On This Date in Legal History

On May 4, 1872, Alexander Mitchell Palmer was born in Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.

440px-Alexander_Mitchell_Palmer

Alexander Mitchell Palmer

After his admission to the Pennsylvania bar, he practiced as a  lawyer; and from 1909 until 1915, he served in the House of Representatives.  President Woodrow Wilson appointed him “Alien Property Custodian” in 1917, and then on March 5 1919, he appointed him Attorney General of the United States.  He served as Attorney General until March 1921. During his tenure he conducted raids on (and arrested) suspected anarchists– the raids became known as the “Palmer Raids.”  Learn more at https://goo.gl/1muclo.

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1951 an all-Anglo grand jury indicted Pete Hernandez for murder in Jackson County, Texas, and then an all-Anglo petit jury found him guilty. Hernandez was of Mexican descent, so his attorneys attempted to quash both the indictment and jury because the County systematically excluded Mexican Americans from serving as jury commissioners, grand jurors, and petit jurors. The question presented was– did Jackson County deny Hernandez equal protection under the 14th Amendment when they systematically excluded Mexican Americans from their jury pool?  On May 3, 1954, the United States Supreme Court (unanimously) said that they did.

Pete Hernandez with his attorneys.

Pete Hernandez with his attorneys.

Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote–“it taxes our credulity to say that mere chance resulted in there being no members of this [Mexican descent] class among the over six thousand jurors called in the past 25 years. The result bespeaks discrimination, whether or not it was a conscious decision on the part of any individual jury commissioner.”

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1924 the Virginia State Colony for Epileptics and Feeble Minded facility sought to forcibly sterilize Carrie Buck under the state’s eugenics sterilization law. She and her mother, Emma, were under the state’s care, and Carrie allegedly had a child who was, similarly, deemed feeble-minded. A state trial court and the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia granted the Colony’s petition, so Carrie appealed to the United States Supreme Court. Sadly, on May 2, 1927, the Taft Court upheld the Virginia law.

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Justice Holmes, who delivered the Court’s opinion, wrote– “It is better for all the world, if instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind. The principle that sustains compulsory vaccination is broad enough to cover cutting the Fallopian tubes. [Citation removed.] Three generations of imbeciles are enough.”  You can listen to an interesting discussion about this (quite shocking) decision at http://goo.gl/B9AEZN.  

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Happy Law Day!

This year we’re celebrating the 14th Amendment.  If you want to learn more go to http://bcove.me/hzscwv75 and  https://goo.gl/EzNUly.

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On This Date in Legal History

On April 30, 1888, President Grover Cleveland nominated Melville Weston Fuller for Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.

Melville Weston Fuller

Former Chief Justice Melville Weston Fuller

On July 20, 1888, the Senate confirmed his nomination as  the 8th Chief Justice of the Court. He served on the Court until his death on July 4, 1910. Learn more about him at http://goo.gl/xPUwUx, and the Fuller Court at http://goo.gl/oZvCI8.

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On This Date in Legal History

On April 29, 1745, Oliver Ellsworth was born.

Oliver Ellsworth

Oliver Ellsworth

He was a respected lawyer, a judge on the Connecticut Supreme Court, he served in the Continental Congress, he helped draft our Constitution, was a member of the U.S. Senate, he played a major role in the drafting of the Judiciary Act of 1789, and was our third Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court.  Learn more at https://goo.gl/NNHG9e.

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On This Date in Legal History

Taxpayers sued New York City’s Board of Education in order to challenge a policy that permitted students to leave school during the day to attend religious instruction elsewhere. No public funds were used and no religious instruction took place on public school property.

James Earle Fraser's statue, Contemplation of Justice, sits to the left of the stairs leading into the Supreme Court Building. The female figure has a book of laws supporting her left arm, and in her right hand she's holding a blindfolded Justice.

James Earle Fraser’s statue, Contemplation of Justice, sits to the left of the stairs leading into the Supreme Court Building. The female figure has a book of laws supporting her left arm, and in her right hand she’s holding a blindfolded Justice.

On April 28, 1952, the United States Supreme Court held that “separation of church and state did not mean that public institutions could make no adjustments of their schedules to accommodate the religious needs of the people.” The policy passed constitutional muster. Justice Douglas, who authored the majority opinion, explained– “We find no constitutional requirement which makes it necessary for government to be hostile to religion and to throw its weight against efforts to widen the effective scope of religious influence.”

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Get Ready for Law Day on May 1

Every year Law Day is celebrated on May 1. Celebrate the day by playing               LAWSUIT!™ board game.

Photo taken at a Bar Association gathering.

Photo taken at a Bar Association gathering.

LAWSUIT!™ teaches how laws impact our everyday lives, how our courts work, and what it’s like to be an attorney. Find out more at www.lawsuitgame.com.

