Category Archives: Legal History

Two Landmark Supreme Court Decisions in Two Days

The United States Supreme Court on Thursday, June 25, 2015 upheld federal health insurance subsidies for moderate and low income Americans as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010.

The vote was 6-3, with the majority opinion written by Chief Justice John Roberts, Jr. The Court ruled that subsidies are valid even in those states that did not set up their own exchanges. This decision, in King v. Burwell, was the second time in three years that the Supreme Court upheld provisions of “Obamacare,” that otherwise might have decimated the law.  The Court upheld the law’s individual mandate in 2012 in National Federation of Independent Business, et al. v. Sebelius.

The Court also handed down another major decision on Friday, June 26, 2015 in Obergefell v. Hodges. By a vote of 5-4, the Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex couples from getting married.  This decision establishes a national right to same-sex marriage throughout the country and requires states to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. The majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy.


Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy Trial

On April 15, 1865, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States, died from a bullet wound inflicted the night before by John Wilkes Booth, an actor and Confederate sympathizer. Lincoln’s death came only six days after Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his massive army at Appomattox, effectively ending the American Civil War. In the aftermath of the nation’s first assassination of its president, the newly sworn-in President Andrew Johnson issued an Executive Order on May 1 directing that persons charged with Lincoln’s murder stand trial before a military tribunal. The trial lasted more than fifty days, and 366 witnesses gave testimony. The Lincoln assassination and its aftermath continues to resonate with the public and historians.

LincolnThe Brooklyn Law School Library has ordered a new book on the subject for its collection:  The Lincoln Assassination Conspiracy Trial and Its Legacy by Frederick Hatch (Call # KF223.L47 H38 2015). The 244 page book takes a close look at the trial of the eight defendants charged with conspiring to assassinate President Lincoln who were tried by a military commission under military law. The author contends that this was illegal, since the civilian legal system was fully functioning. The many ways in which the defendants’ rights were violated are described, as are the ways in which the trial testimony was either not accurate or not legally obtained. The trial is also compared with other incidents in which the U.S. military was used in police and judicial functions, with questionable results. The book is a warning against unchecked power by the executive branch of the government.

In Honor of Women’s History Month – BLS Alumna and Suffragette, “General” Rosalie Jones

rosaliejonesRosalie Gardiner Jones was born in 1883 to Mary and Oliver Livingston Jones, wealthy Oyster Bay socialites.  She graduated from Adelphi College, then a women’s school, in Brooklyn and later from Brooklyn Law School.

When she was 28, Rosalie entered the suffrage movement and led two “suffrage hikes”, one from NYC to Albany, and the second from NYC to Washington DC, to bring attention to the women’s right to vote movement.

The NYC to Albany hike took thirteen days. Rosalie along with other women, walked (in skirts), through bad weather and difficult roads, a distance of 150 miles to reach their destination. They made speeches, sang songs to keep morale up, and gave interviews to the press along the way. The press dubbed her and her followers, “General Jones” and the “suffragette pilgrims”.

The NYC to Washington, DC hike covered more than 200 miles and took 20 days to finish.  When the arrived in DC they joined over 5,000 of their fellow suffragists in the National Woman Suffrage Parade procession, marching down Pennsylvania Avenue toward Constitution Hall.

Episode 093: Interview with Prof. Christopher Beauchamp

Episode 093: Interview with Prof. Christopher Beauchamp.mp3

In this interview. Brooklyn Law School’s Associate Professor of Law Invented by LawChristopher Beauchamp speaks about his first book, Invented by Law: Alexander Graham Bell and the Patent That Changed America (Call# KF 3116.B43 2015). Published by Harvard University Press, the book explores questions of ownership and legal power raised by the invention of the telephone, and tells of a forgotten history with wide relevance for today’s patent crisis. Using the  invention of the telephone in 1876 as one of the great touchstones of American technological achievement, Beauchamp sheds new light on that history, and examines the legal battles that raged over Bell’s telephone patent, perhaps the most consequential patent right ever granted. Prof. Beauchamp shows that the telephone was as much a creation of American law as of scientific innovation.

