U.S. First Congress: Creation of Federal Judiciary, 1789

As previously discussed, the First Congress of the United States of America began on March 4, 1789, and ended on March 4, 1791. We now look at its creation of the federal court system in the Judiciary Act of 1789, which was adopted on September 24, 1789.[1]

The Constitution

The backdrop for this legislation was Article III of the Constitution of the U.S.A., which provided the following:

  • Section 1 “The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish. The Judges, both of the supreme and inferior Courts, shall hold their Offices during good Behaviour, and shall, at stated Times, receive for their Services, a Compensation, which shall not be diminished during their Continuance in Office.”
  • Section 2 “The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;-to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public ministers and Consuls;-to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;-to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;-to Controversies between two or more States;-between a State and Citizens of another State;-between Citizens of different States;-between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.”
  • “In all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, and those in which a State shall be Party, the supreme Court shall have original Jurisdiction. In all the other Cases before mentioned, the supreme Court shall have appellate Jurisdiction, both as to Law and Fact, with such Exceptions, and under such Regulations as the Congress shall make.”
  • “The Trial of all Crimes, except in Cases of Impeachment, shall be by Jury; and such Trial shall be held in the State where the said Crimes shall have been committed; but when not committed within any State, the Trial shall be at such Place or Places as the Congress may by Law have directed.”

Judiciary Act of 1789

The previously mentioned Judiciary Act of 1789 had the following key provisions:

  • Section 1. The “supreme court of the United States shall consist of a chief justice and five associate justices . . . .” [The Supreme Court’s cognizance or jurisdiction was established in Section 13.][2]
  • Section 2. The U.S. “shall be, and they hereby are divided into thirteen districts [as defined in that section].[3]
  • Section 3. There shall be “a court called a District Court, in each of the aforesaid districts, to consist of one judge, who shall reside in the district for which he is appointed, and shall be called a District Judge. . . .” [The cognizance or jurisdiction of each of the District Courts was specified in Sections 9 and 10.][4]
  • Section 4. These thirteen districts, except those of Maine and Kentucky, “shall be divided into three circuits, and be called the eastern, the middle and the southern circuit. . . . and that there shall be held annually in each district of said circuits, two courts, which shall be called Circuit Courts, and shall consist of any two justices of the Supreme Court and the district judge of such districts . . . .’ [The cognizance or jurisdiction of the Circuit Courts was specified in Section 11, and certain of their procedures were contained in Section 5.] [5]
  • Section 12 [Procedure for removal of certain cases from state court to federal court.]
  • Sections 6, 8, 14-26, 29-35. [Established rules of procedure for the federal courts.]
  • Section 7 [Supreme Court and District Courts have power to appoint clerks with specification of their duties.]
  • Sections 27-28. [District courts have power to appoint marshals with specification of their duties.]

According to Fergus Bordewich, the author of a leading book about the First Congress, the bill’s primary author was Senator Oliver Ellsworth, a staunch Federalist from Connecticut and an experienced litigator and state court judge. Ellsworth was especially concerned about maritime issues because virtually all of the federal government’s revenues would derive from import duties. Another maritime issue was regulating privately owned raiders by validating captured prizes and ensuring that they did not commit outright piracy. [6]

There was “vigorous debate” about the bill. Some believed that having only six Supreme Court justices was insufficient to combat the state courts; that it would be wrong to allow state courts to have jurisdiction over some federal cases; that there was insufficient federal revenue to support the federal courts; that this judiciary was intended to enrich lawyers; that the federal judges would have too much “inquisitorial power;” that the federal courts should not have the power to invalidate state laws that were believed to conflict with the Constitution or federal laws or treaties. James Madison in the House of Representatives thought the bill was too complicated and too expensive. Some even thought that having two overlapping judicial systems (state and federal) was totally unnecessary.

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[1] U.S. First Congress, 1789-1791: Overview, dwkcommentaries.com (Feb. 15, 2017); Judiciary Act of 1789, http://avalon.law.yale.edu/18th_century/judiciary_act.asp.

[2] Over the years Congress has passed various acts to change the number of Supreme Court justices from six to a low of five and a high of ten. The Judiciary Act of 1869 fixed the number of Justices at nine and no subsequent change to the number of Justices has occurred. (U.S. Sup. Ct., Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ). https://www.supremecourt.gov/faq.aspx#faqgi

[3] There now are 94 U.S. district courts as some states like New York have more than one such district and as some non-states (e.g., Puerto Rico) have such courts. (U.S. Courts, Court Role and Structure.) http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/court-role-and-structure

[4] Most, if not all, of today’s U.S. district courts have more than one judge. Thus, as of May 2012 there were 2,758 such judges.

[5] The U.S. circuit courts have been replaced by 13 U.S. courts of appeal, and as of May 2012 there were 714 judges on these courts. (U.S. Courts, Court Role and Structure.) http://www.uscourts.gov/about-federal-courts/court-role-and-structure

[6] Bordewich, The First Congress at 105-12, 141-43, 159-60 (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2016). http://www.simonandschuster.com/books/The-First-Congress/Fergus-M-Bordewich/9781451691931

Richard and Mildred Loving’s Legal Entanglement with Anti-Miscegenation Laws

Last Saturday I saw the beautiful new movie “Loving,” which tells the true story about the love between Richard Perry Loving, a white man, and Mildred Delores Jeter, a black woman, who were married in June 1958 in the District of Columbia. Soon thereafter they returned to their home in Caroline County, Virginia, where they established their marital abode and where they were criminally prosecuted and convicted for violating the state’s anti-miscegenation laws. They then were sentenced to one year in prison, but with suspension of the imposition of that sentence for 25 years on condition they live outside the state, which they did by returning to the District of Columbia.

