What Lakefront Reveals About the Public Trust Doctrine, Standing to Enforce Public Rights, and Possession in Property Law

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As summer began, one of my colleagues introduced readers of this blog to Tom Merrill’s and my new book, Lakefront: Public Trust and Private Rights in Chicago (Cornell University Press 2021). The book explores how Chicago, a city known for commerce, came to have such a splendid public waterfront—its most treasured asset. Tom and I worked on the book for more than 20 years, but apparently we had more that we wanted to say. So, over the past couple of months, we gratefully accepted invitations from three national law blogs to present some reflections based on Lakefront. These posts, though drawing on, are not excerpts from the book, and each of the three series has a strong thematic element or substantive focus.

1. Volokh Conspiracy—The Public Trust Doctrine. Our first series of guest posts, appearing at The Volokh Conspiracy this past June, focused on the public trust doctrine, both in its original American conception (on the Chicago lakefront) and in its development (also there) over more than a century. We explained also that the preservation of Grant Park as an open space, in downtown Chicago, had nothing to do with the public trust doctrine, but stemmed from the public dedication doctrine. Having previously collected these posts, I include the link to that collection and thus to that series, for the sake of completeness here.

2. The Faculty Lounge—Standing to Enforce Public Rights. Our second series last month (July) at The Faculty Lounge concerned standing to enforce public rights. We began by explaining that standing in the law is nearly always discussed in terms of the Supreme Court’s doctrine governing who may sue in federal court consistently with Article III of the Constitution—and that this is unfortunate. For a wider array of standing rules comes into the picture when one considers common-law doctrines governing who may sue to enforce public rights—making Lakefront, which unpacks a century and a half of controversies over various such rights, a valuable resource.

Here is a sort of table of contents for the future reader:

We concluded by urging something of an intermediate rule, given the concerns that we identified in the cases of the most restrictive standing rule (viz., underenforcement of public rights) and the least restrictive standing rule (overenforcement).

3. PrawfsBlawg—Possession vs. Ownership in Property. The third series appeared earlier this month at PrawfsBlawg. Its focus was the role of possession in property. We framed the central question thus: “In particular, the book documents a number of episodes in the history of Chicago (its lakefront, that is) in which someone either was in possession of some resource but had no clear right of ownership or, by contrast, had a fairly clear legal right of ownership but lacked possession. Who was more likely to prevail: the possessor without ownership, or the owner without possession?”

Here is the table of contents, if you will, to this third five-part series:

With respect to the substance of this series, suffice it to say here that, at least on the Chicago lakefront, courts have been reluctant to interfere with possession—and further, in its absence, often have been reluctant to uphold seemingly strong legal claims of property rights. There is, necessarily, much history along the way, including versions of the stories of Cap’n Streeter and of how Jean Baptiste DuSable Lake Shore Drive (as Lake Shore Drive was renamed this summer) came to be—and why it stops where it does.

* * * *

To be sure, my summer was largely spent in administrative work, but I continue very much to believe in the usefulness of blog posts to foster intelligent discussion and engender learning about the law, as I suggested in one additional post that I smuggled into The Faculty Lounge. I hope for a great academic year to come on this blog.

Jury Duty in de Tocqueville’s Time and in the Present

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Alexis de Tocqueville was a French aristocrat sent by his country to inspect American penitentiaries during the 1830s.  He dutifully delivered his report, but he also found himself interested in more than penitentiaries.  In Democracy in America (1835), he provided a wide-ranging and to this day highly regarded account of life in the youthful, rambunctious American Republic.  Somewhat surprisingly, de Tocqueville discussed at length the role and function of jury duty.

photo of jury summons

Although de Tocqueville recognized the jury as a “juridical institution,” that is, a body that renders verdicts, he was more interested in the jury as a “political institution.”  He argued that the jury “puts the real control of affairs into the hands of the ruled, or some of them, rather than into those of the rulers.”  The jury was a vehicle through which the citizenry could exercise its sovereignty.

What’s more, jury duty struck de Tocqueville as a “free school.”  “Juries, especially civil juries,” he thought, “instill some of the habits of the judicial mind into every citizen, and just those habits are the very best way of preparing people to be free.”  As a form of “popular education,” jury duty offers practical lessons in the law and teaches jurors their rights under the law.

