Justice Ginsburg on Empowering Oral Argument

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Legal Practice, Public, U.S. Supreme Court
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Justice GinsburgAn interview with Justice Ginsburg appears in the October issue of Elle magazine.  In the article, Justice Ginsburg describes her first oral argument before the United States Supreme Court.  Any advocate could relate to her story:

I had, I think, 12 minutes, or something like that, of argument.  I was very nervous.  In those days, the court sat from 10 to 12, and 1 to 3.  It was an afternoon argument.  I didn’t dare eat lunch.  There were many butterflies in my stomach.  I had a very well-prepared opening sentence I had memorized.  Looking at them, I thought, I’m talking to the most important court in the land, and they have to listen to me and that’s my captive audience.

Justice Ginsburg argued on behalf of Sharon Frontiero in Frontiero v. Richardson.  In that case the Court held that the United States military could not differentiate on the basis of gender in how it provides benefits to service members’ families.

In the interview, Justice Ginsburg recounts that as she spoke before the Court during oral argument her confidence grew:

I felt a sense of empowerment because I knew so much more about the case, the issue, than they did.  So I relied on myself as kind of a teacher to get them to think about gender.

 

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Hallows Lecture Examines Little Noted, but Pivotal Civil Rights Decision

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Legal History, Public, Race & Law, Speakers at Marquette
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“Remarkable but relatively obscure” – that’s how Judge Paul T. Watford of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit described the 1945 U.S. Supreme Court decision, Screws v. United States. In presenting Marquette Law School’s annual Hallows Lecture on March 4, Judge Watford aimed to lift the decision from some of its obscurity and increase awareness of “the birth of federal civil rights enforcement,” as the title of his lecture put it.

The case began with the vicious and fatal beating of Robert Hall, an African-American man, by M. Claude Screws, the sheriff of Baker County, Ga., and two of Screws’ deputies. Judge Watford said the circumstances of Hall’s death provide a window into how African Americans of that era had to live with the “ever-present reality” of unwarranted violence against them by white law enforcement officers. Even given the many witnesses to Hall’s death, Georgia authorities declined to prosecute Screws and his deputies. But, in what Watford described as an unusual development for that time, a federal indictment was issued against them for violating Hall’s civil rights.

Ultimately, a splintered Supreme Court did not do all that civil rights advocates would have wanted, but the justices upheld the application in situations such as this of 18 U.S.C. § 242, prohibiting violation of civil rights by someone acting under the color of law. The majority of justices rejected the argument that civil rights violations were a matter to be left to the states, although no single opinion commanded a majority.

“Had Screws come out the other way, and been decided against the federal government, federal civil rights enforcement would have been stifled,” Watford said. “Instead, it was given new life, and that helped change the course of history, particularly in the South, in the second half of the twentieth century.”  Read more »

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The Link Between the Kennedy Assassination and the Onset of Beatlemania

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This past November, there were seemingly endless efforts to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the assassination of President John Kennedy.  Now (Feb. 9) we are in the midst of a similar celebration and reexamination of the 50th anniversary of arrival of the rock and roll band the Beatles in the United States and their initial appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show.

Both of these efforts reflect the boundless enthusiasm of the Baby Boom generation for the celebration of the cultural landmarks of its childhood and adolescence.

These two events, occurring about 2 ½ months apart, are more closely linked than most people appreciate.  Had it none been for the tragic events of November 22, 1963, Beatlemania would probably have arrived in the United States even earlier than it did. Read more »

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Violence in the Heartland, Part III: City Trends

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal History, Milwaukee, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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In earlier posts (here and here), I have explored state-level violence trends since 1960 in the seven midwestern states of Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, and Wisconsin.  This post focuses on the data from the largest city of each of these states.  Since Chicago does not report its rape numbers in conformity with FBI standards, it is omitted from the analysis.

Here are the city trends since 1985 (reported violent crimes per 100,000 residents):

city data

What stands out most is the very wide, persistent gap between Detroit at the top of the chart and Des Moines at the bottom.   Read more »

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Violence in the Heartland, 1960-2012–Part Two: Crime Wave or Aggravated Assault Wave?

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In the first post in this series, I described overall violent crime trends in the seven Midwestern states since 1960. In all of the states except for Wisconsin, the basic story was identical: a dramatic spike in violent crime between the mid-1960s and the mid-1990s was followed by a subsequent drop in violence that was nearly as sharp as the increases had been. Wisconsin had the spike, but not the sustained drop of the other states.