Later the movie depicts  their challenge with the aid of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), to the constitutionality of these Virginia statutes with the U.S. Supreme Court eventually ruling in their favor.[1] Below is an actual photograph of the couple and one of the actors (Ruth Negga and Joel Edgerton) who played the couple in the movie.

lovings

loving-movie

 

 

 

 

 

This beautiful movie prompted the following report of the legal details of their entanglement with anti-miscegenation laws.

Legal Proceedings in State Court

Their legal problems started with an October 1958 grand jury indictment charging the couple with violating the following provisions of Virginia’s ban on interracial marriages:

  • “Punishment for marriage. — If any white person intermarry with a colored person, or any colored person intermarry with a white person, he shall be guilty of a felony and shall be punished by confinement in the penitentiary for not less than one nor more than five years.” (Va. Code § 2-59)
  • “Leaving State to evade law.—If any white person and colored person shall go out of this State, for the purpose of being married, and with the intention of returning, and be married out of it, and afterwards return to and reside in it, cohabiting as man and wife, they shall be punished as provided in § 20-59, and the marriage shall be governed by the same law as if it had been solemnized in this State. The fact of their cohabitation here as man and wife shall be evidence of their marriage.” (Va. Code § 2-58)

On January 6, 1959, the Lovings pleaded guilty to those charges and, as previously mentioned were sentenced to one year in jail, but with suspension of the sentence for a period of 25 years on the condition that the couple leave the State and not return to Virginia together. The trial judge stated in his opinion that:

  • “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And, but for the interference with his arrangement, there would be no cause for such marriage. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”

The Lovings then returned to the District of Columbia, where they established their home for at least the next eight and a half years.

In the meantime, nearly five years after their convictions, on November 6, 1963, with the aid of attorneys from the ACLU, they filed a motion in the Virginia state trial court to vacate the judgment of conviction and set aside the sentence on the ground that the statutes which they had violated were unconstitutional under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Nearly 15 months later, on January 22, 1965, the state trial judge denied the motion to vacate the sentences, and the Lovings perfected an appeal to the state’s Supreme Court of Appeals.[2]

On March 7, 1966, the seven justices of the Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals unanimously upheld the constitutionality of the anti-miscegenation statutes and, after modifying the sentence, affirmed the convictions.[3]  The entire opinion was based upon that court’s having upheld the constitutional validity of these statutes in a 1955 case (Naim v. Naim) and concluding that there had not been any change in the law on this issue in the subsequent 11 years. As the Virginia court stated:

  • “Our one and only function in this instance is to determine whether, for sound judicial considerations, the Naim case should be reversed. Today, more than ten years since that decision was handed down by this court, a number of states still have miscegenation statutes and yet there has been no new decision reflecting adversely upon the validity of such statutes. We find no sound judicial reason, therefore, to depart from our holding in the Naim According that decision all of the weight to which it is entitled under the doctrine of stare decisis, we hold it to be binding upon us here and rule that Code, §§ 20-58 and 20-59, under which the defendants were convicted and sentenced, are not violative of the Constitution of Virginia or the Constitution of the United States.”

Proceedings in U.S. Supreme Court

The Lovings appealed this decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which noted probable jurisdiction on December 12, 1966.[4]

After the attorneys’ briefing and oral arguments, The Supreme Court on June 12, 1967, issued its unanimous decision holding that the Virginia anti-miscegenation statutes were unconstitutional.[5]

In his opinion for the Court, Chief Justice Earl Warren noted that the two Virginia statutes in question were “part of a comprehensive statutory scheme aimed at prohibiting and punishing interracial marriages,”[6] that they were part of Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act, which was adopted in the “period of extreme nativism” of 1924 and that “[p]enalties for miscegenation arose as an incident of slavery, and have been common in Virginia since the colonial period.” Moreover, the opinion recognized that Virginia then was “one of 16 States which prohibit and punish marriages on the basis of racial classifications.”[7]

After rejecting various arguments advanced by the State of Virginia, the Chief Justice said, “There is patently no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination which justifies this classification. The fact that Virginia prohibits only interracial marriages involving white persons demonstrates that the racial classifications must stand on their own justification, as measures designed to maintain White Supremacy. We have consistently denied the constitutionality of measures which restrict the rights of citizens on account of race. There can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the Equal Protection Clause.”

The Court’s opinion also concluded that the Virginia “statutes also deprive the Lovings of liberty without due process of law in violation of the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.”

“Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. . . . To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual, and cannot be infringed by the State.”

Conclusion

 From a 2016 perspective, it is difficult for this blogger to believe that only 50 years ago 16 states in the U.S. still had anti-miscegenation laws and were trying to defend their constitutionality. As the movie clearly points out, the Lovings did not have the financial means to mount a challenge to these laws, and the legal assistance of organizations like the ACLU is absolutely necessary for such litigation to be conducted. [8]

While the various phases of the litigation were proceeding over nearly nine years, Mr. and Mrs. Loving had to live with this legal cloud hanging over them that prevented them from living in their native Virginia.

Since the Supreme Court’s decision in this case, the number of interracial marriages in the U.S. has increased from 0.4% in 1960 to 0.7% in 1970, 1.9% in 1980, 2.8% in 1990, 7.0% in 2000 and 10.0% in 2010. The date of the Supreme Court decision (June 12) is now remembered in the U.S. as “Loving Day” and the decision itself was cited as precedent in federal court decisions invalidating restrictions on same-sex marriage.

This case also reminded me of the personal story of Lawrence Hill, the noted Canadian author of “The Book of Negroes” about a young African woman who is kidnapped from her native village and taken by a slave ship to the U.S., where she becomes literate and is hired by the British forces at the end of the American Revolutionary War to create the actual Book of Negroes to register those Negroes who helped the British and who thereby were eligible to evacuate Manhattan with their forces. As discussed in a prior post, Hill’s parents— a black father and a white mother —were U.S. citizens who emigrated to Canada the day after they were married in 1953 in the District of Columbia in order to escape racial discrimination and anti-miscegenation laws. Both of them were involved in the human rights movement, an influence Hill readily acknowledges.

