Library

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.

More information is available at:


 

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.

More information is available at:


 

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.

More information is available at:


 

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.


 

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:
http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-red-scare-comes-to-hollywood
http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9040813/Hollywood-Ten
• 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