Women in Wisconsin Law: Jessie Jack Hooper

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This is the third part of a three-part series on Women in Wisconsin Law. 

Not all women who were influential in Wisconsin law were lawyers. Among these influential women was Jessie Jack Hooper, a suffragist and politician who made history by running for one of Wisconsin’s seats in the United States Senate in 1922.

Jessie Jack Hooper was born on a farm in Iowa in 1865. In 1888, she married Ben Hooper and moved to Oshkosh, Wisconsin, to begin a new chapter of her life. Mr. Hooper, a graduate from Columbia University Law School, was extremely supportive of his wife’s passion for the women’s suffrage movement. Even before women were given the right to vote, Mr. Hooper went to great lengths to share his right to vote with his wife. One year he would vote as he saw fit, and then the next year, he would vote according to his wife’s wishes.

Once in Oshkosh, Hooper joined a variety of progressive movements in the state, including the Women’s Club and the Wisconsin Federation of Women’s Clubs. Although she was active in a variety of organizations, she was primarily involved in the women’s suffrage movement as a member of the executive board of the National American Woman’s Suffrage Association. Read more »




Women in Wisconsin Law: Olga Bennett

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This is the second part of a three part series on Women in Wisconsin Law.

Although women were admitted to practice law in Wisconsin in 1879, it would be over one hundred years until the state’s first elected female county judge.  In 1970, Olga Bennett, a native of Vernon County, was the first woman elected and sworn in as a county judge in Wisconsin.

Bennett was born on May 5, 1908, in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Education played an important role throughout Bennett’s life.  In 1925 she graduated from Viroqua High School, and in 1928, she graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Wisconsin.  After taking time following her undergraduate studies to work at a local bank, she returned to her studies four years later.  After spending a semester at the Madison Business School, Bennett enrolled at the University of Wisconsin Law School in Madison, Wisconsin.  In 1935, she graduated from law school and was admitted to the state bar.

Upon graduating, Bennett served as a law clerk for State Supreme Court Justice John D. Wickham for five years.  Following this clerkship, she went into business with her father, who was also an attorney.  Together they ran the Bennett and Bennett law firm.  Before being elected to serve as a judge, Bennett held various positions in the legal community, including serving as the first female city attorney of Viroqua.

Although one might have expected that a larger county in the state, such as Madison or Milwaukee, would have been the first to elect a female county judge, it was small Vernon County with a population of only 28,000 that holds this title.  In April 1969, Bennett ran and was elected to the bench in Vernon County (courthouse pictured above at left), defeating incumbent County Judge Larry Sieger who was appointed by the governor in 1968.  In 1970, she took the oath of office and became the second woman to serve as a judge in Wisconsin.   Read more »




Women in Wisconsin Law: Lavinia Goodell

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This is the first part of a three-part series on Women in Wisconsin Law. 

Throughout Wisconsin’s history, women have played an instrumental role in the development of the state’s legal system. Among these women was Lavinia Goodell of Janesville, the first woman admitted to practice law in Wisconsin.

Before her move to Wisconsin, Goodell worked as an editor for several newspapers in New York. During this time, Goodell confided in a coworker that her life’s ambition was to become a lawyer. When Goodell’s parents retired to Janesville, Wisconsin, in 1871, she was convinced into joining them with her father’s promise that she would be able to study law. Upon arriving in Wisconsin, Goodell’s father helped his daughter find attorneys who would permit her to study law alongside them through an apprenticeship. After demonstrating her ability to successfully practice law as an apprentice, Goodell sought admission before the local circuit court and, with the support of several prominent local lawyers, was admitted to practice in the Circuit Court of Rock County, Wisconsin, in 1874.

After being admitted to practice law at this local level, Goodell opened her own law office that primarily represented woman and the elderly. Despite being able to practice at this local level without much difficulty, one of Goodell’s cases in 1875 was appealed to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. When the supreme court did not allow her to argue the case, Goodell filed an application for state admission.   Read more »




A New Era: The Rule of Law in the Trump Administration

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Well, here we are, January 20, 2017, and Donald J. Trump has been sworn in as this nation’s 45th president, though he achieved that position by losing the popular vote by the widest margin of any winning candidate in recent history (2.9 million more people voted for Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton), and he arrives at his new position with the lowest approval rating of any president in recent history.

As numerous others before me have written, President Trump’s campaign was not traditional in any number of ways, and I expect that his presidency will follow that trend. For some, that’s been the whole point. For others, that’s a less-than-inspiring harbinger. I wrote this summer about my concern about the candidate’s rhetoric, proposed policies, and the rule of law.

Though he has since backed off some of his campaign promises (for example, about having a special prosecutor investigate rival Clinton for her use of a private email server—a favorite chant at his rallies was “Lock her up!”), nothing since that time has changed my view. I continue to believe that the president won’t be appreciably different from the candidate. Read more »




How Did We Get Here?

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Part Six of a Six Part series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

In an age where the presidential vote is relatively close, a two-party system dominates politics, and the average voter recognizes that voting for an independent/splinter candidate has no real shot at electoral success, is this really what the framers intended in 1787 when drafting the Constitution of the United States?

Doubtful.

Not only was the Electoral College system problematic almost from the moment it left the starting block, but the election process has grown more complicated, more winner-takes-all, and more divisive than perhaps the delegates could ever have imagined.

For instance, in 1797, Ththomas_jefferson_by_rembrandt_peale_1800omas Jefferson, the then-sitting Vice President, wrote a letter to his colleague, Edward Rutledge, in which Jefferson reported that the mood of the nation’s capital had become politically divisive:

“The passions are too high at present, to be cooled in our day. You & I have formerly seen warm debates and high political passions. But gentlemen of different politics would then speak to each other, & separate the business of the Senate from that of society. It is not so now. Men who have been intimate all their lives, cross the streets to avoid meeting, & turn their heads another way, lest they should be obliged to touch their hats. This may do for young men with whom passion is enjoyment. But it is afflicting to peaceable minds. Tranquility is the old man’s milk.” (Jefferson to Rutledge, June 24, 1797, in Jefferson, Papers, 29:456-57.)

Does Jefferson’s report of a political divide — in 1797! — sound familiar when looking at today’s election debate?

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The Teachings of Elections Past

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john_quincy_adams_-_copy_of_1843_philip_haas_daguerreotypePart Five of a Six Part series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

In the run-up to Election Day, maps of the United States will be colored in as red or blue. This so-called “electoral map” is the focus of all the debate, particularly for the presidency, with pundits asking what color the “swing states” will shade. Of course, the maps don’t show green, purple, or even different tints of red or blue. There are only two colors, red or blue. So why is that?

Without getting too far in the weeds, as it were, and from a political science view, the shading is based on the “winner-takes-all” principle. One party wins and everyone else loses. When a party loses, that party is without representation. Weaker parties are pressured to join a more dominant party in hopes of gaining a voice. This leads to party-dominance. Voters learn that, because of party dominance, voting for a third party candidate is ineffectual to the result, and hence alignment into a two-party race between winners and losers.

And, in terms of the presidency, by devising a system of “electors” as opposed to popular vote, history teaches us that an indirect electoral-election scheme can lead to odd results.

The elections of 1876, 1888, and 2000 produced an Electoral College winner who did not receive at least a plurality of the nationwide popular vote. What did this mean? It meant that in 2000, Al Gore received 543,895 more popular votes than George Bush, yet lost the election. The same was true for Samuel J. Tilden (New York) losing to Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876 and Grover Cleveland (New York), the incumbent President, losing to Benjamin Harrison (Indiana) in 1888.

There is also tie-breaker history. Per the Twelfth Amendment, a candidate must receive an absolute majority of electoral votes (currently 270) to win the presidency. If no candidate receives a majority of electoral votes in the election, the election is determined by the House of Representatives. The House chooses the President from one of the top three presidential electoral vote-winners. (A run-off vote for Vice President belongs to the Senate.)

As to a run-off presidential vote, this has happened only once since 1804. Read more »




The School Of Electoral College

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Part Four of a Six Part serwashington_constitutional_convention_1787ies on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.  Prior blog posts mentioned party-politics as having emerged during the Constitutional debate — in the framing days of the late eighteenth century, delegates began aligning along federalist and anti-federalist divides. Alignment shaped the compromise that became the Constitution of the United States, with the process of choosing the President — indirectly through electors — an example of compromise at work.

The compromised solution was complicated. Rather than allowing election by the populous or allowing Congress to choose the position, each state was given a number of “electors” and these electors would vote for the President.

Each state was left to determine the manner of selecting their electors, thus allowing the states a role in choosing the president. The electors would choose the president on the same day, all in an effort to even the playing field, as it were, in election and governance.

So how did it work, at least initially?

It was a problem.

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Whom Do I Want As My King?

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2014_1006_1024px-mount_rushmore2_largePart Three of a series on Election Law, providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.  Prior blog posts discussed the lead-up to the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and provided context to the debate over the American system of government. Here is further context.  For a more in depth discussion and a great read — upon which much of this blog finds its genesis — look to Ray Raphael’s book Mr. President: How and Why the Founders Created a Chief Executive (2012).

I begin with the delegates. Think of it like this: If you were a wealthy American landowner in the late eighteenth century, and held a position of prominence for some time, you probably wanted to ensure that, whatever government governed, your status remained unchanged. Should not your vote count a little more than someone else? Can we really let the people select of our elected officials?

On these basic questions the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were either conflicted, or outright opposed. As Roger Sherman, the representative from Connecticut proclaimed, “The people immediately should have as little to do as may be about the government. They want information and are constantly liable to be misled.” On the flip side was Alexander Hamilton who touted the “genius of the people” in qualifying the electorate.

Basically, even if a Constitutional Convention delegate agreed to a national government and an “executive branch” to that government, he still had open questions as to what should it look like, how much power it would have, and who would decide the person/persons for such an office.

So how did the delegates get from point A to point B? First, the delegates took the unusual move of calling for secrecy in their debates, something unheard of then and which continues to be a source of confounding discussion even in today’s society; in 1787, and as often argued today, the delegates wanted the freedom to speak freely.

Second, the delegates used England’s King George III as a counter-point to an executive. They wanted no part of a monarchy, or despotic leader, yet needed the executive position to have some teeth so that it would be recognized internationally and complement intra-national needs. Read more »




What Does It Take to be “United” As States?

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washington_constitutional_convention_1787Part Two of a series providing context to our system of government, our election process and a little history to evaluate and consider in the candidate-debate.

Anyone who has been part of a committee, whether it be in government, business, or even the local PTA, will recognize that the same discussion points come up over, and over, and over again. In the political realm, the issue is largely taxation. In the PTA, it’s fundraising. Between April 15th and the local bake sale, the same discussions are had, year after year after year.

So imagine yourself in May of 1787, at the Constitutional Convention. The topic de jure was the present form of government — the Articles of Confederation — and how to improve on what was, by then, government gridlock (sound familiar?).

Those in attendance had a choice of throwing the baby out with the bathwater, as it were, or improving upon what got them there.

In retrospect, the choice of what to do was clear — out goes the baby — but in 1787 it was as clear as mud.

Keep in mind, the Articles of Confederation were years (decades) in the making, and were fashioned with state-interests in mind. Essentially, the delegates needed to ask themselves who they wanted to govern: themselves as states or a national government with power over the states.

And as the days dragged on, and as the weather changed from comfortable to hot, so too did the debate over what to do, how to do it, and why. Read more »




How Many Years Does It Take to Bake a Constitution?

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articles_of_confederation_13c_1977_issueAs the first Tuesday following the first Monday in November approaches — that is, National Election Day — the talking-head debate intensifies over candidates, politics and what is right/wrong with the American system of governance.  There is one missing piece to the debate — context — that is seldom discussed, or understood. Indeed, if the average voter dislikes the candidates and the election process (something I hear a lot), then it’s time to take a step back and look at the big picture question of how we got here. In what I hope will be a six part series, I will attempt to provide context to our system of government, our election process and, hopefully, a little history to evaluate and consider in your next candidate-debate.

Part One – How Many Years Does it Take to Bake A Constitution?

If you polled the average American citizen, asking if they heard of the Declaration of Independence, most would answer yes. The citizen might even know the year and date — July 4, 1776.

But ask the same citizen when the Constitution of the United States was adopted (which technically means when it was “ratified” by the States), and you’ll likely get a blank stare, an “I don’t know”, or a guess — likely July 4, 1776.

The correct answer to that question is: June 21, 1788. Read more »




America’s First Law School

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V__9AECI had the opportunity in August to spend a day at the Litchfield Law School in Litchfield, Connecticut.  Although several universities enrolled students in law departments during the final decades of the eighteenth century, almost all lawyers of the period prepared for practice by completing apprenticeships in lawyers’ offices.  Attorney and Judge Tapping Reeve thought that education at a formal law school would be a better way for lawyers to prepare, and therefore he founded the Litchfield Law School in 1774.

More than 1,100 students attended the Litchfield Law School before it closed in 1833.  Two of Reeve’s students (Aaron Burr and John C. Calhoun) went on to become Vice President.  Fifteen of the students became governors.  Three of the students became Justices of the Supreme Court of the United States.  Twenty-eight students became United States Senators, and another ninety-seven served in the United States House of Representatives.  Clearly, the Litchfield Law School was important in educating and credentialing a significant portion of the era’s most accomplished lawyers. Read more »




A Different Perspective on Sir Thomas More

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Obelisque_alexanderNext year is the quincentennial of the publication of Thomas More’s Utopia, and celebrations of the book and its author have already begun. More, of course, is a darling of Western culture and politics. He was canonized and is considered the patron saint of politicians and statesmen. Essayist C.K. Chesterton said that More may be “the greatest historical character in English history.”

It therefore comes as a bit of a surprise to learn that More also has a following on the political left. None other than Marx and Engels praised More’s thinking, and Lenin honored him by listing his name on a monument erected in Moscow’s Aleksandrovsky Gardens.

More’s description of an ideal society in Utopia is what leads to the leftist lionizing. His society has no private property, state ownership of the means of production, and extensive welfare programs for the poor and elderly. Because of these public policies, More seems to some to be a “proto-Communist.”

None of these policies are even remotely possible in the contemporary U.S., and the collapse of actual Communist regimes of the late-twentieth century is well-documented. However, More deserves credit for reflecting on what type of socioeconomic structure might produce what type of consciousness. More thought that the population of his utopian society would avoid alienation and adopt a genuinely social worldview rather than a greedy, self-interested individualism.

More was a dreamer. Yet his variety of dialectical materialism remains appealing 500 years after he teased it out – in Latin no less!