Reporters at the Minnesota State Law Library


Some of these early reporters at the Minnesota State Law Library show fire damage.

For Minnesotans, March 1, 1881 is perhaps a “day that will live in infamy,” for it was on this date that the Minnesota Capitol burned to the ground.  And although though the law librarian profession has no official hero or mascot, this date marks the true story of someone who might be deserving of such an honor.

This disaster took place toward the very end of the legislative session, when both the House and Senate were in late evening sessions trying to get legislation wrapped up.  This was likely why no one had noticed that the outside common areas had filled with flames.  Someone hollered a fire alert to the Senate, but the House only got the message after a flaming ember fell down from the ceiling.  Nearly 300 people managed to escape by a single narrow stairway, while others had to escape via windows with ladders and ropes. The entire story is dramatically captured in this old article from the Minneapolis Tribune, reprinted in the Star Tribune.

Predictably, many books and irreplaceable records were lost in this fire. “The most serious loss…is the state library, which contained 12,580 volumes. But a few lucky books did survive, due to the heroism of a one-armed janitor named Charles Chappel.  He hauled loads of books out of the burning building in his single arm.  When a falling beam hit him in the head he grabbed one last armful and finally left the building for good.  Unfortunately, little information about Mr. Chappel survives today.  With the help of ancestry.com, a federal census report from 1880 lists a 26-year-old Chas E. Chappel that was marked as “maimed, crippled, or otherwise disabled.”  Another from 1920 lists a 76-year-old Charles E. Chappel living in St. Paul that worked as superintendant of the State Capitol.  Though it’s very likely, it cannot be stated with absolute certainty that these records refer to our heroic book rescuer. Nonetheless, today we can give a moment of appreciation for this unsung champion of what was probably Minnesota’s earliest government law library.

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Additional Sources:

Darrell Ehrlick, It Happened in Minnesota (Twodot, 2008).

Ben Welter, Minnesota Mayhem:  A History of Calamitous Events, Horrific Accidents, Dastardly Crime & Dreadful Behavior in the Land of Ten Thousand Lakes (The History Press, 2012).

 

 

boy looking at flagYou may have caught the recent story of nearly 900 immigrants who recently became American citizens in a St. Paul ceremony.  One particular immigrant-cum-citizen had recently been affected by President Trump’s new executive order regarding immigrant travel that had temporarily kept her from returning to Minnesota.   The controversial  order has since been put on judicial hold, but none of these brand-new citizens will have to be concerned with it when making future travel plans. This story illustrates that where citizenship is concerned, it is obviously easier to be born a citizen per the Fourteenth Amendment’s citizenship clause than it is to obtain such status later in life.

This citizenship distinction wasn’t always so clear.   The elusive but pivotal Supreme Court case United States v. Wong Kim Ark was decided in 1898, only two years after Plessy v. Ferguson.  In said case, Wong Kim Ark was born in 1873 in San Francisco to Chinese immigrant parents. His parents later returned to their homeland, but Ark remained in San Francisco, occasionally traveling to China to visit his folks. It was only on his return home from such a visit in 1895 that he was detained by border officials and not allowed back in.  This was due to strict enforcement of the Chinese Exclusion Act under which he was not considered a citizen. Ark contested his exclusion, asserting that he was in fact a citizen and thus the Act did not apply to him. The end decision was the literal and absolute interpretation of the 14th Amendment’s opening clause, “[A]ll persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside.”

President Trump has called for an end to what he calls “birthright citizenship,” which is at odds with the current interpretation of the 14th Amendment.   This year’s ABA Law Day theme happens to be [T]he Fourteenth Amendment: Transforming American Democracy. Beyond just the citizenship clause, expect to hear more about the Fourteenth Amendment and our planned Law Day celebration in weeks to come.

 

Slavery in Minnesota – The Eliza Winston Story

Boat on RiverYou and your neighbors might have your political differences, but try and imagine how challenging it would have been to finesse different outlooks on slavery back in 1860. Imagine further the awkwardness if you were a staunch abolitionist and your neighbor’s business brought Southern guests to your community with their slaves in tow.  Remember that the case behind the U.S. Supreme Court’s Dred Scott ruling three years earlier had involved an army surgeon who kept his slave at hand while serving at Minnesota’s Fort Snelling. Indeed, the Dred Scott  holding that slaves were not entitled to their freedom despite residency in a free state had opened up a new Minnesota tourist industry geared to Southerners seeking to enjoy cooler summers in northern states.  African American History Month is a good time to look at an incident in Minnesota’s history that illustrates both the tense political differences of the day, as well as how public opinion is often at odds with official law and policy.

