Legal History

Tara Leigh Grove

This Article challenges the conventional narrative about the political question doctrine. Scholars commonly assert that the doctrine, which instructs that certain constitutional questions are “committed” to Congress or to the executive branch, has been part of our constitutional system since the early nineteenth century. Furthermore, scholars argue that the doctrine is at odds with the current Supreme Court’s view of itself as the “supreme expositor” of all constitutional questions. This Article calls into question both claims. The Article demonstrates, first, that the current political question doctrine does not have the historical pedigree that scholars attribute to it. In the nineteenth century, “political questions” were not constitutional questions but instead were factual determinations made by the political branches that courts treated as conclusive in the course of deciding cases. Second, when the current doctrine was finally created in the mid-twentieth century, the Supreme Court used it to entrench, rather than to undermine, the Court’s emerging supremacy over constitutional law. Under the current doctrine, the Court asserts for itself the power to decide which institution decides any constitutional question. With control over that first-order question, the Court can conclude not only that an issue is textually committed to a political branch but also that an issue is committed to the Court itself. This analysis turns on its head the assumption of scholars that the current doctrine is at odds with judicial supremacy. The modern political question doctrine is a species of—not a limitation on—judicial supremacy.

Thomas I.M. Gottheil

The American labor movement is in trouble. As union density declines and worker organizing becomes more difficult, a relatively new model, the worker center, has emerged to organize low-wage immigrant workers. Worker centers devise a broad range of strategies and internal structures to meet the challenges of the contemporary organizing landscape, and these strategies would not be possible were worker centers considered labor organizations under labor law. Recently, anti-union groups and members of Congress have shifted focus to worker centers, urging that they be regulated under the National Labor Relations Act. By examining the history of labor law and the structure of worker centers, this Note argues that regulation of worker centers under the NLRA would be inappropriate, ahistorical, and an unreasonable restriction on the associational rights of workers.

Becky Abrams Greenwald

This Note argues that both Jewish and American law express skepticism about self-incriminating statements based on concerns of reliability, respect for the individual, and the religious belief that confessions can be offered only to God. However, both traditions also recognize that certain circumstances necessitate the use of self-incriminating statements. This Note compares the two traditions to unearth a deep tension within legal and cultural conceptions of self-incrimination and confession. Specifically, the Note proposes that both Jewish and American law reflect conflicting desires—to simultaneously accept and reject self-incriminating statements. On the one hand, confessions appear to be powerful evidence of guilt, as well as a helpful part of the process of punishing and rehabilitating criminal offenders. On the other hand, confessions uncomfortably turn the accused into his own accuser, raising concerns about whether the confession was the result of unreliable internal self-destructive instincts or external coercion. Future decisions involving self-incriminating statements must be made with an awareness of both the benefits and the hazards of utilizing such statements.

Nikolaus Williams

In recent years, the Supreme Court has increasingly made “reasonableness” the central inquiry of whether a search or seizure is constitutional under the Fourth Amendment. The rise of the reasonableness approach has coincided with originalist scholarship that claims this interpretation is more consistent with the Amendment’s text and history. This Note looks at Framing-era search-and-seizure practice and argues that the Court’s modern reasonableness interpretation is, in fact, ahistorical and inconsistent with Framing-era practice and the Amendment’s original understanding. Not only is there scant evidence that the legality of searches and seizures turned on their reasonableness during the Framing era, but the arguments made in favor of the Court’s modern reasonableness approach are based on flawed historical assumptions. As a result, the Court’s various applications of its reasonableness interpretation are all inconsistent with Framing-era practice and the Amendment’s original understanding.

Eleanor Marie Lawrence Brown

The impediments to property acquisition and market success among African Americans are a significant area of inquiry in legal scholarship. The prevailing narrative on the historical relationship between Blacks and property is overwhelmingly focused on loss. However, in the political science, economics, and sociology literatures there is a countervailing narrative of successful property acquisition and retention among what might be termed a “market dominant” subset of migrant Blacks. The most successful subset of Black property owners in the United States today are descendants of Black migrants who were enslaved outside the United States. These free Black migrants, overwhelmingly British subjects originating from the West Indies, are largely invisible in the legal scholarship. Questions have arisen in other disciplines about what differentiated this subset of Black people. Why was their experience of property ownership so different?

Debates in the sociology, political economy, and political science literature have often focused on what Francis Fukuyama has controversially termed “cultural questions,” namely, the view that early West Indian migrants—like Korean or Japanese migrants—possessed a particular set of cultural traits that were distinctly well suited to asset acquisition. This Article focuses on a far more prosaic rationale, contending that the success of West Indian migrants may be rooted in the early grant of what I term “de facto property and contract rights” to West Indian slaves, which allowed their freedmen descendants to become the largest independent Black peasantry in the Americas. Between 1880 and 1924, U.S. immigration officials may have inadvertently selected for propertied migrant “types” when admitting immigrants. Through their own historical exposure to property and contract rights frameworks in the West Indies, as well as internal communal networks which supported informal banking schemes, these Blacks were particularly well placed to take advantage of opportunities for home and business ownership upon arrival in the United States.

The broader point is that there is a glaring omission amidst the “cultural” controversy: What about law? I use the term “law” in this context as it is used by many proponents of new institutional economics, as a proxy for an institutional frame- work that supports property acquisition, regardless of whether this framework is formal (state-supported) or customary. Moreover, the law and economics scholar- ship has focused extensively on institutional frameworks that allow certain religious and ethnic groups to dominate particular sectors, such as Orthodox Jews in the diamond industry or Koreans in the grocery sector. The insights of this literature allow us to interrogate whether Black West Indians had early access to institutions that facilitated contracting and property ownership and if so, whether this institutional history might contribute to their long-term asset acquisition patterns. The question necessarily arises: Why would we think of Black migrants any differently from the way we think of other ethnic and religious minorities who have been successful asset acquirers?

