After last week’s scintillating column on Constitutional Law I know you are eagerly awaiting promised round two on politics and the United States Supreme Court. Of course, America’s judiciary eschews any notion that court outcomes are sometimes a product of the political views of the judge or judges who decide the cases. At the National Judicial College where I have served as a part-time faculty member since 1995 one of the guiding principles is the effort to have completely impartial judging of all cases. That is a proper goal. However, is that goal always achieved? Let’s take a look behind the black robes of history starting with America’s most famous case, Marbury v. Madison, decided in 1803 a mere sixteen years after the end of the Constitutional Convention that occurred on September 17, 1787.
You may recall that last week we had sought guidance on understanding the U.S. Constitution from law professor Michael Klarman who spoke to the Indiana Graduate Judges Seminar in French Lick, Indiana in June 2019. In his book The Framers’ Coup, The Making of the United States Constitution, Professor Klarman gave an in-depth analysis of the political warfare that produced our Constitution. A similar phenomenon occurred when the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, blatantly grabbed for the U.S. Supreme Court the immense power to declare whether a particular law was constitutional. Marshall deftly, and unethically, used the virulent hatred between those early Americans who favored a strong central government, the Federalists, and the anti-Federalists who preferred a more citizen-centered national government. John Adams was our second president and he was one of the strongest proponents of a strong central government. Adams was defeated in an election by our third president Thomas Jefferson in a bitterly fought campaign. John Marshall served as Adams’ Secretary of State and Marshall and Jefferson despised one another. Just before Adams’ term as president ran out he appointed John Marshall to be Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall was succeeded as Secretary of State by James Madison who, incidentally, later became our fourth president.
Just before John Adams left office he also appointed numerous judges and justices of the peace as a sharp stick in the eye of the incoming president Thomas Jefferson. William Marbury, a wealthy businessman and vocal opponent of Jefferson, was one of Adams’ justice of the peace appointees. While Secretary of State, John Marshall had the duty of signing Marbury’s certificate of appointment and delivering it to Congress. Marshall failed to get that done and the task was left to new Secretary of State James Madison. But President Jefferson, who was angry at John Adams for the last minute appointments, ordered Madison to not deliver Marbury’s certificate. Marbury then filed a law suit in the Supreme Court seeking to have the Court order Madison to give Marbury the certificate of appointment.
If all this intrigue seems rather petty and even perhaps reminiscent of our current political climate involving nasty actions on all sides, well, the pettiness turned out to have a momentous affect on every court case in America after 1803. The squabble may have resembled a tempest in a teapot but Chief Justice John Marshall’s highly political decision in the case resulted in a federal judiciary of immense power, a power not contemplated by many of our Founders and Framers of our Constitution.
Because of his earlier direct connection to Marbury’s appointment John Marshall should have recused himself from the case and should have had no part in it. However, Marshall seized upon Thomas Jefferson’s hatred of John Adams to trade what Jefferson wanted, that is to prevent Adams’ last minute appointments, for a huge leap toward a strong centralized government where the Judicial Branch would have power over decisions of both the Legislative and Executive Branches’ decisions.
What John Marshall and two more members of the then five member Supreme Court decided was that the legislative act that purported to give jurisdiction over cases such as the one brought by Marbury violated the Constitution therefore the Supreme Court had no authority to order Madison to give Marbury his certificate. It might appear to have been a win for Jefferson over Adams, but it was the ultimate Pyrrhic victory as Marshall and all future courts used it as a nuclear weapon in the war between the Federalists and anti-Federalists. Supreme power over what the Constitution meant has resided in the Supreme Court ever since 1803.
For example, in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) Chief Justice Roger Taney, a former slave owner, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Negro slaves had no rights that the Constitution was bound to protect. Then in George Bush v. Al Gore (2000) a bitterly divided court led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist who had been appointed by Republican President Richard Nixon to be an associate justice then by Republican President Ronald Reagan to be Chief Justice handed the presidential election to Republican George Bush.