Back in 1860 the city of St. Anthony was home not only to staunch abolitionists, but also to Winslow House, a popular summer destination for Southerners.  Minnesota’s three-year-old constitution barred slavery, yet many of its citizens didn’t see this as cause to interfere with the property rights of visitors.  So with this casual attitude and the recent Dred Scott ruling, Southerners frequently traveled up the Mississippi River to enjoy Minnesota’s mild summer climate.  That year the Richard Christmas household had traveled from Mississippi with their house slave, Eliza Winston, to stay at Winslow House.  During her stay, Winston met local abolitionists through her acquaintance with a free African American couple.  One of these abolitionists later filed a legal complaint asserting that Winston was being “restrained of her liberty by her master.” Meanwhile, the Christmas household had moved from Winslow House to a Lake Harriet cabin in Minneapolis. That’s where the Hennepin County Sheriff found Winston, who indicated to him that she wanted to be free.  Winslow was then brought to the Hennepin County Courthouse where Judge Vanderburgh heard Winston’s testimony, and then ruled in her favor.  Meanwhile, angry mobs had gathered in and around the courthouse, and began migrating into the community and storming the homes of local abolitionists.  Winston managed to escape the crowds, but ultimately had to leave Minnesota for her safety.  And as local business owners had feared, the Winston case did indeed slow Southern tourism to Minnesota.  (The Civil War’s eruption the following year would effectively make such river tourism a non-issue.)

The Winston case revealed some interesting twists in Minnesota’s early political climate.  Even though the state constitution forbade slavery, business interests often benefited from trade with Southern slaveholders.  Additionally, Minnesotans could be quick to form angry mobs.   And whereas changing the law can be a lofty and idealistic pursuit, changing public opinion is usually a much grittier undertaking. Such task becomes even more challenging where profit motives stand against wished-for change.  Finally, one must ask how “free” was Ms. Winston if she was forced to leave the free state of Minnesota.  This story and numerous such observations are presented in this article by Dr.  William Green, published in Minnesota History magazine.

 

 

Supreme Court BuildingBrand-new President Donald Trump recently announced his selection for the U.S. Supreme Court, making Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Neil Gorsuch is the legal news of the week.  There is no shortage of articles with their divergent analysis and predictions (filibuster?) of Judge Gorsuch as a potential Supreme Court justice.  But ultimately the most useful information on what kind of jurist the judge is can be found by reading his opinions. Thus, presented below is a Gorsuth sampler:

  • Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius  – Most cited in the news, this is the case regarding the Obamacare mandate that employee insurance coverage provide contraceptives.  In his opinion stating that the contraceptive mandate, per for-profit closely held corporations, substantially burdened the exercise of religion, for purposes of RFRA, Gorsuch made reference to “drugs or devices that can have the effect of destroying a fertilized human egg.”  (Case later affirmed by the U.S. Supreme Court.)
  • Hugo Rosario Gutierrez-Brisuela v. Loretta Lynch  - Alien petitioner  sought review of a BIA order upholding an immigration judge’s decision by an immigration judge that pretermitted his application for status adjustment of his status under Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Writing for the majority, Gorsuch postulated that a previous case giving federal agencies authority to interpret ambiguous laws and regulations, should be reconsidered.  He wrote that the resulting practice of administrative deference is “more than a little difficult to square with the Constitution of the framers’ design.”
  • A.M. v. Holmes  – A mother brought a § 1983 action on behalf of her child against school officials, alleging First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendment violations arising from student’s arrest and subsequent search at school. The district court entered orders granting officials’ motions for summary judgment and denying mother’s for same. On mother’s appeal, the Court upheld the search and arrest, and held that the mother could not prevail on her First Amendment retaliation claim.  Gorsuch wrote a dissent claiming that his colleagues had misapplied controlling case law against  the state statute addressing misconduct in public schools.
  • American Atheists Inc. v. Davenport  - In a case involving the display of 12-foot-high metal crosses erected alongside Utah highways in memory of fallen highway troopers, the Court of Appeals reversed the district court ruling to find the display of the crosses unconstitutional. The appeals court held that the crosses could convey to a reasonable observer that the State endorsed/preferred a certain religion, and violated the Establishment Clause.  In his dissent, Gorsuch asserted that his colleagues had  misapplied the “reasonable observer” test.
  • Direct Marketing Association Inc. v. Brohl  - The Court of Appeals decided that the Tax Injunction Act did (not) bar federal court jurisdiction over a suit brought by non-taxpayers to enjoin the enforcement of notice-and-reporting requirements of state tax law that neither impose nor require the collection of a tax.  Gorsuch wrote and interesting concurring opinion on the role and application of case precedent.

