Category Archives: Legal History

She is.. She is.. NO, NO, NO, NOTORIOUS (R.B.G.)

Photo Credit: Angie Gottschalk, Ithaca Journal

Thirty years ago, before a sparse audience scattered throughout a cavernous auditorium at Cornell University, a petite woman argued passionately about the meaning of the U.S. Constitution. As her fellow symposium panelists — Cornell professors of law, government, and history — debated the technicalities of the document, she pushed for broader questions to be asked on issues that the Constitution is silent on, including “affirmative rights” and “cultural and social guarantees.”  ‘’ ‘Our Constitution is defective in that respect’ she said. ‘Why should the U.S. Constitution be a model for the world? Who needs freedom of speech when you have an empty belly?’ ” (Yaukey, Ithaca Journal, September 19, 1987, p. 4A)  

Much has changed in the intervening years. That appellate judge and pioneering women’s rights advocate who couldn’t draw a decent-sized crowd at her own alma mater, is now a pop culture icon.  Journalists breathlessly report on her fashion sensibilities (fishnet gloves anyone?) or when she is spotted carrying a tote bag with her own face on it.  Kids dress up as her for Halloween and adore her coloring book.

One thing hasn’t changed though: Ruth Bader Ginsburg still has plenty to say about the Constitution.

A lot has also been said and written about Justice Ginsburg, who holds an honorary degree from BLS.  The following are some relevant titles in the BLS Library collection to consider putting on your summer reading list:

Notorious RBG: The Life and Times of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Irin Carmon & Shana Knizhnik (2015). [Call number: KF8745.G56 C37 2015]  The elevation of RBG to her current status as a cultural icon can be traced to the Notorious R.B.G. Tumblr created by Shana Knizhnik, one of the book’s co-authors, in 2013. This title is a colorful and entertaining look at Ginsburg’s life and career.  We get plenty of juicy nuggets about her Brooklyn childhood and nickname (Kiki), her favorite bathroom at Cornell where she could get schoolwork done (in the architecture school), the time she couldn’t check a citation as a Harvard Law Review member (the volume was located in a men-only library reading room), and how her mentor Prof. Gerald Gunther had to “blackmail” federal judge Edmund Palmieri so she could secure a clerkship (Justice Frankfurter flatly said no; Judge Learned Hand refused to hire women as he was “potty-mouthed” and did not want to watch his language around women.)   Notorious RBG remains accessible even when it starts covering the denser legal material from Ginsburg’s time as a law professor, at the ACLU Women’s Rights Project, and her judicial tenure.  Excerpts from the brief she authored in Reed v. Reed (1971), her majority opinion in the VMI gender discrimination case, United States v. Virginia (1996), and the dissent she read from the bench in the equal pay case Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. (2007) (that helped spur passage of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009) are all meticulously annotated so as to be readily understood by the layperson. RBG’s loving marriage to Marty Ginsburg shines through: the last note he wrote to her before he died from cancer, reproduced in the original, is especially touching.  Even if you don’t want to read all the material, skimming through the many photographs and illustrations in the volume can be a joy.

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams (2016)  [Call number: KF373.G565 G56 2016]  My Own Words is a collection of Ginsburg’s writings and speeches which are given context by short introductory essays by her co-authors.  Especially interesting are the early documents: a school newspaper editorial from June 1946 that champions the new United Nations Charter; “One People”, a 1946 article for the East Midwood Jewish Center Bulletin (religious school graduation issue) discussing post-war unity; and a 1953 letter to the editor published in the Cornell Daily Sun titled “Wiretapping: Cure worse than Disease?” We get some insight into Ginsburg’s love for opera, friendship with Justice Antonin Scalia, and why her given name Joan never stuck.  Her family and marriage get some attention: husband Marty was a true partner, did all the cooking, and was the biggest champion of his wife — decades after the fact, he remained annoyed at Harvard Law School for not allowing RBG to be awarded a Harvard degree after completing her third year at Columbia.  Yet My Own Words feels incomplete: despite the many speeches, law review articles, briefs, and judicial opinions contained in the volume, Ginsburg’s personality and character remain elusive.  This is a function of the limited scope of the project: RBG’s co-authors Mary Hartnett and Wendy Williams are her official biographers, and one gets the sense that more personally revealing anecdotes and materials are being held back for the main publication that will follow.