So, as America’s judiciary proclaims it must remain independent from outside influences and look only to the law and the facts, it might appear to some cynics that the blindfold often slips. Anyway, I am certain you probably feel the same sense of relief in finishing this column that I did in finishing law school and Professor Klarman’s book. On the bright side however, the rest of your day is bound to get better.
Harvard law professor Michael Klarman was the keynote speaker at the June 2019 Indiana Graduate Judges Conference. As an attendee I received a signed copy of Klarman’s book, The Framers’Coup, The Making of the United States Constitution. Gentle Reader, to give you some perspective on the exhilarating experience of a law professor’s book, the tome’s Note and Index sections run from page 633 to 865. Of course, the substance of the book contains 632 pages of which several pages thank the law students who did the grunt work. Regardless, I do recommend the book to you as an interesting and often surprising exposition of how our Constitution survived the throes of birth. As Klarman says of our pantheon of founding heroes:
“In the book I try to tell the story of the Constitution’s origins in a way that demythifies it. The men who wrote the Constitution were extremely impressive, but they were not demigods; they had interests, prejudices, and moral blind spots. They could not foresee the future, and they made mistakes.”
This is Klarman’s raison d’etre for writing the book. His admonition is that the men, and they were all white, Anglo Saxon, Christian men, who struggled for six months in Philadelphia in 1789 to create the United States were just men, not gods. Some of them owned slaves, some did not. Some were from populous states, others were not. But they were all mere mortals with virtues and defects.
The underlying message of the book is that if those men could find a way to overcome their political and philosophical divisions, we and future Americans should also be able to. For example, in our current culture wars where President Trump alleges Ukraine helped Secretary Clinton in the 2016 election and Clinton alleges Russia helped Trump and more recently both Trump and Clinton and many others are flinging arrows in all directions alleging our leaders are “foreign assets” we should just chill. If James Madison and the Federalists and Thomas Jefferson and the anti-Federalists could reach compromises, we should be able to also.
The salient issues and the thorniest were how could our Founders apportion representation among populous and less populous states, how was slavery to be addressed (or not) and could common citizens be trusted to govern themselves.
According to Klarman, as our Framers struggled to hold the Constitutional Convention together the Federalists and the anti-Federalists, “Questioned their opponents’ motives and attacked their characters, appealed to the material interests of voters, employed dirty tricks and made backroom deals when necessary.” Sound familiar?
Okay, you probably are choosing to go sort your socks rather than to hear any more from Professor Klarman or from me. But a word of caution, Gentle Reader, if I have had to experience the joys of all the almost 900 pages of Constitutional history, you may have the same opportunity in next week’s column. We might even delve into the vicissitudes of whether the United States Supreme Court is truly independent or are its decisions as politically based as those of the other two Branches
America is a wonderful country from the amazing amalgam of cultures in cities such as Miami, New York City, San Francisco and Portland to the majesty of Yellowstone and the Mississippi River. We are truly fortunate to have the privilege to live here. As for Peg and me, we are most familiar with two counties in two states, Posey County, Indiana and Osage County, Oklahoma.
Of course, the basic element of all inhabited areas is the same, the inhabitants, and those inhabitants are more alike than unalike wherever we live. I have found this to be true from Russia and Ukraine to Palestine and Bahrain as I have taught judges from several foreign countries and from every state in America. Of course, I have also physically visited a few places around the world. It has been my great pleasure to discover practically everybody I meet is interesting. I understand why Will Rogers who grew up near Osage County, Oklahoma said he’d never met someone he didn’t like.
But just focusing on Posey County, Indiana and Osage County, Oklahoma, the two places Peg and I call home, I find much to admire in both. In Posey County the soil is so rich and the people are so industrious that enough wheat, corn and soybeans are produced to feed much of the world. And Osage County’s Tallgrass Prairie and hardworking cowhands furnish the accompanying beef. One need never go hungry if he or she spends time in either county.
