The case of the Wilmington Ten emerged out of the events of February 1971. In an effort to lay blame for the violence and remove the effective and popular organizer Benjamin Chavis, the Wilmington police and state prosecutor—assisted by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF)—concocted a case against Chavis, eight other black men (five of them high school students), and one white woman. Arrested more than a year after the disturbances, they were charged with conspiracy, burning Mike’s Grocery, and shooting at the firefighters and police who responded to the fire. (Ann Shepard was charged only with conspiracy.) The prosecutor, with the assent of the presiding judge, illegally excluded blacks from the jury. He solicited perjured testimony from his main witnesses to convict the Ten, who were sentenced to a total of 282 years in prison. Their convictions sparked a campaign across North Carolina, the nation, and the world to free them.
In arguing that the jury had to find Laura “not guilty by reason of insanity,” Quint and Cook hoped to focus their attention around four central issues. At the heart of their case, they argued, was the notion that Laura was unconscious and irrational at the time of the murder. In contrast to the prosecution, which had relied on gossip and rumor to condemn Laura’s character, they would base their case on the latest scientific findings and medical expertise. By calling to the stand doctors with advanced knowledge and training, they would prove that Laura—much like Mary Harris before her—was a victim herself, captive to the effects of severe organic disease. Especially when her menstrual cycle approached, she experienced recurring bouts of hysterical mania that left her without control of her actions or awareness of events. Thus, no matter how heinous the act appeared, she was not responsible for its commission.
One Supreme Court decision announced this June received limited notice, in part because it came out the same week as momentous decisions on marriage equality and the Affordable Care Act, and following the horrific tragedy at Charleston’s Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. But the Court’s decision in a fair housing dispute, Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs et al. v. Inclusive Communities Project, merits serious attention as LGBTQ activists and their allies move on to tackle employment and housing discrimination and as the momentum from the campaign to remove the Confederate flag from public places turns toward a broader agenda. The ruling could be especially significant for activists working to end the disproportionate placement of polluting factories and hazardous waste facilities in low-income neighborhoods and communities of color.
Over at the Huffington Post, Martha S. Jones, coeditor of Toward an Intellectual History of Black Women, puts the nomination of Loretta Lynch for Attorney General in historical and political context. Jones begins: Glimpse a preview of dynamics that will shape the 2016 election cycle in the contest over Loretta Lynch’s nomination as Attorney General. …
In this excerpt, Lisa Blee examines how the war in Iraq informed the Historical Court of Justice’s decision to exonerate Chief Leschi 150 years later.
When I teach students about the history of constitutional law, I usually focus on the substantive legal arguments in Supreme Court decisions, but sometimes I encourage my students to focus on the tone, the emotion, the affect. I try to show my students that this can help us understand what is really going on in these decisions and it can help us consider the underlying issues and the political stakes.
Some of the deepest costs of our prohibitionist immigration system have to do with family. And they’re not just emotional costs—they’re economic costs as well.
On 22 January 1973, the U.S. Supreme Court announced its decision in Roe v. Wade, the abortion rights case that culminated in one of the most controversial legal rulings in the country’s history. Forty years later, numerous myths continue to circulate about the contents and meanings of Roe. Here are five of the most significant.
But there is another historically significant dimension to the decision that has received less media attention: ceding to states greater authority to regulate immigration would have represented a significant devolution in federal power.
Historically, race and gender have had the most significant impact on the creation of immigration policy and its outcomes; but those factors have always been intertwined with larger social concerns about foreign policy and national security, the economy, scientific and medical issues, morality, and attitudes about class, religion, and citizenship.
View the trailer for the documentary film ‘Death Row,’ included in the new book by Bruce Jackson and Diane Christian called ‘In This Timeless Time: Living and Dying on Death Row in America.’
What is the difference between life and death? It has nothing to do with the crime or the criminal. It has far more to do with local politics (does the prosecutor think he can get some political advantage going for death rather than life or a term of years?), money (can the accused afford a lawyer and investigators who will do the same kind of work the prosecutor gets done automatically?), the location (most death sentences are handed down and carried out in the south, but not uniformly; in Texas, for example, a preponderance of the death sentences come from just three counties). And, finally, it depends on the composition of the appellate courts the year a particular case comes up: some panels are sticklers for justice; some are sticklers for going by the current rules. Sometimes justice and the rules are incompatible, and in capital cases, lives hang in the balance.
As a new documentary film about the Loving v. Virginia case appears, we look back to Fay Botham’s book for some of the religious and legal aspects of the case. Includes an excerpt from the book.
Fifty-seven years have passed since the ruling in this monumental Supreme Court case that overturned Plessy v. Ferguson and found laws for “separate but equal” black schools and white schools to be unconstitutional. While this decision was a huge move in the right direction in the Civil Rights movement, it was met with resistance by …
Trying Bin Laden in a court of law would have confirmed that we are a nation that seeks to strengthen international law in order to advance peace & security.
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We have lots of great news to share about many outstanding UNC Press books! Recently our authors have been showered with awards and prizes.
We welcome a guest post from Marc Stein, author of Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe. Beyond examining liberal rulings that deal with birth control, abortion, interracial marriage, and obscenity, Sexual Injustice also offers an in-depth account of the profoundly conservative ruling on homosexuality in Boutilier. In a guest post last month, …
As the Supreme Court opens its 2010-2011 session today, we welcome a guest post from Marc Stein, author of Sexual Injustice: Supreme Court Decisions from Griswold to Roe. Focusing on six major Supreme Court cases, Sexual Injustice examines the more liberal rulings on birth control, abortion, interracial marriage, and obscenity in Griswold, Fanny Hill, Loving, …
UNC celebrated its second annual First Amendment Day yesterday, and as predicted, it was an absolute smasheroo. The day began with the weather exercising its freedom of expression with sheets of rain, but only a few of the events were shifted inside before the drizzling tapered off. The events kicked off with a planting of …