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[1] Dargis, Review: In ‘Loving,’ They Loved. A Segregated Virginia Did Not Love Them Back, N.Y. Times (Nov. 2, 2016)  The movie is directed by Jeff Nicols and stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga.

[2] The Virginia trial court presumably was pressed finally to issue its decision on the motion to vacate by the Lovings commencing on October 28, 1964, a class action in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia requesting that a three-judge court be convened to declare the Virginia anti-miscegenation statutes unconstitutional and to enjoin state officials from enforcing their convictions. On February 11, 1965, the three-judge District Court continued the case to allow the Lovings to present their constitutional claims to the highest state court.

[3] Loving v. Commonwealth,206 Va. 924, 147 S.E.2d 78 (Va. Sup. Ct. 1966) ; Naim v. Naim, 197 Va. 80, 87 S.E.2d 749 (Va. Sup. Ct. 1955). remanded, 350 U.S. 891 (U.S. Sup. Ct. 1955), aff’d, 197 Va. 734, 90 S.E.2d 849 (Va. Sup. Ct. 1956), appeal dismissed, 350 U.S. 985 (U.S. Sup. Ct. 1956).

[4] Loving v. Virginia, 385 U.S. 986 (1966).

[5] Loving v. Virginia, 386 U.S. 1 (1967). Mr. Justice Stewart submitted a brief concurring opinion to reiterate his  “belief that ‘it is simply not possible for a state law to be valid under our Constitution which makes the criminality of an act depend upon the race of the actor.’”

[6] Other provisions of the Virginia statutes automatically voided all marriages between “a white person and a colored person” without any judicial proceeding (§ 20-57) and defined “white persons” and “colored persons and Indians” for purposes of the statutory prohibitions (§§ 20-54 and 1-14).

[7] The other states with anti-miscegenation laws were Alabama, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, North carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia. (Justices Upset All Bans On Interracial Marriage, N.Y. Times (June 13, 1967).)

[8] As discussed in an earlier post, I was a pro bono volunteer attorney for the Minnesota ACLU chapter in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a Minneapolis Police Department raid and arrests of citizens at a political fundraiser.

 

Conservative Columnist George Will Condemns Donald Trump

This blog recently has discussed the severe criticism of Donald Trump by a Wall Street Journal editor and by other conservatives and Republicans. Another longtime conservative commentator, George Will, also has aggressively condemned Donald Trump, both before and after the latter’s July 21 Republican presidential nomination. Moreover, in June, when Trump was the presumptive nominee, George Will changed his party affiliation from Republican to “unaffiliated” because of Trump.[1]

Here are at least seven of these condemnations by Mr. Will.

Pre- Nomination

1.Donald Trump relishes wrecking the GOP[2]

Trump “boasts of his sexual athleticism, embraces torture and promises to kill terrorists’ families.” He has “ myriad [religious] conversions-of-convenience.” More importantly for Will, Trump has disavowed Will’s conservative milestones by liking the Obamacare mandate and by opposing Social Security reform and reductions.

2. The albatross of a Trump endorsement[3]

 “Trump’s distinctive rhetorical style — think of a drunk with a bullhorn reading aloud James Joyce’s ‘Finnegans Wake’ under water — poses an almost insuperable challenge to people whose painful duty is to try to extract clarity from his effusions.”

“Trump, the thin-skinned tough guy, . . . has neither respect for nor knowledge of the Constitution, and he probably is unaware that he would have to ‘open up’ many Supreme Court First Amendment rulings in order to achieve his aim. . . . [of chilling] free speech, for the comfort of the political class, of which he is now a gaudy ornament.”

Trump, “whose breadth of . . . ignorance is the eighth wonder of the world, actually thinks that judges ‘sign’ bills. Trump is a presidential aspirant who would flunk an eighth-grade civics exam”

3. Do Republicans really think Donald Trump will make a good Supreme Court choice?[4]

Trump is “a stupendously uninformed dilettante who thinks judges ‘sign’ what he refers to as ‘bills.’ There is every reason to think that Trump understands none of the issues pertinent to the Supreme Court’s role in the American regime, and there is no reason to doubt that he would bring to the selection of justices what he brings to all matters — arrogance leavened by frivolousness.”

“Trump’s multiplying Republican apologists do not deny the self-evident — that he is as clueless regarding everything as he is about the nuclear triad.”

4. If Trump is nominated, the COP must keep him out of the White House?[5]

“Donald Trump’s damage to the Republican Party, although already extensive, has barely begun. Republican quislings will multiply, slinking into support of the most anti-conservative presidential aspirant in their party’s history. These collaborationists will render themselves ineligible to participate in the party’s reconstruction.”

“If Trump is nominated, Republicans working to purge him and his manner from public life will reap the considerable satisfaction of preserving the identity of their 162-year-old party while working to see that they forgo only four years of the enjoyment of executive power.”

5. How entangled with Russia is Trump?[6]

After bewailing Trump’s many statements supporting Russia and Putin, Will says it “is unclear whether any political idea leavens the avarice of Trump and some of his accomplices regarding today’s tormented and dangerous Russia. Speculation about the nature and scale of Trump’s financial entanglements with Putin and his associates is justified by Trump’s refusal to release his personal and business tax information. Obviously he is hiding something, and probably more than merely embarrassing evidence that he has vastly exaggerated his net worth and charitableness.”

