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The Bracero Program/“Guest Worker” Programs  

Ana Elizabeth Rosas

On August 4, 1942, the Mexican and US governments launched the binational guest worker program most commonly known as the Bracero Program. An estimated 5 million Mexican men between the ages of nineteen and forty-five separated from their families for three to nine-month cycles at a time, depending on the duration of their labor contract, in anticipation of earning the prevailing US wage this program had promised them. They labored in US agriculture, railroad construction, and forestry with hardly any employment protections or rights in place to support themselves or the families they had left behind in Mexico. The inhumane configuration and implementation of this program prevented most of these men and their families from meeting this goal. Instead, the labor exploitation and alienation that characterized this guest worker program and their program participation paved the way for fragile transnational family relationships. The Bracero Program grew over the course of its twenty-two-year existence, and despite its negative consequences, Mexican men and their families could not afford to settle for unemployment in Mexico nor pass up US employment opportunities of any sort. The Mexican and US governments’ persistently negligent management of the program coupled with their conveniently selective acknowledgment of the severity of the plight of Mexican women and men consistently required Mexican men and their families to shoulder the full extent of the program’s exploitative conditions and terms.

Article

Police and Crime in the American City, 1800–2020  

Simon Balto and Max Felker-Kantor

The relationship between policing and crime in American history has been tenuous at best. In fact, policing and crime are imperfectly correlated. Crime is understood as a socially constructed category that varies over time and space. Crime in the American city was produced by the actions of police officers on the street and the laws passed by policymakers that made particular behaviors, often ones associated with minoritized people, into something called “crime.” Police create a statistical narrative about crime through the behaviors and activities they choose to target as “crime.” As a result, policing the American city has functionally reinforced the nation’s dominant racial and gender hierarchies as much as (or more so) than it has served to ensure public safety or reduce crime. Policing and the production of crime in the American city has been broadly shaped by three interrelated historical processes: racism, xenophobia, and capitalism. As part of these processes, policing took many forms across space and time. From origins in the slave patrols in the South, settler colonial campaigns of elimination in the West, and efforts to put down striking workers in the urban North, the police evolved into the modern, professional forces familiar to many Americans in the early 21st century. The police, quite simply, operated to uphold a status quo based on unequal and hierarchical racial, ethnic, and economic orders. Tracing the history of policing and crime from the colonial era to the present demonstrates the ways that policing has evolved through a dialectic of crisis and reform. Moments of protest and unrest routinely exposed the ways policing was corrupt, violent, and brutal, and did little to reduce crime in American cities. In turn, calls for reform produced “new” forms of policing (what was often referred to as professionalization in the early and mid-20th century and community policing in the 21st). But these reforms did not address the fundamental role or power of police in society. Rather, these reforms often expanded it, producing new crises, new protests, and still more “reforms,” in a seemingly endless feedback loop. From the vantage point of the 21st century, this evolution demonstrates the inability of reform or professionalization to address the fundamental role of police in American society. In short, it is a history that demands a rethinking of the relationship between policing and crime, the social function of the police, and how to achieve public safety in American cities.

Article

Death and Dying in the Working Class  

Michael K. Rosenow

In the broader field of thanatology, scholars investigate rituals of dying, attitudes toward death, evolving trajectories of life expectancy, and more. Applying a lens of social class means studying similar themes but focusing on the men, women, and children who worked for wages in the United States. Working people were more likely to die from workplace accidents, occupational diseases, or episodes of work-related violence. In most periods of American history, it was more dangerous to be a wage worker than it was to be a soldier. Battlegrounds were not just the shop floor but also the terrain of labor relations. American labor history has been filled with violent encounters between workers asserting their views of economic justice and employers defending their private property rights. These clashes frequently turned deadly. Labor unions and working-class communities extended an ethos of mutualism and solidarity from the union halls and picket lines to memorial services and gravesites. They lauded martyrs to movements for human dignity and erected monuments to honor the fallen. Aspects of ethnicity, race, and gender added layers of meaning that intersected with and refracted through individuals’ economic positions. Workers’ encounters with death and the way they made sense of loss and sacrifice in some ways overlapped with Americans from other social classes in terms of religious custom, ritual practice, and material consumption. Their experiences were not entirely unique but diverged in significant ways.

