Today in Legal History: President John F. Kennedy Assassinated

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 12.30.06 PMShortly after noon on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the shooting. (more…)

Today in Legal History: Oregon Becomes the First State to Legalize Physician Assisted Suicide

On November 8, 1994, Oregon voters approved an initiative allowing terminally ill patients to plan their own death under the direction and supervision of a physician.  There were several attempts to repeal the law or block implementation including an attempt by US Attorney General John Ashcroft to use federal law (the Controlled Substances Act) to suspend the licenses of doctors who prescribed drugs to assist suicide.  All of the attempts to repeal the law failed, including a court case which went all the way to the US Supreme Court.  In Gonzalez v. Oregon 546 U.S. 243 (2006) the Court ruled 6-3 in favor of upholding Oregon’s law.

Washington was the second state to pass a physician assisted suicide act.  Washington’s Death with Dignity Act was closely modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act and was passed by voter initiative on November 4, 2008

6254349889_33cd79679d_nMore information is available at:

  • John B. Mitchell Understanding Assisted Suicide: Nine Issues to Consider Location: LAW-4th Floor  R726.M565 (2007)
  • Brian T. Yet Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Controlled Substances Act: Gonzales v. Oregon. Congressional Research Service Report
  • Kenneth R. Thomas “Right to Die” Constitutional and Statutory Analysis.
  • John Keown Euthanasia, Ethics, and Public Policy: An Argument Against Legalisation  Location: LAW-4th Floor  R726.K465 2002   (examines Dutch euthanasia laws)

Today in Legal History: Susan B. Anthony Votes (Illegally) in Federal Election


Upon threat of a lawsuit, Susan B. Anthony and 14 other women succeeded in registering to vote in Rochester N.Y. on November 1st 1872. A few days later, on November 5, Susan B. Anthony successfully cast her vote in a federal election. By November 18th she was arrested and later tried for “knowingly, wrongfully and unlawfully” voting. She was found guilty and after a widely publicized trial, was sentenced to pay a fine of $100 which she vowed to never pay and never did. Ultimately, the arrest and trial elevated her status and that of the women’s suffrage movement. Though it occurred earlier in some states, national women’s suffrage was not established until 1920.

“On November 5, 1872, women’s rights advocate Susan B. Anthony illegally cast her vote in a New York Congressional district election. Read the indictment subsequently brought against her and the transcript of her address to the jury, plus trial analysis from Professor Douglas Linder of the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. Anthony was fined $100 after a directed verdict.” From Jurist

For More information:

Judge Bork’s Supreme Court Nomination Rejected, October 23rd, 1987

With the resignation of Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell, President Ronald Reagan hoped to place a prominent conservative jurist on the bench. From the outset, his choice of Judge Robert Bork of the U.S. Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit was controversial. As U.S. Solicitor General, he fired special Watergate Prosecutor Archibald Cox on President Nixon’s orders in 1973. The event became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre”

Prominent liberal legislators and activists engaged in a vigorous opposition campaign. In a famous speech that later became known as “Bork’s America, “ Senator Ted Kennedy said “Robert Bork’s America is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the Government, and the doors of the Federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens.” President Reagan and conservative supporters considered the speech slanderous but they failed to manage a timely and effective response. Judge Bork’s nomination was rejected by a vote of 42-58.

To learn more:
• Ethan Bronner Battle for Justice: How the Bork Nomination Shook America (Norton 1989) LAW-Culp Collection (3rd Floor-Range 3A) KF8742.B74 1989
• Michael Pertschuk The People Rising: The Campaign Against the Bork Nomination (Thunder Mouth Press 1989) LAW-Culp Collection (3rd Floor-Range 3A) KF8742.P337 1989
• Mark Gitenstein Matter of Principle: An Insider’s Account of America’s Rejection of Robert Bork’s Nomination to the Supreme Court LAW-4th Floor KF8742.G57 1992

Today in Legal History: Volstead Act Passed

The Volstead Act, more popularly known as prohibition, was passed on October 28, 1919.  It was named after Andrew Volstead, the congressman who sponsored the legislation. While at first bans on alcohol were attempted on a state level, it soon became a national movement.


Today in Legal History: Digital Millennium Copyright Act Signed into Law

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) incorporated two major World Intellectual Property Organization treaties into American law on Oct. 28, 1998.  The DMCA criminalized circumvention of copyright protection/anti-piracy measures built into software and distribution or sale of code-breaking devices; however, it allowed circumvention in specific circumstances (e.g. encryption research).  The DMCA also addressed liability for Internet Service Providers and non-profit educational institutions.

