The Lieber Code at 150

President Obama’s recent speech before the National Defense University was designed to initiate a discussion around Presidential power and the conduct of war. The laws of war have been the subject of intense academic discourse since their first systematic explication in the work of Frances Lieber. Professor Lieber first tackled the subject in a series of lectures at Columbia College’s new law school (later Columbia University) in 1861. He later refashioned the lectures into a more structured document that was subsequently issued by President Lincoln as Instructions for the Government of Armies of the United States in the Field, General Orders No. 100 in 1863. The 157 articles in this code treat a variety of topics related to war such as the characteristics of a soldier, the treatment of prisoners and deserters, flags of truce, and assassinations. The Lieber Code influenced the development of similar codes by other states and prefigured the adoption of the Hague Conventions on Land Warfare and parts of the Geneva Conventions.


Today in Legal History: Brown v. Board of Education Decided

On May 17, 1954, in a monumental civil rights victory, the U. S. Supreme Court unanimously decided in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation in public schools is unconstitutional. The court argued that segregation of children based solely on race denied black children equal protection of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.  The “separate but equal doctrine handed down by the court in Plessy v. Fergson (163 U.S. 537), had been applied in three federal district courts’ decisions to uphold segregation in public schools. The Supreme Court, however, argued that the segregated schools could never be “equal” as guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment, and were therefore unconstitutional.

A year later, the Supreme Court published procedures requiring all public school systems to fully integrate. The Brown v. Board of Education decision significantly aided the civil rights movement, and eventually led to the desegregation of all public facilities.

More information is available at:


Something about Fools and the Legal World

Sure there are plenty of foolish aspects to the law, but this April Fool’s posting is about foolscap. Foolscap is (among more obvious things) a type of paper used in writing and printing. It’s longer dimensions made it antiquity’s equivalent to today’s legal paper. Read the first paragraph of chapter 10 in Charles Dickens’s Bleak House for a reference. Read all of Bleak House for a commentary on the drawn out, circuitous and expensive nature of judicial proceedings 150 years ago. Then read A Civil Action to see what has changed.


Check it Out: The Passion of Joan of Arc

The Passion of Joan of Arc is a silent film that chronicles the life of the 15th Century French martyr, Joan of Arc, focusing on the charges of heresy, her trial, and execution.



The First Library in the United States

Though the Library of Congress was the first official post-revolutionary library, it was not the first governmental library in the United States. The history of the first governmental library stretches back to 1731, when Benjamin Franklin and several of his friends in the Junto society founded The Library Company as a non-profit. Yes, in addition to being an inventor, politician, philosopher, and scientist, it seems that Mr. Franklin found time to be a librarian as well!  During the time that the nation’s capital was located in Philadelphia, The Library Company served as the first official library of Congress, and is still open to the public today.


Ancestry is not a Crime: A Tribute to Gordon Hirabayashi

The exhibit, located on the Law Library’s second floor, portrays Gordon Hirabayashi’s life through photographs, his journal, letters, news clipping, and other materials. Stephanie Wilson (Law Library) and Ryan Barnes (Communications) were responsible for the research, creation, and design of this unique display.

For additional information, please see our Hirabayashi Exhibit page.


History of Voting Exhibit

Come and visit the library’s History of Voting Exhibit, located on the 2nd floor. This exhibit provides information relating to the gradual expansion of voting rights as well as an overview of the technology of voting.


Constitution Day Exhibit

Come see our exhibit celebrating the United States Constitution for “Constitution Day.”  Located on the 2nd Floor of the Law Library, this exhibit highlights the history and significance of the Constitution.


Workers Unite!

On September 5, 1882, some 10,000 workers assembled in New York City to participate in America’s first Labor Day parade. The colorful history of that day is described on this page of the Department of Labor website.


Ambiguous: the History of Legal Sized Paper

By Jason Giesler, Library Intern

Necessitating larger file cabinets, failing to fit in standard binders, and a real pain in the neck to copy and scan, one wonders, what are the origins of 8 1/2″ x 14” sized legal paper?

There are several historical stories relating to the adoption of legal sized paper. According to one story, during the time of Henry VIII, paper was printed in 17″ x 22” sheets because this was the largest size of mold that papermakers could carry. These large sheets were known as foolscap. Legend has it that lawyers would simply cut the foolscap in half and use the sheets for official documents. Lawyers liked longer paper so that they could take more notes than would fit on a normal page.

Whatever the history, all standard paper sizes in the United States trace their origin to the Committee on the Simplification of Paper Sizes that was formed in the Bureau of Standards in 1921. The Committee consisted of top paper industry leaders and its purpose was to eliminate waste by standardizing paper sizes. The committee adopted two commercial sizes: 17″ x 28″ and 17″ x 22″. Letter and legal sizes were created by simply folding these in half two times. The committee gave no special justification for the sizes that it adopted.

Thus, standard legal and letter paper size appears to have emerged by accident. It appears that legal sized paper will continue to exist and be the cause of many paper jams in the near future. Perhaps one solution to paper jamming problems is to hire an IT cat like this one!!