Category Archives: Legal History

LexisNexis 200

On the English side of the pond, LexisNexis’ 200 year anniversary seems to have coincided with AI hitting the very top of the hype curve, blockchain finding its way into the everyday Lexicon and increasing numbers of leading law firms opening their own tech accelerator hubs. These opportunities for lawyers, law firms, in-house teams, learning establishments and law students give us reason to think that we are experiencing the most significant innovations ever seen by lawyers.

One technology easily forgotten because of its pervasiveness was an innovation that dominated LexisNexis (previously Butterworths) during the first 160 years of our history but had already been available for 350 years before Henry Butterworth opened his bookstore in 1818. Johannes Guttenberg’s printing press was a major first step on a journey of democratizing information and transmitting it with ease and speed.

While the printing press had been developed in the mid-1400s, it was not until 1481 or 1482 when the first English law book was printed: Sir Thomas de Littleton’s Treatise on Tenures, which was written in French.  Perhaps even more importantly, the first legislation was printed in 1483. Before then, the dissemination of legal information and ideas – including publishing law reports and instructional guides for solicitors and justices of the peace – was limited to a scribe’s accuracy and speed and therefore tended to be limited to those few in the Inns of Court who had access to manuscript copies.

The pre-printing press, “manuscript culture”, methods of recording and sharing information in notebooks or commonplace books and the direct conversations between lawyers made it challenging for those practising or upholding law to be sure that they were up-to-date with current legislation and practice. However the same methods also proved to be an ideal protectionist tool allowing (or perhaps even engineering) a major knowledge gap between those who had access to the law and those who didn’t. A lawyer’s value would regularly lie with just knowing what the law was, rather than how to apply the law. Of course this is no longer how a lawyer creates value and such a scenario seriously offends our current concepts of the Rule of Law since people cannot be truly equal if it is impossible for the majority to even know what the law is.

in any event, LexixNexis has created a short video as a tribute to the legal profession and how it has helped transform society over the past 200 years.

Hat tip:  James Wilkinson, Head of Content Automation at LexisNexis UK.

Greek May Day Celebrations

May 1st is International Labour Day and in Greece it is called ‘Protomagia’ (literally meaning the first day of May). It is an urban holiday when people traditionally go to the countryside for picnics, to fly kites and to gather wild flowers. On this day there many parades and other festivities throughout the country. It is a national holiday which means that everything is closed, with the exception of cafes and food venues.

The custom of Protomagia has its roots in ancient Greece as a celebration of spring, nature, and flowers. Flower wreaths, typically made from hand picked wild flowers, are hung on the doors of many homes in a way to welcome nature and all things good. Maios (May) the last month of Spring took its name from the Goddess Maja, a goddess who took her name from the ancient word Maia, the nurse and mother. May, according to Greek folklore, has two meanings: The good and the bad, rebirth and death. The custom celebrates the final victory of the summer against winter as the victory of the life against death go back to the ancient years and culminate at the first day of May. This day was also dedicated to the goddess of agriculture Dimitra and her daughter Persephone, who on this day emerges from the under world and comes to earth. Her coming to earth from Hades marks the blooming of nature and the birth of summer.

May 1st is International Workers’ Day, also known as Labour Day in some places, a celebration of laborers and the working classes that is promoted by the international labor movement, anarchists, socialists, and communists and occurs every year on the 1st of May. The date was chosen as International Workers’ Day by the Second International to commemorate the Haymarket affair, which occurred in Chicago on 4 May 1886. Being a traditional European spring celebration, May Day is a national public holiday in many countries, but in only some of those countries is it celebrated specifically as “Labour Day” or “International Workers’ Day”. The earliest May Day celebrations appeared in pre-Christian times, with the Floralia, festival of Flora, the Roman goddess of flowers, held April 27 during the Roman Republic era.

Lynching in America

Earlier this month, Oprah Winfrey reported on 60 Minutes on the Alabama memorial dedicated to thousands of African-American men, women and children lynched over a 70-year period following the Civil War. The project is being led by criminal defense attorney Bryan Stevenson who wants to shed light on a dark period in our past that most people would rather forget. These hangings were not isolated murders committed only by men in white hoods in the middle of the night. Often, they were public crimes, witnessed by thousands of people. Stevenson believes to heal racial divisions we must educate Americans of every color and creed. See the episode here.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice, opening to the public on April 26, 2018, will become the nation’s first memorial dedicated to the legacy of enslaved black people, those terrorized by lynching, African Americans humiliated by racial segregation and Jim Crow, and people of color burdened with contemporary presumptions of guilt and police violence. Read the report, Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror, which documents more than 4400 lynchings of black people in the United States between 1877 and 1950.