Brief for Appellant, Reed v. Reed

The Legacy of Ruth Bader Ginsburg by Scott Dodson (ed.) (2015)  [Call number: KF8745.G56 L4499 2015]  This volume is a collection of 16 essays from legal luminaries that include Herma Hill Kay, Nina Totenberg, Lani Guinier, Tom Goldstein, and many more.  Linda Kerber’s essay “Before Frontiero there was Reed” vividly traces the history of Reed v. Reed, the first case in which the Supreme Court held that arbitrary discrimination based on gender violated the Equal Protection clause. As Kerber writes, Ginsburg added the names of Pauli Murray and Dorothy Kenyon to her Reed brief; even though neither had written a word, RBG “understood more clearly than anyone of her time the debt that the women of her generation [ ] owed to those of preceding generations.” Many of the essays focus on doctrine — criminal procedure, jurisdiction, federalism — but the closing essays speak to her temperament and approach to life and the law. The closing essay “Fire and Ice: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the Least Likely Firebrand” by Dahlia Lithwick is especially revealing. Lithwick describes how Ginsburg’s judicial voice grew exponentially after Justice O’Connor retired and RBG was left the only woman on the court.  Faced with the male Justices’ insensitivities during oral argument in Safford Unified School District v. Redding (2009), a case in which school officials strip searched a teenaged female student, RBG took the unprecedented step of granting an interview while the decision was still pending. In the interview, Ginsburg told Joan Biskupic of USA Today (who was also Justice O’Connor’s biographer) that her colleagues “have never been a 13-year-old girl” and that more women were needed on the court. The student prevailed 8-1 in her claim against the school district.  And perhaps it was no coincidence that just 3 weeks after the USA Today interview was published, President Obama nominated Sonia Sotomayor to the Supreme Court.

Sisters in Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg went to the Supreme Court and changed the world by Linda Hirshman (2015).  [Call number: KF8744 .H57 2015]  Sisters in Law traces the background of two ostensibly very different women, one a Goldwater Girl, the other a card-carrying member of the ACLU, who ended up as pioneers on the Supreme Court.  Justice O’Connor was known to be a centrist, a “justice-as-legislator” who believed in “playing defense” to protect hard-earned gains and who adhered to incrementalism. In contrast, Ginsburg with her litigation and advocacy background was used to “playing offense.” Nevertheless, once RBG reached the court, she quickly determined that of all the relationships she needed to develop, the most important was the one with O’Connor.  Justice O’Connor, who had over the years been fed many of RBG’s clerks, reciprocated.  Contrary to tradition, RBG’s first assigned majority opinion for the court was not a unanimous decision but rather a complex ERISA case on which the Justices had split 6-3.  After Ginsburg had successfully navigated her way through this first challenge, O’Connor, who had dissented, sent her a note that read: “This is your first opinion for the Court, it is a fine one, I look forward to many more.”  Hirshman also includes an anecdote about how RBG, as the first Jewish justice in a generation, helped change court practices. Upon joining the court, Ginsburg sent a letter to Chief Justice Rehnquist, siding with Orthodox Jewish lawyers who objected to the year on their certificates of admission being worded as “The Year of Our Lord.”  She encountered resistance from an unnamed colleague (the author suspects Rehnquist or Blackmun) “Why are you making a fuss about this? It was good enough for Brandeis, it was good enough for Cardozo and Frankfurter.” RBG’s response? “It’s not good enough for Ginsburg.”  The Court ultimately acquiesced.  There is plenty in this book to chew on about both the differences and shared experiences of the first two female Supreme Court Justices, and how they have changed the dynamic of the Court forever.

 

History and Future of NAFTA

The history of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) began in 1980 when candidate Ronald Reagan proposed a North American common market in his presidential campaign. The first move in creating NAFTA came when President Reagan made good on his campaign pledge and declared a North American common market as a future goal. During the early 1980s, with Mexico remaining aloof, Canada and the US signed a series of agreements that culminated in the Canada-US Free Trade Agreement in 1988. At this crucial juncture, Mexico signaled its willingness to join the negotiations and NAFTA talks began. On August 12, 1992, before the summer GOP convention, President George H.W. Bush initialed the deal. After losing the general election to William J. Clinton, Bush formally signed the treaty on December 17, 1992, saying during his Remarks on Signing the North American Free Trade Agreement “I’ve been privileged as Vice President and President over the past 12 years to be here on quite a few occasions, and I am so thrilled that this, the final one, is to sign the NAFTA agreement.”