These opinions may not be short, nor will everyone agree with them. But there’s no denying Judge Gorsuch’s witty, sans-legalese writing style.

 

Were You the Victim of a Crime?

Broken windowWere you recently the victim of a crime? Whether you experienced property damage or physical violence, you have certain statutory rights regarding notification, participation, compensation, and protection.  And even though Minnesota has arguably been ahead of the curve in this area, victims have traditionally been “left behind” by the criminal justice system.  For instance, it was only in 1973 that the first battered women’s shelter opened in Saint Paul.  The Crime Victims Reparations Board was created by the Minnesota Legislature in 1974 to help victims of violent crime.  The Minnesota Crime Victims Bill of Rights was passed in 1983, followed by the 1985 creation of the Office of Crime Victims Ombudsman (OCVO), also the first of such in the nation.

You can read about the options available to crime victims on the Ramsey County Attorney’s webpage.  For instance, restitution is the money a judge orders the offender to pay the victim to compensate the victim for out-of-pocket losses that are a direct result of a crime. Eligible expenses may include medical and dental bills, counseling costs, property losses and repairing damaged property. Restitution becomes part of the offender’s sentence or disposition and can be ordered after the offender is either found guilty or pleads guilty, with the amount of dependent on both the actual expenses and the offender’s ability to pay.  Keep in mind that costs not related to the crime(s) committed by the offender will not be included in a restitution order, such as payments for physical pain, suffering or emotional trauma. Victims seeking financial compensation for these types of losses may wish to hire an attorney to pursue a personal injury claim in civil court.  For more information is available in this Minnesota Restitution Guide brochure and also through the Minnesota Department of Public Safety.

Probably the biggest shortcoming of restitution is that it depends on an actual arrest and conviction.  And sad to say, only so many reported crimes lead to an arrest, much less a guilty plea or conviction.  If you have experienced a violent crime, the Crime Victim Reparations Board can be of help even without a conviction.  (See their form for eligibility.) You will also want to consult the comprehensive Crime Victim Rights Information Guide to see what other options you have.

 

Remembering the Happy Warrior

Casket leaving Minnesota State Capitol

Casket leaving Minnesota State Capitol (courtesy MN Historical Society)

Once upon a time at the 1948 Democratic National Convention, a young Midwestern mayor catapulted himself into history with his passionate speech urging the party to adopt a strong civil rights platform.  He drew a stark political division by stating that the time had come “…for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of state’s rights and walk forthrightly in the bright sunshine of human rights.”  The result was a mass walkout by the southern “dixicrat” faction and its long-term political after-effects.  This Friday it will be 38 years since one of the most influential leaders of the twentieth century died. He was laid to rest 3 days later on a bitterly cold January day.

Hubert Horatio Humphrey started out as the mayor of Minneapolis, elected to that office in 1945.  Three years later he was elected to the Senate in 1948 on the wind of his earth-moving speech.  Humphrey’s positions earned him some hostility from his party’s more conservative senators, and he came to accept the guidance of fellow senator Lyndon Johnson of Texas.  Johnson was not an easy guy to work with, especially after the Johnson-Humphrey presidential ticket was overwhelmingly elected in 1964.  As Johnson’s vice-president, Humphrey had the thankless job of selling the unpopular Vietnam War escalation to the American public.  Humphrey himself received the 1968 Democratic nomination for president, but would narrowly lose to Richard Nixon in the general election.  Humphrey went back to teaching at the University of Minnesota and Macalester College for the next two years.  Still restless for the public life, he sought and won election to the Senate in 1970 following the retirement of Senator Eugene McCarthy.  But he secretly struggled with bladder cancer for years before he died on January 13, 1978.