 Post- Nomination

 6. Trump’s shallowness runs deep [7]

Trump’s “speeches are . .syntactical train wrecks. . . . [He] rarely finishes a sentence. . . . [But maybe] he actually is a sly rascal, cunningly in pursuit of immunity through profusion.

“The nation, however, is . . . [being damaged] by Trump’s success in normalizing post-factual politics. It is being poisoned by the injection into its bloodstream of the cynicism required of those Republicans who persist in pretending that although Trump lies constantly and knows nothing, these blemishes do not disqualify him from being president.”

7. The sinking fantasy that Trump would defend the constitution,[8]

According to Will, “Trump knows nothing about current debates concerning the [Supreme Court’s]. . . proper role.”

Moreover, Trump has erroneous views on what Will regards as “the two most important [Supreme Court] decisions this century.

Trump has criticized Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission, 558 U.S. 310 (2010), which held corporations have a first amendment free speech right to make financial political contributions and which Will favors on the ground that “Americans do not forfeit their free-speech rights when they band together in corporate form to magnify their political advocacy.”

The other case, Kelo v. City of New London, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), held, 5-4, that a municipal government “behaved constitutionally when it bulldozed a residential neighborhood for the ‘public use’ of transferring the land to a corporation that would pay more taxes than the neighborhood’s residents paid to the government.” For Trump, his “interests as a developer and a big-government authoritarian converge in his enthusiasm for Kelo.” Will, however, thinks this decision “did radical damage to property rights.”

In addition, Will decries President Obama’s use of executive orders, which Trump promises to expand.

Conclusion

Although I disagree with George Will on the various political issues he discusses in these columns, I do endorse his condemnation of Donald Trump’s temperament, judgment and knowledge.

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[1] Diaz, George Will: Trump’s judge comments prompted exit from GOP, CNN (June 21, 2016).

[2] Will, Donald Trump relishes wrecking the GOP, Wash. Post (Feb. 21, 2016).

[3] Will, The albatross of a Trump endorsement. Wash. Post (Feb. 28. 2016).

[4] Will, Do Republicans really think Donald Trump will make a good Supreme Court choice, Wash. Post ( March 18, 2016).

[5] Will, If Trump is nominated, the GOP must keep him out of the White House, Wash. Post (April 29, 2016).

[6] Will, How entangled with Russia is Trump?, Wash. Post (July 29, 2016).

[7] Will, Trump’s shallowness runs deep, Wash. Post (Aug. 3, 2016).

[8] Will, The sinking fantasy that Trump would defend the constitution, Wash. Post (Aug. 5, 2016).

 

 

 

Wall Street Journal Publishes President Obama’s Plea for a Senate Hearing and Vote on Nomination of Merrick Garland to U.S. Supreme Court

On July 17 the Wall Street Journal, which usually is opposed to President Obama, published President Obama’s plea for a U.S. Senate hearing and vote on the President’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to fill the vacancy on the U.S. Supreme Court.[1] Here is what the President wrote.

“For more than 40 years, there has been an average of just over two months between a president’s nominating someone to the Supreme Court and that person’s receiving a hearing in Congress. It has now been more than four months since I nominated Merrick Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit—and Congress left town for a seven-week recess without giving him a hearing, let alone an up-or-down vote.”

“This is much more serious than your typical case of Washington dysfunction. And if we allow it to continue, the consequences of congressional inaction could weaken our most important institutions, erode public trust and undermine our democracy.”

“Every Supreme Court nominee since 1875 who hasn’t withdrawn from the process has received a hearing or a vote. Even when the nominee was controversial. Even when the Senate and the White House were held by different parties.”

“But Chief Judge Garland isn’t controversial. He has more federal judicial experience than any Supreme Court nominee in our history. He is widely respected by people of both political parties as a man of experience, integrity and unimpeachable qualifications. The partisan decision of Senate Republicans to deny a hearing to a judge who has served his country with honor and dignity is not just an insult to a good man—it is an unprecedented escalation of the stakes. It threatens the very process by which we nominate judges, regardless of who our next president is. And it should concern every American who cares about the rule of law and upholding the institutions that make our democracy work.”

“Here’s why. Historically, when a president nominates a Supreme Court justice—regardless of when in the presidential term this occurs—the Senate is obligated to act. Senators are free to vote their conscience. But they vote. That’s their job.”

“If Republicans in the Senate refuse even to consider a nominee in the hopes of running out the clock until they can elect a president from their own party, so that he can nominate his own justice to the Supreme Court, then they will effectively nullify the ability of any president from the opposing party to make an appointment to the nation’s highest court. They would reduce the very functioning of the judicial branch of the government to another political leverage point.”

“We cannot allow the judicial confirmation process to descend into an endless cycle of political retaliation. There would be no path to fill a vacancy for the highest court in the land. The process would stall. Court backlogs would grow. An entire branch of government would be unable to fulfill its constitutional role. And some of the most important questions of our time would go unanswered.”

“This is troubling for two reasons. First, a functioning judiciary—at every level—is essential to the business of the nation. For example, last month, a deadlocked Supreme Court was unable to reach a decision on several major issues, leaving the law itself in limbo. Across the country, judicial vacancies are leaving some lower courts so overwhelmed they can barely make it through their dockets. Twenty-nine judicial emergencies have been declared by lower courts across the country. This has real implications for jurisprudence, real financial costs to the judicial system and real consequences in the lives of people awaiting the outcomes of those cases.”

“Second, treating the Supreme Court like a political football makes the American people more cynical about democracy. When the Supreme Court becomes a proxy for political parties, public confidence in the notion of an impartial, independent judiciary breaks down. And the resulting lack of trust can undermine the rule of law.”

