Category: History of Law

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We kill comedians don’t we? — The Lenny Bruce Story

We drove him into poverty and bankruptcy and then murdered him. We all knew what we were doing. We used the law to kill him. — Vincent Cuccia (one of Bruce’s NY prosecutors)

He died before his death. It was apparent that Wednesday (February 9) in 1966 when Lenny Bruce spoke at the Associated Students Speakers’ Program at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). He rambled; he misspoke; he struggled; and, yes, he bombed. Pathetic. That’s one word. Sad. That’s another. Predictable. Yet another word.

In less than six months he would be officially dead. Who could not see it coming?

Lenny Bruce, left (credit: Getty Images)

Lenny Bruce, left (credit: Getty Images)

Bruce was broke, bankrupt, out of work, out of luck, friendless, divorced, depressed, and junked up. It was so bad that shortly before he died he tried to hit up his parole officer for $10. Worse still, he was a criminal—a year or so earlier he had been convicted and sentenced in New York for an “obscene” bit he did at the Cafe au Go Go.

They hunted him in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and New York. It took its toll: the busts, the prosecutions, the trials, the appeals, and the alienation. And all this for his comedy. He was so taken with his legal plight that he largely abandoned comedy. Besides, by the time he spoke at UCLA no club would hire him. He was a sick and sad comedian, a man waiting to be fitted for a hangman’s noose.

The days of his outrageous humor—“obscene,” “blasphemous,” “sick”—were over. His great comic bits that once pierced the boils of hypocrisy were past tense. He was obsessed with the law; he had a childlike faith in it; and he long thought it would save him. By the time he found himself at UCLA surrounded by students—by that pinpoint in time—he came to a terrifying realization: it was over. Hence, when he spoke of the law, it was like listening to a man with an uncontrollable mental tic—a flick of the head, a fast-and-fleeting flash of an idea, and all capped off with a lunatic’s chuckle.

That day at UCLA much of the laughter was feigned. Or it was an uneasy laughter, an awkward gesture of sympathy. How could it be otherwise? The great Lenny Bruce—the TV and record star, the club star, the well-paid star, and the star of the hip generation—had been reduced to rubble. No wonder he babbled as he tried to speak of free-speech freedom; no surprise that he blathered on as he attempted to discuss the importance of courts and the rule of law; and no wonder it all went south when he sought to make sense of his life at the intersection of despair and destitution.

My point? What people saw that day at UCLA was a Lenny Bruce freak show. But the show, as they say, had to go on . . . and go on it did.

Death changed everything; it would bring Lenny back to life with everlasting applause. It was ironic: death was his best publicity agent. But why?

Because . . .

(Credit: UPI)

(Credit: UPI)

Dead Lenny was no longer a threat to anyone.

Dead Lenny could no longer offend the sensibilities of the righteous.

Dead Lenny was compliant.

That, at least, was the censorial hope. But there was more:

Dead, Lenny the man became Lenny the myth.

Dead, Lenny the uninhibited comedian became a cultural hero.

Dead, Lenny the unruly social commentator became packaged product, and

Dead, Lenny the once bankrupt comic became a cash cow for others

* * * *

It’s true: We feared Lenny alive / yet we love Lenny the dead hero.

Odd the way we turn the First Amendment into a death wish. It is to take a guarantee meant for the living and cram it into a coffin. The result: The censor’s past will likely repeat itself when the next Lenny Bruce comes onto a new life stage.

It is oft repeated: Lenny Bruce is the patron saint of comedians. There is truth there. After all, Lenny Bruce was the last comedian prosecuted and tried for word crimes in a comedy club. He paid the dues, and comedians were the everlasting beneficiaries. Hail Lenny; hail St. Lenny! Okay. But think of it: we canonize a (Jewish) comedian?

“I don’t want to end up like [Lenny Bruce], but I want to be like him.”—Margaret Cho

Which brings me to this question: Why should it be so? Why must we demand dead Lennys? Why not alive Lennys?

