Thursday, November 19, 2009

ASLH: The Sutherland Prize

[We've previously noted, via a posting of H-Law's report on the annual meeting of the American Society for Legal History, that Paul Halliday and G. Edward White have won the ASLH's Sutherland Prize. Here is the full report of the Sutherland Prize Committee, chaired by James Oldham, Georgetown University Law Center.]

The Sutherland Prize, named in honor of the late Donald W. Sutherland, a distinguished historian of the law of medieval England and a mentor of many students, is awarded annually, on the recommendation of the Sutherland Prize Committee, to the person or persons who wrote the best article on English legal history published in the previous year.

The Sutherland Prize for 2008 is awarded to Paul D. Halliday and G. Edward White for their joint article, “The Suspension Clause: English Text, Imperial Contexts, and American Implications,” 94 Virginia Law Review 575-714 (2008).

The Suspension Clause article persuasively lays out and documents the “franchise” argument – that the Great Writ (as habeas corpus has often been called) must be understood historically as having been a feature of the royal prerogative, allowing the king, or the king’s courts, to demand an explanation for the detention or imprisonment of the king’s subjects throughout the king’s dominions. The article makes it clear that “subjecthood” encompassed all those who could lay claim to the king’s protection, whether alien or citizen. Professors Halliday and White emphasize the important fact that the famous habeas corpus statute of 1679 “was never understood, in the period before the American framing, as superseding the common law habeas jurisprudence.”

The seminal writing of Matthew Hale then supplies the foundation for the explanation by Professors Halliday and White of the far-reaching geographical scope of the writ. The format for the explanation is to “take a tour across the king’s dominions, beginning within the English realm then traveling well beyond it, with Hale as our guide.” This is followed by the revealing and important description of habeas corpus in colonial India. After circling the globe, Professors Halliday and White turn to the Suspension Clause, having provided clear perspective on how the British Americans would have understood habeas corpus, and how it “had been reframed” so that it “was no longer associated with the prerogative” but instead was “thought of as a power exercised by individual judges as well as courts.” The article is based upon exhaustive documentary research and is a splendid example of the enhanced historical understanding that can be gained through the patient archival work of the legal historian.

Hat tip: H-Law