I hope I have made it clear that I truly appreciate the county where I was born and the county where I have earned a living. On the other hand, just as there was a serpent in the Garden of Eden, both Posey and Osage Counties fall a little short of perfection due to the foibles of Mother Nature. I suppose life just requires that we occasionally find half a worm in an apple. Let me explain.
Neither Posey nor Osage County has unbearable weather. Each gets a couple of snows each year and each has a hot July and August along with a rainy spring and fall. Both experience tornadoes. For Posey County, Big Creek and the Ohio and Wabash Rivers occasionally flood as does Bird Creek in Osage County along with the Arkansas and Caney Rivers. But all in all the climate for both counties is fairly salubrious. In fact, the weather in both helps make them more interesting and for Indiana it gives citizens something besides basketball to talk about and for Oklahoma it expands the topics beyond football. Both states used to discuss politics but recently most rational people do not broach that topic.
However, it is not the occasional weather phenomenon that keeps paradise just out of reach for both counties. No, it is Mother Nature’s diabolical sense of humor. Let’s take up spring in Posey County first. You may know that Osage County, Oklahoma has thousands of roaming buffalo (bison). Well, just to make sure Hoosiers remember who dictates what happens in heaven, each April, May and June millions of biting/blood sucking buffalo gnats (flies) descend on Posey County much like the Biblical hordes of locusts. And like beachgoers after the movie Jaws it simply is not fun to be outside.
But Osage County has its own flies and to add to Mother Nature’s amusement She has supplied Osage County with several varieties of scorpions. Gentle Reader, should you never have been stung by a scorpion, as I have in Oklahoma, trust me, it is an experience you do not want. Peg, who is a born Yankee who spent her childhood in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and northern Indiana, has now learned to shake out her boots in the morning to be sure some scorpion has not chosen them as a residence. And the ubiquitous sand rock of Osage County appears to be a scorpion’s version of the Garden of Eden where the scorpions play the serpent’s role.
I guess what it comes down to is both Posey County, Indiana and Osage County, Oklahoma are wonderful places to live. But don’t forget to channel Katherine Hepburn in The African Queen and wear screening over your head and carry a fly swatter in Posey and shake out your boots in The Osage nine months out of the year.
In December 1991 my family and I ate at Luby’s Cafeteria in Killeen, Texas. There was no trace of the bodies, blood and shattered glass from the October 16, 1991 mass shooting. We still felt their presence. Although I remembered the city riots of the 1960’s and 70’s and had closely followed the violence of 1968, the utter randomness of the Luby’s murders stoked more personal concerns. To slaughter people one did not even know struck me as much more horrendous than the misguided criminal actions of zealots.
While America’s 20th century experience with deadly violence from 1900 up to the 1960’s was extensive and tragic, as Jasmine Henrique reported in her article Mass Shootings in America: A Historical Review (Global Research News, 2013), the victims were almost always members of the killer’s own family or were the unfortunate object of a felonious act such as a specific, intentional robbery that was committed in secret. However, in most of the last half of the 20th century and the first nineteen years of the 21st century America has endured public mass killings of persons who were strangers to their murderers.
Memories of Luby’s came back to me as I participated in an internet class on judge and courthouse security taught by my friend and fellow faculty member Judge D. Neil Harris from Mississippi. Judge Harris along with other faculty of the National Judicial College including me are teaching a six-week course to seventeen judges from across America. Of course, it is not just the judiciary that needs to be concerned about security.
If you recall, when this course on general judicial topics started three weeks ago I suggested in this column there was much we modern judges could learn by examining how courts and judges arose originally. That is when humans considered net-working to be making friends with the folks in neighboring huts. As for court security in those bygone days about all that was required was for the judge to treat people who came to court as the judge would want to be treated. This worked pretty well until the world began to fill up with people who were not comfortable living in a smaller area.
But now, as William Wordsworth (1770-1850) might say, “The world is too much with us”. Or as Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) might have nostalgically wished if he were in charge of courthouse security, “That security system is best that restricts the least”. Unfortunately, we can no longer simply return to nature. The world has moved on.
