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Justice and Legal Change on the Shores of Lake Erie

A History of the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio

Paul Finkelman and Roberta Sue Alexander

Publication Year: 2012

Justice and Legal Change on the Shores of Lake Erie explores the many ways that the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio has affected the region, the nation, the development of American law, and American politics. The essays in this book, written by eminent law professors, historians, political scientists, and practicing attorneys, illustrate the range of cases and issues that have come before the court. Since the court’s inception in 1855, judges have influenced economic developments and social issues, beginning with the court’s most famous early case, involving the rescue of the fugitive slave John Price by residents of Northern Ohio.

Chapters focusing on labor strikes, free speech, women’s rights, the environment, the death penalty, and immigration illustrate the impact this court and its judges have had in the development of society and the nation’s law. Some of the cases here deal with local issues with huge national implications ­—like political corruption, school desegregation, or pollution on the Cuyahoga River. But others are about major national issues that grew out of incidents, such as the prosecution of Eugene V. Debs for opposing World War I, the litigation resulting from the Kent State shootings and opposition to the Vietnam War, and the immigration status of the alleged Nazi war criminal John Demyanjuk.

This timely history confirms the significant role played by district courts in the history of the United States.

Roberta Sue Alexander, Martin H. Belsky,
Melvyn Dubofsky, Paul Finkelman, Alison K. Guernsey, Thomas R. Hensley,
Keith H. Hirokawa, Nancy E. Marion,
Dan Aaron Polster, Renee C. Redman,
Elizabeth Reilly, Richard B. Saphire,
Tracy A. Thomas, Melvin i. Urofsky

Published by: Ohio University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

Federal courts play a very special role in the American democratic system. They have the responsibility under the Constitution of deciding those categories of cases that are deemed to touch on issues of national significance, for example, cases involving a federal statute or the Constitution, cases between states, cases where the United...

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pp. xi-xii

This book began when James Carr, who was then chief judge of this court, and Paul Finkelman were at a conference on terrorism and civil liberties at the Rand Corporation. Judge Carr mentioned that he and his colleagues wanted to sponsor a history of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. This book emerged...

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pp. 1-11

This book examines the history of a single federal court—the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio. This is not a comprehensive, day-to-day or year-to-year history of the court. Nor is it a collection of biographies of the many judges who have served on it. Rather, we have chosen to examine a series of cases and topics...

Part 1: Beginnings

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Chapter 1: The Willson Era: The Inception of the Northern District of Ohio, 1855–67

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pp. 15-36

In the mid-1850s, lawyers, newspapers, and civil boosters across northern Ohio campaigned for the creation of a new federal court in the region. As Cleveland’s Plain Dealer noted: “The interest of the people of Northern Ohio imperatively demand a new U.S. Judicial District. Ohio should be divided into a Northern and Southern...

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Chapter 2: A Political Show Trial in the Northern District: The Oberlin-Wellington Fugitive Slave Rescue Case

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pp. 37-73

On Monday, September 13, 1858, William Shakespeare Boynton, the thirteen-year-old son of an Oberlin farmer, asked John Price, a fugitive slave living in Oberlin, if he wanted to earn some money harvesting potatoes. Price declined but agreed to accompany Boynton to the house of another black he thought would be interested...

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Chapter 3: The Impact of the Northern District of Ohio on Industrialization and Labor: Liability Law and Labor Injunctions in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, 1870–1932

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pp. 74-96

Since the mid-1980s, scholars in legal history and related fields have insisted that rulings by the American judiciary shaped the character, beliefs, and goals of the American labor movement and its affiliated trade unions. Judge-made law caused unions to conclude that political reform had become a dead end for workers and that...

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Chapter 4: The Trial of Eugene V. Debs, 1918

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pp. 97-118

On the afternoon of June 16, 1918, Eugene Victor Debs, the four-time presidential candidate of the American Socialist Party, arrived at Nimisilla Park in Canton, Ohio, to address more than a thousand of the party faithful gathered for their annual picnic. In addition to local socialists, the crowd also included federal agents...