Why not celebrate the First Amendment by protecting speech that offends us, repels us, and even unsettles us? Is that asking too much? Perhaps. But that is what the First Amendment asks of us. No joke!

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Graetz & Greenhouse on the Burger Court

Over at SCOTUSblog, I interviewed Michael J. Graetz and Linda A. Greenhouse in connection with their new book The Burger Court & the Rise of the Judicial Right (Simon & Schuster, 2016, pp. 450).

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Here is an excerpt:

Question: By the end of your book one gets the impression that Justice Powell – the “centrist” jurist – was both the great enabler of the Burger Court’s “counter-revolution,” on the one hand, and the great denier of that very charge, on the other hand. Is that true? What are your thoughts?       

Graetz & Greenhouse: You’re right – Powell’s role was very substantial, to a degree that surprised us. He commanded respect within the Court. His instincts were notably conservative: pro-business, pro-local and state discretion, ready to draw a line against recognizing new rights or handing new remedial powers to the federal courts. He also left a great set of papers (at Washington & Lee), making it easy to trace how often his deepest-held views prevailed and how those views, projected onto the pages of United States Reports, so often trace the story of the Burger Court.

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Working 9 to 5: What a Way to Make a Living

Joanna Grossman’s Nine to Five:  How Gender, Sex, and Sexuality Continue to Define the American Workplace is an invaluable contribution to the popular understanding of how gender works – or doesn’t – at work.  With wry humor and a clarity that’s all-too-rare among those who write about the law, Grossman provides a comprehensive, must-read primer for the lay reader.  But Nine to Five also is a bracing corrective to the notion that the issues raised by the popular 1980 movie of the same name are remotely as anachronistic as the bad fashion sported onscreen by Dabney Coleman, Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton, and Lily Tomlin. Read More

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How an Anarchist Changed Oliver Wendell Holmes’s Future

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Seattle, WA: Last evening I joined David Skover to see (yet again) Stephen Sondheim‘s dark musical, Assassins. Afterwards, I turned to David and said: “Well, not all of those assassinations proved for the worst. Holmes, after all, owed a debt to the anarchist who murdered President McKinley.” So here is a page from that story, the true one that is.  

* * * *

Leon Czolgosz

Leon Czolgosz

September 6, 1901 is one of the most important dates in American constitutional history, though few think of it as such. On that day Leon Czolgosz attempted to assassinate President William McKinley at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York. Though the President would live several more days, the two shots the anarchist fired ultimately killed McKinley (he died on September 14th) and thereby put in motion a string of events that led to Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. becoming the fifty-eighth Justice on the Supreme Court.

But for the death of the President, the seat to be vacated by Justice Horace Gray would not have gone to then Chief Justice Holmes of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. No — President McKinley had other plans. Here’s what those plans were:

As the summer of 1901 wound down, it became apparent to McKinley and others that Justice Gray was ill and was likely to retire soon. So the President turned to his friend John Davis Long, then Secretary of the Navy, for advice. Though Long had nominated Holmes to the Massachusetts bench when he was governor, he did not recommend him for the U.S. Supreme Court. Instead, Long urged the president to select Alfred Hemenway, his law partner.  And Hemenway was prepared to accept the position if and when offered.

As it turned out, however, Horace’s delay in retiring combined with McKinley’s assassination changed everything. Thereafter, Henry Cabot Lodge, a U.S. senator from Massachusetts and one of Theodore Roosevelt’s close friends, recommend Holmes for Gray’s seat when the ailing Justice stepped down in July 1902. Roosevelt acted on Lodge’s suggestion and nominated Holmes. By December the Senate confirmed him, unanimously.

As ironic as it was, Oliver Wendell Holmes owed his justiceship to a crazed anarchist.

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FAN 103 (First Amendment News) Coming Soon: New Book by Stephen Solomon on Dissent in the Founding Era

 The book is Revolutionary Dissent: How the Founding Generation Created the Freedom of Speech (St. Martin’s Press, 368 pp.)