Overall, de Tocqueville was pleased Americans took eagerly to jury duty and felt robust, active juries were extremely important in the success of the nation.  Jury duty, he said, “makes men pay attention to things other than their own affairs” and thereby “combat that individual selfishness which is like rust in society.”

How disappointed de Tocqueville would be learn how people perceive jury duty in the present.  While people who actually serve on juries tend to say their experiences were positive ones, a huge percentage of Americans dread receiving a summons for jury duty and do their best to avoid serving.  Websites such as “How to Get Out of Jury Duty” and “10 Ways to Avoid Jury Duty” are popular. Continue reading “Jury Duty in de Tocqueville’s Time and in the Present”

Collecting Posts on the Public Trust Doctrine in Its American Birthplace

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Thank you to my colleague, Professor David A. Strifling, director of Marquette Law School’s Water Law and Policy Initiative, for his generous post a few weeks ago concerning Tom Merrill’s and my new book, Lakefront: Public Trust and Private Rights in Chicago (Cornell University Press). The book ranges over almost two centuries and the different stories that led to the Chicago lakefront’s varied but largely integrated and altogether splendid whole. Given these temporal and geographic variations, “the core insight that shapes Kearney and Merrill’s Lakefront”—that “[t]he making of Chicago’s extraordinary landscape along Lake Michigan required law, lots and lots of law” (Professor Hendrik Hartog of Princeton University)—made intuitive sense to us from the beginning. Or at least it did to my coauthor, a noted scholar of property law.

Major areas along the Chicago lakefront (map by Chicago CartoGraphics): Figure 0.2 from Lakefront: Public Trust and Private Rights in Chicago (Cornell, 2021)

Yet as our book’s title suggests, however much other law has been involved, the public trust doctrine has been at the forefront of lakefront controversies, at least since the Supreme Court of the United States used the Lake Front Case (more formally known as Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. Illinois, 146 U.S. 387 (1892)) to announce the American experiment with the doctrine. So Professor Merrill and I took a guest-blogging opportunity at the Volokh Conspiracy this past week to focus on the public trust doctrine. Here are links to our series of posts:

You can find us a month or so from now guest-blogging at The Faculty Lounge, where we expect to consider the rules that govern—or might govern—who has standing to raise the different sorts of legal claims whose disposition has helped shape the Chicago lakefront. Each of these rules is in some way problematic, and differences among them have had notable effects on what a resident or tourist today finds on the lakefront—and what he or she does not. “[L]ots and lots of law,” it has been said.

Chicago’s Lakefront: The Rise of the Public Trust Doctrine (and Much More)

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Urbs in Horto”— city in a garden—is the motto Chicago’s founders chose upon the city’s incorporation on March 4, 1837. At the time, this was more of a vision than a statement of fact, as the city had few public parks then, and preserving its existing open spaces seemed uncertain at best. Given the industrial waterfronts in many other large cities, it is a marvel that Chicagoans made that early vision a reality, at least along the water, by creating the city’s magnificent lakefront parks and protecting open space over nearly two centuries. How did it happen, and what are the lessons for urban development more generally? The definitive account is provided in Lakefront, a remarkable new book twenty years in the making, coauthored by Marquette Law School Dean (and Chicago native) Joseph D. Kearney and Columbia University’s Thomas W. Merrill.

Lakefront is, at its core, a story about Chicago and the development of its world-renowned lakefront. But Kearney and Merrill also make a significant contribution in untangling the American development of the public trust doctrine, which has been called “unquestionably one of the most important elements of U.S. natural resources law.”[1] The Supreme Court has recognized the doctrine’s ancient origin and its roots in Roman law.[2] Scholars have traced it to the Code of Justinian. Today the doctrine is generally thought to protect and preserve certain natural resources of a “special character,” through a perpetual trust intended to prevent the unimpeded exercise of private rights upon them. But clarifying the doctrine’s operational reach has proven difficult, and it has evolved into many different strains of varying strength primarily governed by state common law. However, all agree that Justice Stephen Field’s 1892 opinion for the U.S. Supreme Court in Illinois Central Railroad Co. v. Illinois was the moment at which the doctrine became a prominent feature of American law. Lakefront provides groundbreaking new details and a blow-by-blow account of how the case originated from the battles between public and private rights on the Chicago lakefront.