Humphrey’s public career may have started in Minneapolis, but its formal conclusion was a Saint Paul event.  After laying in state in our nation’s capital, his body returned to Minnesota and lay in state at the Minnesota Capitol prior to his funeral at the House of Hope Presbyterian Church.  It was attended by 43 members of the Senate, with the eulogy delivered by President Jimmy Carter.  (You can listen to this funeral service live.) This day happened to coincide with Minnesota’s cold winter season, and the temperature never got above zero that day.

Humphrey’s wife Muriel served the remainder of his senate term, but did not seek another.  During the 2012 dedication of his statue on the Minnesota Capitol grounds, Bill Clinton credited Humphrey’s 1948 speech as the catalyst behind the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, and the election of Barack Obama.

 

Scales of justiceThe Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today on the Minnesota Sex Offender Program (MSOP), overturning the previous U.S. District Court ruling that the program was unconstitutional.   The Court of Appeals held that the program was not only constitutional, but necessary to protect citizens from dangerous sexual predators who would otherwise go free.  (See complete opinion here.)  Twenty other states have lockup programs similar to Minnesota’s, making this a highly-watched case.   And with the Minnesota Legislature about to convene, its members are no doubt relieved that they have been spared from the politically poisonous task of reforming the sex offender program.

On a somewhat similar note, Ramsey County recently made news with the recent release of the WATCH study which compared Hennepin and Ramsey Districts’ handling of sex trafficking cases from 2012 through 2016.  WATCH also wanted to see the impact of the 2011 Safe Harbor law, which was passed  to ensure that sexually exploited youths are viewed as victims and not criminals.  The entire report is a must-read for anyone who wants to know about how a person gets charged under MN Stat §609.322 and how, but the big news was how differently the same statute is applied in the different jurisdictions.  The Hennepin approach relies on the statute language “promotes prostitution” whereas the Ramsey approach relies on the language which specifically makes sex trafficking a crime.  According to this Star Tribune article there are other factors are at work but that the average prison sentence in Ramsey County was 19 years, more than three times as long as the Hennepin County average.  Moreover, Hennepin County defendants were significantly more likely to obtain downward sentencing departures.  The report had other recommendations  for the legislature, courts, and prosecutors.

 

 

Toasting Wine GlassesThe time for holiday cheer is near, when we raise our glasses to a joyful time of year. And if our holiday toasts contain alcohol, someone will need to make a trip to the local liquor store, which in Minnesota cannot be on a Sunday.  Yes, the backup plan is often an emergency run to Wisconsin to buy the goods.  This year, however, Christmas and New Years both fall on Sundays, making it impossible to find a last-minute solution across the state border.  Minnesota is one of 12 states that ban Sunday liquor sales, as can be seen on the first map at this page.  Being surrounded by states that allow Sunday liquor sales, one could argue that Minnesota’s law is an act of taxation goodwill to its neighbors.  After all, here is one day a week that neighboring states can collect liquor taxes from Minnesotans. (Here’s looking at you, Wisconsin.)

Minnesota’s ban on Sunday liquor sales goes back all 158 of its years The argument against such law is consumer convenience, of course. The argument for them is that small, locally owned liquor stores can compete better by having a day where they don’t have to staff the store and still stay competitive. (Meaning: Would you keep shopping at Bob’s Booze Barn if you could get exactly what you wanted on your Sunday grocery run to Trader Joe’s?) We can expect the issue to arise yet again with the commencement of the new legislative session, and House Speaker Kurt Daudt believes this time it will pass.

Minnesota holds special prominence in the history of regulating alcohol consumption.  Remember that Minnesota congressman Andrew Volstead authored the legislation that would eventually become the Prohibition Amendment, which is why it was named the Volstead Act.  Volstead lost his congressional seat in 1922. Prohibition spanned from 1920 to 1933, ands after its repeal Minnesota created its own Liquor Control Department in 1933 to enforce its Liquor Control Act.  The department employed 12 agents in its first year, during which time Minnesota still had many dry counties, and alcohol bootlegging was a major enforcement concern.  Ironically, prohibition years also highlighted Minnesota with the production of Minnesota 13 by Stearns County farmers.  This was a distilled corn whiskey (i.e. “moonshine”) that was renowned and coveted across the nation.

