Today in Legal History: President John F. Kennedy Assassinated

Screen Shot 2013-11-15 at 12.30.06 PMShortly after noon on November 22, 1963, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated as he rode in a motorcade through Dealey Plaza in downtown Dallas, Texas. Lee Harvey Oswald was arrested for the shooting. (more…)

The Constitution, Presidential Elections, and the Electoral College with Joaquin Avila

Social Justice Monday—November 2, 2015
Submitted by Justin Abbasi, Reference Librarian

Professor Joaquin Avlia, a nationally recognized voting rights expert and advocate, educated us this Social Justice Monday on the origin of voting rights in the Constitution. He empowered us to think of new arguments to advance civil rights by focusing on the dark side of our Constitutional history and how far we’ve come. Voting rights exists within the compromises made to form our government–between the industrial Northern States and slave-holding Southern States.


Today in Legal History: Oregon Becomes the First State to Legalize Physician Assisted Suicide

On November 8, 1994, Oregon voters approved an initiative allowing terminally ill patients to plan their own death under the direction and supervision of a physician.  There were several attempts to repeal the law or block implementation including an attempt by US Attorney General John Ashcroft to use federal law (the Controlled Substances Act) to suspend the licenses of doctors who prescribed drugs to assist suicide.  All of the attempts to repeal the law failed, including a court case which went all the way to the US Supreme Court.  In Gonzalez v. Oregon 546 U.S. 243 (2006) the Court ruled 6-3 in favor of upholding Oregon’s law.

Washington was the second state to pass a physician assisted suicide act.  Washington’s Death with Dignity Act was closely modeled on Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act and was passed by voter initiative on November 4, 2008

6254349889_33cd79679d_nMore information is available at:

  • John B. Mitchell Understanding Assisted Suicide: Nine Issues to Consider Location: LAW-4th Floor  R726.M565 (2007)
  • Brian T. Yet Physician-Assisted Suicide and the Controlled Substances Act: Gonzales v. Oregon. Congressional Research Service Report
  • Kenneth R. Thomas “Right to Die” Constitutional and Statutory Analysis.
  • John Keown Euthanasia, Ethics, and Public Policy: An Argument Against Legalisation  Location: LAW-4th Floor  R726.K465 2002   (examines Dutch euthanasia laws)

Today in Legal History: Volstead Act Passed

The Volstead Act, more popularly known as prohibition, was passed on October 28, 1919.  It was named after Andrew Volstead, the congressman who sponsored the legislation. While at first bans on alcohol were attempted on a state level, it soon became a national movement.


Today in Legal History: Digital Millennium Copyright Act Signed into Law

The Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) incorporated two major World Intellectual Property Organization treaties into American law on Oct. 28, 1998.  The DMCA criminalized circumvention of copyright protection/anti-piracy measures built into software and distribution or sale of code-breaking devices; however, it allowed circumvention in specific circumstances (e.g. encryption research).  The DMCA also addressed liability for Internet Service Providers and non-profit educational institutions.

Additional information is available at:

  • Summary of the DCMA from the Copyright Office
  • Christopher Wolf, The Digital Millennium Copyright Act : Text, History, and Caselaw, 2003 (Library 4th Floor- KF2994.D54 2003)

This Week in Legal History

Formal Transfer of Alaska Territory to the United States, October 18, 1867

Although considered foolish at the time, the United States bought the Alaska territory for $7,200,000 from Russia at the behest of William Seward, Secretary of State. Opposition in the House of Representatives postponed appropriation of funds for over a year. The new territory enlarged the geographical size of the United States by 20 percent. Doubts about “Seward’s folly” or “Seward’s icebox” subsided with the discovery of gold in 1896. In 1959, Alaska became the 49th state.

Visit the Alaska Reading Room on the 4th floor of the Seattle University Law Library for a permanent exhibit about Alaska. The materials in the exhibit include unique photos and letters donated by Mary and George Sundborg, parents of the President of Seattle University, Father Stephen Sundborg, S.J. Mr. Sundborg was a leading advocate in the Alaska statehood movement.

To learn more:
Donald Mitchell Sold American, A Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land 1867-1859: The Army to Statehood (U. Press of New England 1997) LAW-3rd Floor E78.A3M57 1997
David S. Case Alaska Natives and American Laws (U. Alaska Press 2012) LAW-4th Floor KFA1705.C37 2012
Ronald Lautaret Alaskan Historical Documents (McFarland 1989) LAW-3rd Floor F908.L38 1989

Today in Legal History: Sandra Day O’Connor Joins the Supreme Court

Sandra Day O’Connor Joins the Supreme Court, September 25, 1981

On September 25, 1981, Sandra Day O’Connor joined the Bench.  She had been nominated by Ronald Reagan, and was the first woman ever to become a Justice.  O’Connor would become a very important swing vote on many decisions, such as Lawrence v. Texas and Bush v. Gore.  She retired in 2005, her seat taken by Samuel Alito.

For more information, check out the following resources:

  • Sandra Day O’Connor, The Majesty of the Law: Reflections by a Supreme Court Justice, Law Library 4th Floor @ KF 8742.O274 2003
  • Joan Biskupic, Sandra Day O’Connor: How the First Woman on the Supreme Court Became its Most Influential Member, Law Library 4th floor @ KF8745.O25B57 2005
  • Sandra Day O’Connor, Out of Order: Stories From the History of the Supreme Court
  • Robert Zelnick, Swing Dance: Justice O’Connor and the Michigan Muddle LAW-4th Floor    KF8742.Z44 2004

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:

Today in Legal History: Final Draft of the Constitution Sent to Congress

On September 17, 1767, the final draft of the Constitution was sent to Congress.  It had been a long hard struggle to find a compromise that would pass, and even so, two days earlier Edmund Randolph wanted to review it again.  Randolph was outvoted and on September 17 the Constitution was signed.

More information is available at:

Today in Legal History: Law & Order Premiered

September 13, 1990 is when it all started–one hour, two “separate but equally important groups,” detectives, prosecutors, New York City crime, stories ripped from the headlines, and that sound.  Is it a Donk Donk?  A Clang Clang?  Where did they get that sound?  And what are we going to do after twenty solid years of knowing that we could spend at least one hour of our week (okay, by the end, almost every hour of our week if you include cable) engrossed in a perplexing criminal investigation and prosecution, trying to pretend it was somehow school-related?

Law_Order_Season_One_castIf your interest in Law & Order extends into the academic, or if you are considering a career in criminal defense law, check out Elayne Rapping’s Law and Justice as Seen on TV.  A professor  of both women’s and media studies, Rapping turned her analytical mind to the law on television when her son became a public defender and she wanted to figure out why there was so much negative reaction to his career choice.   She dedicates the book to all the public defenders who never appear on television, but still toil daily “in the Sisyphean effort to make our government live up to the democratic rhetoric of its own Constitution.”

More information is available at: