The Initial Appeal of Chief Justice John Roberts’ Dissent in Obergefell v. Hodges

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Category: Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Human Rights, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public
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b599a34c0d512e42e3f5277e172bbebcd745dd98Rainbows abounded on the morning of Friday, June 26, 2015, when the United States Supreme Court held 5-4 that same-sex couples have a constitutional right to marry and a right to have their legal marriages recognized in every state.

The Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges was not unexpected. The divide in the Court, too, was not unexpected: Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion for himself, Justice Stephen Breyer, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Justice Elena Kagan, and Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

(An interesting side note: Justice Kennedy, a 1988 Reagan nominee, has authored all four of the major SCOTUS cases on lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights: Romer v. Evans, Lawrence v. Texas, United States v. Windsor, and now Obergefall v. Hodges. As well, three of those cases were handed down on June 26Lawrence on 6/26/03; Windsor on 6/26/13; Obergefell on 6/26/15).

When I first read the Obergefell decision, I found myself skeptical. Make no mistake: I fully agree with and welcome the holding. However, I was concerned about the Court’s reasoning. My first thought, upon reading the opinion, was to wonder why the Court did not base its holding more on the Equal Protection Clause, like Judge Richard Posner did in his opinion in Baskin v. Bogan, 766 F.3d 648 (7th Cir. 2014). That seemed to me to be the easiest argument. There is simply no compelling justification for the State to distinguish between opposite-sex and same-sex couples when it comes to marriage.

So, when I got to Chief Justice John Roberts’ dissent, it initially made some sense to me, and I could envision its appeal to many others. Read more »

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Stanley Kutler, American Legal Historian

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Stanley KutlerThe obituaries for Stanley Kutler, a retired University of Wisconsin professor who passed away on April 7, tended to stress Kutler’s large role in obtaining public access to the Nixon Watergate tapes. Only 63 hours of those tapes had been released before Kutler’s lawsuit against the National Archives and Records Administration, but his efforts resulted in the release of more than 3,000 additional hours. Kutler and other scholars were then able to use material on the tapes to detail the Nixon Administration’s frequent and sometimes shocking abuses of political power.

Unfortunately, the obituaries largely overlooked Kutler’s decades of extraordinary work as a legal historian. His numerous books and articles include Judicial Power and Reconstruction Politics (1969), Privilege and Creative Destruction: The Charles River Bridge Case (1971), and American Inquisition: Justice and Injustice in the Cold War (1984). All of these works explored specific cases in the context of broader historical movements. The facts and social complexities of the cases were always more important for Kutler than were the rules and corollaries spouted from one appellate bench or another.

Kutler’s work as a legal historian placed him at the center of the “new legal history” that emerged during the 1960s. Read more »

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A Rebellion of Giants: Dixon, Ryan, and Taming the Railroads in the Gilded Age

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Category: Legal History, Public, Wisconsin Law & Legal System, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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Chief Justice Luther S. Dixon

Chief Justice
Luther S. Dixon

This is the fifth in a series of Schoone Fellowship Field Notes.

Eastern jurists such as John Marshall, James Kent, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Benjamin Cardozo have received the lion’s share of attention from law professors and historians over the years. Two fellow giants from the Midwest, Michigan’s Thomas Cooley and Iowa’s John Dillon, have been relegated to comparative obscurity.

Cooley and Dillon played a central role in shaping the contours of modern American constitutional law. They forged their philosophies in the heat of two critical judicial debates over the role of railroads in American society. Two Wisconsin justices, Luther Dixon and Edward Ryan, were also leaders in those debates, and their contributions to American constitutional law deserve to be better known. Read more »

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Wisconsin: The Final Firework in the Antislavery Legal Movement

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Lemuel Shaw

Mass. Chief Justice
Lemuel Shaw

This is the fourth in a series of Schoone Fellowship Field Notes.

Putting Wisconsin’s antislavery heritage in perspective. Wisconsin takes great pride in its antislavery heritage, particularly the Northwest Ordinance (1787), which ensured that Wisconsin would be a free state, and the Booth Cases (1854, 1859), in which Wisconsin stood alone in defying the federal government’s attempt to turn northerners into slavecatchers. This pride is justified but needs perspective. When Wisconsin arrived on the American stage as a new state (1848), American slavery was two centuries old and the legal reaction against slavery had been underway for 70 years. The Booth Cases were important, but they were merely the final fireworks in the drama of American law and slavery. Read more »

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Early Wisconsin Law: A New York State of Mind

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Chancellor James Kent

Chancellor James Kent

This is the third in a series of Schoone Fellowship Field Notes.