Continue reading “Chicago’s Lakefront: The Rise of the Public Trust Doctrine (and Much More)”

Remembering Shirley S. Abrahamson: Wisconsin’s First Woman Supreme Court Justice

Posted on Categories Appellate Advocacy, Legal History, Legal Practice, Marquette Law School Poll, Moot Court, Public, Speakers at Marquette, Wisconsin Court System, Wisconsin Law & Legal System, Wisconsin Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on Remembering Shirley S. Abrahamson: Wisconsin’s First Woman Supreme Court Justice
Shirley Abrahamson with raised right hand, taking oath in 1976.
Shirley Abrahamson is sworn into the Wisconsin Supreme Court in 1976 by late Chief Justice Bruce Beilfuss.

On Saturday, December 19, former Wisconsin Chief Justice Shirley S. Abrahamson, died after battling pancreatic cancer. She was 87. Just two ways she was like another famous, short, tough, trailblazing Jewish jurist: Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Abrahamson, the daughter of Polish Jewish immigrants who arrived in the United States in the early 1930s, grew up in New York City. She graduated magna cum laude from NYU with her bachelor’s degree in 1953. Three years later, she graduated first in her class from Indiana Law School; she was also the only woman.

She met her husband Seymour in Indiana; they moved to Madison in the early 1960s, where Abrahamson earned her S.J.D. from UW Law in 1962. Thereafter, she became the first female lawyer at the Madison law firm La Follette, Sinykin, Doyle & Anderson. She was named a partner within a year. All throughout the time she was in practice, she also taught at UW Law.

In 1976, then-Governor Patrick Lucey appointed her to the Wisconsin Supreme Court’ she was the first woman to serve there. Continue reading “Remembering Shirley S. Abrahamson: Wisconsin’s First Woman Supreme Court Justice”

The Unprofessionals

Posted on Categories Alumni Contributor, Civil Rights, Constitutional Law, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Race & Law, U.S. Supreme Court1 Comment on The Unprofessionals

In the decade after the American Civil War, Congress ratified three Amendments (the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth) and passed five civil rights statutes (the Freedmen’s Bureau Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1866, the Civil Rights Act of 1870, the Civil Rights Act of 1871, and the Civil Rights Act of 1875) in an attempt to integrate African Americans into society and provide them with the full rights and privileges of citizenship.  From rights to vote, hold property, and contract, to rights of access to the courts, public infrastructure, and the marketplace, these enactments represented a dream of reconstruction that strove toward a more universal application of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence.  In striking down and interpreting these laws, the decisions of the Supreme Court played a crucial role in curtailing the promise of this older civil rights movement.  The Court’s undermining of the laws led to the legal segregation, discrimination, terrorizing, denial of due process, lynching, murdering, exploitation, and injustice that characterizes the African American experience in the century that followed.

The highlight reel that we all study in Constitutional Law class includes:

Continue reading “The Unprofessionals”

New Marquette Lawyer Magazine Sees Past Problems as Shedding Light on Future Challenges (Post 1 of 3)

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Federalism, Judges & Judicial Process, Legal History, Marquette Lawyer Magazine, Popular Culture & Law, Race & Law, Speakers at Marquette, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on New Marquette Lawyer Magazine Sees Past Problems as Shedding Light on Future Challenges (Post 1 of 3)

This cover of the summer issue of the Marquette Lawyer. The Summer 2019 issue of Marquette Lawyer features three pairs of stories with an underlying common theme that can be summed up by one of the headlines: “In Search of Better Outcomes.” This issue of the Marquette Law School semiannual magazine overall has a substantial historical orientation, but it also speaks strongly to current realities and issues—as has become even clearer since the magazine hit the streets a few weeks ago. Simply put, learning about the past helps in understanding the present and considering the future. This post takes up one pair of articles: the cover story and a reaction to it.

The cover story, “Dying Constitutionalism and the Fourteenth Amendment,” is an edited version of the Robert F. Boden Lecture given at Marquette Law School in fall 2018, by Ernest A. Young, the Alston & Bird Professor at Duke Law School. While the Fourteenth Amendment later would be crucial to the growth of constitutional protections and the extension of civil rights—the linchpin of America’s “second founding,” as it is sometimes called—Young focuses on the first 75 years after the amendment was ratified in 1868. It was a period of broad suppression of civil rights, particularly those of African Americans—the Fourteenth Amendment not working much to the contrary.