The author is Stephen Solomon (NYU School of Journalism)

The pub date is April 26, 2016 (Aside: It was on that same date in 1968 that Robert Cohen was arrested for wearing his infamous jacket as he walked through the Los Angeles County Courthouse.)

 His last book was Ellery’s Protest: How One Young Man Defied Tradition and Sparked the Battle over School Prayer (2009)

Abstract

51ev+5SIRsL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_When members of the founding generation protested against British authority, debated separation, and then ratified the Constitution, they formed the American political character we know today-raucous, intemperate, and often mean-spirited. Revolutionary Dissent brings alive a world of colorful and stormy protests that included effigies, pamphlets, songs, sermons, cartoons, letters and liberty trees. Solomon explores through a series of chronological narratives how Americans of the Revolutionary period employed robust speech against the British and against each other. Uninhibited dissent provided a distinctly American meaning to the First Amendment’s guarantees of freedom of speech and press at a time when the legal doctrine inherited from England allowed prosecutions of those who criticized government.

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Solomon discovers the wellspring in our revolutionary past for today’s satirists like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, pundits like Rush Limbaugh and Keith Olbermann, and protests like flag burning and street demonstrations. From the inflammatory engravings of Paul Revere, the political theater of Alexander McDougall, the liberty tree protests of Ebenezer McIntosh and the oratory of Patrick Henry, Solomon shares the stories of the dissenters who created the American idea of the liberty of thought. This is truly a revelatory work on the history of free expression in America.

“Solomon’s compelling stories of the raucous political speech of the founding generation give us a ringside seat to the protest rallies, provocative cartoons and clever rhetoric that forever embedded freedom of expression in our national character. Revolutionary Dissent is a must-read for all who want to understand the birth of free speech and press in America and how essential it is to continue protecting these freedoms in our democracy.” ―Nadine Strossen

“Stephen Solomon has with singular creativity and command of an elusive subject crafted in Revolutionary Dissent a masterful account of how the nation’s founding generation secured constitutional protection for free speech and press. What emerges in this seminal work is a four-century account of a uniquely American doctrine of free expression, at a time when no other nation – even those as close as Canada and Australia and all other Western democracies – remotely matched the U.S. example in this regard. Solomon has distilled the remarkably varied commitment to enduring core values of free expression by those patriots who comprised the “founding generation.” A masterful “Afterword” reminds us that, despite its sharp divisions, even an otherwise contentious high Court retains such a consensus.” ―Robert O’Neil

Excerpts from the book

Note: I plan to post more about this book in a future issue of FAN.  

The Coming of the Ginsburg Court (?) & the Future of the First Amendment Read More

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FAN 101.1 (First Amendment News) Merrick Garland, law clerk to Justice Brennan when Hutchinson v. Proxmire (1979) was decided

Today, President Obama nominated D.C. Circuit Chief Judge Merrick Garland to serve as an Associate Justice on the Supreme Court.

Chief Judge Merrick Garland

Chief Judge Merrick Garland

Judge Garland served as a law clerk to Second Circuit Judge Henry Friendly and thereafter as a clerk for Justice William J. Brennan. Garland’s clerkship at the Court was during the 1978-1979 Term.

During that Term the Court decided Hutchinson v. Proxmire (argued April 17, decided June 26, 1979). The vote was 8-1 with Chief Justice Warren Burger writing for the majority and Justice Brennan writing in dissent.

Facts in the Case: “In early 1975, Senator William Proxmire implemented what he called the “Golden Fleece Award of the Month.” The award was given out to governmental agencies which sponsored programs and research that Proxmire found to be a waste of tax dollars. One Golden Fleece went to federal agencies sponsoring the research of Ronald Hutchinson, a behavioral scientist. Proxmire detailed the “nonsense” of Hutchinson’s research on the floor of the Senate, in conferences with his staff, and in a newsletter sent to over 100,000 of his constituents. Hutchinson sued for libel, arguing that Proxmire’s statements defamed his character and caused him to endure financial loss.”

