Belva Lockwood, a graduate in 1873 of the the the National University Law School (now the GW Law School), became the first woman to argue a case before the Supreme Court. Once she had completed her course work, the law school refused to grant her a diploma, without which she could not practice law. She petitioned President U.S. Grant, in his role as president ex officio of the law school, to issue her diploma; she received it one week later.
Lockwood set up her practice in the District and, although Lockwood was admitted to the District of Columbia bar, some judges refused to allow her to appear in their courtrooms because she was a married woman. She was also denied membership in the Maryland bar. She petitioned Congress to pass an anti-discrimination law that would permit a women to appear in any court in the District, including the Supreme Court. The law was passed in 1879; Lockwood was admitted to the Supreme Court bar later that year.
Lockwood first ran for President in 1884 and again in 1888 on the National Equal Rights Party ticket. She received several thousand votes, unusual since women did not have the right to vote.
For the remainder of her life, Lockwood fought for equal rights for both women and minorities. She died in 1917, just a few years before universal suffrage became reality with the 19th Amendment.
Read more about Lockwood:
Jill Nogren, Belva Lockwood: The Woman Who Would be President
Mary Virginia Fox, Lady for the Defense: A Biography of Belva Lockwood
The First Amendment, through the Fourteenth Amendment, prohibits states from enacting laws “respecting the establishment of religion.” The state of New York required that each day students in public schools say the pledge of allegiance and say a prayer. The law permitted students who objected to saying the prayer to absent themselves during the prayer. A parent sued on behalf of his student that requiring the prayer was a violation of the Establishment Clause.
On June 25, 1962, the Supreme Court ruled in Engel v. Vitale, 370 U.S. 421 (1962), that states may not require students to say a prayer. The voluntariness of the prayer and the non-denominational character of the prayer did not make the law constitutional.
Read more about prayer in school or the Establishment Clause:
The Twelfth Amendment is one of the Constitutional amendments that will have a direct impact on the Presidential election of 2016.
Article II § 1 enumerates the process for electing the President and Vice President every four years. Simply put, the candidate with the most votes in the Electoral College would be President and the one with the second most votes would be Vice President; a tie would be sent to the House of Representatives along with the third top vote-getter.
However, in 1803, following the fight in the Electoral College for the Presidency between Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr, the Twelfth Amendment was ratified to avoid another stalemate. The election of 1800 was a race between Jefferson and then President John Adams. However, Jefferson and Burr received the same number of votes in the Electoral College, while Adams came in third. With a tie, the Constitution required that the House of Representatives vote according to one-state, one-vote. With support from Alexander Hamilton, the House vote swung to Jefferson as President; Burr received the next largest number of votes and became Vice President.
The Twelfth Amendment changed the process so that the Electoral College would vote specifically for a President and for a Vice President. In case of a tie, the House would elect the President from the three candidates with the most votes in the electoral college; the Senate would elect the Vice President from the top three candidates for Vice President.
The election of 1800 was significant for another reason: John Adams became the first President to be defeated for re-election. The election saw a peaceful transfer of power from the defeated to the newly elected, which has continued to this day.
June 14 marks the date in 1777 that the Second Continental Congress adopted by resolution a flag of the United States. The Continental Navy first flew an ensign to signify the nationality of its fledgling fleet. The resolution called for 13 stripes, alternating red and white, with 13 stars on a blue field to signify a new constellation.
The design, use and display of the flag is outlined in 4 U.S.C. §§1-10. The fiftieth star was added to the flag by order of President Eisenhower on July 4, 1960 to represent the 50th state, Hawaii.
June 13 marks the 50th anniversary of the seminal opinion in Miranda v. Arizona, 384 U.S. 436 (1966). In a 5-4 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 a suspect 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.”
Miranda’s case was remanded and, at retrial for kidnapping and rape, his confession was not introduced. However, he was again convicted and received a sentence of 20-30 years in prison.
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.
This month marks the premier of season six of the wildly popular television series Game of Thrones, based on the fantasy novel series “A Song of Ice and Fire” by George R.R. Martin. Our current display, “Game of Thrones and the Law,” highlights some of the legal themes in the series, such as trial by combat, which in the series closely mirrors trial by battle for criminal appeals under English common law. Another issue analyzed is that of chemical warfare, which was employed during the Battle of the Blackwater and compared to the history of chemical warfare leading up to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Various materials in the library’s collection are also displayed, including The Last Duel, Living Weapons, and our newest addition – Law and Law Breaking in Game of Thrones.
“My brother has his sword, King Robert has his warhammer and I have my mind…and a mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone if it is to keep its edge. That’s why I read so much Jon Snow.”
-Tyrion Lannister, Game of Thrones