Kathryn A. Watts

Who should own a federal judge’s papers? This question has rarely been asked. Instead, it has generally been accepted that the Justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal judges own their working papers, which include papers created by judges relating to their official duties, such as internal draft opinions, confidential vote sheets, and case-related correspondence. This longstanding tradition of private ownership has led to tremendous inconsistency. For example, Justice Thurgood Marshall’s papers were released just two years after he left the bench, revealing behind-the-scenes details about major cases involving issues such as abortion and flag burning. In contrast, Justice David Souter’s papers will remain closed until the fiftieth anniversary of his retirement, and substantial portions of Justice Byron White’s papers, including files relating to the landmark case of Miranda v. Arizona, were shredded. In addition, many collections of lower federal court judges’ papers have been scattered in the hands of judges’ families. Notably, this private ownership model has persisted despite the fact that our country’s treatment of presidential records shifted from private to public ownership through the Presidential Records Act of 1978. Furthermore, private ownership of judicial papers has endured even though it has proven ill-equipped to balance the many competing interests at stake, ranging from calls for governmental accountability and transparency on the one hand, to the judiciary’s independence, collegiality, confidentiality, and integrity on the other.

This Article is the first to give significant attention to the question of who should own federal judges’ working papers and what should happen to the papers once a judge leaves the bench. Upon the thirty-fifth anniversary of the enactment of the Presidential Records Act, this Article argues that judges’ working papers should be treated as governmental property—just as presidential papers are. Although there are important differences between the roles of president and judge, none of the differences suggest that judicial papers should be treated as a species of private property. Rather than counseling in favor of private ownership, the unique position of federal judges, including the judiciary’s independence in our constitutional design, suggests the advisability of crafting rules that speak to reasonable access to and disposition of judicial papers. Ultimately, this Article—giving renewed attention to a long-forgotten 1977 governmental study commissioned by Congress—argues that Congress should declare judicial papers public property and should empower the judiciary to promulgate rules implementing the shift to public ownership. These would include, for example, rules governing the timing of public release of judicial papers. By involving the judiciary in implementing the shift to public ownership, Congress would enhance the likelihood of judicial cooperation, mitigate separation of powers concerns, and enable the judiciary to safeguard judicial independence, collegiality, confidentiality, and integrity.

Fiona Doherty

The determinacy revolution in federal sentencing, which culminated in the passage of the Sentencing Reform Act of 1984, has since been upended by a little-noticed phenomenon: the evolution of federal supervised release. A “determinate” sentencing regime requires that prison terms be of fixed and absolute duration at the time of sentencing. Because of the manner in which supervised release now operates, however, contemporary federal prison terms are neither fixed nor absolute. Instead, the court has discretion to adjust the length of a prison term after sentencing based on its evaluation of the post-judgment progress of the offender. This power to amend the duration of the penalty is the classic marker of the “indeterminate” sentence.

In this Article, I show how federal supervised release has dismantled the ambitions of the determinacy movement and made federal prison terms structurally indeterminate in length. I conclude that the widespread use of supervised release has created a muddled and unprincipled form of indeterminate sentencing: one that flouts the insights and vision of the nineteenth-century indeterminacy movement as well as the twentieth-century determinacy movement. Having dislocated once-celebrated theories of sentencing, federal supervised release now controls the lives of more than 100,000 people without offering any alternative theoretical basis for doing so. This Article draws on the lessons of a 200 year history to expose the current nature of supervised release and to envision a more coherent role for its future.

Zoey F. Orol

This Note seeks to demonstrate the ripeness of early American legal periodicals as a subject of further inquiry by reading the American Law Journal (1808–1817), the first American law review, as a reflection of the changing nature of the legal profession at a crucial time in American history. Close analysis of the content and editorial choices of the journal suggests that the journal both reflects and addresses three early nineteenth century professional needs: the need to practice in a variety of jurisdictions and areas of law; the need to give voice and content to the emerging idea of a professional self-consciousness, which some scholars suggest developed only later in the century; and the need to respond to the internationalization of American legal and political affairs, which undercuts the arguments of many legal historians that the period marked an increasing tendency in American jurisprudence to look inward. The few scholars who have attempted to paint a picture of legal affairs in this transformative period have typically focused on the dockets of particular jurisdictions while overlooking legal periodicals. However, such sources can more accurately portray the state of the national legal profession given that a journal editor, unconstrained by state or regional boundaries, can incorporate cases and sources from a wide range of jurisdictions and on a varied array of topics. Furthermore, the fact that periodicals are necessarily dependent on a subscriber base suggests that such editors had to touch on issues of interest to subscribers from all across the country in order to stay afloat.

Drew C. Ensign

Although stare decisis is a firmly established doctrine tracing its roots to fifteenthcentury English common law, the Rehnquist Court developed it in remarkable ways. The Court's decisions effectively made liberty considerations an important stare decisis factor in constitutional cases. Where prior decisions took an expansive view of the liberty protections of the Constitution, they were more likely to be upheld, and vice versa. This Note analyzes this development, perhaps best exemplified by the differing outcomes in Casey and Lawrence, as well as its implications for the future jurisprudence of the Supreme Court.

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