 

Snow shovelLikely none of us was truly prepared for last weekend’s nine inches of snow.  Hopefully you managed to find your snow shovel and deal with the white fluffy stuff that covered your driveway and sidewalk. (No? Check behind your lawnmower and under your garden hose.)  Snow removal is not just a matter of keeping up appearances on your block.  City ordinances also require diligent home upkeep, specifically clearing the sidewalk that runs in front of your property or to your door and mailbox.  Saint Paul Ordinance §113.02 states that “[t]he owner or occupant of any building or lot abutting a public sidewalk is responsible for and shall remove any accumulation of snow and/or ice from said public sidewalk within twenty-four (24) hours after the snow and/or ice has ceased to fall, gather or accumulate.”  (Notice that this language also applies to you if you’re the ”occupant” of the house, so talk to your landlord and agree on shovel-duty.)

If the offending snow is not removed in a timely matter, following ordinances allow the City to send notice to either the owner or occupant to get the job done.  If this measure fails, the City can  schedule the snow removal with a contractor, and then assess the owner or occupant for the cost (likely much more than a new shovel would cost).  Said owner or occupant could also be charged with a petty misdemeanor and assessed an additional fine.  Are you a St. Paul resident with a neighbor whose snow removal neglect is a hazard to you and others using the sidewalk? Contact the City to report the violation. If you prefer a more neighborly approach, see their printable door hanger to gently nudge your neighbor into action.

The above code is aimed at St. Paul residents, but other area municipalities have similar ordinances requiring snow removal:

  • Arden Hills – §602.03 Subd. 18 - ”Public Nuisance – All snow or ice not removed from public sidewalks within twenty-four hours after the snow or ice has been deposited, unless that portion of the public sidewalk has been exempted from this requirement by city council resolution.”
  • Falcon Heights – §22-47 – “A nuisance upon premises. No person shall knowingly cause, or create, or permit nuisances upon any premises as follows: (1) Snow and ice not removed from public sidewalks 24 hours after a storm has ended…”
  • Maplewood – §12-99 - “Removal of snow and ice. There shall be no snow and ice on parking lots, driveways, steps and walkways which may create a hazard.”
  • Roseville –§ 407.03 - “…On all properties with off-the-road, non-motorized pathways, except nontax exempt R-1 or R-2 properties, ice and snow shall be removed from the non-motorized pathway within 12 hours after snow and ice have ceased to be deposited thereon.”
  • White Bear Lake -  §901.030 – “SIDEWALKS; SNOW AND RUBBISH REMOVAL, NONCOMPLIANCE.  All persons owning or occupying any building in the City are required to remove dirt or rubbish from the sidewalks adjacent to such building.”

Typically, the respective municipal codes also contain language allowing the city to hire out the snow removal project should the owner/occupant lapse in this duty, and to bill accordingly for the service (likely at a much higher cost than a new show shovel).  And yet this inconvenience wouldn’t compare to the nightmare of a lawsuit brought by someone injured on your sidewalk as a result of unattended snow and ice.  Don’t see your town listed here?  You can call your city administration and ask about snow removal, but your time might be better spent just shoveling or hiring out the job.

 

 

The Smallest Units of Government

Community meetingAs the 2016 election season fades behind us, it is a good time to reflect on our government structures and their various functions. It is easy follow government at the federal and state levels by reading the news, but not so much where local government is concerned. In fact, people often cannot name or identify the very people who represent them at the city or county levels. This is unfortunate, as many visitors to the law library might be surprised at how close their visit brings them to their local governments in action. The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners and St. Paul City Counsel both conduct their public meetings in the Court House.  People who come to the library and inquire about seeing a public trial might also consider sitting in on a commissioners meeting.  (Minutes and ideotapes of these meetings are also available online.)

What is going on beyond the Court House? Starting at the top, you can go to USA.gov to find all divisions of the federal government, and learn exactly where to direct your questions or complaints.  Websites like Common Cause can help you identify all of your elected officials at once, plus see their sponsorships and contributors.  On the other end, what about the most local levels?  To learn who your neighbors are and what they are concerned about, consider joining an online community such as Nextdoor.   If you want to become more involved, you may also consider using some of your spare time to volunteer in the community. Ramsey County has a page just for you, with opportunities to serve on county advisory boards and committees.  You may be just one person, but don’t underestimate your power to make a difference!