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Today in Legal History: Beer & Wine Revenue Act Signed

The Beer & Wine Revenue Act was signed by Franklin Roosevelt on March 22, 1933.  No fan of prohibition, President Roosevelt signed the Act in order to levy a federal tax on alcoholic beverages to raise federal revenue to get our nation out of the Great Depression.  Later that year, in December 1933, the 21st Amendment ending Prohibition, was enacted.

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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: 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: 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
  • History.com
  • The Dawes Act and the Allotment of Indian lands D.S. Otis (Law Library – 4th floor @ KF5660.O85)

 

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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Today in Legal History: Human Rights Day

On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The UDHR’s broad range of political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights are not binding; however, the document has inspired the human rights laws and treaties which constitute an international standard of human rights. The UDHR was created to serve as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations,” and was the first universal document to state that all humans have certain inalienable rights. Human Rights Day was formally observed after the Assembly passed the resolution 423 (V) in 1950, which invited all nations and interested parties to observe December 10th as Human Rights Day.

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Today in Legal History: EPA Formed

The EPA was established on December 2, 1970, under the administration of Richard Nixon.  The EPA took over responsibilities previously handled by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the Atomic Energy Commission, and two lesser agencies.

The EPA was established due to increased concern about pollution in the late 1960’s.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a bestseller.  The Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire in 1969.  People demanded action.

The first EPA Administrator was William D. Ruckelshaus.  Under his direction the EPA began issuing rules and regulations within weeks.  Cities were threatened with suits if they did not clean up their drinking water.  DDT was quickly banned.

The EPA is currently responsible for mileage standards, auto emissions, air, soil and water quality, hazardous waste, efficiency standards for appliances, radiation pollution and more.

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Today in Legal History: FDR Wins 4th Term

Franklin Delano Roosevelt won a fourth term on November 7, 1944. Other than Franklin Roosevelt, no president has ever served more than two terms.  George Washington stepped down after two terms and many other presidents followed his example.  Teddy Roosevelt ran for a third term but lost that election.  After FDR’s tenure, the 22nd Amendment was ratified, limiting the term of a presidency.

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Today in Legal History: Elton John wins Defamation Suit

On November 4, 1993, the award-winning singer won a $518,000 (£350,000) defamation claim against the Daily Mirror for publishing a false article about his eating habits. The transcript of the appeals case, John v. MGN LTD, reveals that on appeal, the award for exemplary damages was reduced because the newspaper did not attack Mr. John‘s reputation as an artist.

With roots stretching back to the Roman Empire, defamation is a tort which is steeped in common law history. While Mr. John sued in Great Britain, many of the elements of defamation are the same in our legal system. Available to students and library patrons, The Making of Modern Law is an excellent database for researching historic common law doctrine. The database contains over 21,000 legal treatises covering a period between 1800 and 1926.

On a more practical note, those interested in the size of jury verdicts in should check out this link to a site maintained by the UW Law Library. The site lists a number of Westlaw and Lexis databases containing information on jury awards. Those without access to Lexis or Westlaw need not fret. There are a number of free print resources on jury awards that are available at both the SU and UW Law Libraries. One excellent, continuously updated, print resource for jury awards is Northwest Personal Injury Litigation Reports,  available in the reserve section of the SU Law Library.