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Sunflower Justice

A New History of the Kansas Supreme Court

R. Alton Lee

Publication Year: 2014

Until recently, American legal historiography focused almost solely on national government. Although much of Kansas law reflects U.S. law, the state court’s arbitrary powers over labor-management conflicts, yellow dog contracts, civil rights, gender issues, and domestic relations set precedents that reverberated around the country. Sunflower Justice is a pioneering work that presents the history of a state through the use of its supreme court decisions as evidence.


R. Alton Lee traces Kansas’s legal history through 150 years of records, shedding light on the state’s political, economic, and social history in this groundbreaking overview of Kansas legal cases and judicial biographies. Beginning with the territorial justices and continuing through the late twentieth century, R. Alton Lee covers the dispossession of Native Americans’ land, the growth and impact of labor unions, antimonopoly cases against railroad and mining companies, a nine-year state ban on the movie Birth of a Nation, and implications and effects of desegregation, as well as the shooting of Dr. George Tiller for performing legal abortions. Because judicial decisions are not made in a vacuum, Lee presents each of the justices in the context of the era and their personal experiences before examining how their decisions shaped Kansas political, economic, social, and legal history.

Published by: University of Nebraska Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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p. viii-viii

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pp. ix-xiv

Legal history has too often been left to lawyers to define, and one result is the paucity of works on local and state legal topics that appeared to many to be “unimportant.” American legal historiography, until the recent development of “history from the bottom up,” was devoted largely to the national government, where “the action took place.” Political...

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Introduction: Ad Astra per Aspera

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pp. 1-12

To the stars through difficulties. Kansas was enduring Herculean challenges, even agony in some cases, in its first few years of existence as a territory. Although it suffered a shorter tenure as a territory than any of its surrounding neighbors, those seven years were tumultuous indeed. But the New England Emigrant Aid Company stocked the territory...

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1. The Kingman Court

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pp. 13-50

The Union army placed Thomas Ewing, Jr., in command of the District of the Border to control and to pacify the “Bleeding Kansas” area. The Confederate guerrilla William Clarke Quantrill was ravaging eastern Kansas, and, following his infamous raid on Lawrence in 1863, Ewing issued his renowned Order no. 11, which evicted all southern sympathizers...

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2. The Chief Justice as Politician

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pp. 51-86

Various problems beset the state and the court after Kingman retired. Organized labor became a reality, prohibition raised its ugly head, politicians finally began trying to control railroads, and Mother Nature continued to remind Kansans of who was really in charge, resulting in a significant alteration in the production of the state’s major...

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3. The Populist Interlude

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pp. 87-124

The Industrial Revolution and its new social order brought sea- changes to the farmer’s world as it did to that of the wage earner. From the Civil War to 1894 America moved from number four in world industrial production to number one, metamorphosing a rural culture to an urban nation dominated by capitalists. This small class appropriated the nation’s...

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4. The Grand Old Man’s Court

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pp. 125-160

At the opening of the twentieth century the nation and the state were poised for great changes. The ideas of the Populists, who died a rather quiet death after their effort at fusion with the Democrats failed in 1896, were taken up by various progressive groups, including many old Populists, and enacted into law. The Progressive movement, beginning at the...

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5. Reaction in the Roaring Twenties

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pp. 161-193

Kansas entered a period of decided political reaction in the decade of the twenties prompted by a public hysteria that was a carryover from World War I. President Woodrow Wilson once warned that if this proud nation were led into war, the American people would “forget there ever was such a thing as tolerance.” This was a self- fulfilling prophecy, as the...

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6. The Devastating Depression

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pp. 194-228

The Great Depression created a new relationship between the state and its citizens in the form of direct government action, especially in the category of relief for families and businesses enduring economic hardship. Article vii of the Kansas Constitution requires that “the respective counties of the state shall provide as may be prescribed by law for...

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7. The Revised Selection System

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pp. 229-263

The landmark US Supreme Court decision of Brown v. Topeka in 1954 arose from the historic tradition of segregation of public schools in Kansas. With very few blacks in territorial Kansas, no provision was made for their education. Besides, most early settlers were interested in obtaining good land, not in promoting the rights of blacks. With statehood, local...

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8. Modernizing the Law

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pp. 264-297

The US Supreme Court under Earl Warren seemed determined to reform America by itself, but when Warren Burger followed as chief justice of the United States, the Court retreated to its former conservative stance. The growth of the civil rights movement, the questions of obscenity, reapportionment, and criminal law made revolutionary changes...

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9. Retreat to Conservatism

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pp. 298-330

Beginning with the territorial period, the categories of marriage, divorce, child custody and support, adoption, and abortion were left to state control. In the latter decades of the twentieth century, while the Kansas Supreme Court continued to recognize actions of sister states on marriage and divorce, it began modifying common law on these...

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pp. 331-338

The Wyandotte Constitution, with Article iii establishing the judicial branch of government and the supreme court, was typical of its time and place in borrowing heavily from earlier state constitutions, especially that of Ohio, where many of the framers originated. These people wrought well, and little of their work needed change over the next...

Appendix: Kansas Supreme Court Justices

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pp. 339-340


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pp. 341-368


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pp. 369-370

Index to Federal Cases Cited

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pp. 371-372

Index to State Cases Cited

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pp. 373-380


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pp. 381-388

Other Works in the Series

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E-ISBN-13: 9780803254107
E-ISBN-10: 0803254105
Print-ISBN-13: 9780803248410

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2014