Young’s purpose is not so much historical as jurisprudential: He presents his essay as a cautionary tale about “living constitutionalism,” demonstrating that, while that mode of constitutional interpretation was not the Court’s stated approach in those 75 years, it could have been: For “every one of [living constitutionalism’s] modalities strongly supported the compromise or even abandonment of the amendment’s core purpose of freedom and equality for black Americans.” Simply stated, the history of the use of the amendment is a reminder that “social progress is not inevitable, that social forces can push constitutional meaning in bad as well as good directions, that living can turn into dying constitutionalism if we are not very, very careful,” Young writes.

In a comment on Young’s lecture, David A. Strauss, Gerald Ratner Distinguished Service Professor of Law at the University of Chicago and author of The Living Constitution (Oxford 2012), says that the early failures under the Fourteenth Amendment need to be reckoned with by those who are proponents of living constitutionalism. He writes that Young’s lecture shows that “in the end, there is only so much that the law can do to save a society from its own moral failings.”

A future post will discuss another pair of articles in the magazine that would support the same reaction. Click here to read both Young’s lecture and Strauss’s comment.

Garry Wills to Speak at Marquette Law School

Posted on Categories Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Legal History, Marquette Law School, Political Processes & Rhetoric, Public, Speakers at MarquetteLeave a comment» on Garry Wills to Speak at Marquette Law School
Author Garry Wills dressed in a suit and tie speaks at a public event.
Author Garry Wills

On April 18 at 4 pm Pulitzer Prize winning author Garry Wills will speak at the Marquette University Law School.  The topic of his talk is “Does Democracy Protect Human Rights? Constitution vs. Plebiscite.”

The event is sponsored by a grant from the UW Stout’s Center for the Study of Institutions and Innovation.

Garry Wills is Professor Emeritus of history and a cultural historian at Northwestern University. His many books include studies of George Washington, Richard Nixon, the Kennedy family, Ronald Reagan, and religion in America. His 1992 book, “Lincoln at Gettysburg: The Words That Remade America,” won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction and the 1992 National Book Critics Circle Award for Criticism. Wills won the 1979 Merle Curti Award from the Organization of American Historians and the 1978 National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction for his 1978 book, “Inventing America: Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence.” Wills has also been awarded the National Humanities Medal, and he was inducted as a laureate of The Lincoln Academy of Illinois and awarded the Order of Lincoln. His most recent book is “What The Qur’an Meant and Why It Matters.”

The event is free and open to the public, but advance registration is requested.

 

The Mirror of Racial Tyranny in The Civil Rights Cases

Posted on Categories Civil Rights, Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Legal History, Public, Race & Law, U.S. Supreme CourtLeave a comment» on The Mirror of Racial Tyranny in The Civil Rights Cases
Political cartoon from the nineteenth century showing an African American holding a copy of the Civil Rights Act of 1875 while standing at the Gates of Heaven
This 19th Century Thomas Nast cartoon shows an African American at the Gates of Heaven, telling Saint Peter that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 opens all gates for him.  Nast’s caption calls on white churches to desegregate.

On the 135th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s opinion in The Civil Rights Cases, it is worth reflecting on how that opinion — which came after Reconstruction but before Jim Crow—reflects the tensions at play today concerning how constitutional law can, through unrelenting formalism and a preference towards denying the power of the history of slavery and the salience of race, contributes to enduring white supremacy.
This week marks the 135th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s opinion in The Civil Rights Cases, 109 U.S. 3 (1883). While to some this is a mere historical footnote, the decision is worth remembering because it reflects the tensions at play today concerning how constitutional law can, through unrelenting formalism and a preference towards denying the salience of race, contributes to enduring structural oppression. The reasoning in The Civil Rights Cases is an object study in how to maintain white supremacy—and a mirror to our society today.