“So here’s an idea. Democrats and Republicans in the Senate could agree to give Chief Judge Garland a hearing when they return from their extended recess, while also committing to give every future qualified Supreme Court nominee a hearing and a vote within an established time frame. It’s a good idea that my predecessor, President George W. Bush, suggested during his time in office. This reasonable proposal would prevent the confirmation process from breaking down beyond repair, and help restore good faith between the two parties.”

“In my travels around the world as president, I have seen how hard democracy is—how it takes more than a proclamation or even an election. Democracies depend on the institutions we build, the rules upon which the nation is founded, and the traditions, customs and habits of heart that guide our behavior and ensure that political differences never override the founding ideals that bind us. And it is on us—all of us—to preserve and protect them.”

“Now we need Congress to act. We need senators to demonstrate that, once again, America has the capacity to rise above disagreements and maintain a fidelity to the values that, for 240 years, have made this extraordinary experiment a success. That’s what the American people deserve—and it’s what makes ours the greatest country the world has ever known.”

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[1] President Obama, Merrick Garland Deserves a Vote—For Democracy’s Sake, W.S.J. (July 17, 2016).

Long History of Racism in U.S. Laws Regarding United States Citizenship

To my great amazement, I recently have discovered that the United States has had a long history of racism in its statutes regarding U.S. citizenship. In the words of Blum and Haney-Lopez, “From this country’s inception [in 1789-1790], the laws regulating who was or could become a citizen were tainted by racial prejudice. Birthright citizenship, the automatic acquisition of citizenship by virtue of birth, was tied to race [from 1790] until 1940. Naturalized citizenship, the acquisition of citizenship by any means other than through birth, was conditioned on race [from 1790] until 1952.”[1]

The following is a brief summary of these laws.

Birthright Citizenship

“The U.S. Constitution as ratified did not define the citizenry, probably because it was assumed that [U.S. law included] the English common law rule of jus soli,” i.e., “citizenship accrues to ‘all’ born within a nation’s jurisdiction.”

The Supreme Court, however, in its now infamous 1857 decision in the Dred Scott case held that Scott, an enslaved Negro of the African race whose ancestors were brought to the U.S. and sold as slaves, and all other Blacks, free and enslaved, were not and never could be citizens because they were a “subordinate and inferior class of beings.” Therefore, Scott did not have standing to sue in federal court to claim a right to his freedom. (Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857).)

This was changed after the Civil War in the Civil Rights Act of 1866, 14 Stat. 27 (1866), which stated that “all persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.” This was confirmed in Section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, adopted in 1868: “All 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.” https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution/amendmentxiv

This statute and constitutional amendment, however, left two minorities in the cold on birthright citizenship.

The first group was children born in the U.S. to non-citizen parents. Their status was unclear until the U.S. Supreme Court in U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U.S. 649 (1898), held that such children were birthright citizens of the U.S.

The second group was Native Americans who were born in the U.S. Here, the Supreme Court rendered a negative opinion in 1884 in Elk v. Wilkins, 112 U.S 94 (1884). It held that Native Americans owed allegiance to their tribes and thus did not acquire U.S. citizenship upon birth.

Thereafter Congress granted such citizenship in piecemeal fashion, tribe by tribe, until 1924, when it enacted the Indian Citizenship Act (Snyder Act), 43 Stat. 233 (1924), which stated “that all non citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States be, and they are hereby, declared to be citizens of the United States.”

This statute, however, left unclear whether it covered individuals born after its effective date. That issue was finally resolved in section 201(b) of the Nationality Act of 1940, which stated, “The following shall be nationals and citizens of the United States at birth . . . A person born in the United States to a member of an Indian, Eskimo, Aleutian, or other aboriginal tribe.”

Citizenship by Naturalization

Although the Constitution, as just noted, did not originally define the citizenry, it did make an explicit grant of authority to Congress to establish the criteria for granting citizenship after birth. That is found in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, which provides that Congress has the power “To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.” From the very start in 1789-1790 through 1952, Congress exercised this power in a manner that burdened naturalization laws with racial restrictions that tracked those in the law of birthright citizenship. This history can be seen in two periods: 1790-1870 and 1870-1952.

1790-1870

In 1790, only a few months after ratification of the Constitution, the very First Congress of the U.S. adopted the “Act to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization,” 1 Stat. 103 (1790). It provided that naturalization was limited to immigrants who were “free white persons of good character.” (Emphasis added.) Although the statute did not define that term, it clearly excluded Native Americans, indentured servants, slaves, free blacks and Asians from this method of obtaining U.S. citizenship.

This sole requirement of being a “white person” for naturalization remained in the U.S. statutes until after the Civil War in 1870 when Congress adopted a statute that made it possible for naturalization for “aliens of African nativity and to persons of African descent.” This was contained in section 7 of An Act to amend the Naturalization Laws and to punish Crimes against the same, and for other purposes,” 16 Stat. 254 (1870).

In the 1870 congressional debate over this change, Senator Charles Sumner argued that racial barriers to naturalization should be struck altogether. However, racial prejudice against Native Americans and Asians forestalled the complete elimination of the racial prerequisites. For example, one senator argued against conferring “the rank, privileges, and immunities of citizenship upon the cruel savages [Native Americans] who destroyed [Minnesota’s] peaceful settlements and massacred the people with circumstances of atrocity too horrible to relate” in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862.[2] Another senator wondered “’whether this door’ [of citizenship] shall now be thrown open to the Asiatic population,’ warning that to do so would spell for the Pacific coast ‘an end to republican government there, because it is very well ascertained that those people have no appreciation of that form of government; it seems to be obnoxious to their very nature; they seem to be incapable either of understanding or carrying it out.’”

1870-1952

Thus, as of 1870, being either “white” or “African nativity or descent” was a requirement for naturalization, and these options remained in U.S. law until 1952.