As negotiated, the agreement was signed by the US, Canada, and Mexico, aiming to eliminate trade barriers among the three nations. Essentially, NAFTA was an extension of the Free Trade Agreement between Canada and the United States. Several other considerations beyond free trade under the scope of the NAFTA include intellectual property, telecommunications, and environmental protection. The treaty was to take effect on January 1, 1994, but ratification faced obstacles in the US Congress, especially from members of the Democratic Party. At the time of its ratification in Congress, more Republicans than Democrats supported NAFTA. With strong opposition by labor unions, a key ally for President Clinton was then-House Minority Whip (and later House Speaker) Newt Gingrich (R-Ga). Since NAFTA went into effect, bilateral trade between the US and Mexico amounts to more than $500 billion per year. The US is Mexico’s largest trading partner in merchandise (about 80% of its goods exports go to the US) while Mexico is America’s third-largest trading partner (after Canada and China).

NAFTA at 20Readers interested in learning more about NAFTA can review the Brooklyn Law School Library volume NAFTA at 20: The North American Free Trade Agreement’s Achievements and Challenges edited by Michael J. Boskin (Call No. HF1746 .N3326 2014), a Professor of Economics and senior fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution. As chairman of the president’s council of economic advisers from 1989 to 1993, he helped initiate NAFTA. He writes that NAFTA was bold and controversial from the start. When first conceived, it was far from obvious that it would be possible given the circumstances of the times. Drawing from a December 2013 Hoover Institution conference on “NAFTA at 20,” his book brings together distinguished academics who have studied the effects of NAFTA with high-level policy makers to present a comprehensive view of the North American Free Trade Agreement. It looks at the conception, creation, outcomes so far, and the future of NAFTA from the perspective of economists, historians, and the policy makers in the words of those who participated in the negotiations and research. In the context of the fundamental economic and political transformation of North America, they discuss the trade, real wage, and welfare gains that NAFTA has produced for the United States, Mexico, and Canada, along with a review of the major energy markets within and among the three countries. The book has lessons from NAFTA for the future, both for NAFTA itself (if there is one) and for other trade agreements. The author stresses the importance of political leadership and providing information on the benefits of trade liberalization to voters and ill-informed politicians who cater to the fears of free trade opponents.

NAFTAThe BLS Library  has in its collection a related title, an e-book NAFTA and Sustainable Development: History, Experience, and Prospects for Reform (Treaty Implementation for Sustainable Development), edited by Hoi L. Kong and L. Kinvin Wroth. On the twentieth anniversary of NAFTA’s ratification, the book outlines the scope of NAFTA and its impact on environmental issues and paths to reform. Analyzing the impact of the NAFTA on bio-engineered crops in Mexico, marine environmental effects, climate change, and indigenous rights, the book is an important contribution to the global conversation on international trade agreements and sustainable development.

Celebrate Women’s History Month By Checking Out HeinOnline’s Women and the Law Collection

In honor of Women’s History Month this March, head over to HeinOnline to see its Women and the Law collection.  This Hein collection brings together books, biographies, and periodicals exploring the role of women in society and the law.  Scholars use this platform to  research the progression of women’s roles and rights in society over the past 200 years.  In addition to a wealth of historical works, the collection also features more than 70 contemporary feminist sources archived from Emory University Law School’s Feminism and Legal Theory Project.

Emoluments Clause: Constitution’s Least Litigated

EmolumentsArticle I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the United States Constitution (known as the Emoluments Clause) reads:

“No Title of Nobility shall be granted by the United States: And no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”

University of St. Thomas School of Law Associate Professor of Law Robert J. Delahunty’s essay on the Heritage Guide to The Constitution is worth reading for an understanding of this obscure provision   Article VI of the Articles of Confederation was the source of the Constitution’s prohibition on federal titles of nobility and the so-called Emoluments Clause. The clause sought to shield the republican character of the United States against corrupting foreign influences.

The prohibition on federal titles of nobility—reinforced by the corresponding prohibition on state titles of nobility in Article I, Section 10, and more generally by the republican Guarantee Clause in Article IV, Section 4—was designed to underpin the republican character of the American government. In the ample sense James Madison gave the term in The Federalist No. 39, a republic was “a government which derives all its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and is administered by persons holding their offices during good behavior.”