Article

Free Civil Legal Assistance in the United States, 1863–1980  

Felice Batlan

Legal aid organizations were first created by a variety of private groups during the Civil War to provide legal advice in civil cases to the poor. The growing need for legal aid was deeply connected to industrialization, urbanization, and immigration. A variety of groups created legal aid organizations in response to labor unrest, the increasing number of women in the workforce, the founding of women’s clubs, and the slow and incomplete professionalization of the legal bar. In fact, before women could practice law, or were accepted into the legal profession, a variety of middle-class women’s groups using lay lawyers provided legal aid to poor women. Yet, this rich story of women’s work was later suppressed by leaders of the bar attempting to claim credit for legal aid, assert a monopoly over the practice of law, and professionalize legal assistance. Across time, the largest number of claims brought to legal aid providers involved workers trying to collect wages, domestic relations cases, and landlord tenant issues. Until the 1960s, legal aid organizations were largely financed through private donations and philanthropic organizations. After the 1960s, the federal government provided funding to support legal aid, creating significant controversy among lawyers, legal aid providers, and activists as to what types of cases legal aid organizations could take, what services could be provided, and who was eligible. Unlike in many other countries or in criminal cases, in the United States there is no constitutional right to have free counsel in civil cases. This leaves many poor and working-class people without legal advice or access to justice. Organizations providing free civil legal services to the poor are ubiquitous across the United States. They are so much part of the modern legal landscape that it is surprising that little historical scholarship exists on such organizations. Yet the history of organized legal aid, which began during the Civil War, is a rich story that brings into view a unique range of historical actors including women’s organizations, lawyers, social workers, community organizations, the state and federal government, and the millions of poor clients who over the last century and a half have sought legal assistance. This history of the development of legal aid is also very much a story about gender, race, professionalization, the development of the welfare state, and ultimately its slow dismantlement. In other words, the history of legal aid provides a window into the larger history of the United States while producing its own series of historical tensions, ironies, and contradictions. Although this narrative demonstrates change over time and various ruptures with the past, there are also important continuities in the history of free legal aid. Deceptively simple questions have plagued legal aid for almost a century and have also driven much of the historical scholarship on legal aid. These include: who should provide legal aid services, who should receive free legal aid, what types of cases should legal aid organizations handle, who should fund legal aid, and who benefits from legal aid.

Article

Mapp v. Ohio, the Exclusionary Rule, and Constitutional Judicial Review  

Morgan Cloud

Mapp v. Ohio is the US Supreme Court opinion that imposed the Fourth Amendment exclusionary rule on the states. Mapp overruled earlier cases by holding that evidence obtained by unreasonable government searches and seizures was not admissible in state or local criminal prosecutions, just as it had long been inadmissible in federal cases. It is hard to overstate the impact of this decision, which changed the rules and procedures both for policing and for litigation in criminal cases throughout the United States. But Mapp’s significance extends beyond its specific holding. It adopted an interpretive method, often labeled “selective incorporation,” employed by the Supreme Court in subsequent decisions, that imposed specific provisions contained in the Bill of Rights, the first eight amendments to the Constitution upon the states. These decisions redefined federalism in the United States by establishing federal authority over government actions previously governed by state law. In the realm of search and seizure law, by requiring states to adhere to the Supreme Court’s search and seizure opinions, Mapp also generated potent political and legal opposition. In subsequent opinions the Supreme Court limited the exclusionary rule’s scope, diluting Mapp’s impact on police practices by reducing the situations in which federal constitutional rules required exclusion of evidence.

Article

Brown v. Board of Education  

Christopher W. Schmidt

On May 17, 1954, the Supreme Court unanimously struck down as unconstitutional state-mandated racial segregation in public schools, which at the time was policy in seventeen states. Brown v. Board of Education marked the culmination of a decades-long litigation campaign by the NAACP. White-controlled states across the South responded by launching a “massive resistance” campaign of defiance against Brown, which was followed by decades of struggles, inside and outside the courts, to desegregate the nation’s schools. Brown also signaled the new and often controversial direction the Supreme Court would take under leadership of Chief Justice Earl Warren—one that read the rights protections of the Constitution more broadly than its predecessors and was more aggressive in using these rights to protect vulnerable minorities. Brown is nearly universally celebrated today, yet the terms of its celebration remain contested. Some see the case as a call for ambitious litigation strategies and judicial boldness, whereas others use it to demonstrate the limited power of the courts to effect social change. Some find in Brown a commitment to a principle of a “colorblind” Constitution, others a commitment to expunging practices that oppress racial minorities (often requiring race-conscious policies). Brown thus remains what it was in 1954: a bold statement of the principle of racial equality whose meaning the nation is still struggling to work out.