On March 7, 1876, the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office approved Alexander Graham Bell’s patent for Improvement of Telegraphy (No. 174,465) in an unusually fast approval process, with three applications hand-delivered by Bell’s lawyer on February 14, mere hours before a competing application was submitted by engineer Elisha Gray. Bell’s legal maneuvering strongly suggested that an unknown informant within the PTO was assisting efforts to beat Gray to the telephone patent. Subsequent litigation reached the U.S. Supreme Court twice in 1888, first with The Telephone Cases (126 U.S. 1), and then with United States v. American Bell Telephone Corp. (128 U.S. 315). Prof. Beauchamp untangles these lawsuits and analyzes their aftermath in a way that should appeal to both intellectual property experts and novices.

Reconstructing the world of nineteenth-century patent law, replete with inventors, capitalists, and charlatans, where rival claimants and political maneuvering loomed large in the contests that erupted over new technologies, the book challenges the popular myth of Bell as the telephone’s sole inventor, exposing that story’s origins in the arguments advanced by Bell’s lawyers. More than anyone else, it was the courts that anointed Bell father of the telephone, granting him a patent monopoly that decisively shaped the American telecommunications industry for a century to come. Prof. Beauchamp investigates the sources of Bell’s legal primacy in the United States, and looks across the Atlantic to Britain to consider how another legal system handled the same technology in very different ways.

Happy 225th Anniversary to “Mother Court”

from Third Branch News Blog

A 225th anniversary ceremony honoring the first-ever federal court session held court2under the U.S. Constitution and Judiciary Act, was held Nov. 4th in the ceremonial courtroom of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.

The ceremony honored a court session held Nov. 3, 1789, in the Royal Exchange Building in Manhattan.  The session, conducted by Judge James Duane, occurred three months before the U.S. Supreme Court also met in the Royal Exchange, which no longer exists. The 1789 session gives the Southern District of New York claiming rights as the nation’s “Mother Court”—although the first sitting was not momentous, adjourning immediately without hearing any cases.

The Library recently acquired the book, The Mother Court: Tales of Cases That Mattered in America’s Greatest Trial Court. It is the first book to chronicle the history of the US District Court for the Southern District of New York, the most influential District court in the United States. It gives first-hand insight into the evolution of our justice system where it has been, where it is now and where it is going. It provides an anatomy of what a trial is all about in an American courtroom, featuring the most famous trials of the period in the greatest court in the nation.





Witchcraft in American History

WitchcraftJust in time for Halloween, the Brooklyn Law School Library has added to its collection A Storm of Witchcraft: The Salem Trials and the American Experience (Pivotal Moments in American History) by Emerson W. Baker (Call #KFM2478.8.W5 B35 2015). The author, a professor of history at Salem State University and former dean of its graduate school, retells the familiar yet puzzling and misunderstood story of the Salem Witch Trials of 1692 when 156 residents of Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk Counties were formally accused of practicing witchcraft, a capital crime. 113 were imprisoned. 20 persons were put to death and at least 5 died in prisons in Boston, Cambridge, Ipswich and Salem. Baker shows how the court functioned in terms of legal process when putting alleged witches on trial and he discusses the pressure put on the accused to confess, perhaps because this would help condone the court’s actions and attitudes. He notes that of the 28 put on trial before judges and jury, 28 were found guilty. The author’s dissection of events is original and persuasive, not least because the importance of political circumstance, legal expediency and personal relationships seems obvious once it is pointed out. Baker reminds us that witchcraft was above all a religious crime, which took on terrifying significance at a time of extreme danger in New England’s history. But his analysis of Salem’s causal roots and painfully enduring ramifications does more than just demystify the trials: it illustrates universal truths about human emotions and their place in modern society.

