Today in Legal History: Roosevelt Signs Lend-Lease Program

The Lend-Lease program was Franklin Roosevelt’s way to circumvent US laws requiring that all sales to foreign governments be made in cash.  Roosevelt strongly believed that the Allied powers needed help.  This program was met with skepticism; some of the provisions of the bill permitted the President to shut down strikes.  However, Great Britain was grateful, as Churchill had warned Roosevelt he couldn’t come up with cash much longer.  The program was designed for Great Britain, but some 40 nations ultimately benefited.

The Lend-Lease program deferred costs of materials needed until the future.  Great Britain, for example, was given 50 years to pay off loans made by the US.  Many of the “loaned” materials were effectively gifts.  Some of the repayment could be met by leasing land to the US for military bases.

Lend-Lease included planes, trucks, food, tanks, and ships which were essential to countries that had to ration their resources and materials due to the war.  The shipments from the US allowed countries to meet important needs.  Hitler credited Lend-Lease with keeping the Allied powers going when he declared war on the US.

Lend-Lease would become the Marshall Plan after the end of the war.  The UK paid off its last installment of Lend-Lease on December 31, 2006.

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Today in Legal History: Confederate Constitution Adopted

The Confederate Constitution, adopted on March 11, 1861, provides an interesting insight into the political opinions of the South during the antebellum period. While much of the Confederate version is clearly taken straight from the US Constitution, there are differences. The President is limited to a single six year term, for example. The Bill of Rights was written into the main text. Judicial review was not addressed. Treason was addressed in more detail than in the US Constitution. Obviously, one of the major differences was the explicit protection of slavery; however, foreign slave trade was still prohibited.

The Confederate Constitution was ratified by South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

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Today in Legal History: Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Decided

2 Live Crew was a rap group who recorded a song called “Pretty Woman”. This song was based heavily on a prior work recorded and co-written by Roy Orbison. Orbison’s record label sued for copyright infringement. The Orbison version was a wistful ballad about a lovely woman walking. By contrast, the 2 Live Crew version was crude. However, copyright law does not take taste into account. The Supreme Court said that 2 Live Crew’s version of the song was legally a parody, though devoid of quality, and consequently was a fair use of the source material. Campbell v. Acuff-Rose was Decided on March 7, 1994.

More information is available at:
Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music, 510 U.S. 569 (1994)


Today in Legal History: Constitution Goes into Effect

The Constitutional Convention was the result of intense negotiation and compromise, although it is said that George Washington, who was president of the assembly, spent much of that time fishing. One of the central controversies was the form of government for the new country. Some delegates favored the adoption of a monarchy, but Madison, an ardent advocate for a strong central government, strongly opposed. The battle over ratification was acrimonious. Many anti-Federalists believed the new Constitution favored wealthy landowners and there were misgivings that the majority of the people did not, in fact, support the new Constitution. As a result of these battles, the Bill of Rights was created, with Madison as its greatest advocate. Somehow, in spite of the bitter divisiveness and disagreement, the framers managed to create the world’s shortest constitution and one that stood the test of time. The U.S. Constitution is the oldest, single- source derived constitution still in effect.

More information can be found here:

  • The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation: Analysis of Cases Decided by the Supreme Court of the United States to June 28, 2002, Prepared by the Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress (Law Library Reference Desk @ KF4527.U54 2004)
  • The Founders’ Constitution, edited by Philip B. Kurland and Ralph Lerner (Law Library Reserve @ KF4502.F68 1987)
  • The Charters of Freedom
  •  Desk-Top Guide to the Constitution: Chronology, Facts & Documents by Irving J. Sloan LAW-Reserve KF4502.D47 1987
  • A Child of Fortune: A Correspondent’s Report on the Ratification of the U.S. Constitution and Battle for a Bill of Rights by Jeffrey St. John (Jameson Books 1990) LAW-4th Floor KF4541.Z9S7 1990


Today in Legal History: Dr. Seuss Day

Theodor Seuss Geisel, pseudonym Dr. Seuss, was born on March 2, 1904. The famed children’s book author started out writing political cartoons, and during WWII he even made movies for the US Army. His early political work is little known, and given its controversial content it may be better that Dr. Seuss remain simply the beloved author of The Cat in the Hat and Horton Hears a Who.

March 2nd is Dr. Seuss Day and all across the country it is celebrated by Read Across America. Dr. Seuss’s children’s books, with imaginative characters and rhythmic rhyming verses, have been used to help children learn to read and stay interested in reading throughout childhood. Providing children an interest in and the skills to master reading can help all the young lawyers-to-be prepare for the intense reading load they will have in law school and beyond.

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Today in Legal History: Credit Mobilier Scandal

On February 18, 1873, the House of Representatives voted to find Oakes Ames (R-Mass.) guilty of bribery. Though the House contemplated ejecting him from office, Ames was instead censured. Too many other representatives had stock in Ames’ company, Credit Mobilier.

Oakes Ames had bought into a company called Credit Mobilier to finance the building of the railroads. Abraham Lincoln had encouraged him to do so; it was of national importance to get stable transport to the West. Ames continued to serve in Congress and recruited many of his colleagues to invest. It was a great investment as returns were running at 90% in 1867.