Other individuals, particularly those from Asia, were not eligible with this 1870 change in the law. Moreover, starting in 1882, Congress passed a series of laws that specifically excluded from naturalization individuals from China, Japan, India and the Philippines although the laws never specifically labeled them as “Asians” or “Orientals” or another supposed racial category. Thus, in 1922, the U.S. Supreme Court in Ozawa v. United States, 260 U.S. 178 (1922), held that a Japanese man was not “white” or Caucasian and thus ineligible for naturalization.

The next year in Thind v. United States, 261U.S. 204 (1923), the Court decided that an immigrant from India was not “Caucasian” and thus not eligible for naturalization. Important for the Court was the criterion of assimilability to separate the desirable immigrants from the undesirable ones: Asian Indians were distinguished from the swarthy European immigrants, who were deemed ‘readily amalgamated’ with the immigrants ‘already here.’

This limitation of naturalization to persons who were “white” or “African nativity or descent” eroded during World War II as a result of political pressures on the U.S. associated with its well-founded opposition to the horrendous racism of Nazism. In 1940 eligibility was extended to “descendants of races indigenous to the Western Hemisphere;” in 1943, to Chinese persons; and in 1946, to persons from the Philippines and India.

Thus, at the end of World War II, U.S. laws permitted naturalization for:

  • (1) white persons. persons of African nativity or descent, and persons of races indigenous to the continents of North or South America or adjacent islands and Filipino persons or persons of Filipino descent;
  • (2) persons who possess. either singly or in combination, a preponderance of blood of one or more of the classes specified in clause (1);
  • (3) Chinese persons or persons of Chinese descent; and persons of races indigenous to India; and
  • (4) persons who possess. either singly or in combination, a preponderance of blood of one or more of the classes specified in clause (3) or, either singly or in combination, as much as one-half blood of those classes and some additional blood of one of the classes specified in clause (1).

All of this complexity was eliminated in 1952 when Congress enacted the McCarran-Walter Act, 60 Stat. 163, 239 (1952), which states in section 311, “The right of a person to become a naturalized citizen of the United States shall not be denied or abridged because of race or sex or because such person is married.”

Conclusion

 Although I was a history major at an excellent U.S. college, studied law for three years at a prominent U.S. law school, practiced law for 35 years, including some exposure to U.S. immigration law, and taught in another prominent law school for nine years, I am embarrassed to admit that until recently I was unaware of this history of racism in U.S. laws regarding U.S. citizenship beyond the post-Civil War changes regarding African-Americans.

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[1] Except for specific statutes cited and discussed, this account is primarily based upon Blum & Haney-Lopez, Racial Restrictions in the Law of Citizenship, Ch. 2. See also Braziel, History of Migration and Immigration Laws in the United States (Spring 2000).

[2] Prior posts to dwkcommentaries.com have discussed the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862: (1) The U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Nov. 3, 2012); (2) Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (May 21, 2013); ; (3) White Settler’s Contemporaneous Reaction to the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Nov. 6, 2012); (4) U.S. Military Commission Trials of Dakota Indians After the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (June 11, 2013); (5) President Abraham Lincoln’s Involvement in the Military Commission’s Convictions and Sentences of the Dakota Indians (June 24, 2013); (6) Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Nov. 9. 2012); (7) Commemoration of the 150th Anniversary of the Hanging of the “Dakota 38” (Dec. 26, 2012); (8) Minneapolis and St. Paul Declare U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 “Genocide” (Jan 12, 2013); (9) Remembering the U.S.-Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part I) (Nov. 18, 2012); (10) Remembering the U.S.-Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part II) (Nov. 25, 2012); (11) Remembering the U.S.-Dakota War at Minneapolis’ Westminster Presbyterian Church (Part III) (Nov. 29, 2012); (12) Personal Reflections on the U.S.-Dakota War of 1862 (Dec. 10, 2012).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Evaluating Bryan Stevenson Through the Prism of President Obama’s Howard University Speech

President Obama’s commencement address at Howard University was examined in a prior post. The key points in Obama’s speech for this evaluation are the following:

  • “Be confident in your heritage.  Be confident in your blackness.”
  • African Americans have a “particular awareness of injustice and unfairness and struggle.  That means we cannot sleepwalk through life.  We cannot be ignorant of history. . . . We have cousins and uncles and brothers and sisters who we remember were just as smart and just as talented as we were, but somehow got ground down by structures that are unfair and unjust.”
  • “You have to go through life with more than just passion for change; you need a strategy. . . . [C]hange requires more than righteous anger.  It requires a program, and it requires organizing.”
Bryan Stevenson
Bryan Stevenson

Now we evaluate a prominent contemporary African-American, Bryan Stevenson through the prism of that speech.

Although not a Howard alumnus, Stevenson, as discussed in another post, is an African-American attorney, author and activist for social justice, especially for today’s African-American men and women and for their ancestors who were enslaved and persecuted. He has successfully argued cases in the U.S. Supreme Court and other courts for prison inmates and written and spoken for changes in our criminal justice system. In addition, he has organized and established the Equal Justice Initiative (CJI), a significant human rights/civil rights law firm in Montgomery, Alabama that is being joined by  a museum honoring the victims of slavery and lynchings.[1]

In so doing, Stevenson is demonstrating confidence in his own heritage, his own blackness, as President Obama urged the graduates. Stevenson also shows his awareness of injustice, unfairness and struggle that he combines with a strategy of change through the courts and public opinion. He meets the standards set forth by President Obama.

Give thanks to God for this good man!

 

 

 

 

Senator Chuck Grassley’s Outrageous Conduct Regarding the Supreme Court Nomination of Merrick Garland 

 

Iowa Senator Charles (“Chuck”) Grassley, the current Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is following the dictates of the Senate Majority Leader and his fellow Republican, Mitch McConnell, to not do anything with respect to President Obama’s Supreme Court nomination of Merrick Garland. Grassley’s conduct with respect to this nomination stands in sharp contrast to the rational argument for the nomination recently offered by President Obama as discussed in a prior post and in the White House’s website for the nomination.