Republicanism so understood was the ground of the constitutional edifice. The prohibition on titles of nobility buttressed the structure by precluding the possibility of an aristocracy, whether hereditary or personal, whose members would inevitably assert a right to occupy the leading positions in the state.

Further, the prohibition on titles complemented the prohibition in Article III, Section 3, on the “Corruption of Blood” worked by “Attainder[s] of Treason” (i.e., the prohibition on creating a disability in the posterity of an attained person upon claiming an inheritance as his heir, or as heir to his ancestor). Together these prohibitions ruled out the creation of certain caste-specific legal privileges or disabilities arising solely from the accident of birth.

In addition to upholding republicanism in a political sense, the prohibition on titles also pointed to a durable American social ideal. This is the ideal of equality; it is what David Ramsey, the eighteenth-century historian of the American Revolution, called the “life and soul” of republicanism. The particular conception of equality denied a place in American life for hereditary distinctions of caste—slavery being the most glaring exception. At the same time, however, it also allowed free play for the “diversity in the faculties of men,” the protection of which, as Madison insisted in The Federalist No. 10, was “the first object of government.” The republican system established by the Founders, in other words, envisaged a society in which distinctions flowed from the unequal uses that its members made of equal opportunities: a society led by a natural aristocracy based on talent, virtue, and accomplishment, not by an hereditary aristocracy based on birth. “Capacity, Spirit and Zeal in the Cause,” as John Adams said, would “supply the Place of Fortune, Family, and every other Consideration, which used to have Weight with Mankind.” Or as the Jeffersonian St. George Tucker put it in 1803: “A Franklin, or a Washington, need not the pageantry of honours, the glare of titles, nor the pre-eminence of station to distinguish them….Equality of rights…precludes not that distinction which superiority of virtue introduces among the citizens of a republic.”

Similarly, the Framers intended the Emoluments Clause to protect the republican character of American political institutions. “One of the weak sides of republics, among their numerous advantages, is that they afford too easy an inlet to foreign corruption.” The Federalist No. 22 (Alexander Hamilton). The delegates at the Constitutional Convention specifically designed the clause as an antidote to potentially corrupting foreign practices of a kind that the Framers had observed during the period of the Confederation. Louis XVI had the custom of presenting expensive gifts to departing ministers who had signed treaties with France, including American diplomats. In 1780, the King gave Arthur Lee a portrait of the King set in diamonds above a gold snuff box; and in 1785, he gave Benjamin Franklin a similar miniature portrait, also set in diamonds. Likewise, the King of Spain presented John Jay (during negotiations with Spain) with the gift of a horse. All these gifts were reported to Congress, which in each case accorded permission to the recipients to accept them. Wary, however, of the possibility that such gestures might unduly influence American officials in their dealings with foreign states, the Framers institutionalized the practice of requiring the consent of Congress before one could accept “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from…[a] foreign State.”

Like several other provisions of the Constitution, the Emoluments Clause also embodies the memory of the epochal constitutional struggles in seventeenth-century Britain between the forces of Parliament and the Stuart dynasty. St. George Tucker’s explanation of the clause noted that “in the reign of Charles the [S]econd of England, that prince, and almost all his officers of state were either actual pensioners of the court of France, or supposed to be under its influence, directly, or indirectly, from that cause. The reign of that monarch has been, accordingly, proverbially disgraceful to his memory.” As these remarks imply, the clause was directed not merely at American diplomats serving abroad, but more generally at officials throughout the federal government.

The Emoluments Clause has apparently never been litigated, but it has been interpreted and enforced through a long series of opinions of the Attorneys General and by less-frequent opinions of the Comptrollers General. Congress has also exercised its power of “Consent” under the clause by enacting the Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act, which authorizes federal employees to accept foreign governmental benefits of various kinds in specific circumstances.

Another fascinating read on the Emoluments Clause is the December 2016 Brookings Institute study titled The Emoluments Clause: Its Text, Meaning, and Application to Donald J. Trump co-authored by Norman L. Eisen, Richard Painter, and Laurence H. Tribe.

