Thursday, June 18, 2015

Historical Societies of the Federal Courts: An Update

The Historical Society for the District of Columbia Circuit is one of the more active judicial historical societies, with a large and important oral history series, a book-length history, a newsletter, annual panels and reenactments of leading issues and cases, occasional postings to a Historian’s Corner on its well-maintained website, and a mock trial program for high school students of the District of Columbia.  But Board President Stephen J. Pollak is not one to let an institution he leads rest on its laurels, and so earlier this year he asked Daniel Holt of the Federal Judicial Center to brief the Society’s board on what other federal court historical societies have been doing since 2000.  I'm extremely grateful to Dr. Holt for permission to use his research in this post.  He cautioned me that he did not intend his briefing to be exhaustive and that he must have inadvertently omitted publications and activities.  I've also winnowed his list a bit, so you might as well blame me for any omissions.  I can try to make amends in an update.

Possibly your best on-line entree into the topics is the Federal Judicial Center's webpage, Federal Court Historical Programs.  Circuit Courts with very active historical societies include the Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, Eleventh, D.C., and Federal Circuit.  An entree into the work of the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society is here.  Some notion of the many District Courts with active historical societies, may be acquired here.

Edward A. Purcell, Jr., New York Law School, reviewed an early spate of circuit and district court histories in Reconsidering the Frankfurterian Paradigm: Reflections on Histories of Lower Federal Courts, Law and Social Inquiry 24 (1999). Court histories published since Purcell's essay include Jefferey Brandon Morris, Establishing Justice in Middle America (University of Minnesota Press, 2007) (Eighth Circuit); Burton Alan Boxerman, And Justice for All: A History of the Federal District Court of Eastern Missouri (Southeast Missouri State University Press, 2014); Richard Cahan, A Court that Shaped America: Chicago's Federal District Court from Abe Lincoln to Abbie Hoffman (Northwestern University Press, 2002); George W. Geib and Donald B. Kite, The History of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Indiana (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2007); Mark Edward Lender, "This Honorable Court": The United States District Court for the District of New Jersey, 1789-2000 (Rutgers University Press, 2006); John O. Peters, From Marshall to Moussaoui: Federal Justice in the Eastern District of Virginia (Dietz Press, 2013) (see also here); Richard Cahan, Pia Hinckle, and Jessica Royer Ocken, The Court that Tamed the West: From the Gold Rush to the Tech Boom (Heyday Books, 2013); Harvey Bartle III, Mortals with Tremendous Responsibilities: A History of the United State District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania (St. Joseph's University Press, 2011); Steven Flanders, The Federal Circuit: A Judicial Innovation, 2d ed. (Twelve Tables Press)And just out is Peter Graham Fish’s Federal Justice in the Mid-Atlantic South: United States Courts from Maryland to the Carolinas, 1836–1861 (Carolina Academic Press, 2015).

Judicial memoirs and biographies include 8th Circuit Judge Myron Bright's Goodbye Mike, Hello Judge: My Journey for Justice (North Dakota State University Institute for Regional Studies), the Nebraska Federal District Judge Warren Urbom’s Called to Justice: The Life of a Federal Trial Judge (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press); and James Haskins's Cecil Poole: A Life in the LawJust about all of the historical societies Dr. Holt surveyed collect and make publicly available oral histories of judges, court staff, and lawyers.  I've plugged the DC Circuit's repeatedly; information about the Ninth Circuit's is here.  The Historical Society for New Jersey District Court has posted video interviews of  twelve judges, court officers and US attorneys.

Journals include Stereoscope (for the Western District of Michigan), Western Legal History (published by the Ninth Circuit Historical Society), and the Journal of the Federal Circuit Historical Society.

Newsletters abound.  The historical societies for several circuit courts, including the Tenth and the Eleventh, have them.  So do those for federal district courts, such as Eastern Michigan (The Court Legacy); Eastern Tennessee, New Jersey (Nunc Pro Tunc); and Oregon.