In this post, I disaggregate the four categories of crime that go into the overall violence number. Doing so changes the story a bit, as we can see that aggravated assault was by far the biggest driver of the violence spike, and since then has remained stubbornly high. From the standpoint of homicide and robbery, the contemporary Midwest looks only a little more dangerous than the Midwest of 1960; it is only when we add to the picture aggravated assault (and, to a lesser extent, rape) that the data look much worse. There are interesting and uncertain questions about the extent to which these a/a numbers reflect genuine changes in criminal behavior, as to opposed to changes in crime-reporting.

Before considering those questions, let’s look at the numbers.  First, consider the seven-state trends for homicide rate (that is, homicides per 100,000 residents):   Read more »

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“The Past Is a Foreign Country” — Or Is It?

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal History, Legal Scholarship, Marquette Law School, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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dean bookI’ve recently finished reading Dean Strang’s fascinating new book, “Worse Than the Devil: Anarchists, Clarence Darrow, and Justice in a Time of Terror.”  The book recounts the story of a once-famous (or infamous) criminal case that was tried in Milwaukee nearly a century ago.  The case arose from a short, armed skirmish between police and residents of Milwaukee’s largely Italian, working-class Bay View neighborhood in September 1917. In the wake of that violence, police indiscriminately arrested dozens of Italian immigrants, ultimately resulting in the trial of eleven suspected anarchists in November 1917 on charges of assault with intent to murder.

America’s recent entry into the First World War had already created a public atmosphere that was hardly favorable to immigrants and political dissidents, but a terrible local tragedy may have wiped out any remaining hope that the defendants would receive a fair trial.  Just days before the jury was selected, a bomb exploded in a Milwaukee police station, killing ten — America’s single greatest loss of officers in the line of duty before 9/11. Although the Bay View defendants were not formally charged with this crime — indeed, the case was never solved and no one was ever formally charged — the bombing was widely believed to be the work of the defendants’ supporters.

Little wonder that all of the defendants were convicted on a dubious conspiracy theory in a trial that reeked of pro-prosecution bias from start to finish.   Read more »

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Wisconsin and the Repeal of Prohibition

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Category: Constitutional Law, Legal History, Milwaukee, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System
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prohibition_ends_at_lastThis past December 5 marked the 80th anniversary of the repeal of Prohibition, America’s experiment in the creation of an alcohol-free society.

Prohibition officially ended in 1933 with the ratification of the 21st Amendment to the United States Constitution. The new Amendment repealed the earlier 18th Amendment, which had made the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages illegal in the United States.

The repeal of Prohibition is an event that has been celebrated daily in Wisconsin for the past eight decades.

Somewhat remarkably, Wisconsin, long associated with the production of alcoholic spirits, did actually vote for Prohibition. On January 17, 1919, in the wake of intense anti-German sentiment throughout the United States and in the aftermath of World War I, in which the U.S. government had used its war powers to sharply curtail the production of alcoholic beverages, the Wisconsin legislature approved the 18th Amendment by a majority vote. However, in “defense” of the legislature, Wisconsin’s approval did not come until after the Prohibition Amendment had already been ratified by the requisite number of states to bring it into law. Read more »

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Violence in the Heartland, 1960-2012–Part One

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Category: Criminal Law & Process, Legal History, Public, Wisconsin Criminal Law & Process
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Despite their geographical proximity and economic and cultural similarities, the states of the Midwest have had very different rates of violent crime over the past five decades.  Moreover, through periods of dramatic increases and decreases in violent crime, the relative positions of the states have remained fairly stable.  The low-violence states in 1960 remain at the low end today, while the high-violence states in 1960 remain at the high end today.  However, the gap between the high states and low states has been slowly diminishing for many years.  In another decade, the state that has historically had the highest rate of violence, Illinois, may conceivably fall to about the same level as the state that has historically had the lowest, Iowa.

Readers of this Blog may know that I have previously written a series of posts on crime and punishment in three midwestern states, Indiana, Minnesota, and Wisconsin (e.g., here and here).  With this post, I begin a new series that will explore regional trends more broadly.  With violent crime such a staple of local news coverage, I think it’s helpful to be able to place the crime du jour within a wider spatial and temporal context; perhaps this bigger-picture view may lessen the tendency to adopt hastily conceived policy responses to whatever happens to be the latest outrage.