Electoral College vs. National Popular Vote

Election Day 2016 is not the first where a candidate for president won the most electoral votes, thus winning the presidency, but failed to win the popular vote. The unique American system provides no direct election of President and Vice-President. Since 1789, Electors chose successful candidates for those seats. The process is directed by the legislature of each state, either by popular vote or some other selection process. On the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December (which occurs this year on December 19, 2016), the electors meet in their respective States to cast their votes for President and Vice President of the United States.  Article II, Section 1, clause 2 reads: “Each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct, a Number of Electors, equal to the whole Number of Senators and Representatives to which the State may be entitled in the Congress”.

The Electoral College decides how the nation’s Chief Executive is chosen. It dates back to the Federalist Papers. See Federalist 68, The Mode of Electing the President by Alexander Hamilton dated March 14, 1788. The pro-slavery influences of the electoral college surrounded the debate on the mode of electing the president. James Wilson proposed to a direct election by the people, but gained no support and it was decided the president was to be elected by Congress. When the constitution was considered, Gouverneur Morris brought the debate back up and decided he too wanted the people to choose the president. James Madison agreed that election of the people at large is the best way to go about electing the president, but knew that the slave states would not be influential with such a system, and so he backed the electoral college.

Instances in the nation’s history when popular vote totals for president differed from the elector count are:

  • The 1824 election was a four-man race. The top two candidates were Andrew Jackson and John Quincy Adams who won despite losing both the popular vote and the electoral vote. Andrew Jackson won 151,271 popular votes (41.4%) to Adams’ 113,122 votes (30.9%), roughly 38,000 fewer popular votes than Jackson who also defeated Adams in the electoral vote by 99 to 84. Neither candidate reached the majority 131 electoral votes so the House of Representatives met to select Adams.
  • The highly contentious 1876 election showed Democratic New York governor Samuel Tilden winning the popular vote over Republican Ohio governor Rutherford B. Hayes with 4,284,020 (51%) to Hayes’s 4,036,572 (48%), a margin of less than 250,000.  The electoral vote was Tilden 184 (one short of a majority) and Hayes 165 (20 ballots short). The remaining electoral votes were in dispute over voter fraud, mostly in three Southern states with Reconstruction governments: Florida, Louisiana, and South Carolina. Congress set up a special electoral 15-member commission of congressmen and Supreme Court justices. Two days before inauguration, on an 8-7 party line vote, the commission gave the disputed electoral votes to Hayes, who won by one electoral vote.
  • In 1888, Benjamin Harrison won the presidency with 233 electoral votes to Grover Cleveland’s 168. Harrison lost the popular vote by more than 90,000 votes winning 5,443,892 (47.8%). Cleveland’s vote total was 5,534,488 (48.6%).
  • The 2000 contest between the Republican George W. Bush and the Democrat Al Gore saw the popular vote winner lose because of the electoral vote count. Gore got 50,999,897 (48.4%) compared to Bush who had 50,456,002 votes (47.9%). The election hinged on the close vote in Florida, which prompted a mandatory recount. Litigation reached the US Supreme Court which ruled on December 12, 2000 in the 5–4 decision Bush v. Gore, ending the recounts, effectively awarding Florida’s votes to Bush. Bush won the electoral vote, 271 to 266.
  • The 1800 election had no records of popular votes as electors were chosen by state legislatures. Thomas Jefferson won 73 electoral votes to John Adams who won 69. Jefferson’s margin of victory came from electoral votes created by counting slaves for purposes of representation, which led to a greater number of electors for each state. States that Jefferson carried had fewer voters. If the election were decided by popular votes, Adams would have won.

Calls fElectoralor reform of electoral reform are likely after this election as they were in earlier ones. See in the Brooklyn Law School Library, Electoral College Reform: Challenges and Possibilities by Gary Bugh who says the Electoral College system was last updated by the Twelfth Amendment in 1804, despite public opinion polls showing a majority of Americans are in favor of changing or outright abolishing it. The book has essays examining all aspects of the debate, including the reasons for reform, the issues surrounding a constitutional amendment, the effect of the Electoral College on political campaigns and the possibilities for extra-constitutional avenues to change. The authors consider both the Federalists’ vision of balanced representation and a more democratic and equality-based ideal. The volume explores the potential for changing a system that many contend is long overdue. After the 2000 election, Professor Paul Finkelman’s article The Proslavery Origins of the Electoral College was published at 23 Cardozo Law Review 1145 (2002). Another article worth reading is by S.M. Sheppard titled A Case for the Electoral College and for Its Faithless Elector, published in the 2015 Wisconsin Law Review Online.

