Today in Legal History: First White House Bowling Alley Opens

Truman opened the first White House bowling alley on April 25, 1947. It was a birthday present from his friends. Truman’s first frame was 7 pins (out of 10). One of these pins is now on exhibition with the Smithsonian. Truman wasn’t much of a bowler, and didn’t use the facility much, but White House employees did. White House employees, including Secret Service and custodial staff, started a league. Opposing teams were surprised to find out that the team was, in fact, from the White House.

Eisenhower closed the first alley to make a mimeograph room, but built a second two-lane alley in 1955 in the old Executive Building. President and Lady Bird Johnson made good use of the lanes. Nixon was an avid bowler, so much so he paid for another single-lane, built under the driveway leading to the North Portico of the White House.

The White House Bowling League lives on, although the White House lanes were no longer accessible to the League after 9/11.

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Today in Legal History: Shakespeare Born

“The first thing we do, let’s kill all the lawyers.” – 2 King Henry IV, 2

The exact date of Shakespeare’s birth is not known, but based on available evidence, April 23, 1564 was his probable birthday. Admittedly, historians also like the date because Shakespeare died on the same day.

Many of Shakespeare’s plays concerned lawyers or trials; Twelfth Night, Merchant of Venice, and Measure for Measure are but three examples.

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Today in Legal History: Earth Day

Before 1970 there were no legal or regulatory devices to protect the environment. In the spring of 1970, Senator Gaylord Nelson, inspired by the student anti-war movement, created Earth Day as a way to force environmental protection onto the national political agenda. On April 22, 1970, Earth Day was observed by millions of Americans who took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums to rally for a healthy, sustainable environment. Earth Day was a huge success, and in December 1970 Congress authorized the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency to tackle environmental issues.

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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.

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Today in Legal History: Webster’s Dictionary of American Language is Printed

Webster’s Dictionary of American Language was printed on April 14, 1818. Compiled and written by Noah Webster, a lawyer, this dictionary was the first to focus on American terminology (including over 10,000 American terms) and helped standardize American spelling.

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Today in Legal History: First Presidential Veto

George Washington was the first president to use his veto power.  On April 5, 1792, he vetoed a bill regarding apportioning representatives in the House which would have increased the number of seats for northern states.
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Today in Legal History: April Fool’s Day

Nobody is sure how April Fool’s Day got started, but the most common theory is the changing of the calendar from the Julian to the Gregorian in France in 1564. The Julian calendar, based on lunar cycles, celebrated the New Year in April. The Gregorian calendar, based on the sun, celebrated the New Year on January 1st. Not everyone was pleased about the new calendar, and some refused to recognize it. These individuals became known as April Fools when they insisted on celebrating the New Year in April.

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Today in Legal History: Woman Lawyer’s Bill Passed in California

Through the efforts of Clara Shortridge Foltz and Laura deForce Gordon, the words “white male” were replaced with “person” in the state requirements to take the bar exam.  This had the effect of not only allowing women to take the bar, but minorities as well.  Ms. Foltz, the single parent of five children, went on that fall to become the first woman lawyer in California and won court battles to attend Hastings law school.  (At the time, it was not atypical to pass the bar prior to attending school).  Later in her career, Ms. Foltz drafted a bill that would create a public defender system, which was adopted by 30 states. The Woman Lawyer’s Bill was passed in California on March 28, 1878.

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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: Confederate Constitution Adopted

The Confederate Constitution, adopted on March 11, 1861, provides an interesting insight into the political opinions of the South during the antebellum period. While much of the Confederate version is clearly taken straight from the US Constitution, there are differences. The President is limited to a single six year term, for example. The Bill of Rights was written into the main text. Judicial review was not addressed. Treason was addressed in more detail than in the US Constitution. Obviously, one of the major differences was the explicit protection of slavery; however, foreign slave trade was still prohibited.

The Confederate Constitution was ratified by South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas.

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