|Charles T. Wood (credit)|
I hope the Britcon course has or, if not, finds its historian. I’d like to know whether it originated as a vehicle for assuring the white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and male members of the American gentry class that they were part of a great constitutional tradition. If it did, one assumes that college presidents and Boards of Trustees were not amused when professionally trained scholars refused to play along. Certainly, WASP privilege was no part of the message I got in the late 1970s from Wood, who was so heterodox as to emphasize how much a putatively exceptional English constitutional tradition shared with those of other European peoples, including especially the presumably benighted French.
Debates on the Federal Judiciary: A Documentary History (Federal Judicial Center, 2013) is not likely to have the same effect on students as Stephenson and Marcham did on me. For many students, a history that started in their own country a mere 226 years ago will lack the allure of 1066 and all that. (On that allure, consider the primary meaning of the term Britcon today.) Further, readers encountering these volumes in a classroom are likely to be in their third-year of law school (that is, if law schools continue to have a third year). By that time, the close reading of texts will have lost much of its novelty. Even so, a seminar taken the same semester as a Federal Courts course could permanently endow law students with the historian's double vision of the present. That is, it could teach them to see the federal courts in all their immediacy and as the continuation of a long train of political, social, and economic controversies.
Volume 1, compiled and edited by Bruce A. Ragsdale, Director of the Federal Judicial History Office, covers the years 1787-1975. Volume 2, compiled and edited by Daniel S. Holt, Assistant Historian at the FJHO, covers the years 1875-1937. A third volume will end in the present and "survey the history of bankruptcy in the federal courts." The two completed volumes are downloadable as pdf files gratis, a feature that digital natives will especially appreciate.
|The Law, Federal Courthouse, Philadelphia. Credit.|
Just as, back in my college days, Wood assigned a text–J.E.A. Jolliffe’s Constitutional History of Medieval England from the English Settlement to 1485 (1937)–as well as Stephenson and Marcham, the teacher of a seminar on the history of the federal judiciary would probably want to assign a text along with Debates on the Federal Judiciary. In progress is a comprehensive one-volume history of the federal judiciary, commissioned by the Supreme Court Historical Society and the Federal Judicial History Office and written by Peter C. Hoffer, Williamjames Hull Hoffer, and N.E.H. Hull. Until it appears, I can recommend a synthesis sounding in American Political Development, Justin Crowe’s Building the Judiciary: Law, Courts, and the Politics of Institutional Development (Princeton University Press, 2012), on which see Kevin C. Walsh's Jotwell review. Otherwise one would have to assemble a narrative from the periodical literature, court- and circuit-specific monographs, case-specific contributions to the University Press of Kansas’s series Landmark Law Cases and American Society, and more broadly conceived books, such as Edward A. Purcell, Jr.’s Litigation and Inequality: Federal Diversity Jurisdiction in Industrial America, 1870-1958 (Oxford University Press, 1992). On the circuit and court histories, see Purcell’s review essay, “Reconsidering the Frankfurterian Paradigm: Reflections on Histories of Lower Federal Courts," Law and Social Inquiry 24 : 679-750, and Michael Les Benedict’s H-Law review of Justice and Legal Change on the Shores of Lake Erie: A History of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, ed. Paul Finkelman, Roberta Sue Alexander (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2012).