Legal cross-currents among states. Measuring the legal influence states have on each other is an intriguing but difficult task. Some scholars have approached the task by measuring the number of times a state’s supreme court decisions are cited in other states. Typically they have used these numbers to rank each state and have left it there. Little consideration has been given to regional variations in influence or changes in influence over time, or to the fact that judges rely on legal treatises as well as other courts’ decisions.

I have gone further, measuring case and treatise citations at 20-year intervals from 1800 to 1860. The book I am writing as part of the Schoone Fellowship will present these results in full. New York, as expected, was the most influential state but, surprisingly, American courts also relied heavily on English cases heavily until the 1840s. The numbers present a striking picture of America’s increasing reliance on its own law: Read more »

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Lighting Out for the Territories

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Judge James Doty

Judge James Doty

This is the second in a series of Schoone Fellowship Field Notes.

Territorial judges: an overlooked force in American law. As Willard Hurst observed, during the past 150 years lawyers have been implementers rather than creators of law. We whose days are spent staring at a screen and poring over paperwork sometimes wish we could take a way-back machine to the days of legal creationism, if only for a little while. Yet an important group of creators—judges appointed from Washington, starting in the 1780s, to establish the law in America’s far-flung, largely unsettled new territories—are nearly forgotten today. Territorial judges were often, in the words of the French observer Achille Murat, “the refuse of other tribunals” or seekers after sinecures, and if they are remembered at all it is as much for their escapades as for their jurisprudence. But some of the territorial judges, including Wisconsin’s James Doty, stand out in American political and legal history, and the vital contributions they made to institutionalizing American law are often overlooked. The book being written under the Schoone Fellowship’s auspices will attempt to remedy that. Read more »

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Has Wisconsin Produced Any Great Judges?

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Category: Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Public, Wisconsin Supreme Court
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winslow

Chief Justice
John B. Winslow

As announced this past summer, Joseph A. Ranney is serving as Marquette Law School’s Schoone Visiting Fellow in Wisconsin Law and using the occasion to write a book examining the role states have played in the evolution of American law, with a focus on the contributions made by Wisconsin. In a series of blog posts this semester, Professor Ranney will offer some Schoone Fellowship Field Notes. This is the first.

What makes a great judge? Who are the great state judges? Thousands of judges have helped build the edifice that is American state law. Only a few have received great acclaim. What are the elements of judicial greatness, and has Wisconsin produced any great judges? Let me consider the matter, excluding any current or recent judges. Read more »

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The Wisdom of King Theodoric

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Category: Legal Education, Legal History, Legal Practice, Legal Profession, Marquette Law School, Public, Speakers at Marquette
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theodoricYesterday I was honored to speak at the mid-year graduation ceremony at Eckstein Hall.  Twenty three graduating students and hundreds of friends and family came together with Dean Kearney, faculty and administrators to celebrate the event.  What follows are my prepared remarks.

Dean, fellow faculty, invited guests, and most importantly, December graduates.  I am honored to be with you on such a momentous day.

Class of 2014, today is the day that you thought would never come.  Today is the day that you embark on your legal careers.  Even in normal times, the transition from law school to practice can be an anxiety-inducing event.  But these are not normal times.

The practice of law has been undergoing significant change in recent years.  Venerable old law firms, with names over a century old, are disappearing, through merger and bankruptcy.  It seems that lawyers are better known for their television commercials than for their legal arguments.  And the basic day to day legal work that law firms have traditionally relied upon to meet their overhead is now being outsourced offshore to cheaper lawyers in New Delhi and Manila.

I doubt that someone of my generation can even understand the challenges that you will face in your future careers, much less presume to offer you any advice on how to meet those challenges.

Let me give you some idea of how the practice of law has changed over the last quarter of a century.  When I graduated from law school in 1988, I went to work at a large law firm (at a job that I expected to have for my entire career).  I wrote briefs in longhand on yellow legal pads, and gave the sheets to a secretarial pool for typing.  And if I wanted to do any online legal research, I had to go to the firm’s sole designated Lexis terminal, which was located in the law firm library and which was hardwired via phone line straight into Lexis headquarters (because there was no such thing as the internet). Read more »

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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.

 

Read more »

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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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