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On This Date in Legal History

A high school student was arrested and charged with violating the Gun-Free School Zones Act of 1990 after bringing a (concealed) handgun and 5 bullets into his school. He moved to dismiss his indictment arguing the law was unconstitutional because it went “beyond the power of Congress to legislate control over our public schools.” The District Court denied his motion and his case proceeded to trial. After he was convicted and sentenced, he appealed his case to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals alleging the Act “exceeded Congress’ power to legislate under the Commerce Clause.” The Circuit Court agreed and reversed his conviction.

William Hubbs Rehnquist

William Hubbs Rehnquist served as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court from January 1972-September 1986, and as Chief Justice from September 1986 to September 2005.

The Supreme Court granted certiorari and on April 26, 1995, Chief Justice Rehnquist delivered the opinion of the Court, and stated–“We do not doubt that Congress has authority under the Commerce Clause to regulate numerous commercial activities that substantially affect interstate commerce and also affect the educational process. That authority, though broad, does not include the authority to regulate each and every aspect of local schools.” Linda Greenhouse, who reported for the New York Times, explained the significance of the decision in an article that day–  http://goo.gl/ffBY6D.

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On This Date in Legal History

In 1935 Lillian and William Gobitas were expelled from their elementary school after they refused, on religious grounds, to salute the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance. A lawsuit ensued on their behalf by their father. The legal question was–  did the school district violate the students’ constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment. The Supreme Court heard oral argument in this case on April 25, 1940; and on June 3, 1940, the justices found in favor of the district in an 8-1 decision.

Lillian Gobitas is shown with her father, William Henry Gobitas, and her brother, Walter Gobitas, after the children were expelled from school in Minersville, Pa., for refusing to salute the flag in 1935. (Jehovah's Witnesses)

William Henry Gobitas is shown here with his children Lillian and Walter Gobitas.

Justice Frankfurter, who delivered the opinion of the Court explained– “the courtroom is not the arena for debating issues of educational policy.” He added– “That authority has not been given to this Court, nor should we assume it.” Watch this interesting interview with Lillian Gobitas at https://goo.gl/9MwhJi. Notably, in 1943 this case was overruled in West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette.

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On This Date in Legal History

Raphael Konigsberg graduated from the University of Southern California Law School, and passed the bar examination in 1953; however, the State of California refused to admit him to practice, because he wouldn’t answer whether he was in the past, or presently, a member of the Communist Party.  He sued and his case (Konigsberg v. State Bar of California) was argued before the United States Supreme Court on December 14, 1960. You can listen to the court proceeding at https://goo.gl/zwUJY9.  On April 24, 1961, the Supreme Court found in the State Bar’s favor.

Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan served on the Supreme Court March 17, 1955 – September 23, 1971

Associate Justice John Marshall Harlan served on the Supreme Court from March 1955 to September 1971

Justice Harlan wrote– “We think it clear that the Fourteenth Amendment’s protection against arbitrary state action does not forbid a State from denying admission to a bar applicant so long as he refuses to provide unprivileged answers to questions having a substantial relevance to his qualifications.”

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The First African-American Woman Lawyer

Charlotte E. Ray was the first African-American woman to graduate Howard University School of Law, be admitted to the Washington, D.C. bar, and thereafter practice law.

Charlotte E. Ray

Charlotte E. Ray

Read the Congressional Record at https://goo.gl/40zmeP, and learn more about this trailblazer at http://goo.gl/6cTX7B.

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On This Date in Legal History

Charles Hamilton Houston was born on September 3, 1895, and died on April 22, 1950. He was a remarkable African-American attorney who played a key role in ending segregation in the United States.

Charles Hamilton Houston

Charles Hamilton Houston

He’s probably best remembered (along with former United States Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall) for successfully challenging the application of the “separate but equal” doctrine in public education. Learn more by watching this short video at http://goo.gl/F8F8M2.

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On This Date in Legal History

On April 21, 1976, the United States Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of Meachum v. Fano. State prisoners, who were believed to be disruptive, sued to prevent their transfer to a less desirable facility. The issue on appeal was—is it a violation of the 14th Amendment (the Due Process Clause) for a State to unilaterally transfer an inmate to another prison without conducting a fact-finding hearing? On June 25, 1976, the United States Supreme Court held, in a 6-3 decision, that it wasn’t unconstitutional.  The Court found inmates enjoy no entitlement to reside at a particular prison.

80f9ee0e35c62e590ecce0aee10bada5Justice White explained–”The Constitution does not…guarantee that the convicted prisoner will be placed in any particular prison if, as is likely, the State has more than one correctional institution. The initial decision to assign the convict to a particular institution is not subject to audit under the Due Process Clause, although the degree of confinement in one prison may be quite different from that in another. The conviction has sufficiently extinguished the defendant’s liberty interest to empower the State to confine him in any of its prisons.”