Grassley started out this “do-nothingism” on what was a high note for him. Immediately after the announcement of the Garland nomination Grassley said “Article II, Section 2 [of the Constitution grants] the power to nominate an individual to the Supreme Court . . . to the President and authority is given to the Senate to provide advice and consent.  Nowhere in the Constitution does it describe how the Senate should either provide its consent or withhold its consent.” In addition, according to the Senator, “A majority of the Senate [the Republicans] has decided to fulfill its constitutional role of advice and consent by withholding support for the nomination during a presidential election year.”[1]

Grassley, therefore, has not submitted any questionnaire to the nominee, has refused to schedule any hearing on the nomination and has promised not to submit the nomination for a vote by the entire Senate. In addition, Grassley initially even refused to extend the courtesy of meeting with Judge Garland. Subsequently, however, Grassley said he would meet with Garland to tell him why Grassley was not supporting the nomination.[2]

Grassley Speech on Senate Floor

On April 5, Grassley escalated his obstructionism by an intemperate speech on the Senate floor criticizing Chief Justice Roberts for saying, 10 days before the death of Associate Justice Scalia and thus before the controversy over the Garland nomination: “When you have a sharply divided political divisive hearing process, it increases the danger that whoever comes out of it will be viewed in those terms.  You know if the Democrats and Republicans have been fighting so fiercely about whether you’re going to be confirmed, it’s natural for some members of the public to think, well, you must be identified in a particular way as a result of that process.” [3]

According to Grassley, “the Chief Justice has it exactly backwards.  The confirmation process doesn’t make the Justices appear political.  The confirmation process has gotten political precisely because the court has drifted from the constitutional text, and rendered decisions based instead on policy preferences. In short, the Justices themselves have gotten political.  And because the Justices’ decisions are often political and transgress their constitutional role, the process becomes more political.”

“In fact, many of my constituents believe, with all due respect, that the Chief Justice is part of this problem,” added Grassley. “And contrary to what the Chief Justice suggested, a major reason the confirmation process has become more divisive is that some of the Justices are voting too often based on politics and not on law.   If they’re going to be political actors after they’re confirmed, then the confirmation process necessarily will reflect that dynamic.”

This Grassley speech also criticized Roberts for trying to counter the perception by some Americans that the Court has become politicized. Said the Senator, “I think he is concerned with the wrong problem. He would be well served to address the reality, not perception, that too often there is little difference between the actions of the court and the actions of the political branches. So, physician, heal thyself.”

Reacting to this speech, Jeffrey Toobin of the New Yorker, said this speech “was close to breathtaking in its intemperate incoherence.” It included an “extended attack on Chief Justice John Roberts, who had recently expressed the unexceptional view that the Court should stay out of politics as much as possible.” According to Grassley, “The confirmation process has gotten political precisely because the Court has drifted from the constitutional text and rendered decisions based instead on policy preferences.” Presumably Grassley was referring to two cases upholding the Affordable Care Act that were written by Roberts.

An editorial in the Baltimore Sun had similar words of condemnation. It said that Grassley’s argument was “infantile” and “allows Mr. Grassley or any other self-appointed expert on constitutional law to make a similar claim every time a justice interprets the law in a manner that is not lock-step with the critic’s own. . . . Shame on Senator Grassley for suggesting that Justice Roberts has somehow betrayed the institution when it is the judiciary chairman who seems to be bent on rewriting the Constitution — not only to limit President Barack Obama’s authority to fill a court vacancy but now to imply that the chief justice has somehow sabotaged the court. . . . Iowa voters, take note: Your six-term senator deserves to be put out to pasture, if only for sheer soft-headedness.”[4]

Grassley Op-Ed in Des Moines Register

On April 10, in reaction to a Des Moines Register editorial objecting to the Senate’s obstruction of the nomination and probably to Iowa voters objecting to his “do-nothingism,” Grassley published an op-ed in that newspaper” to defend his position.[5]

He asserted that it was absurd to argue that somehow “the federal judiciary is debilitated without a ninth Supreme Court justice for a brief period of time.  As the [changing] numbers [of the Justices over time] make clear, the size of the court as Congress designed it over the years has frequently changed, and hasn’t left the court in disarray.” He continued, “The temporary impact of a split decision pales in comparison to the damage an election-year political brawl would cause the court and the country . . . . A nomination considered during this heated campaign season would be all about politics, not the Constitution.”

Grassley-Garland Breakfast Meeting

The Grassley-Garland meeting did happen over breakfast in the Senate Dining Room on April 12. After the one-hour breakfast, Grassley tweeted that the meeting has been “pleasant” as he explained to Judge Garland why the Senate would not be moving forward with his nomination. Later the Senator’s staff released a statement: “The meeting was cordial and pleasant. As he indicated last week, Grassley explained why the Senate won’t be moving forward during this hyper-partisan election year. Grassley thanked Judge Garland for his service.” [6]

Grassley ‘s Reaction to President Obama’s Statement About the Nomination

Later that same day, April 12, the Senator released a statement to be made on the Senate floor in response to President Obama’s comments at the University of Chicago Law School that were discussed in an earlier post.[7]

“[U]nlike the President, I think it’s a bad thing that there’s politics in judicial decision-making these days. Politics in judicial rulings means that something other than law forms the basis of those decisions. It means the judge is reading his or her own views into the Constitution.  Unlike the President, I believe the biggest threat to public confidence in the court is the justices’ willingness to permit their own personal politics to influence their decisions. “

According to Grassley and contrary to the President, “what’s in a judge’s ‘heart,” or their personal “perspective [and] ethics’ have no place in judicial decision-making” and ‘is totally at odds with our constitutional system.   We are a government of laws and not a government of judges.”