The opinion overturned the Civil Rights Act of 1875. It sought to protect recently freed African-American slaves from discrimination in the use of “inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement.” In striking down this nineteenth-century public accommodations law, thus allowing private businesses to deny services to African Americans because of their race, Justice Joseph P. Bradley, speaking for the 8-1 Supreme Court majority, made three arguments. Continue reading “The Mirror of Racial Tyranny in The Civil Rights Cases”

Emoluments, Textualism and Original Intent

Posted on Categories Constitutional Interpretation, Constitutional Law, Legal History, Public1 Comment on Emoluments, Textualism and Original Intent

A wooden judge's gavel lies atop of a copy of the United States Constitution.The ongoing refusal of President Donald Trump to both reveal the specifics of his personal finances and to decline any income from sources outside of his official salary as President has brought renewed attention to the Emoluments Clauses of the United States Constitution.  There are two such clauses, which state as follows:

The Foreign Emoluments Clause prohibits any “Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust” from accepting “any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State,” absent “the Consent of the Congress.” U.S. Const. art. I, §9, cl. 8.  The Domestic Emoluments Clause entitles the President to receive a salary while in office and forbids him from “receiv[ing] within that Period any other Emolument from the United States, or any of them.” U.S. Const. art. II, §1, cl. 7.
The meaning of these two provisions has become the subject of public debate and also litigation.  In one leading case, the State of Maryland and the District of Colombia have sued Donald Trump for violating these constitutional provisions.  They are suing for declaratory and injunctive relief which would compel President Trump to comply with the terms of the Constitution. Continue reading “Emoluments, Textualism and Original Intent”

J. Gordon Hylton: In Memoriam 1952-2018

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Headshot of the late Professor Gordon Hylton.On May second, the Marquette community lost one of its most interesting, wonderfully eccentric, and beloved members, Professor Gordon Hylton, who died of complications from cancer.  Academics by and large are an enthusiastic group of people with extraordinary jobs that give them a privileged opportunity to study and share their passions with colleagues and students.  No one more thoroughly enjoyed and reveled in being part of that world than Gordon Hylton.  He was a devoted teacher, a relentless, careful, and thorough scholar, and a cherished colleague.

I personally found Gordon to be one of the most interesting people of my acquaintance largely because he had so many interests, found so many things fascinating, and, aided by a legendary memory, pursued them with passion and rigor and a remarkable urge to synthesize, to explain everything.  And he was generous. He enjoyed nothing so much as chatting with his students and his colleagues about baseball, country music, the odd personalities who sat on the Supreme Court, the reasonableness of property doctrines, the early history of Christianity, and always with great enthusiasm and courtesy, as if knowledge and insight were both important and the most fun.

Professor Hylton was a native of Pearisburg, a small town (population, 2,699 in 2016) in Giles County in the SW corner of Virginia near the border with West Virginia.  He began his college and university career at Oberlin College in Ohio, where, he often explained, he enrolled because they let him play baseball.  In the course of his four years at Oberlin, the student radio station also let him host a country music program in the late night, early early morning hours.  Oberlin nurtured a pronounced competitive streak.  His roommates recall Gordon organizing them to enter a team in every intramural sport including inner tube water polo despite the fact that Gordon did not know how to swim, something his teammates discovered only well into the water polo season.

Continue reading “J. Gordon Hylton: In Memoriam 1952-2018”

Remembering Professor Gordon Hylton

Posted on Categories Legal History, Marquette Law School, Marquette Law School History, Public, Sports & Law1 Comment on Remembering Professor Gordon Hylton

Headshot of the late Professor Gordon Hylton.The Marquette Law School community is saddened by the news that Professor J. Gordon Hylton has passed away at age 65, following a battle with cancer.

Gordon was a wonderful colleague on the Law School faculty.  He joined the faculty at Marquette University Law School in 1995, after teaching previously at the Chicago-Kent College of Law of the Illinois Institute of Technology.  Gordon left Marquette Law School in 2015 to join the faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law full time (having visited at UVA many semesters previously).  He also served a memorable year  as the Fulbright Professor of Law at Kyiv-Mohyla Academy in Kiev, Ukraine.  A wonderful In Memoriam webpage celebrating Gordon’s career appears on the website of the University of Virginia School of Law.

Gordon taught courses in Property Law, Trusts and Estates,  and Legal History, among others, and was also closely involved with the National Sports Law Institute at Marquette Law School.  He was a frequent contributor to the Marquette Law School Faculty Blog, where he was known for his posts on the history of Marquette Law School in general and on the often overlooked athletes who had a historical connection with our institution.  His blog posts were sometimes quirky, often obscure, but always among the most interesting to appear on the Faculty Blog. Continue reading “Remembering Professor Gordon Hylton”