Legal History

1079 ABA Journal Legal History articles.

Aug. 6, 1890: First execution by electric chair

As an opponent of capital punishment, Thomas Edison had no interest in pursuing capital electrocution. Still, Edison found a way to benefit.

Lawyers, songs and money: Music that changed the law

Some songs or albums move the law. A band or artist will be involved in a lawsuit so groundbreaking and important that it will set a precedent, either enshrined in law or otherwise binding future generations.

What’s one thing you wish the public understood about the US legal system?

What did the Declaration of Independence do? Nonresidents who want to become U.S. citizens are expected to know. When the ABA recently posed the same question to a sample of…

New tool by Harvard Law lets people explore language usage in caselaw

Parsing 6.7 million federal and state cases and 12 billion words, a new tool allows the public to explore the use of language over 360 years of caselaw.

Released Wednesday,…

June 18, 1923: Marcus Garvey convicted of mail fraud

Marcus Mosiah Garvey Jr. was certainly a radical—but one of his own peculiar brand. Neither anarchist nor Bolshevik, Garvey was drawn to Booker T. Washington’s self-reliance philosophy, which he sought to merge with Pan-Africanism and the “Back to Africa” movement.

Play about Hamlet puts Chicago judges and attorneys center stage

Please, Continue (Hamlet), a play starring actual trial judges, public defenders and prosecutors in the roles of the court officials, was performed April 25-28 in Chicago at the Museum of Contemporary Art. It’s been showcased hundreds of times in countries around the world “with wildly varying verdicts, drawing attention to the theatrical nature of justice systems,” according to the MCA’s website.

The strange tale of the ‘Voodoo reverend’ and Harper Lee’s lost true-crime book

The author of To Kill a Mockingbird spent years researching and writing about this true-crime tale, with the intention of producing her own book in the style of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. But did she ever finish it?

16% of Americans think Clarence Thomas is chief justice, ABA civics survey finds

In a new survey, the ABA highlighted gaps in Americans’ knowledge of history and government as part of the ABA Survey of Civic Literacy 2019, the first comprehensive survey of its kind by the association. The results of the nationwide poll of 1,000 people were released Wednesday to mark Law Day, a national event established by President Dwight Eisenhower in 1958 to recognize the country’s commitment to the rule of law.

The Second Founding: A new exhibit explains the importance of the Civil War Amendments

On May 9, the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia will give the Reconstruction Amendments pride of place with a new permanent exhibit: “Civil War and Reconstruction: The Battle for Freedom and Equality.”

Justice by Numbers: Proposals resurface to expand the size of the court

In recent months, a concept that has been on the fringes of political theory has suddenly gained steam, with several progressive organizations calling for an expansion of the court and pushing Democratic presidential candidates to respond to the idea.

May 9, 1960: FDA approves first birth control pill

When the U.S. Food and Drug Administration was asked to approve Enovid for contraception, the “birth control pill” had already proved highly effective. But with legal and moral objections, a regulatory storm was gathering.

12 Supreme Court milestones that helped define First Amendment rights (gallery)

The First Amendment is first in the Constitution for a reason, and it only makes sense that the 2019 Law Day theme is “Free Speech, Free Press, Free Society.”

Old-fashioned textualism is all about interpretation, not legislating from the bench

Although some lawyers and judges will always care more about policy arguments, nobody can safely ignore grappling with textual arguments.

April 6, 1841: John Tyler inaugurates precedential succession

On the death of President William Henry Harrison, Vice President John Tyler set a precedent when he made it clear that he planned to fully assume the office.

Have we been pronouncing ‘gerrymandering’ wrong? This man’s descendants think so

Updated: As the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of partisan gerrymandering Tuesday, another question lurked beneath the surface. Is gerrymandering pronounced with a soft or hard letter “g”?

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