The Brooklyn Law School Library has in its collection a related title, The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer (Call No. HV6465.A2 L43 2016). It is the powerful story of a brutal race-based killing in 1981 and the dramatic two trials during which the United Klans of America, the largest and most dangerous Klan organization in America, was exposed for the evil it represented. Leamer tells a gripping story of figures such as legendary civil rights lawyer Morris Dees, Alabama governor George Wallace, and Klan Imperial Wizard Robert Shelton and describes the Klan’s lingering effect on race relations in America today.

The story begins in March 1981, when Henry Hays and James Knowles, members of Klavern 900 of the UKA, picked up nineteen-year-old Michael Donald on the streets of Mobile, Alabama. They were seeking to retaliate after a largely black jury failed to convict a black man accused of murdering a white policeman. Hays and Knowles beat Donald, cut his throat, and left his body hanging from a tree branch in a racially mixed residential neighborhood. Arrested, charged, and convicted, Hays was sentenced to death, the first time in more than half a century that the state of Alabama had given that penalty to a white man for killing a black man.

Morris Dees, co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center, saw the case as an opportunity to file a lawsuit against the UKA. His colleagues told him that his lawsuit was impossible to win. Nevertheless, on behalf of Michael’s grieving mother, Mrs. Beulah Donald, Dees filed a first-of-its-kind civil suit and charged the Klan organization and its leaders with conspiracy. He proceeded to put the Klan leaders on trial, which produced some of the most audacious testimony of any civil rights trial as well as a stunning and precedent-setting verdict. Dees destroyed the UKA and created a weapon that the SPLC used time and again against other racist organizations. The Lynching is a suspenseful true story that takes us into the heart of darkness, but finally shows that Michael Donald and other civil rights martyrs did not die in vain.

BLS Library Special Collections: Rare Books & Archives

The BLS Library has a rare book collection located on the second floor, second mezzanine and third floor levels.  While the books on all three floors are in locked cabinets, students may go to the first floor circulation desk and ask for assistance in retrieving these books.  The rare books may not be charged out, but they may be used in the library for as long as needed.  All rare books are cataloged and available through the SARA online catalog.

The rare books on the second mezzanine are a gift of the estate of Judge Nathan R. Sobel, 1906 -1997, and the collection is named in his honor.  Judge Sobel was a graduate of Brooklyn Law School, class of 1927, and a Justice of the New York Supreme Court for over twenty years; for nine years he served as Brooklyn Surrogate.

The books cover a wide variety of topics on all floors:  treatises, yearbooks, statutes, reporters, histories, biographies, etc.  To give you a sampling:

Room 107M on the first mezzanine contains the Brooklyn Law School archives.  This collection contains a wealth of information about the law school.  While the room is kept locked, for access to it, please go to the first floor reference desk.  Some of the titles that are located in the archives are:

  • Bulletins:  While the school no longer published a print bulletin or catalog, the archives contains the bulletins published from 1903 to 2006.
  • Class pictures:  Pictures of the graduating classes from 1901 – 1969; however, there is not a class picture for every year during this period.
  • Commencement programs:  Programs for the graduation exercises from 1903 to date.
  • The Justinian & BLS News:  The Justinian was the school newspaper, written by students for the BLS community, published from 1938 to 1998.  After an interval of four years, the student newspaper was re-named BLS News and published from 2002 – 2006.
  • Photo Profiles:  Print copies of pictures of the BLS entering classes from 1984 – 2001.
  • Yearbooks:  The BLS Yearbooks from 1982 – 2012.  (An earlier yearbook, called The Chancellor, was published in the following years:  1930, 1932 – 1935, 1948 and 1954.)

For a comprehensive listing of the material in the archives, see the BLS LibGuide: Brooklyn Law School Archives Collection.