To learn about the Reform the Electoral College movement so the electoral vote reflects the nationwide popular vote for President, see the website of the National Popular Vote.

National Park Service 100th Anniversary

On August 25, 1916, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the Organic Act which Congress passed to create in the Department of the Interior the National Park Service. The aim of the law was “to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations.”

NPSWhen the law was enacted, there were already 35 national monuments and parks including Yosemite National Park established in 1864 and Yellowstone National Park established in 1872. Today, the National Park Service has 140 national monuments and parks, 128 historical parks or sites, 25 battlefields or military sites, 19 preserves, 18 recreation areas, 10 seashores, four parkways, four lakeshores, and two reserves. The biggest park is Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve in Alaska established in 1980 containing 13.2 million acres. It is the same size as Yosemite, Yellowstone and the country of Switzerland combined. The smallest site is the Thaddeus Kosciuszko National Memorial in Philadelphia established in 1972 sitting on 0.02 acres. The highest point in the system is Denali (or Mount McKinley) at 20,320 feet. The lowest accessible point is Death Valley National Park, at 282 feet below sea level. The newest National Monument is Katahdin Woods and Waters in Maine which President Barack Obama designated this week for the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service. See NPR web page In Maine, Land From Burt’s Bees Co-Founder Is Declared A National Monument discussing the controversial designation of the woods as protected territory especially from locals concerned about federal oversight of lands that used to be central to the regional economy.

With an annual budget of $2.6 billion, the National Park Service has about 20,000 direct employees and supports 240,000 local jobs generating $27 billion for the U.S. economy. More than 307 million people visited Park Service locations in 2015 compared to 1920 when NPS sites were visited by 1 million people. Brooklyn does not have a national park but this week Brooklyn Bridge Park hosted a National Park Service celebrating the100th anniversary of its founding. Nearby sites such as the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are both part of the NPS. Other NPS locations in New York City include the African Burial Ground National Monument, the Lower East Side Tenement Museum, the Theodore Roosevelt Birthplace National Historic Site and Castle Clinton National Monument.

Brooklyn Law School Library users can explore OneSearch to find a large set of articles about the history of the National Park Service such as the National Parks: America’s BEST Idea? from Parks & Recreation Aug 2016, Vol. 51 Issue 8, page 44.

Israeli Court Rules on Kafka Papers

In a major victory for libraries and public access to great literature, the Israeli Supreme Court this week issued a ruling concluding an eight-year legal battle about ownership of the literary works and letters of Franz Kafka. The series of court cases between Israel and the heirs of Max Brod, executor of the estate of Prague-born writer Franz Kafka began in 2009. Kafka’s last will and testament transferred all of his manuscripts to Brod after his death in 1924. A March 2015 article The Betrayed(?) Wills of Kafka and Brod by Nili Cohen, 27 (1) Law & Literature 1 (available to Brooklyn Law School Library users through a subscription to the Taylor & Francis Online Journal Library) relates that Kafka in separate letters entrusted his manuscripts and works to Brod instructing him to burn them after his passing. Brod did not honor Kafka’s request and took the papers with him when he fled Czechoslovakia in 1939 and emigrated to Palestine. After the 1968 death of Brod, his will bequeathed the papers to his secretary Esther Hoffe with instructions to give them to the “Hebrew University of Jerusalem, the municipal library in Tel Aviv or another organization in Israel or abroad”. Instead Hoffe kept the papers and shared them with her two daughters and even began to sell them.  In 1988, Hoffe sold an original copy of Kafka’s The Trial for $2 million. The 2007 death of Hoffe, more than 80 years after Kafka’s death, touched off a lengthy court fight between Israel and Hoffe’s daughters who claimed the papers were given to their mother by Brod so she could dispose of them as she wanted.

The WSJ Law Blog reports that Hoffe’s daughters refused the Israeli government’s demands to hand over the documents. The case turned on questions of inheritance law and whether Hoffe was entitled to give instructions about Brod’s literary legacy in her will. “Max Brod did not want his property to be sold at the best price, but for them to find an appropriate place in a literary and cultural institution” Israel’s high court stated in its opinion in which it directed that the papers should belong to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem.

