Tuesday, July 14, 2009

tidbits of court history

Today I started reading the history of the Tenth Circuit (which is available here, although I'm reading it in book format). It's turned out to be quite interesting. At least, I find it so. Here are a few interesting tidbits from the first three chapters:
  • Early pioneers in Western states set up mining courts to make up for the lack of statutory territorial courts. These mining courts, especially the ones in Colorado, were quite important and influenced both mining law and water rights law in Western states. (Water rights came into play because of placer mining, which requires substantial quantities of water.)
  • One of the first three territorial judges appointed in Kansas, Rush Elmore of Alabama, brought his slaves with them. It was so cold that the slaves couldn't work, and the judge's wife, who had never cooked before, spent the winter feeding the slaves while the judge was kept busy cutting wood to keep them warm. (This judge was removed from office by the president for an Indian lands deal, but he was later reappointed. He was removable by the president because, as a territorial judge, he was a legislative judge rather than an Article III judge and thus didn't need to be impeached to be removed from office.)
  • The first chief justice of the Kansas territory was often too busy with his potato farm to hold court. He also worked as a soldier at a nearby army camp and was an officer of a pro-slavery organization.
  • Some territorial judges never actually did any judicial work, like Thomas Cuningham, who traveled out to Kansas after his appointment, didn't like it, and promptly resigned.
  • Governor Reed of Kansas, upon the appointment of Judge Richard Hopkins to the bench in 1929, described the federal judiciary as a "growing stench in the nostrils of decent people."
  • Judge Symes of the District of Colorado has been described as someone who "was not a scholar of the law, but his decisions were generally regarded as fair. In the words of one who practiced extensively before Judge Symes, 'the cases usually came out right but it was tough to figure out how.'" T. Fetter, A History of the Federal Courts of the Tenth Circuit 34 (1978) (unpublished manuscript on file in the Library of the United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit) (quoting interview with Judge Jean Breitenstein (May 17, 1977))). Also, this judge went bear-hunting.
  • Judge William Knous of the District of Colorado shot off the first joint of his left forefinger while in grade school and earned his tuition money for law school by boxing. In 1928, he ran for state representative and won by a wide margin. He was a Democrat, but he carried one precinct by every vote cast, even those of the Republican committeeman and woman. "Each figured the other would vote for the Republican candidate and they could claim the vote."
  • Judge Jean Breitenstein of the District of Colorado was an expert on water rights law. When he joined the bench, he was temporarily assigned to the federal district court in Philadelphia to try an admiralty case. Apparently the folks in Washington didn't know the difference between water law and admiralty.
  • In a speech to the Daughters of the American Revolution in 1956, Judge Breitenstein defended the use of atomic power and said, "So long as we have to anticipate difficulty with powerful nations guided by amoral concepts . . we must be ready to oppose them with the force their philosophy will permit them to use." Denver Post, June 13, 1956 (quoting Judge Breitenstein).
Also, I find this quote on page 71 of the book really thought-provoking: "As society requires some regulation of conduct, the first condition of freedom is its limitation."

As another bit of trivia for you, only one Tenth Circuit judge has died since 1992. That's including active, senior, and retired judges. Impressive, no?

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