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On This Date in Legal History

On April 20, 1920, retired United States Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens was born in Chicago, Illinois. Learn more about Justice Stevens at https://goo.gl/JnYDLz.

Justice John Paul Stevens

Justice John Paul Stevens

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On This Date in Legal History

On April 19,1994, the United States Supreme Court held in J.E.B. v. Alabama that the Equal Protection clause prohibits gender-based discrimination during jury selection.

The jury box

The jury box

Justice Blackmun, who authored the majority opinion, explained– “Equal opportunity to participate in the fair administration of justice is fundamental to our democratic system. It not only furthers the goals of the jury system. It reaffirms the promise of equality under the law — that all citizens, regardless of race, ethnicity, or gender, have the chance to take part directly in our democracy. [citation excluded] (“Indeed, with the exception of voting, for most citizens the honor and privilege of jury duty is their most significant opportunity to participate in the democratic process”). When persons are excluded from participation in our democratic processes solely because of race or gender, this promise of equality dims, and the integrity of our judicial system is jeopardized.” Listen to an interesting news conference about this case at the Supreme Court at http://goo.gl/HsgWqi.

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On This Date in Legal History

On November 14, 1968, Vietnam protesters attempted to disseminate literature against the draft and war at Lloyds Center in Portland, Oregon. The mall had a policy, however, that prohibited the distribution of handbills on its premises that had no relation to the Center’s operation. After a patron complained, security threatened to arrest the protesters if they continued to violate the Center’s rules. A lawsuit ensued– Lloyd Corporation v. Tanner.

This is the front portico of the United States Supreme Court Building. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law in the United States.

This is the front portico of the United States Supreme Court Building. The Supreme Court is the final arbiter of the law in the United States.

On April 18, 1972, the case was argued before the Supreme Court. The question presented was–does a mall, open to the public, have a right to prevent visitors from exercising their First Amendment rights on their privately-owned property? You can listen to the court proceedings at https://goo.gl/QF1VrP.  On June 22, 1972, the Court held (in a 5-4 decision) Lloyds Center could prohibit others from distributing literature on their premises. You can read the Court’s opinion at https://goo.gl/0NzQMP.

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On This Date in Legal History

On April 17, 1905, the United States Supreme Court decided the landmark case of Lochner v. New York. Joseph Lochner was the owner of a bakery in Utica, New York. He was arrested after permitting one of his bakers to work more than 60 hours in a week, in violation of a New York labor law. The question before the Court was– did the New York law violate the 14th Amendment by interfering with an employer’s right to contract with his or her employee. The Court held in Lochner’s favor (in a 5-4 decision) finding the law unconstitutional.

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Justice Rufus Wheeler Peckham served on the United States Supreme Court from 1896 to 1909

Justice Rufus Peckham, who authored the court’s majority opinion, wrote– “The statute necessarily interferes with the right of contract between the employer and employee, concerning the number of hours in which the latter may labor in the bakery of the employer. The general right to make a contract in relation to his business is part of the liberty of the individual protected by the Fourteenth Amendment of the Federal Constitution. Under that provision no State can deprive any person of life, liberty or property without due process of law.” I highly recommend you watch this very informative C-Span program about the Lochner decision, and its aftermath at https://goo.gl/TBgd8a.

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On This Date in Legal History

In Baze v. Rees two death row inmates challenged the lethal injection protocol used in Kentucky death penalty cases. Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argued that the “procedures pose a danger of cruelly inhumane executions.”

Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. argued this case on behalf of

Donald B. Verrilli, Jr. served as Solicitor General of the United States from June 2011 to June 2016

On April 16, 2008, the United States Supreme Court disagreed (in a 7-2 decision), and found the protocol constitutional under the 8th Amendment.Chief Justice Roberts explained–“Kentucky has adopted a method of execution believed to be the most humane available, one it shares with 35 other States.” You can listen to the court proceedings at https://goo.gl/V18BZt.

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On This Date in Legal History

Prior to becoming an Associate Justice on the United States Supreme Court, Byron R. White was a college football star (visit the College Football Hall of Fame at http://goo.gl/aIJXyq), and played professionally with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Detroit Lions. After graduating Yale Law School, he clerked at the Supreme Court, and then worked in private practice in his home state of Colorado.

Justice Byron R. White served on the Supreme Court from April 16, 1962 – June 28, 1993

Justice Byron R. White served on the Supreme Court from April 16, 1962 – June 28, 1993

After assisting John Kennedy with his presidential campaign, he was tapped for Deputy Attorney General. While at the Department of Justice, in March 1962, the President nominated him to the Supreme Court. The Senate quickly confirmed his nomination, and he remained on the Court for 31 years. On April 15, 2002, former Justice White passed away. Learn more about this Justice by listening to Dennis Hutchinson, author of The Man Who Once Was Whizzer White: A Portrait of Justice Byron R. White at http://goo.gl/gboSGT.

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