Issues: “The petition for certiorari raises three questions. One involves the scope of the Speech or Debate Clause; another involves First Amendment claims; a third concerns the appropriateness of summary judgment, embracing both a constitutional issue and a state-law issue.”

First Amendment Ruling: Petitioner is not a “public figure” so as to make the “actual malice” standard of proof of New York Times Co. v. Sullivan applicable. Neither the fact that local newspapers reported the federal grants to petitioner for his research nor the fact that he had access to the news media as shown by reports of his response to the announcement of the Golden Fleece Award, demonstrates that he was a public figure prior to the controversy engendered by that award. His access, such as it was, came after the alleged libel and was limited to responding to the announcement of the award. Those charged with alleged defamation cannot, by their own conduct, create their own defense by making the claimant a public figure. Nor is the concern about public expenditures sufficient to make petitioner a public figure, petitioner at no time having assumed any role of public prominence in the broad question of such concern.

Justice Brennan’s Dissent: “I disagree with the Court’s conclusion that Senator Proxmire’s newsletters and press releases fall outside the protection of the speech-or-debate immunity. In my view, public criticism by legislators of unnecessary governmental expenditures, whatever its form, is a legislative act shielded by the Speech or Debate Clause. I would affirm the judgment below for the reasons expressed in my dissent in Gravel v. United States (1972).”

Counsel in the Supreme Court:

  • Michael E. Cavanaugh argued the cause and filed a briefs for Petitioner.
  • Alan Raywid argued the cause and filed a brief for Respondents.

Amicus Briefs:

  • Bruce J. Montgomery and John D. Lane filed a brief for the American Psychological Association et al. as amici curiae urging reversal.
  • Briefs of amici curiae urging affirmance were filed by Richard M. Schmidt, Jr., for the American Society of Newspaper Editors et al.
  • Chester H. Smith for Warren G. Magnuson et al. Stanley M. Brand filed a brief for Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr., Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, et al.
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Picturing the Past — New Photo Book on the Interment of Japanese-Americans

During a recent visit to one of my favorite bookstores — Biblion books in Lewes, DE — I had the pleasure of meeting Professor James C. Curtis (Emeritus of History at the University of Delaware), who has just published Discriminating Views: Documentary Photography & The Japanese American Internment.  

Dorothea Lange photo: Manzanar, California, July 4, 1942, WRA

Dorothea Lange photo: Manzanar, California, July 4, 1942, WRA

The 235-page book, laid out on wide pages of fine stock paper, “focuses on photographers hired by the War Relocation Authority (WRA) and shows how their images were shaped by the government’s need to explain and justify the evacuation, confinement and eventual resettlement of over 110,000 Japanese Americans, two thirds of whom were American Citizens. Discriminating Views analyzes the work of Dorothea Lange, Clem Albers, Francis Stewart, Tom Clark, Hikaru Iwasaki and other WRA photographers. The Manzanar photographs of Ansel Adams come in for special consideration. The author contends that WRA photographs were instruments of propaganda that often reflected the prevailing racial attitudes of the era.”

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Journal of Legal Education: Volume 65, # 3, Spring 2016

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From the Editors

By Thomas D. Cobb & Kate O’Neill

Articles

           By Adam Chodorow & Philip Hackney

           By Lynn M. LoPucki

           By Justin McCrary, Joy Milligan, & James Phillips

           By Elaine Campbell

          By John C. Kleefeld & Katelyn Rattray

At the Lectern

           By Beth Hirschfelder Wilensky

Interview

           By Ronald K.L. Collins

Book Reviews

           By Duncan Farthing-Nichol

           By Michael Robertson

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The Tragedy & Lost Legacy of James M. Landis — Book Review by Duncan Farthing-Nichol

The current issue of the Journal of Legal Education has a fascinating book review by Duncan Farthing-Nichol of Justin O’Brien’s The Triumph, Tragedy and Lost Legacy of James M Landis: A Life on Fire (Oxford: Hart Publishing, 2014, pp. 187, $52.00 (cloth). Here is how the review opens:

