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10 trials that changed the world

Posted Nov 1, 2013 6:38 PM CDT
By James Podgers

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At their best, trials provide insight into the human condition while they illuminate principles of the law. And sometimes they even change the course of history.

Is it any wonder that, at least in the public’s mind, trial lawyers are the superstars of the legal profession?

Edward W. Knappman, the editor of Great American Trials: From Salem Witchcraft to Rodney King, described in his preface the factors he considered in choosing the 200 cases covered in the book: historic significance, legal significance, political controversy, public attention, courtroom skills of the lawyers, and literary fame achieved by the trials.

For this package, the Journal invited 10 distinguished lawyers from around the world to identify and describe one historic trial each. We gave them free rein, and it shows. The list of cases is eclectic and thought-provoking. Are these the greatest trials in history? Probably not, at least under Knappman’s formula. But each case in its way has had an impact beyond the law; and for most of them, the full extent of that impact has yet to be determined.

List of Cases, in Chronological Order

1. God punishes Adam and Eve, and the Serpent – by George Anastapolo

2. Parliament puts King Charles I on trial – by Maura McGowan

3. Susan B. Anthony is convicted for casting a ballot – by Deborah Enix-Ross

4. Clarence Darrow is tried on charges of bribing jurors – by Michael E. Tigar

5. A court decides who is white under the law – by Sahar F. Aziz

6. An Allied tribunal brings Nazi leaders to account at Nuremberg – by Lori B. Andrews

7. The Supreme Court rejects the separate but equal doctrine – by Kim J. Askew

8. Adolf Eichmann is convicted for his role in the 'Final Solution' – by Mark S. Ellis

9. Nelson Mandela is spared from a death sentence – by Richard J. Goldstone

10. Serb leader is tried by an international tribunal – by Randy J. Aliment

This article originally appeared in the November 2013 issue of the ABA Journal with this headline: "Courting Destiny."

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