The TrialBoth Kafka and Brod studied law in Prague’s Karl University and Kafka devoted much of his literary work to the law. His letters to Brod to destroy his manuscripts was not a binding legal document as they included neither the title “Will” nor a date, suggesting that Kafka intended to ask his friend to honor a moral, not a legal, obligation. Kafka’s uncertain attitude towards law is expressed in his greatest novel, The Trial, which he wrote from 1914 to 1915. The novel was published in 1925 after Kafka’s death. Years later, Orson Welles wrote a screenplay based on the novel and directed the 1962 masterpiece The Trial (Call No. PT2621.A26 T75 1998) which the BLS Library has in its video collection. The story centers on the main character, Josef K, who wakes up one morning to find the police in his room. They tell him that he is on trial but no one tells him what the charges are. His efforts to learn the details of the charges and to protest his innocence remain fruitless. As he tries to look behind the facade of the judicial system, he finds he has no way to escape his nightmare.

Sedition Act of 1798: Political Speech as Crime

July 14 is famous as Bastille Day in English-speaking countries. In France, the day is called La Fête Nationale (the National Holiday) and was originally called Fête de la Fédération (“federation feast”) to celebrate the first anniversary of the storming of the Bastille and the end of the French Revolution. The French celebrate the day each year, referring to it as Le Quatorze Juillet (the fourteenth of July). Like Independence Day in the United States, it is a national holiday in France. The day celebrates the fall of the Bastille when just under a thousand Parisians attacked the prison releasing its seven inmates. Like the 4th of July, it marks the beginning of republican democracy and the end of tyrannical rule. The French national anthem, La Marseillaise, which originates from the revolution, does not commemorate the storming of the Bastille. Rather it celebrates the three tenets of the republican national motto: “liberty, equality and fraternity”.

In United States history, July 14 is the date when one of the most egregious breaches of the U.S. Constitution was enacted by Congress, the Sedition Act of 1798. In direct violation of the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech, the Sedition Act permitted the prosecution of individuals who voiced or printed what the government deemed to be malicious remarks about the president or government of the United States. The infamous Alien and Sedition Acts were four laws passed by the Federalist controlled Congress stemming from fears of the French revolution, specifically the Reign of Terror, and an undeclared naval war with France. The Federalists were fearful of revolutionary support growing in the United States among Irish and French immigrants and from Democratic-Republicans, sympathetic to the French cause, who wished to oust the Federalists from office. Fourteen Republicans, mainly journalists, were prosecuted, and some imprisoned, under the act. Among the prosecutions were the following:

  • James Thomson Callender, in his book “The Prospect Before Us” called the Adams administration a “continual tempest of malignant passions” and the President a “repulsive pedant, a gross hypocrite and an unprincipled oppressor”. He was indicted and convicted in 1800, fined $200 and sentenced to nine months in jail.
  • Matthew Lyon wrote an essay in the Vermont Journal accusing the administration of “ridiculous pomp, foolish adulation, and selfish avarice”. He was fined $1,000 and sentenced to four months in jail.
  • Benjamin Franklin Bache accused George Washington of incompetence and financial irregularities, and charged the “the blind, bald, crippled, toothless, querulous Adams” with nepotism and monarchical ambition in his newspaper “The Aurora”. He was arrested in 1798 but he died of yellow fever before trial.
  • David Brown set up a liberty pole in Dedham, Massachusetts with the words, “No Stamp Act, No Sedition Act, No Alien Bills, No Land Tax, downfall to the Tyrants of America; peace and retirement to the President; Long Live the Vice President”. He was arrested and tried, fined $480, and sentenced to eighteen months in prison.
  • Luther Baldwin of Newark, New Jersey, who, following the adjournment of Congress in July 1798, when President Adams and his wife were traveling through Newark past a local tavern, heard one of the patrons say, “There goes the President and they are firing at his ass.” Baldwin said “he did not care if they fired thro’ his ass.” He was arrested and later convicted of speaking seditious words tending to defame the President and Government of the United States. He was fined $150, assessed court costs and expenses, and sent to jail until he paid the fine and fees.

seditionReaders interested in this dark time in American history can Halperinlearn more by reviewing two titles recently added to the Brooklyn Law School Library collection. The first is Press and Speech Under Assault: The Early Supreme Court Justices, the Sedition Act of 1798, and the Campaign against Dissent by Wendell Bird (Call No. KF9397.A3281798 B57 2016). The other is The Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798: Testing the Constitution by Terri Diane Halperin (Call No. KF9397.A3281798 H35 2016). Interestingly, the U.S. Supreme Court never heard a case to decide whether the Alien and Sedition Acts were constitutional. The Sedition Act expired on March 3, 1801, the last day of the first and only presidential term of John Adams.

