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

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.

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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. (more…)

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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:

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

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…

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Garry Wills to Speak at Marquette Law School

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,…

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