Part 2: The Modern Court

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Introduction to Part 2

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pp. 121-126

Federal courts are often referred to as courts of “limited jurisdiction.” Pursuant to statute, a litigant gets to federal court in one of two ways: (1) via federal question jurisdiction, if the case arises under the Constitution or a federal statute, or (2) via diversity jurisdiction, if the plaintiff and defendant are from different states...

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Chapter 5: Bringing Brown to Cleveland

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pp. 127-164

Brown v. Board of Education1 is widely regarded as one of the most important and transformative decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court in the twentieth century.2 From a legal point of view, Brown rejected the “separate but equal” doctrine the Court had first articulated in 1896,3 and it established that schools that had been segregated...

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Chapter 6: The Struggle for Gender Equality in the Northern District of Ohio

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pp. 165-187

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, like many of its sister courts, was reluctantly drawn into the national debate over sex equality in the 1970s. The court’s response mirrored the greater social response, initially showing a hostility to claims of gender discrimination that was slowly displaced by recognition...

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Chapter 7: Religion in the Public Sector

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pp. 188-207

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution provides that the government shall make “no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”1 The intent of both the “establishment” and the “free exercise” provisions has been to protect religious freedom, especially for those of minority...

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Chapter 8: From Euclid to the Development of Federal Environmental Law: The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio and the Regulation of Physical Space

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pp. 208-228

In 1969, the federal district court for the Northern District of Ohio occupied a position of potentially profound influence, for the Cuyahoga River was burning. Although the blaze on the river would illuminate the Ohio sky for only twenty-four minutes1—not even long enough for the local papers to snap a single photograph—the...

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Chapter 9: Preserving Trust in Government: Public Corruption and the Court

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pp. 229-248

Political corruption by public officials is not a new phenomenon. Corrupt behavior has been part of government for many years, and unfortunately, no level of leadership is immune from the questionable behavior of politicians. Generally speaking, corruption involves the abuse of public office for private benefit or personal...

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Chapter 10: The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio and the May 4, 1970 Shooting at Kent State University

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pp. 249-265

On May 4, 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard—called to Kent State University (KSU) in response to riotous activity in downtown Kent, Ohio, three days earlier—fired into a crowd of unarmed students, killing four and wounding nine. This event received worldwide attention. Kent State was closed for almost two...

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Chapter 11: When Law and Conscience Conflict: The Draft Nonregistration Case of United States v. Mark Arden Schmucker

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pp. 266-288

It was high summer. The stone halls of the old District Courthouse in Cleveland seemed a world apart—light, heat, and sound muted. Mark Schmucker, a soft-spoken Mennonite college student, had been indicted for failing to register for the Selective Service and was being arraigned in Case CR 82–133A. Outside on the steps, sympathizers...

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Chapter 12: The Trials of John Demjanjuk

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pp. 289-310

Prominent among the duties of federal district courts in American society is the enforcement of citizenship and extradition laws. In the first type of case, the court must determine whether the citizenship of a naturalized U.S. citizen should be taken away. In the second type, the court is called on to certify to the secretary...

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Chapter 13: Capital Litigation in the Northern District

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pp. 311-334

The history of death penalty litigation in the Northern District of Ohio is both long and short. Situated in one of the most prolific capital-sentencing states in the nation, the district has grappled with the cases of over one hundred defendants sentenced to death under state law since the establishment of Ohio’s...

Image Plates

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pp. 335-346

Appendix A: Historical Listing of Northern District Court of Ohio District Judges

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pp. 347-349

Appendix B: Historical Listing of Northern District Court of Ohio Magistrate Judges

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pp. 351

Notes on Contributors

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pp. 353-356

Index of Cases

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pp. 357-364

General Index

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pp. 365-374

E-ISBN-13: 9780821444160
Print-ISBN-13: 9780821420003

Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2012

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Subject Headings

  • United States. District Court (Ohio : Northern District) -- History.
  • District courts -- Ohio -- History.
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