Whereas in 1950 there were 151 million people in the United States and it seemed space was infinite, in 2019 we have 327 million and it has become difficult to stretch out. Mayberry, our TV town of 2,000, has metamorphosed into what feels like a megalopolis from sea to sea and from Mexico to Canada. Sheriff Taylor, who did not even carry a gun, ordered Deputy Barney Fife to carry only one bullet and keep it in his shirt pocket.
It may be that over population has impacted our behavior. Dr. John Calhoun (1917-1995) studied population density using lab rats as subjects. While many other scientists point out humans are not rats and are more able to adapt as conditions change, it may be our precipitous increase in mass shootings of random victims has come about as, at least, a partial result of population density. In their analysis of Calhoun’s theories, Doctors Edmund Ramsden and Jon Adams in their article Escaping the Laboratory: The Rodent Experiments of John B. Calhoun & Their Cultural Influence (Journal of Social History, Spring 2009) stated:
“As population density (of the rat city) increased it became evermore difficult for an individual to control the frequency of social contact. The result was unwanted interaction, leading to adverse reactions such as hostility and withdrawal, and ultimately, to the type of social and psychological breakdown seen during the latter stages in his (Calhoun’s) crowded pens.”
To solve a problem it helps to understand the cause of the problem It may be there are more valid causes for mass shootings than increasing population density. If so, they should be defined. However, if our teeming mass of humanity is contributing, we should address it and use our Homo sapiens adaptability to assuage the carnage. Regardless, whatever the etiology of increasing societal, including courthouse, violence there is no doubt is is occurring.
As reported by Timm Fautsko, Steve Berson and Steve Swensen of the National Center for State Courts and the Center for Judicial and Executive Security, there were 199 incidents of courthouse violence from 1970-2009 with an increase noted each decade. As they posited:
“We live in a time when threats against judges and acts of violence in courthouses and courtrooms are occurring with greater frequency than ever before.”
As much as I yearn to return to Mayberry and rely upon my mother’s stated advice, “Jimmy, just be nice”, the evidence overcomes the myth. Society, including the judicial system, must face the reality of a 21st century world. Security is necessary. That is why the Indiana Supreme Court in its Administrative Order AD19 requires each county court system to develop a security plan, seek approval for that plan, implement that plan and update the plan every two years.
I do not like it and my guess is neither does the Supreme Court. However, I, and I believe they, know it is necessary.
If you read last week’s column you probably noted the current general topic is judicial education. Specifically, the focus of last week’s session was the definition of what is a judge and how did the concept of judging arise? We went back about 130,000 years to the hypothetical, and questionable, theory that Homo sapiens may have existed in North America before it had a name. The reason we are delving into these arcane mysteries is because the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada has tasked some of its faculty, including me, with teaching an annual on-line course to judges from across North America. By design the course concentrates on general and basic aspects of what judges do and how and why they do it. So let us return to last week’s pedagogical construct of a truly elemental judicial system, that is, caveman justice.
You may recall we visited three hypothetical aboriginal families inhabiting a tiny cluster of huts. A dispute between two of the families had arisen over possession and use of certain flowers. Those two families agreed that instead of fighting with clubs they would agree to submit the matter to a member of the third family for a decision; voila, the first judge and the first court. But why would the dueling litigants accept the judge’s decision? Why not just ignore the judge’s imposed resolution and go back to trial by combat. How could the ancient society have confidence the judge was right, or if not completely right, at least fair? Judicial ethics were born. And that was the subject matter of this week’s NJC class.
If we assume the judge wants his or her family to enjoy the benefits of a peaceful community and we assume cooperation on such things as mastodon hunts by everyone is a benefit to all while bashing skulls is a benefit to none, we can find a basis for accepting a decision by an impartial judge. The rub, of course, is how to ensure the contentious parties believe the judge is impartial. That is why a large part of America’s judicial system places restraints and requirements on the behavior of judges. Judges, just as our caveman judge, have no armies nor do they have the power to raise revenue. All judges have to enforce their decisions is public confidence in the judge, or, at least, the overall judicial system.