Judicial Review and Alexander Hamilton

Independence Day 2016 marks the 240th anniversary of the Second Continental Congress’ adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. This milestone in US history is observed by Americans, young and old, as a national holiday on the same calendar date each year. If July 4 is a Saturday, it is observed on Friday, July 3. If July 4 is a Sunday, it is observed on Monday, July 5. This year government offices and schools are closed on Monday, July 4. See 5 U.S. Code § 6103. The library at Brooklyn Law School has reduced hours on Monday and will be open from 9am to 5pm so law students can study for the bar exam scheduled at the end of July.

RutgersIn Constitutional Law courses law students at BLS and throughout the country learn that the decision by Chief Justice John Marshall in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803) is arguably the most important case in American law. It was the first U.S. Supreme Court case to apply the principle of “judicial review”, the power of federal courts to void acts of Congress in conflict with the Constitution. However, a newly acquired title in the BLS Library collection, Rutgers v. Waddington: Alexander Hamilton, the End of the War for Independence, and the Origins of Judicial Review by historian Peter Charles Hoffer (Call No. KF228.R877 H64 2016) makes clear that Marbury was not the first court in the new American Republic that considered the argument that a legislative enactment in conflict with a state or federal constitutional provision is void. One of the first decisions to address the question was Rutgers v. Waddington, decided in the Mayor’s Court in the City of New York on August 7, 1786. The case is important to American constitutional law because defendants’ primary attorney who argued for an expansive notion of judicial power was Alexander Hamilton, who advocated for the principal of judicial review in Federalist Paper No. 78.

The case was presented on June 29, 1784 with Chief Justice James Duane presiding. The facts showed that Plaintiff Elizabeth Rutgers owned a large brewery and alehouse on the northern side of Maiden Lane near where Gold Street now enters it. The brewery extended from Smith (now William) Street on the west, to Queen (now Pearl) Street, on the east; and from Maiden Lane, on the south, to John Street on the north. It was one of the most notable features in what is now the Financial District.  Plaintiff was forced to abandon the brewery during the British occupation of New York City. Under the Trespass Act of 1783, which permitted patriots to sue loyalists for damages to property in occupied areas of the state, Rutgers demanded rent from Joshua Waddington who had been running the brewery since it was abandoned. Alexander Hamilton, attorney for the defense, argued that the Trespass Act violated the 1783 peace treaty ratified earlier by Congress. Chief Justice Duane delivered a split verdict awarding Rutgers rent only from the time before the British occupation. The case was ultimately settled by the two parties. Importantly the case set a precedent for Congress’s legal authority over the states. In his ruling, Chief Justice James Duane wrote that “no state in this union can alter or abridge, in a single point, the federal articles or the treaty.”

Brooklyn Law School’s Scholarship & Special Collections

brooklynworks

BrooklynWorks is the online repository of Brooklyn Law School, providing open access to scholarship produced by the law school and to other collections of law school materials. The repository is a service of the Brooklyn Law School Library. Current collections focus on faculty scholarship, the law school’s journals and library special collections.

Within the law Journals collection, you can browse or search issues of the Brooklyn Law Review, the Brooklyn Journal of International Law, the Journal of Law & Policy, and the Brooklyn Journal of Corporate, Financial, & Commercial Law.  Within the faculty scholarship collection, you can browse or search Brooklyn Law School’s faculty publications going back to 2010.

Within the Special Collections, you can browse the papers of David Trager from the 1986-1989 New York City Charter Revision Commissions.  Included in this historic collection are various drafts of the New York City Charter, meeting minutes and letters to the members of the commission.  The digitized documents were selected from materials he donated to the Brooklyn Law School Archives. To access the entire collection, you can contact the reference desk (refdesk@brooklaw.edu) and make an appointment to visit the archives.