Article

Early American Slave Law  

Sally Hadden

Slave law in early America may be found in the formal written laws created in metropolitan places such as Paris or Madrid as well as locally within English colonies such as Barbados or South Carolina. These written laws constitute only one portion of the known law governing slave behavior, for individual masters created their own rules to restrict enslaved persons. These master-made rules of conduct almost never appear in print and were conveyed most often through oral transmission. Such vernacular laws provide another element of the limitations all enslaved people experienced in the colonial period. Those without literacy, including Native Americans or illiterate settlers, nonetheless had rules to limit slave behavior, even if they remained unwritten. Customary law, Bible precepts, and Islamic law all provided bases for understanding the rules that bound unfree persons. Most colonial law mandated barbaric punishments for slave crime, though these were sometimes commuted to banishment. Spanish and French codes and local ordinances did not always agree on how slaves should be treated. The numerous laws found in English colonies, sometimes wrongly denominated as codes, spread widely as individuals migrated; the number and variety of such laws makes comprehensive transimperial comparisons challenging. Laws might occasionally ban keeping slaves or trading in them, but most such laws were ignored. Slave courts typically operated in arbitrary, capricious ways that assumed slave guilt and accepted weak evidence to prove it. Runaways might, if they joined strong maroon communities (bands of runaways living together), end up enforcing the laws against slave flight, much as slave catchers and slave patrols did. Laws to prevent manumission by a master frequently required the posting of bonds to prevent those freed from becoming a financial burden on their communities. Later manumission laws often mandated the physical departure of those freed, creating emotional turmoil for the newly emancipated.

Article

California Indians  

Benjamin L. Madley

Human beings have inhabited the region known as California for at least 13,000 years, or as some believe since time immemorial. By developing technologies, honing skills, and implementing stewardship practices, California Indian communities maximized the bounty of their homelands during the precolonial period. Overall, their population grew to perhaps 310,000 people. Speaking scores of different languages, they organized themselves into at least sixty major tribes. Communities were usually politically autonomous but connected to larger tribal groups by shared languages and cultures while dense networks of economic exchange also bound tribes together. Newcomers brought devastating change, but California Indians resisted and survived. During the Russo-Hispanic period (1769–1846), the Indigenous population fell to perhaps 150,000 people due to diseases, environmental transformation, and colonial policies. The organized mass violence and other policies of early United States rule (1846–1900) further reduced the population. By 1900, census takers counted only 15,377 California Indian people. Still, California Indians resisted. During the 1900–1953 period, the federal government continued its national Allotment Policy but initiated healthcare, land policy, education, and citizenship reforms for California Indians even as they continued to resist and their population grew. During the termination era (1953–1968), California Indians faced federal attempts to obliterate them as American Indians. Finally, California Indian people achieved many hard-won victories during the self-determination era (1968–present).

Article

Child Migrants in 20th-Century America  

Ivón Padilla-Rodríguez

Child migration has garnered widespread media coverage in the 21st century, becoming a central topic of national political discourse and immigration policymaking. Contemporary surges of child migrants are part of a much longer history of migration to the United States. In the first half of the 20th century, millions of European and Asian child migrants passed through immigration inspection stations in the New York harbor and San Francisco Bay. Even though some accompanied and unaccompanied European child migrants experienced detention at Ellis Island, most were processed and admitted into the United States fairly quickly in the early 20th century. Few of the European child migrants were deported from Ellis Island. Predominantly accompanied Chinese and Japanese child migrants, however, like Latin American and Caribbean migrants in recent years, were more frequently subjected to family separation, abuse, detention, and deportation at Angel Island. Once inside the United States, both European and Asian children struggled to overcome poverty, labor exploitation, educational inequity, the attitudes of hostile officials, and public health problems. After World War II, Korean refugee “orphans” came to the United States under the Refugee Relief Act of 1953 and the Immigration and Nationality Act. European, Cuban, and Indochinese refugee children were admitted into the United States through a series of ad hoc programs and temporary legislation until the 1980 Refugee Act created a permanent mechanism for the admission of refugee and unaccompanied children. Exclusionary immigration laws, the hardening of US international boundaries, and the United States preference for refugees who fled Communist regimes made unlawful entry the only option for thousands of accompanied and unaccompanied Mexican, Central American, and Haitian children in the second half of the 20th century. Black and brown migrant and asylum-seeking children were forced to endure educational deprivation, labor trafficking, mandatory detention, deportation, and deadly abuse by US authorities and employers at US borders and inside the country.

Article

The Quaker “Invasion”  

Adrian Chastain Weimer

Founded in the late 1640s, Quakerism reached America in the 1650s and quickly took root due to the determined work of itinerant missionaries over the next several decades. Quakers, or members of the Society of Friends, faced different legal and social challenges in each colony. Many English men and women viewed Friends with hostility because they refused to bear arms in a colony’s defense or take loyalty oaths. Others were drawn to Quakers’ egalitarian message of universal access to the light of Christ in each human being. After George Fox’s visit to the West Indies and the mainland colonies in 1671–1672, Quaker missionaries followed his lead in trying to include enslaved Africans and native Americans in their meetings. Itinerant Friends were drawn to colonies with the most severe laws, seeking a public platform from which to display, through suffering, a joyful witness to the truth of the Quaker message. English Quakers then quickly ushered accounts of their sufferings into print. Organized and supported by English Quakers such as Margaret Fell, the Quaker “invasion” of itinerant missionaries put pressure on colonial judicial systems to define the acceptable boundaries for dissent. Nascent communities of Friends from Barbados to New England struggled with the tension between Quaker ideals and the economic and social hierarchies of colonial societies.