Amelia D. Lewis: Woman Behind In re Gault

The US Congress, by Public Law 100-9, designated the month of March 1987, as “Women’s History Month”. This law requested the President to issue a proclamation calling on the American people to observe this month with appropriate activities. President Reagan then issued Presidential Proclamation 5619 proclaiming March 1987 as “Women’s History Month”. Since then, Presidential Proclamations have declared March as Women’s History Month.

Brooklyn Law School celebrates Women’s History Month by recognizing Amelia Dietrich Lewis, Class of 1924, as “one of the most tenacious lawyers the state of Arizona has ever seen.” She was a graduate of St. Lawrence University School of Law (now Brooklyn Law School). She exhibited her moxie early in her career, even before she was sworn in as an attorney. Although Lewis was scheduled to take the bar exam on June 24, 1924, she learned that the New York Bar prohibited candidates under the age of 21. In Lewis’s case, she was to turn 21 the very next day, on June 25. Facing this technicality, she filed suit against the Bar, arguing she would be 21 on the 24th because her birthday was actually the first day of her 22nd year.” She was successful in her suit and took the exam as planned on the 24th and passed. After practicing law in New York for 33 years, in 1957 following the death of her husband, she moved to Arizona. She took the bar examination in that state with just one other woman, Sandra Day O’Conner. There, she worked as a prosecutor for six years and then maintained a thriving solo practice, concentrating in elder law in Sun City. She was well into her eighties when she retired.

Lewis is best known for her involvement in the landmark 1967 Supreme Court case, In re Gault, 387 U.S. 1 (1967), which brought due process to juvenile courts across the nation. Her client, Gerald Gault, had been sentenced without legal counsel to an Arizona reformatory. He allegedly made an obscene phone call to a neighbor, was arrested by local police, and tried in a proceeding that did not require his accuser’s testimony. He was sentenced to six years in a juvenile “boot camp” for an offense that would have cost an adult only two months. Lewis assumed the role of co-counsel after Gault’s appeals at the lower level were exhausted. She was drawn to the case because she had raised three healthy sons and “wanted to give something back.” Ultimately, the defense of the boy prevailed, with the Court holding that he was entitled to the same constitutional safeguards as adults: a trial by jury, the right to legal counsel, the right to cross-examine witnesses, and the right to remain silent. Justice Fortas in his 8-1 majority opinion wrote: “Neither the 14th Amendment nor the Bill of Rights is for adults only. Under the Constitution, the condition of being a boy does not justify a kangaroo court.”

Lewis was recognized by the Arizona Republic as one of the legal greats of that state. In 1988, she received the first Amicus Award of the Association of Trial Lawyers of America, which honored her for pioneering the vital role of women in the legal profession. Upon her death in 1994, the Chief Justice of the Arizona Supreme Court commented: “She made history for the law in many ways. Her life and career epitomized the practice of law as it should be.”

The Brooklyn Law School Library has in its collection The Constitutional Rights of Children: In re Gault and Juvenile Justice by David S. Tanenhaus (Call No. KF228.G377 T36 2017). This new edition includes expanded coverage of the Roberts Court’s juvenile justice decisions including Miller v. Alabama (in which the Court held that mandatory sentences of life without the possibility of parole are unconstitutional for juvenile offenders) and explains how disregard for children’s constitutional rights led to the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Pennsylvania. Widely celebrated as the most important children’s rights case of the twentieth century, Gault affirmed that children have the same rights as adults and formally incorporated the Fourteenth Amendment’s due process protections into the administration of the nation’s juvenile courts.

Library Adds Collection on Academic Freedom

The Library was recently the recipient of a gift in honor of Joan Wexler, Dean and President Emerita of Brooklyn Law School.  The funds received from the gift were used to purchase books in an area of particular interest to President Wexler.  She chose the area “academic freedom,” and Library Director Janet Sinder selected the books that have been cataloged and added to our collection, and are now available on the shelves in the cellar’s main collection area for loan.  While Professor Sinder ordered over twenty books on this topic, a few of these new books are briefly described below.

Academic Freedom in an Age of Conformity: Confronting the Fear of Knowledge.

This book, written by Joanna Williams, gives the history and analysis of the rise and recent fall of academic freedom, including a discussion of the restrictions that some governments are imposing on academic freedom.