The table of contents of the 416 page book lists an Introduction: An Old Valuables Chest; Chapter One: Satan’s Storm; Chapter Two: The City upon a Hill; Chapter Three: Drawing Battle Lines in Salem Village; Chapter Four: The Afflicted; Chapter Five: The Accused; Chapter Six: The Judges; Chapter Seven: An Inextinguishable Flame; Chapter Eight: Salem End; Chapter Nine: Witch City? It also includes 16 illustrations: maps and photographs drawn and taken by the author. The Appendices list those persons accused of practicing witchcraft (a contribution from fellow Salem Trials scholar, Margo Burns). There has been serious recent scholarship resulting in significant and accurate findings in this field, particularly since the Tercentenary. In copious notes the author generously pays tribute to those who have come before. This landmark investigation into Salem Witchcraft so skillfully weaves its facts throughout that it reads like an absorbing novel. Emerson Baker’s book provides welcome clarity to complicated events during a specific time in our colonial past. This book represents a major contribution to understanding the Salem Witch Hunt.

Constitution Day

Wednesday, September 17 is Constitution Day and Citizenship Day according to 36 U.S.C. 106 which states its purpose “to commemorate the formation and signing on September 17, 1787, of the Constitution and recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.” The history of Constitution Day goes back to 1952 when Congress passed a joint resolution (66 Stat. 9) that designated September 17 as Citizenship Day. In 1956, another joint resolution (70 Stat. 932) established September 17 through 23 as Constitution Week. Public Law 105-225 revised and codified laws related to “Patriotic and National Observances” as Title 36 of the United States Code in 1998. In 2005, Congress passed Public Law 108-447 that added “Constitution Day” to the law and mandated ” the civil and educational authorities of States, counties, cities, and towns are urged to make plans for the proper observance of Constitution Day and Citizenship Day and for the complete instruction of citizens in their responsibilities and opportunities as citizens of the United States and of the State and locality in which they reside.”

To mark the event at Brooklyn Law School, Constitutional Law Professors Bill Araiza, Joel Gora, Susan Herman, and Andrew Napolitano will conduct a discussion on the most significant Supreme Court cases of the last term. These include the Hobby Lobby case and cases about campaign finance, affirmative action, and cell phone searches. The professors will also address issues likely to come before the Court in the near future, including the status of cases about the right to marriage equality. Students are encouraged to attend and participate in a Q & A with the faculty members.

On Saturday, September 13 at 12:00 pm noon, BLS Professor Susan Herman who serves as ACLU president will appear on the long-running television show Open Mind on PBS Channel THIRTEEN/WNET to consider the 2014 Supreme Court decisions and their impact on individual liberty. She explores the Hobby Lobby case, among others, as well as how to balance privacy and national security concerns. The show will also air on CUNY TV at 9:30 am & 8:30 pm Sundays and 8:00 am & 2:00/8:00 pm Mondays.

ObsoleteThe BLS Library Law Library has an extensive collection of books on the Constitution, its history and interpretation. To locate books on the history of the Constitution, use the SARA catalog to conduct a subject search using the phrase: United States — Constitutional history. Some recent acquisitions in the BLS Library collection include Is the American Constitution Obsolete? by Thomas J. Main (Call #KF4550 .M255 2013), a comprehensive one-volume debate on the pros and cons of our basic law and how it deals with questions such as judicial review, political gridlock, direct election of the president and the future of the electoral college. It is ideal reading for courses that cover the Constitution.

CitizenAnother recent acquisition to the BLS Library collection on the subject is A Citizen’s Guide to the Constitution and the Supreme Court: Constitutional Conflict in American Politics by Morgan Marietta (Call #KF4550.Z9 M275 2014). The author provides an overview of the perspectives from the leading schools of constitutional interpretation–textualism, common law constitutionalism, originalism, and living constitutionalism. He discusses the points of conflict and competing schools of thought in the context of several landmark cases and ends with advice to readers on how to interpret constitutional issues ourselves.