Credit Mobilier was in charge of building the Union Pacific Railroad, but did so at an incredibly inflated rate. When Credit Mobilier wasn’t charging twice as much as it cost to build, the company would “build” the same section of railroad more than once. It is estimated that Credit Mobilier made over $23 million while the railroad was left barely solvent. It was the Enron of its time.

Congress tried to get some of the money back by passing legislation (17 Stat. 509) to file suit. Eventually, the case made it to the Supreme Court. In U.S. v. Union Pac. R. Co., 98 U.S. 569 (1878), the Supreme Court decided that the above mentioned legislation was unconstitutional and that the government could not collect on the bonds made for the railroads until they matured. According to the Supreme Court, the railroads had been built, so Credit Mobilier was under no obligation beyond the contract.

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Today in Legal History: Swiss Neutrality Recognized by League of Nations

The League of Nations officially recognized Switzerland as neutral on February 13, 1920. This was not a new position for the Swiss; the Treaty of Westphalia did the same, as did the Congress of Vienna in 1815. Ironically, Switzerland did not join the United Nations until 2002, although it had been actively involved prior to joining.

Switzerland is not the only neutral UN member; Austria, Finland, Ireland, and Sweden are also formally neutral. Permanent neutrality prevents the country from participating in conflicts and creates rights and duties in peacetime as well. A neutral country’s own territory and airspace are respected, and it is also forbidden to help or harm a belligerent – even if the same treatment is accorded for both sides. A neutral country may not be involved in an armed conflict as a peacekeeper; it may only take arms for its own self-defense.

Switzerland took on the position of neutrality for a pragmatic reason. As Switzerland borders Germany, France, and Italy, it was at high risk of invasion and perpetual warfare. Neutrality allowed Switzerland to keep its independence.

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Today in Legal History: Dawes Severalty Act Signed, Tribes Further Dispossessed

On February 8, 1887, President Grover Cleveland signed the Dawes Act, dividing up tribal lands into plots for individuals to farm.  The effect of the Act was to weaken tribes, break up traditional families, and put Indian lands into non-Indian hands.  Under the Act, farmers did not get ownership of the land for 25 years; if the farm failed, lands would be transferred back to the government and sold at auction.  In the meantime, the farmer could not sell any of his allotted 160 acres.  The Dawes Act was abolished in 1934 under Franklin Roosevelt.

More information is available at:

  • The Assault on Indian Tribalism: the General Allotment Law (Dawes act) of 1887 Wilcomb E. Washburn (Law Library – 4th floor @ KF5660.W38)
  • PBS
  • The Dawes Act and the Allotment of Indian lands D.S. Otis (Law Library – 4th floor @ KF5660.O85)


Today in Legal History: The Switch in Time that Saved Nine: Roosevelt Announces Court Packing Plan, February 5, 1937

By 1937, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR) was becoming increasingly frustrated after the Supreme Court struck down several pieces of “New Deal” legislation intended to alleviate the worst problems of the depression.  FDR felt the best response was simply to make the current Supreme Court majority into a minority.  There is no constitutional provision for how many justices can sit at one time.

The court packing plan involved adding a justice for every justice over the age of 70 ½, which at the time meant six justices (Supreme Court Justices cannot be forced to retire).  Roosevelt announced the plan in one of his fireside chats.  This created an outcry and was met with resistance by Congress and the press.

Shortly after the court packing plan was announced, the Supreme Court unexpectedly changed voting patterns in West Coast Hotel Co. v. Parrish, 300 U.S. 379 (1937) and then again, in Carter v. Carter Coal Co, 298 U.S. 238 (1936).  This change became known as the “switch in time that saved nine.”

More information is available at:

  • FDR’s Fireside Chat
  • Nine Men; a Political History of the Supreme Court from 1790 to 1955 Fred Rodell (1955) (Law Library 4th Floor @ KF8748.R63)
  • The Supreme Court and the Presidency Robert Scigliano (1971) (Law Library 4th Floor @ KF8748.S34)


Today in Legal History: First session of first Supreme Court

The first session of the U.S. Supreme Court met on February 1st, 1790. President George Washington’s inaugural nominations were John Jay (Chief Justice), John Rutledge, William Cushing, John Blair, Robert Harrison, and James Wilson. The Court got off to a faltering start. Robert Harrison refused the nomination, John Jay was abroad attending diplomatic duties during much of his tenure, John Blair’s attendance at court was sporadic because of poor health, and finally John Rutledge, managed to sabotage his nomination to succeed John Jay as Chief Justice with an importune speech that cost him the support of many in Washington’s administration. The fact that he never attended a formal day of court probably didn’t do his nomination any favors either. The inaugural session of the Court was held at the Royal Exchange Building in New York. Unfortunately only Jay, Wilson and Cushing managed to show up. The new Court was hamstrung until Blair arrived the next day, thereby establishing the quorum necessary for conducting business. No cases were heard during that first session, it primarily involved admitting attorneys to practice before it. The inaugural session of the Supreme Court ended on February 10th, 1790. The new Supreme Court continued on its wobbly trajectory until John Marshall became Chief Justice and Marbury v. Madison was decided in 1803, establishing the Court’s power.

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