While academic freedom might seem to be a “largely academic proposition disconnected from the pursuit of knowledge,” Ms. Williams enumerates academic freedom in the areas of science, social science, sociology, literature, etc.  She also discusses how the fight for academic freedom has    become a campaign for “academic justice” in recent years.

Academic Freedom in Conflict: The Struggle over Free Speech in the University


This work is a collection of essays edited by James L. Turk.  The many contributors to this book document the areas in which academic freedom is in jeopardy, including in religious institutions, in academic-corporate settings, etc.  Also discussed are the “managed university” and demonstrations on campuses.

A practical area for discussion regarding academic freedom is given an entire chapter entitled “Giving and taking offence: civility, respect, ad academic freedom.”  While this book was published in Canada, the information conveyed has implications for those interested in academic freedom in the U.S.

Freedom to Learn: The Threat to Student Academic Freedom and Why It Needs to be Reclaimed

The author, Bruce Macfarlane, argues for student choice, or real academic freedom, in the areas of attendance requirements, class participation, assessments, etc., in other words, student-centered learning.  He advocates certain rights for students, such as the right to non-discrimination, the right to reticence in the classroom, the right to choose how to learn, etc.

 

Why Academic Freedom Matters:  A Response to Current Challenges

This book, edited by Cheryl Hudson and Joanna Williams, is written by several contributors from the British perspective, and gives a history of academic freedom, defines it as it is currently viewed, discusses the university in the 21st century, and explores the current threats to academic freedom.

Valentine’s Day Quiz

Can you name the U.S. Supreme Court Justice?

1.  It must have brought a Flood of emotions: his clerks wrote him a card on Valentine’s Day, 1985, that read “Respondents are red, petitioners are blue. We’re very lucky to have a Justice like you.”

2.  “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family.”  It’s no mystery that this passage comes from the closing paragraph of the ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), authored by this Justice.

3. Rush Limbaugh’s wedding to the “Jacksonville Jaguar” Marta Fitzgerald, was held at this Justice’s home in 1994.  As the officiant, the Justice may have been required to ask a question or two.  Alas, the couple ending up splitting a decade later.

4. Toxic love triangle: Carol Anne Bond was excited when her closest friend announced she was pregnant. Excitement turned to rage when Bond learned that her husband was the child’s father. Bond went to the former BFF’s home at least 24 times in order to spread toxic chemicals on surfaces her nemesis would touch; she was prosecuted under federal law for her actions. In ruling that the Chemical Weapons Convention did not apply, this Justice explained why he was not upholding the mandate in this case: “The global need to prevent chemical warfare does not require the Federal Government to reach into the kitchen cupboard.”  Bond v. United States (2014).

5. This notorious Justice penned the majority opinion in Sole v. Wyner (2007).  The case involved a rebuffed attempt by Wyner to assemble nude individuals into a peace sign on a Florida beach, on Valentine’s Day, 2003.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Constitution at 230 Years Old

The US Constitution was adopted 230 years ago, on September 17, 1787. Its words are as vital today as when the founders agrees that the Constitution would be sent to the Confederation Congress to start the ratification process with the states. It words are invoked daily in controversies over free speech, gun rights, religious expression, the separation of powers, states’ rights, due process of law and the exercise of individual liberties.

Yet, as we mark Constitution Day in accordance with 36 U.S.C. § 106 (2012) (this year, the day is observed on Monday, September 18th), Americans have an uncertain understanding of what the document says, per a recent poll by the Annenberg Public Policy Center of the University of Pennsylvania. The annual Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey finds that:

  • More than half of Americans (53 percent) incorrectly think it is accurate to say that immigrants who are here illegally do not have any rights under the U.S. Constitution;
  • More than a third of those surveyed (37 percent) can’t name any of the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment;
  • Only a quarter of Americans (26 percent) can name all three branches of government.

immigrant

rights

branches

Why should this matter? it is difficult to safeguard constitutional rights without understanding what they are. The continued vitality of our democracy is dependent upon an informed citizenry. Understanding the history of the Constitution and its amendments will assist all of us in more fully appreciating these rights and responsibilities as they have evolved over time. Moreover, such understanding will ensure that these rights will continue to be exercised, valued, and cherished by future generations.