Here are the rates of reported violent crime (per 100,000 residents) in the midwestern states and the U.S. as a whole since 1960:

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Remembering a Classic Work of Constitutional History

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November 2013 marks the centennial of Charles Beard’s An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States, arguably the most important book written on the United States Constitution other than the Federalist Papers. Few works of historical scholarship have ever so dramatically transformed the scholarly (if not the public) debate over the meaning of a major American event.

At the time of the publication of An Economic Interpretation, the Indiana-born Beard was a 39-year-old Associate Professor of Political Science at Columbia University, the school from which he had received his Ph.D. in 1904. As his title suggested, his new book argued that the framers of the United States Constitution of 1787 had been motivated, not exclusively by nationalistic or democratic concerns, but by the desire to protect the property rights of wealthy Americans, especially those (including themselves) who had invested in federal bonds and had speculated in western lands. Read more »

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Lincoln and JFK

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JFK and LincolnPBS documentary Lincoln@Gettysburg paints a vivid picture of Lincoln and those close to him in the days surrounding his oration at Gettysburg. Lincoln’s wife Mary Todd begged him not to leave for Gettysburg because their young son Tad was seriously ill. He went anyway. Lincoln’s valet, William Johnson, an African-American free man, accompanied Lincoln to Gettysburg and listened to Lincoln practice his speech that morning. Lincoln left Gettysburg with a fever and came down with smallpox. Johnson died weeks later from smallpox after caring for Lincoln. Lincoln chose the inscription “Citizen” on Johnson’s tombstone, and Johnson was buried at Arlington cemetery.

And, Lincoln knew that his speech, just ten sentences long, would be transmitted by telegraph and printed in newspapers across the nation. Lincoln, in those ten sentences, was reaching out to the people at the Gettysburg ceremony, but he was also reaching out to the nation. It was unusual for presidents to give this type of speech in those days, but Lincoln accepted the invitation to speak at Gettysburg. Lincoln, it could be said, was a (social) media genius.

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Lincoln’s Anti-Slavery Gettysburg Address

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Category: Constitutional Law, Legal History, Public
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As Professor Mazzie has noted, today, November 19, 2013—the day that I am writing this—is the 150th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s brief but iconic Gettysburg Address. Rereading its text earlier today, I was reminded how committed the speech was to the cause of emancipation. Although most of the Union dead at Gettysburg were there to save the Union, not to abolish slavery, it was clear that the emancipation of African-American slaves was very much on Lincoln’s mind when he penned the famous words.

The references to slavery are admittedly somewhat oblique, and the word ‘slavery” is never used. However, the phrase “a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” which is prominently featured as the second half of the Address’ opening sentence, clearly refers to the famous, and then not yet fully realized, words of the slaveholder Thomas Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. In the middle section of the work, Lincoln subtly indicates that the nation for which the Gettysburg dead made the final sacrifice was not the United States of 1860 reunited, but that unrealized nation of the Declaration, committed to liberty and equality. Read more »

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This Week’s Other Presidential Anniversary

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There’s a lot of hullabaloo over the 50th Anniversary of the Kennedy assassination and who or who is not visiting the Kennedy grave at Arlington tomorrow. The noise of politics often drowns out the things to which we should be paying attention, and the politics of grave visiting is certainly unimportant compared with the reality of what happened fifty years ago in Dallas. With all the noise from this and other things, the anniversary of another event is getting less fanfare, perhaps because it did not occur within recent memory.

One hundred-fifty years ago today, on November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln delivered one of the greatest speeches of all time – the Gettysburg Address. The speech is vintage Lincoln – brief, yet powerful. Of all the things that have been said about it, I like best the remarks of the man who delivered what was supposed to be the keynote speech of the day, Edward Everett, who wrote Lincoln the next day to say “I should be glad if I could flatter myself that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, in two hours, as you did in two minutes.”

Perhaps the best way to observe the anniversary is to take two minutes to re-read the address. The Library of Congress has an excellent online exhibit where one can view actual drafts of Gettysburg Address in Lincoln’s own hand, the Everett letter, and photographs of the event. Unlike the Kennedy anniversary, there is no video or footage of Walter Cronkite covering the event. But, on the plus side, there are no pundits speculating about what the observation of this anniversary means for the 2016 presidential race – I hope.

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