So with our nascent judicial system from 130,000 years ago our judge could not play favorites and the two contesting parties would have to have confidence he/she was, in fact, impartial. People can accept a less that ideal resolution of their legal problem if they are convinced it was arrived at without prejudice. Therefore, our caveman judge must not talk to one family about the dispute outside the presence of the other family. And the judge must not accept favors from either family. Also, the judge must not voice any out of “court” opinions about the merits of the case.
Well, Gentle Reader, you might surmise there are a few more legal system details for mankind to work out other than our caveman justice. However, it all comes down to our judges must not only be fair, we must believe they are fair.
Mr. A.H. Holloman owned and operated a gravel pit near the small town of Frederick, Tillman County in southwest Oklahoma. The pit is about one half mile wide and 7 miles long. Holloman discovered numerous artifacts of ancient human occupation in the pit in 1920. The supposed age of the items suggested modern civilized Homo sapiens created them 130,000 years ago. However since this conflicted with the generally accepted theory that Homo sapiens arose in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania, Africa 60,000 to 80,000 years ago, the scientific community discarded the archeological evidence at the Holloman dig for many years.
Then Professor David Deming of Oklahoma University published an article claiming modern humans may have originated in Oklahoma. Deming (born 1954 in Terre Haute, Indiana) graduated from North Central High School in Indianapolis, Indiana then graduated from Indiana University in 1983 with a BS degree in geology. He earned his PhD in geophysics from the University of Utah in 1988.
As a matter of full disclosure, I am an IU grad and currently live in both Indiana and Oklahoma. Most importantly, I garnered all my information about Professor Deming and his research from Wikipedia. At least it wasn’t Twitter.
Anyway, as a member of the faculty of the National Judicial College in Reno, Nevada I am currently helping to teach an on-line course to sitting judges. The course concentrates on courthouse security, ethics, court technology and what are the proper roles and behaviors for America’s judges with an emphasis on rural courts and judges new to the Bench. A rural court is defined as a jurisdiction having one to three judges and a less urban atmosphere. Mr. Joseph Sawyer, long-time NJC staff and faculty member, is in charge of the course that relies on several experienced judges as teachers.
At our first class session for 2019 which was Thursday, September 12 the general discussion pertained to what cultural purposes do judges serve and what do and should citizens expect when they attend court. In other words, what, if anything, other than wearing black robes and pontificating do Americans perceive judges to do?
Since I had just last weekend read about Professor Deming’s work, as we engaged in class discussions about the proper role of judges, I merged my thoughts of history and modern judicial culture. I asked myself what is it you, that is I, have been doing as a judge for the past 39 years and has any of it mattered other than to provide me a paycheck? Basically, what is a judge and what should be a judge?
While I should have been concentrating on the interesting comments of my fellow faculty members and our student judges I found myself musing about the folks that inhabited the Holloman gravel pit about 130,000 years ago. That’s probably about the time society decided we needed some way other than clubs to resolve disagreements. I envisioned three families of the earliest Homo sapiens existing in proximity in three separate huts. Let’s imagine the wife of the man in hut number 1 decides to decorate her hut with flowers that only grow beside hut number 2. Wife 1 gathers up the flowers and wife 2 takes umbrage. The husbands of 1 and 2 each grab a club and mayhem is in the offing when the wife in hut number 3 suggests a meeting run by her husband, ergo the first judge.
The judge suggests a compromise whereby the flowers are shared and the wives in huts 1 and 2 work together to beautify both huts as well as the judge’s hut with the participation of wife 3 (was this our first courthouse?). Crisis averted. Peace restored. Justice done. A system of justice created.
Gentle Reader, I confess that in my humble opinion, judging really is about that straight forward. All the rest is just window dressing.