Gettysburg Address: 150th Anniversary

On November 19, 1863, Abraham Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, site of the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War in July of that with more than 7000 killed. Gettysburg attorney David Wills and local officials planned an elaborate dedication ceremony for a national cemetery for the fallen soldiers, inviting state governors, members of Congress, and cabinet members, and prominent orator Edward Everett as the keynote speaker. At the last minute, Willis asked President Lincoln to make a few remarks probably thinking he would not attend or simply deliver a few platitudes. But President Lincoln delivered a two-minute speech that redefined the nation. In a mere ten sentences of about 270 words, Lincoln delivered one of the most important political speeches in American history, one often called the Second Declaration of Independence.

Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long endure. We are met on a great battlefield of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field as a final resting-place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground. The brave men, living and dead who struggled here have consecrated it far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us–that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion–that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain, that this nation under God shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth.

Lincoln's CounselThe Gettysburg Address still matters today. Brooklyn Law School Library’s copy of Lincoln’s Counsel: Lessons from America’s Most Persuasive Speaker by Arthur Rizer (Call # KF368.L52 R59 2010), calls it the Greatest Closing Argument Ever Made: “Even today, brevity in closing arguments isn’t universally appreciated. If an attorney gave a three-minute closing argument, he may be sued for malpractice. Despite this, with the Gettysburg Address, Lincoln used his skills as a persuasive litigator to breathe life into a cause that was costing so much human life. The speech was more than simple dedicatory remarks for a memorial site. He set out a position that advocated why his position was correct, much as a lawyer does in making a closing argument, and he did it quickly and beautifully.”  More importantly, President Lincoln rededicated the nation to the principle of human equality, and to a government that reflected that equality by advancing the economic interests of all Americans. Now, as then, most Americans back Lincoln’s vision and now, as then, some still oppose those principles for both racial and economic reasons.

Lord Mansfield: Justice in the Age of Reason

Brooklyn Law School Professor of Law Emeritus Norman Poser is a widely-respected expert in both international and domestic securities regulation and the author of Broker-Dealer Law and Regulation, International Securities Regulation: London’s “Big Bang,” and the European Securities Markets. Before joining Brooklyn Law School’s faculty in 1980, he worked for the American Stock Exchange as Executive Vice President for Legal and Regulatory Affairs and Senior Vice President of Policy Planning and Government Relations. Professor Poser also served as Assistant Director of the Division of Trading and Markets of the United States Securities and Exchange Commission. He has worked as a consultant and expert witness on a wide variety of matters, including engagements in connection with securities litigations and arbitrations for the New York State Attorney General, the World Bank, the Organization of American States, the United States Agency for International Development, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and several prominent securities exchanges.

Lord MansfieldProf. Poser recently published Lord Mansfield: Justice in the Age of Reason available in the BLS Library’s International Collection (Call # KD621.M3 P68 2013). The book is the first modern biography of Lord Mansfield (1705–1793). In it Prof. Poser details the life and times of the great 18th-century judge and statesman, whose legacy continues to have a unique influence on Anglo-American law and society. The son of a minor Scottish nobleman who skirted charges of treason, Mansfield rose through English society to become a member of its ruling aristocracy, confidential advisor to two kings, and friend to statesmen, poets, artists, actors, bishops, soldiers, and members of the nobility. His extraordinary political career – both before and during his unprecedented 32-year tenure as Chief Justice of England – offers a portrait of a fascinating era.

On Wednesday, November 7, 2013 at 6pm in the Subotnick Center at 250 Joralemon Street, there will be a Book Launch followed by a Reception. Those wanting to attend this event are urged to RSVP online at before Tuesday, November 5. There is no charge for this event. Copies of the book will be available for purchase. Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published a review of Prof. Poser’s book. The review can be found at this link.

National Archives Launches Founders Online Website

ffThis free online tool brings together the papers of George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Alexander Hamilton, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison in a single website that gives a first-hand account of the growth of democracy and the birth of the Republic.

Founders Online was created through a cooperative agreement between the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC), the grant-making arm of the National Archives, and The University of Virginia (UVA) Press.

In its initial phase, Founders Online contains nearly 120,000 fully searchable documents. When it is complete, it will include approximately 175,000 documents in this living monument to America’s Founding Era.

Check it out for historical gossip, intrigue, and political insights.