Said Grassley, “Politics belongs to us—it’s between the people and their elected representatives.  It’s important that judges don’t get involved in politics. That’s because, unlike senators, lifetime-appointed federal judges aren’t accountable to the people in elections.  It’s also because when nine unelected justices make decisions based on their own policy preferences, rather than constitutional text, they rob from the American people the ability to govern themselves.”

Conclusion

A negative assessment of the obstructions to the Garland nomination by Chairman Grassley and other Republican Senators has been provided by 15 former presidents of the American Bar Association (ABA) and by this blogger.

The ABA leaders asserted in a letter to Senate leaders that “there is no election-year exception” to the Senate’s advice and consent responsibilities in the Constitution, that Chief Judge Merrick Garland is “one of the most outstanding judges in the country” and that leaving the seat vacant “injects a degree of politics into the judicial branch that materially hampers the effective operation of our nation’s highest court.” Therefore, say the bar leaders, “The president has fulfilled his constitutional duty, and it is time for the members of the United States Senate to fulfill theirs by holding a fair hearing and timely vote.”[8]

Grassley’s previously cited op-ed made what, in this blogger’s opinion, is an absurd argument. He contended that with a vacancy on the Court this election year, “the American people have a unique opportunity to engage in a serious discussion about the meaning of our Constitution and the way justices read it.” So far there has not been any such serious discussion of this or any other issue and it is unrealistic to expect that there will be any difference during the remaining six-plus months of this election.

Moreover, Grassley who is not an attorney and who, to my knowledge, has never studied constitutional law, proceeds from an over-simplistic view of how cases present constitutional questions and how courts resolve them. He also ignores the Senate’s own interpretation of the relevant constitutional provisions by its consistent practice of holding hearings and votes on nominations even in election years. Finally Grassley errs in suggesting that issues of constitutional law should be submitted to the average voter, similarly unversed in constitutional law. Instead the constitutional system submits selection of judges to the President and the Senate, neither of which originally was elected directly by the people.[9] This system of judicial selection is one way to preserve the independence of the judiciary.

Although I now live and vote in Minnesota, I am a native Iowan who obtained education in the public schools of the Iowa town of Perry and at the state’s Grinnell College. I, therefore, wrote to Senator Grassley on March 20, 2016. After reciting my Iowa background, I stated:

  • “I have long believed that most Iowans were reasonable, fair-minded people and that their elected representatives reflected this admirable trait.”
  • “You, however, disappointingly have dispelled this belief by your enlistment in the Republican Senate leadership campaign to deny a hearing and a Senate vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee and the full Senate on advising and consenting to President Obama’s nomination of Judge Merrick Garland to the United States Supreme Court.”
  • “In so doing, you ignore that in 2012 President Obama won reelection for a term of office that does not end until January 20, 2017 with a popular vote of 65.9 million, which was nearly 5.0 million more votes than those received by the Republican presidential candidate, Mitt Romney. You also ignore that under Article II, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution the President has the power and the duty to “nominate . . . Judges of the supreme Court” and that the Senate has the power and duty to provide its “Advice and Consent” to such nominations.”
  • “Remember this is the Senate Judiciary Committee, not the Republican Judiciary Committee nor “your” Judiciary Committee.”
  • “I hope during this Senate recess that your Iowa constituents will voice similar views to you and that you change your position on this important issue and authorize the Judiciary Committee to proceed with its consideration of this nomination.”

To date I have not received any response to this letter from the Senator.

====================================

[1] Grassley, Grassley Statement on the President’s Nomination of Merrick Garland to the U.S. Supreme Court (Mar. 16, 2016)

[2] Reuters, Senator Grassley to Meet Garland Despite Opposition to Nominee, N.Y. Times (April 4, 2016); Shear, Meeting Merritt Garland to Tell Him Why G.O.P. Won’t Hold Hearings, N.Y. Times (April 4, 2016).

[3] Grassley, Grassley Floor Statement on the Public Perception of the Supreme Court (April 5, 2016); Assoc. Press, Capitol Hill Buzz: Grassley Takes on Chief Justice Roberts, N.Y. Times (April 5, 2016); Toobin, The Supreme Court Extremism of Clarence Thomas and Chuck Grassley, New Yorker (April 8, 2016).

[4] Editorial, Grassley v. Roberts, Baltimore Sun (April 10, 2016).

[5] Grassley: Grassley: Sky won’t fall with one less justice, Des Moines Register (April 10, 2016).

[6] Herszenhorn, Senator Grassley and Judge Garland Meet, and Rehash the Obvious, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2016);Reuters, Senate Judiciary Chairman Grassley Tells Garland No Hearings, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2016); Assoc. Press, Senate Judiciary Chair Grassley Has Breakfast with Garland, N.Y. Times (April 12, 2016).

[7] Grassley, The Supreme Court and the Remarks of President Barack Obama at the University of Chicago (April 12, 2016).

[8] Assoc. Press, Ex-American Bar Association Chiefs Push for a Vote on Garland, N/Y. Times (April 11, 2016); Mascaro, Top GOP senator meets Obama’s Supreme court pick to tell him there will be no vote, Chic. Tribune (April 12, 2016).

[9]  U.S. Senators were not elected by popular vote of the people until 1913 with the adoption of the Seventeenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requiring such method of election. (U.S. Senate, Direct Election of Senators.) The President and Vice President, originally and still true today, are not elected by popular vote, but instead by electors in the Electoral College. And the first time there was a popular vote for electors was in 1824 with the procedure for the Electoral College established by the Twelfth Amendment to the Constitution that was adopted in 1804.