Dean James Landis (1889-1964)

Dean James Landis (1889-1964)

In The Triumph, Tragedy and Lost Legacy of James M Landis, Justin O’Brien asks why Harvard Law School has so far neglected to hang its portrait of James M. Landis (11). The library’s walls bow under the weight of history; Harvard’s twentieth-century deans gaze down en masse from the south end. But Landis, dean from 1937 to 1946, is not among them.1 Professor O’Brien traces the omission to Landis’ 1963 conviction for tax avoidance, a crime for which Landis was sentenced to thirty days in jail. The school, according to O’Brien, has let the conviction overshadow Landis’ vital role in shaping law and government. O’Brien reminds readers that Landis wrote and administered the Securities Act of 1933 and the Securities Exchange Act of 1934—the first serious efforts at federal securities regulation—and, in 1938, developed the most persuasive contemporary theory of government by administrative agency. The University of New South Wales professor also contends that Landis introduced social responsibility to legal education, an achievement that elevated law from a mere technical discipline to a means of seeking justice. Harvard, O’Brien concludes, should hang its Landis portrait.

I agree, but on somewhat different grounds. O’Brien lays a compelling case for Landis’ impact on administrative thought and practice. He moves too quickly, however, in naming Landis a transformative figure in legal education. Landis spoke in ambitious terms: He aimed for a legal education that transcended technique, reflected the rise of public law, and respected the new experts (economists, sociologists, and other specialists). He sought to instill a desire for justice in his students. Yet Landis did relatively little to institutionalize that vision, acting more as a caretaker than a reformer. If Harvard should hang Landis’ portrait, it is for his ideas and his story, rather than his deeds. . . . [read more here]

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FAC 6 (First Amendment Conversations) Powell Law Clerk David O. Stewart Discusses the Origins of Central Hudson’s 4-Prong Test

[T]he Central Hudson test is susceptible to a wide variety of interpretations . . . . Martin Redish (2001)

After a period of much controversy, the Court in 1980 in Central Hudson articulated a general test for determining the constitutionality of regulations of commercial speech. Although the test has subsequently been interpreted from radically different perspectives, and although it has been attacked by numerous Justices, it has nevertheless remained the dominant test. — Robert Post (2000)

Before Sorrell v. IMS Health Inc. (2011) and 44 Liquormart, Inc. v. Rhode Island (1996), there was Central Hudson Gas & Electric v. Public Service Commission (1980).

When it comes to commercial speech and the First Amendment, Central Hudson was the coin of the realm in its day. Recall, the vote was 8-1 with Justice Lewis Powell writing the majority opinion (joined by Justices Stewart, White, Marshall, and Chief Justice Burger), with separate concurrences by Justice Brennan, Blackmun, and Stevens. Justice William Rehnquist wrote a lone dissent.

David O. Stewart, former Powell law clerk

David O. Stewart

Recall as well that Telford Taylor (counsel for the prosecution at the Nuremberg Trials) argued the case on behalf of the Appellants and Burt Neuborne filed an amicus brief on behalf of the Long Island Lighting Co. supporting the Appellants.

Justice Powell was virtually silent during oral arguments. Justices Byron White, John Paul Stevens, Potter Stewart, William Rehnquist, and Harry Blackmun asked the lion’s share of the questions. Even so, the Chief Justice assigned the opinion to Justice Powell.

Central Hudson was the case where the famed four-prong test was announced. Recently, I had occasion to look through the Powell papers archived at the Washington and Lee School of Law library. In browsing through those papers, I came upon a batch of memos and draft opinions concerning the Central Hudson case.

Much to my surprise, a good friend of mine, David O. Stewart, played a major role as the law clerk responsible for drafting Justice Powell’s Central Hudson majority opinion. In that regard, I asked David if he would answer a few questions about the case and his involvement in it. He kindly agreed; his responses are set out below. Read More