Today in Legal History: Congress Probes Communism in Hollywood, October 20, 1947

“Are you now, or have you ever been, a Communist?”  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 movies.  Ten writers and directors (later known as the Hollywood Ten) refused to testify on the ground 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.

More information is available at:
• The Meiklejohn Civil Liberties Institute, The Legal Struggle to Abolish the House Committee on Un-American Activities: the Papers of Jeremiah Gutman, 4th Floor – KF4997.I48 M44
• Carl Beck, Contempt of Congress: a Study of the Prosecutions Initiated by the Committee on Un-American Activities, 1945-1957, 4th Floor – KF9405.B4 1974


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:


Featured Database: The Making of Modern Law

The Making of Modern Law database contains scanned images of over 22,000 legal treatises on British and American law published between 1800 and 1922.  Check out this great historical resource on the library database page.


Today in Legal History: First Labor Day Celebrated

The first Labor Day was celebrated on Tuesday, September 5, 1882 in New York City.  Two years, later, the holiday was changed to the first Monday in September.  While it is unclear who first suggested Labor Day (some sources say it was a carpenter, others a machinist), it is clear that the holiday was supported by labor organizations.

Cities were the first to officially recognize this “workingman’s” holiday and the states soon followed.  Oregon was the first state to make Labor Day a legal observance in 1887.   By 1894, Congress followed suit.

The original proposals for the holiday called for a huge parade and a festival for working men and their families. “It is appropriate, therefore, that the nation pays tribute on Labor Day to the creator of so much of the nation’s strength, freedom, and leadership — the American worker.” – Department of Labor Website


Featured Database: Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals

Looking for international or foreign law materials? The Index to Foreign Legal Periodicals (IFLP) is now available through Hein Online from the library’s database page. IFLP indexes articles and book reviews from more than 500 legal journals, covering international law, comparative and foreign law, and the law of many foreign jurisdictions. The fully searchable database (1985-present) also includes access to the full text of more than 100 journals. Earlier content (1960-1984), not yet part of the fully searchable database, is available in searchable PDF format via the “Print edition” selection button.

The user-friendly interface allows both searching and browsing (by country, subject, or publication title). And you can “search within” search results, as well as refine results by language, type of material, or date.


Today in Legal History: Former Vice President Spiro T. Agnew Disbarred

From WikipediaOn May 2, 1974, the Maryland Court of Appeals disbarred Former Vice President Spiro Agnew. A Baltimore grand jury had linked Agnew to political corruption—bribery, extortion, and tax evasion.  Agnew avoided indictments on bribery and extortion by pleading no contest to tax evasion. Agnew resigned from office in 1973, and while the government did not prosecute him on charges of bribery and extortion, he was nonetheless disbarred as a result of his no-contest plea.

More information is available at:

  • ABA Journal
  • U.S. Senate History


Today in Legal History: Bay of Pigs Invasion

On April 17, 1961, a CIA-backed group of Cuban refugees tried to invade Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. As soon as the party landed, they were met with resistance from Castro’s forces, and promised US air support never materialized. Of the 1,200 exiles trying to recapture their homeland, 100 died and the rest were captured.

Not only did the plan fail, it made the situation in Cuba even less desirable to the US government. Castro was able to put pressure on his Soviet allies for more support, and denounced the US to the world. Far from displacing Castro, the actions of the CIA cemented Castro’s control on Cuba, and made new president John F. Kennedy look weak and indecisive.

More information is available at:



April is Poetry Month!

The D. A. was ready His case was red-hot. 

Defendant was present His witness was not.

He prayed one day’s delay From His honor the judge. 

But his plea was not granted The Court would not budge.

So the jury was empanelled All twelve good and true

But without his main witness What could the twelve do?

Brown v State, 134 Ga.Ct.App. 771, 771-772, 216 S.E.2d 356 (1975) by Judge Evans. In the footnotes to the case, the judge explains that the decision was written in rhyme because a Senior Judge of the Superior Courts had demanded (at a party) that if the writer ever reversed another one of his decisions, the opinion be written in poetry. Judge Evans goes on to say “it was no easy task to write the opinion in rhyme”.

For legal poetry in the Seattle University Law Library, try:

For a law review article written as a poem, see Gary Dubin, The Ballad of Leroy Powell, 16 UCLA L. Rev. 139 (1968).


April is Poetry Month!

As April is poetry month, one would be remiss in failing to mention some excellent poems regarding a seminal state case.

In State v. Gunwall, the Washington State Supreme Court created a list of six factors which it uses to determine when the state constitution provides greater protections than the federal constitution. These factors include:

  1. Language of the state constitution
  2. Differences between parallel federal and state constitutional provisions
  3. History of the state constitution and common law
  4. Pre-existing state law
  5. Structural differences between the federal and state constitutions
  6. Whether the subject matter is of particular state interest or local concern.

Though no longer mandatory (after Woodinville v. Northshore United Church of Christ) it is a good idea to brief the factors whenever arguing that freedoms should be expanded under the state constitution!


April is Poetry Month!

National Poetry Month was started in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets, to be celebrated in April. For more information, check out the American Academy of Poets, home of the “Poem of the Day.” Poetry often makes its way into legal opinions.

Here is an example:

No evidence had I taken
Sua sponte appeared forsaken.
Now my motion caused me terror
A dismissal would be error.
Upon consideration of § 707(b), in anguish, loud I cried
The court’s sua sponte motion to dismiss under § 707(b) is denied.

In re Robin E. Love, 61 B.R. 558, 559 (S.D. Florida, 1968), written by Judge Jay Cristol. This is an excerpt from a 48-line homage to The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe.