This Day in Legal History—Alabama Statehood and a New Era of Slavery Compromises

On December 14, 1819, Alabama was admitted to the Union as the twenty-second state. The admission itself was not especially remarkable. Various parts of present-day Alabama had been settled by the French (and later the British) since the early 1700s, and explored by the Spanish as early as the 1540s. The territory to the west, moreover, had already been admitted as the states of Mississippi (1817) and Louisiana (1814). Not least important, Alabama’s soil and climate were amenable to cotton production, which was accelerating due to technological innovation and increased demand, such that the years preceding Alabama’s statehood had seen substantial growth in the region’s population.

What made Alabama’s admission significant, politically and constitutionally, was the situation it then posed for Congress regarding the admission of subsequent states, particularly west of the Mississippi River. Specifically, the nation was now evenly divided between free and slave states, having eleven of each. Given a federal Senate based on equal voting for every state regardless of population, this resulting parity of free and slave states made the admission of any additional state an opportunity either to expand or to restrict slavery. The South especially perceived the need to maintain parity as its influence in the House of Representatives declined relative to the North, which was experiencing (and would continue to experience) more immigration as well as greater industrial and economic growth.

This dynamic, in turn, set the stage for a new era of anti- and pro-slavery compromises and eventually—as these compromises less and less alleviated sectional tensions—a rather bloody civil war.

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Legal Anomalies in Federal Indian Law, Part II—Tribal Jurisdiction Over Non-Indians

Federal Indian Law—the legal provisions and doctrines governing the respective statuses of, and relations among, the federal, state, and tribal governments—is replete with seeming anomalies when compared to the background of typical domestic law in the United States. The purpose of this post, and of the series of which it is a part, is to identify and examine such anomalies in an effort to acquaint readers with the metes and bounds of Federal Indian Law, while shedding some light on the origins and perhaps the future of this unique legal realm.

The prior post examined one such anomaly, namely, the permissibility of the government’s differential treatment of Indian tribes and their members despite the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. In this, the second installment in the series, another topic of significant contemporary interest will be surveyed. This is the oddly diminished character of Indian tribal sovereignty and, in particular, the extent to which tribes, in their own territories, lack criminal and civil authority over non-Indians or non-tribal members.

The capacity to enact and enforce laws is, of course, one of the hallmarks of sovereignty within the Western political tradition. This includes both criminal laws and civil laws, the latter often being divided into powers of regulation, taxation, and adjudication. It is typically accepted, moreover, that the reach of a sovereign’s laws extends along two axes: citizenship and territory. That is, the sovereign has the authority to govern not only its citizens but also all others who enter its territory. Thus, for example, inquiries into the jurisdiction of courts over a person or his property ordinarily entail an examination of the person’s citizenship and/or the relationship between the person’s conduct or property and the territory of the sovereign to which the courts belong.

In recent decades, however, Indian tribal sovereignty has increasingly been confined to a single axis—that of citizenship—leaving tribes largely powerless to enforce their laws against non-Indians who, within the tribe’s territory, commit criminal conduct or engage in activities that would normally be susceptible to regulation, taxation, or adjudication. Perhaps surprisingly, the institution primarily responsible for this diminishing conception of tribal sovereignty is not Congress, which the Supreme Court has repeatedly described as having “plenary power” over Indian affairs, but rather the Court itself.

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Religious Objections to Autopsies—A Virtual Solution?

“[I]n this world,” wrote Benjamin Franklin famously, “nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Were we to add a third certainty to the list, it might be that law will have something to say about the other two. To be sure, the law has quite a bit to say about death, including a mandate, under certain circumstances, to determine the cause of one’s demise.

Often such determinations entail autopsies or postmortem examinations, but sometimes these examinations are offensive to the decedent’s religious beliefs or to those of surviving family members. In such situations, it has frequently been the case that the religious beliefs have had to yield to the interests of the government or the public.

A few years ago, Kelly McAndrews (MU Law 2010) and I gave a presentation on religious objections to autopsies at a conference of the Wisconsin Coroners and Medical Examiners Association. (At the time, Kelly was the Medical Examiner for Washington County, Wisconsin.) We noted that, among other groups in Wisconsin, the Hmong and Orthodox Jews would likely have strong objections to autopsies, while that the Old Order Amish, Hindus, and some Muslims, American Indians, and Christian Scientists may have objections ranging from minor to moderate in their intensity.

Potential bases for objection, varying by religion, include: concerns about delay in the preparation and burial of the body as prescribed by religious law or tradition; concerns about the mutilation, desecration, or disturbance of the body (e.g., the body belongs to God and should not be altered, the body is needed intact for successful passage to the afterlife, or the body is needed intact in the afterlife itself); and concerns about spiritual harm to the surviving relatives for failing to take care of the decedent in a religiously proper manner.

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