The founders wanted to make certain that the federal government was limited in powers  to those specifically enumerated in the constitution. How have we moved from these very clear and quite limited roles of the government? We see Presidents “passing laws” in a de facto fashion and refusing to enforce laws duly passed by Congress although sworn to do so. The Supreme Court has ruled on healthcare, education, abortion, and marriage. These powers are not enumerated the Constitution and are arguably reserved for the states. Why are we not concerned? The Founders, on this day, 230 years ago, signed a document making certain that our freedoms would not be taken away, but they did not anticipate that they might be given away. Happy Constitution Day. Celebrate it and protect it.

libertyFor more on the topic, see the Brooklyn Law School Library’s copy of The Blessings of Liberty: A Concise History of the Constitution of the United States by Michael Les Benedict (Call No. KF4541 .B443 2017). The text provides students with a history of American constitutional development in the context of political, economic, and social change. The author stresses the role that the American people have played over time in defining the powers of government and the rights of individuals and minorities. He covers important trends and events in US constitutional history, encompassing key Supreme Court and lower-court cases. The third edition is updated to include the election of 2000, the Tea Party and the rise of popular constitutionalism, and the rise of judicial supremacy as seen in cases such as Citizens United, the Affordable Care Act, and gay marriage.

Law Professors: An Overview from William Blackstone to Barack Obama

As students prepare to resume their legal studies and begin their scholarship for another semester under the tutelage of their BLS professors, I want to recommend a new book that discusses the contributions to the legal profession of a group of selected scholars and professors over three centuries.

The book is: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law by Stephen B. Presser, West Academic Publishing, St. Paul, MN, 2017.

The author says that he hopes this volume will serve as an “introduction to the law for prospective lawyers and beginning students in J.D. and LL.M. programs.”

The book is composed of short biographical essays covering a representative number of legal scholars who have also been law professors.  The work explores the nature of the American legal system, and how American law professors have had a profound effect on American law and life.

While the author covers law professors from William Blackstone to Barack Obama, here are a few of the giants of those that are included:

  • William Blackstone –  It has been written that the groundwork for U.S. jurisprudence can be found in the multi-volume work of Sir William Blackstone, a noted English judge, scholar and politician of the 18th century.  The work, entitled Commentaries on the Laws of England...in four books, provided a systematic analysis of English common law.  These commentaries were based on Blackstone’s lectures at Oxford University.
  • Christopher Columbus Langdell was Dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895 and is often called the “father of American legal education” because it was he who established the case method of instruction where students read and studied appellate court decisions while teaching at Harvard, incorporating it with the Socratic method where students were asked questions about the cases and they were to draw conclusions in order to engage in a dialogue between faculty and students.
  • Joseph Story served on the United States Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845, taught at Harvard Law School while serving on the Court, and wrote a comprehensive treatise on the U.S. Constitution entitled Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
  • Karl Llewellyn was a distinguished legal scholar, who was called one of the most important legal thinkers of the early twentieth century and whose works have been cited many times. He was a proponent of legal realism who felt that legal opinions should be examined to see how judges were influenced by outside factors.  He wrote a book which served as an introduction to the study of law for first year students entitled:  The Bramble Bush; Some Lectures on Law and Its Study . 
  • John Henry Wigmore was an important legal scholar and professor, who while attending Harvard Law School, helped found the Harvard Law Review.  He taught for many years at Northwestern University Law School and his most important contribution to legal scholarship was his Treatise on the Anglo-American System of Evidence in Trials at Common Law.
  • Barack Obama, law professor at the University of Chicago, United States Senator from Illinois and President of the United States.

Researching Legislative History?

Whether you are tracing a statute’s history for your summer internship or for a paper you are writing, you will want to use a new tool the library recently acquired, Proquest’s Legislative Insight.  Often researching legislative histories can be cumbersome and time consuming.   Legislative Insight promises to streamline the process by digitizing and by publishing online the majority of full text publications associated with a legislative history.  These documents include all versions of enacted and related bills, Congressional Record excerpts, and committee hearings, reports, and documents.  Legislative Insight also includes other related material such as committee prints, CRS reports and Presidential signing statements. Furthermore, Legislative Insight offers a research citation page that not only links to the full text of the associated primary source publications, but allows the user to do a Search Within from that very page that searches the full text of all the associated publications with one-click.

To access Legislative Insight from off-campus, you first need to implement the proxy instructions.