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We the People

September 16, 2014
U.S. Constitution

Wednesday marks the 227th anniversary of the United States Constitution.  Signed in Philadelphia at Independence Hall on September 17, 1787 , the Constitution replaced the Articles of Confederation.  Adopted in 1777 and ratified in 1781, the Articles created a confederation of sovereign states.  However, after the end of the Revolutionary War, it became apparent that a stronger central government was needed.  Twelve states sent delegates to the constitutional convention, but Rhode Island boycotted the convention.

Delaware was the first to ratify, but others, notably Massachusetts, held out for a promise that amendments would be added to guarantee the various rights, including freedom of religion, speech and the press.  Once ratified by nine states, it was agreed that the new form of government would be effective on March 4, 1789, with the first session of Congress in New York.  George Washington was inaugurated as our first President on April 30, 1789.  The Supreme Court met for the first time on February 2, 1790.

During its first term, Congress passed  the Judiciary Act of 1789, which established the lower federal courts.

Test your knowledge of the Constitution by taking the Constitution Daily’s Pop Quiz.

The Richard and Diane Cummins Legal History Research Grant for 2015

September 3, 2014
CumminsGrant_PC_2014-15_Proof1 (1)_Page_1

GW Law is pleased to invite applications for the Richard & Diane Cummins Legal History Research Grant for 2015.

The Cummins Grant provides a stipend of $10,000 to support short-term historical research using Special Collections at GW’s Jacob Burns Law Library, which is noted for its continental historical legal collections, especially its French Collection. Special Collections also is distinguished by its holdings in Roman and canon law, church-state relations, international law, and its many incunabula. The grant is awarded to one doctoral, LLM, or SJD candidate; postdoctoral researcher; faculty member; or independent scholar. Candidates may come from a variety of disciplines including, but not limited to, law, history, religion, philosophy, or bibliography.

The deadline for submission of applications is October 15, 2014.

More information about the Cummins Grant is available here.

Information about our Special Collections at the Jacob Burns Law Library is available here.

National Book Festival, August 30 from 10am to 10pm

August 25, 2014
2014 Book Festival

Celebrate the book with a day and a night of book readings, author signings and special entertainment.  The 2014 Library of Congress National Book Festival moves inside this year to the Washington Convention Center.

Highlights include:

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor is scheduled to interview her brother, H. Alan Day, and Lynn Wiese Sneyd, who co-wrote The Horse Lover:  A Cowboy’s Quest to Save the Wild Mustangs.

E. L. Doctorow, this year’s recipient of the Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction, will be interviewed by Marie Arana.

Doris Kearns Goodwin will be interviewed by David Rubinstein.  Her latest book is The Bully Pulpit:  Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism.  Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals, won a Pulitzer Prize for History in 1995 for No Ordinary Time:  Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt:  The Home Front in World War II.

Welcome to Our New and Returning Students

August 18, 2014

Ask Us how to find information in the library and out.   Use our Welcome 2014 guide for more information about services and tips for using the library.


Text:  202.999.3685

Find us in the library at  the reference desk on the first floor.

Find Your Zone for studying, collaborating or using library technology.   Take an interactive tour of the library or take a short self guided tour of the library, using our convenient walking guide.

Borrow a power charger or a bike lock from us for a few hours.  Quantities are limited.

We’re here to help you and look forward to meeting all of you.

Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966)

June 9, 2014

On June 13, 1966, in an opinion written by Chief Justice Earl Warren, the Supreme Court answered the question of whether statements made by a suspect during custodial interrogations are admissible against him in a criminal trial.  The opinion also answered whether procedural safeguards must be in place to ensure that the defendant is afforded protections guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment.

Miranda consolidated several cases, each involving interrogation of a suspect.  Each suspect made statements that were admitted at trial and each was convicted.

The Court held that suspects in custodial custody “must be warned prior to any questioning that he has the right to remain silent, that anything he says can be used against him in a court of law, that he has the right to the presence of an attorney, and that if he cannot afford an attorney one will be appointed for him prior to any questioning if he so desires.”

Over the years, the Court has refined its opinion in Miranda.  However, it’s importance over the past decades is evident in common recognition of a suspect being read his or her Miranda rights.



Freedom of Information Day and Sunshine Week 2014

March 17, 2014

Freedom of Information Day on March 16 promotes public access to government information and the public’s right to know.  Held during Sunshine Week, the day also celebrates the birth of  our fourth President, James Madison (1751-1836).  Madison is recognized as the primary drafter of the Constitution, the author of the Bill of Rights and a voice for open government.

Read more about James Madison’s views in The Federalist.  For a discussion of his views, see To Secure the Liberty of the People:  James Madison’s Bill of Rights and the Supreme Court’s Interpretations, by Eric T. Kasper.

The National Security Archives, located at The George Washington University, has information about freedom of information and FOIA.

Sunshine Week, March 16 – 22, highlights  the importance of open access to government activities and records.  It is organized by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Marbury v. Madison

February 21, 2014

Chief Justice John Marshall, appointed to the Supreme Court and as Secretary of State by President John Adams, established the basis for judicial review in Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803).  The conflict began in 1803 when Marshall, in his concurrent role as Secretary of State, left commission papers for John Marbury, appointed by President Adams as a justice of the peace for the District of Columbia.  Marshall briefly continued his tenure as Secretary of State under President Thomas Jefferson, until the appointment of James Madison as Secretary of State.  Of the opposing party, Madison refused to surrender the commission papers to Marbury;  Marbury sued for a writ of mandamus to compel Madison to act.

In his decision, Marshall ruled that the Supreme Court could not compel Madison to turn over the commission.  Notably, Marshall ruled that a section of the Judiciary Act of 1789 that permitted Marbury to bring his suit was beyond those powers granted in Article and so was in conflict with the Constitution and, as such, void.  Nothing in the Constitution specifically grants review power to the judicial branch.  By reviewing the actions of Adams along with the legislation, Marshall established the judiciary branch as equal to the executive and legislative branches.

Read more about Marshall and Marbury v. Madison:


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