Category Archives: Legal History

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.

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.