Additional information is available at:

  • Summary of the DCMA from the Copyright Office
  • Christopher Wolf, The Digital Millennium Copyright Act : Text, History, and Caselaw, 2003 (Library 4th Floor- KF2994.D54 2003)

This Week in Legal History

Congress Probes Communism in Hollywood, October 20, 1947

“Are you now, or have you ever been, a Communist?” Senator Joe McCarthy’s crusade to stamp out communism reached Hollywood when film industry members were called before the House Committee on Un-American Activities to testify about communism in the film industry. Ten writers and directors (later known as the Hollywood Ten) refused to testify on the grounds that the hearings were illegal and violated their first amendment rights. Although several of the Hollywood Ten were able to continue working under pseudonyms or through friends who would take credit, their ability to work was severely curtailed.

To learn more:
Lloyd Billingsley, Hollywood Party: How Communism Seduced the American Film Industry in the 1930’s and 1940’s (Forum 1998) LAW-Culp Collection (3rd Floor-Range 3A) PN1998.2.B53 1998

Patrick McGilligan, Tender Comrades: A Backstory of the Hollywood Blacklist (St. Martin’s Press 1999) LAW-Culp Collection (3rd Floor-Range 3A) PN1590.B5M35 1997

Edward Dmytryk, Odd Man Out: A Memoir of the Hollywood Ten, (South Illinois U. Press 1996) LAW-Culp Collection (3rd Floor-Range 3A) PN1998.3.D6A3 1996

This Week in Legal History

Formal Transfer of Alaska Territory to the United States, October 18, 1867

Although considered foolish at the time, the United States bought the Alaska territory for $7,200,000 from Russia at the behest of William Seward, Secretary of State. Opposition in the House of Representatives postponed appropriation of funds for over a year. The new territory enlarged the geographical size of the United States by 20 percent. Doubts about “Seward’s folly” or “Seward’s icebox” subsided with the discovery of gold in 1896. In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state.

Visit the Alaska Reading Room on the 4th floor of the Seattle University Law Library for a permanent exhibit about Alaska. The materials in the exhibit include unique photos and letters donated by Mary and George Sundborg, parents of the President of Seattle University, Father Stephen Sundborg, S.J. Mr. Sundborg was a leading advocate in the Alaska statehood movement.

To learn more:
Donald Mitchell Sold American, A Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land 1867-1859: The Army to Statehood (U. Press of New England 1997) LAW-3rd Floor E78.A3M57 1997
David S. Case Alaska Natives and American Laws (U. Alaska Press 2012) LAW-4th Floor KFA1705.C37 2012
Ronald Lautaret Alaskan Historical Documents (McFarland 1989) LAW-3rd Floor F908.L38 1989

Today in Legal History: Sandra Day O’Connor Joins the Supreme Court

Sandra Day O’Connor Joins the Supreme Court, September 25, 1981

On September 25, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor joined the Bench.  She had been nominated by Ronald Reagan, and was the first woman ever to become a Justice.  O’Connor would become a very important swing vote on many decisions, such as Lawrence v. Texas and Bush v. Gore.  She retired in 2005, her seat taken by Samuel Alito.

For more information, check out the following resources:

  • Sandra Day O’Connor, The Majesty of the Law: Reflections by a Supreme Court Justice, Law Library 4th Floor @ KF 8742.O274 2003
  • Joan Biskupic, Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became its Most Influential Member, Law Library 4th floor @ KF8745.O25B57 2005
  • Sandra Day O’Connor, Out of Order: Stories From the History of the Supreme Court
  • Robert Zelnick, Swing Dance: Justice O’Connor and the Michigan Muddle LAW-4th Floor    KF8742.Z44 2004

Today in Legal History: President James A. Garfield Dies, Leading to Famous Insanity Defense Trial

President James A. Garfield died on September 19, 1881, after serving less than half a year in office. President Garfield died at a New Jersey seaside location, where he was recovering from two bullet wounds he suffered on July 2, 1881. Garfield’s assassin was Charles Guiteau, an attorney, theologian, and rebuffed office seeker. Guiteau insisted that he was God’s messenger. He also argued that medical malpractice was the actual cause of death because the doctors’ treatments had caused the blood poisoning that eventually killed Garfield. Guiteau’s attorney (who was also his brother-in-law) argued the insanity defense. In the end, the Guiteau jury, deliberating for just over an hour, didn’t buy Guiteau’s defenses and he was hanged on June 30, 1882. Garfield’s spine, which shows the hole created by the bullet, is kept as a historical artifact by the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Washington, D.C. Guiteau’s autopsy did show evidence of syphilitic paresis as well as chronic degeneration, leading some doctors to change their opinion of his mental state.

More information is available at: