  Go to https://goo.gl/i5Ppjn.
PHOTO OF LAWSUIT! BOARD GAME BY J. LEVINE SCHWARTZ

LAWSUIT!™ Board Game

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On This Date in Legal History

On June 11, 1962, three inmates escaped from Alcatraz prison.

Alcatraz Island is often referred to as "The Rock." Between 1934-1963, a maximum-security federal penitentiary housed the toughest prisoners there, in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

Alcatraz Island is often referred to as “The Rock.” Between 1934-1963, a maximum-security federal penitentiary housed the toughest prisoners there, in the middle of San Francisco Bay.

You can learn more by visiting Today’s Document at http://bit.ly/1KIoF3Y, or our Pinterest page at http://bit.ly/1IxFpbZ.

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