Scales of JusticeAs we appreciate the historical significance of the Fourteenth Amendment throughout May, we can consider two lesser-known figures.  This is first the story of a man named John born in Kentucky in 1833 to a slaveholding family. His father was a loyal Whig political leader and lawyer, who served both in Congress and as Kentucky’s attorney general. The father wished the same political stature for his sons, and named this particular son for his favorite Supreme Court justice. This son indeed followed in his father’s footsteps, even attending law school before it was standard to a legal career. It wasn’t long thereafter that he himself was elected attorney general of Kentucky. Although John strongly supported efforts to keep Kentucky in the Unionleading up to the Civil War, he was staunchly opposed to the Emancipation Proclamation. But since the Proclamation only applied to rebel states and not Kentucky, he continued to be responsible for his family’s slaves after his father’s death. His pro-Union, pro-slavery position was politically precarious, and he lost his bid for the US Senate in 1867, as well as his bid to remain attorney general of Kentucky.

John retreated from politics into his law practice, but he was quietly undergoing a philospical metamorphosis. Specifically, he began championing ideas of racial equality which he had previously scorned.  Now affiliating himself with the Republican party, he soon embraced both the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments.  His passionate campaign speeches helped bring about the election of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1876, which led to his appointment by President Hayes to the Supreme Court in 1877. Thus began the epic high court career of John Marshall Harlan, with his reputation as the Court’s “great dissenter.” His famous dissents included the lone ones in both the Civil Rights Cases (1883) and Plessy vs. Ferguson (1896). We may see his opinions as heroic in our age, and indeed, his Plessy dissent was later regarded by a young Thurgood Marshall as his “bible” as he argued the case that led to the historic Brown vs. Board of Education decision.  But Harlan was considered by his peers and contemporaries a contrary and eccentric  justice.

John Marshall Harlan’s dramatic political turnabout may be cause for speculation, but this Smithsonian article presents an interesting theory. John grew up in the presence of a “light-skinned, blue-eyed” slave named Robert, who was believed to be John’s half-brother. Indeed, John’s father treated Robert as his son, which he likely was. Robert grew up to have a keen business sense, operating both a barbershop and a grocery store in the 1840’s. The proceeds of these ventures allowed him to buy his own freedom when he was thirty-two. Robert traveled from place to place after the war, amassing a fortune in real estate and other ventures. He also became involved in Republican politics, and President Chester A. Arthur appointed him to the U.S. Treasury as a special agent. In 1886 he was elected a state representative. He and John stayed in contact throughout his life. It’s plausible that Robert’s quiet but dramatic success may have inspired John’s evolution into an early champion of racial equality. Robert James Harlan died one year after the Plessy decision. Justice John Marshall Harlan remained on the Supreme Court until his death in 1911.

 

Courtroom 055Women’s History Month is drawing to an end, and besides celebrating women’s establishment as judges, we should also remember that women serving as jurors was not always a given. Minnesota eliminated all legislative gender qualification from jury service in 1921, making it one of eight states passing female juror legislation following ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. (A few states had allowed women jurors before the passage of women’s suffrage, but most did not.) On this issue, Minnesota was on the slightly earlier side of progress.  At the extremes, Utah allowed for limited female jury service in 1898. Mississippi, on the other hand, did not allow women on juries until 1968, not coincidentally the same year that Congress passed the Federal Jury Selection Act, prohibiting discrimination in jury service on basis of gender. This article from the Minnesota Legislative Reference Library offers even more interesting details behind our state’s history of including women on juries.

Prior to women’s suffrage, women were routinely excluded from juries. The common arguments of the day against women jurors included the predictable; namely that women should not have to be exposed to the seamy details of trials, that taking women away from their children would be detrimental to families, and that women might be too sympathetic to the criminally charged to convict them. In 1879, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld state laws that completely excluded women from jury service.  (Strauder v. West Virginia 100 US 303) As recently as 1961 the U.S. Supreme Court would still uphold a Florida statute that required women to register with the clerk of court if they wished to be included in jury lists (Hoyt v. Florida 368 U.S. 57). In Hoyt, a wife was convicted of the murder of her husband by a jury composed of 12 men, due to a Florida statute that only allowed women for jury service  if previously registered with the clerk of the circuit court indicating a desire to so serve. The Supreme Court reversed this course in 1975 with Taylor v. Louisiana (419 U.S. 522). Mr. Taylor had been convicted of aggravated kidnapping by an all-male jury chosen from an all-male panel. Louisiana law was similar to Florida’s, in that women could not be seated as a jurors without previously submitting a written request indicating a desire to serve. This time the Court held that women as a class could not be excluded from jury service or given automatic exemptions based solely on sex. The women-have-family-duties argument lingered, but in 1979, the Supreme Court overturned an automatic jury service exemption for women (but not men) who requested one, while indicating that a gender-neutral child care exemption would be permissible. (Duren v. Missouri 439 U.S. 357) Recall from a couple years back that that jury in the George Zimmerman trial made headlines for being all-female. This was in fact rather noteworthy considering that Florida (and most of the South) had been rather slow in establishing women on their juries.

The behavior of jurors as it relates to their gender (or race, age, income, etc.) has long been a much-studied subject. If you are an attorney and would like to select the best jury for your upcoming trial, consider these books:

  • Scientific Jury Selection by Joel D. Lieberman and Bruce D. Sales (APA 2007)
  • Blue’s Guide to Jury Selection by Lisa Blue and Robert Hirschhorn (Atla Press 2004)
  • Mastering Voir Dire and Jury Selection by Jeffrey T. Frederick (ABA 2011)
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Join us for the free CLE, For Your Peace of Mind: No Cost Legal Research/Net Security Tips, on Thursday, May 31 at 3:30 p.m.  The program will give a concise review of Fastcase, which is free with an MSBA membership, and Google Scholar.  It will also highlight tips for securing your computer and online communications from various online threats.

We will be giving a tour of the Law Library at 3:00 p.m., so make sure to arrive early.

For more information and how to register see the brochure.

 

RCLL is Now on Facebook

The Ramsey County Law Library is now on Facebook. View the library and check out the amazing view of the Mississippi River. Check back often for updates.

 

Free Wireless Internet Access!

The Law Library now has free wireless internet access for patrons – bring your laptop or wireless mobile device to connect to the internet.

Come visit us on the 18th floor of the Ramsey County Courthouse.

 

Follow Ramsey County Law Library on Twitter

The Ramsey County Law Library is now on Twitter.  Keep updated on our library events, local and national legal news, along with other interesting current events by following us at http://twitter.com/RCLawLibrary.

 

Welcome to the Ramsey County Law Library blog, a new feature of the Law Library.  Here you will find library updates, current legal news and events, tech tips and much more.  The blog will be updated regularly, so check back often.