Historical societies also post web-based histories, profiles, and blogs.  The Tenth Circuit Historical Society’s online history is here; its blog is here; its Flickr page, here.  The Federal Circuit's online history is here, and a commemoration of the 225 anniversary of the establishment of the District of New York is here.  The Middle District of Florida Historical Society posted a brief narrative history here. The Historical Society of the Western District of Michigan has a downloadable collection of judicial biographies, entitled Portraits of Justice.

Frank E. Moss U.S. Courthouse
Historical societies have also helped produce documentaries on its cases or courthouses.  The Eighth Circuit Historical Society has an online video commemorating Gideon v. Wainwright (and featuring Judge Morris Arnold).  The Ninth Circuit has a video on the building of the Ronald Reagan Courthouse in Santa Ana; the Western Michigan District Historical Society created a video on the legal and constitutional history of the region in the era of the Civil War.  The Historical Society for the Southern District of Indiana has a video tour of its courthouse and its history.  The Historical Society of the Tenth Circuit helped fund Courthouse, a documentary produced by the PBS affiliate at the University of Utah on the Frank E. Moss federal courthouse, the history of the Utah District Court, and the federal courts' influence on Utah today.

Archival collections present a challenge for many historical societies, because they usually lack the facilities and professionally trained staff to maintain them.  Even so, Dr. Holt found a few notable exceptions.  The Third Circuit created an archives for Judge John Biggs, Jr., and Judge Albert Maris, whose fascinating career is briefly described here. The Middle District of Florida Historical Society maintains an archive that includes the papers of Judge Alexander Paskay and Bankruptcy Judge George L. Proctor.  And the Ninth Judicial Circuit Historical Society preserves the papers of Judge Cecil Poole as part of the Judge Cecil Poole Biography Project.

Bell Room Historical Gallery, Whittaker Courthouse
Many historical societies have created exhibits for their courthouses or to travel to other sites.  The Third Circuit has a courthouse exhibition on the life and work of Judge Maris; the Eight Circuit creates displays and video presentations for its judicial conferences; and the Ninth Circuit has prepared exhibits, such as “Building Justice: Federal Courthouse Architecture in the American West," that have traveled from Anchorage to Honolulu.  It helped with A Class Action: The Grassroots Struggle for School Desegregation in California,on Mendez v. Westminster (1946), in on display at the Edward J. Schwartz U.S. Courthouse in San Diego.  The Northern District of Iowa’s courthouse in Cedar Rapids has a history center with interactive exhibits on federal judicial history from the statehood of Iowa to today. The US District Courthouse for the District of Minnesota is home to An Empire Built on Paper: Foshay Trial Exhibit. The historical society for the Western District of Missouri has opened the Bell Room Historical Gallery in Kansas City's Charles Evans Whittaker Courthouse. It features the district's judges since statehood to present, significant and notorious cases, and audiovisual displays ranging from the path to citizenship to the judicial process.  The United States District Court for the District of New Hampshire maintains historical exhibits on the first and third floors of the Warren B. Rudman Courthouse.  And the next time you're in Fargo, check out the display honoring the late Judge Rodney Webb at the US courthouse.

Finally, sponsored lectures and other public programs on historical topics are too numerous to list. Illustrations include the Second Circuit's Hands Lectures, which are held throughout the circuit. The Oregon US District Court Historical Society sponsors a famous cases series. The Ninth Circuit helped organize the panel The Legal and Physical Infrastructure of Southern California Water at the Western History Association last October.  The Tenth Circuit held a program on the assassination of President Kennedy that featured U.S. District Judge Jack Tunheim, who chaired the U.S. Assassination Records Review Board.  In Colorado, the Tenth Circuit was a cosponsor of Forty Years Since Keyes Equality of Education Opportunity and the Legal Construction of Modern Metropolitan America.  (Cf. the DC Circuit's recent panel n Bolling v. Sharpe!)  In Kansas, the same society hosted the program Americans by Choice: The Story of Immigration and Citizenship in Kansas.  The Eastern District of California opted for programs on notable criminal trials: Lynette "Squeaky" Fromme and on the Unabomber.  (Both aired on CSPAN.)  The Federal Circuit Historical Society's events are listed here.