April 22, 1970 – The First “Earth Day” Was Established

On this day in history, Earth Day was first observed with the goal of bringing awareness to growing ecological concerns and helping to bring political pressure to bear on environmental issues. An estimated 20 million people attended inaugural events across the U.S. The day was promoted tirelessly by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin, who had been attempting to bring his colleagues on board since 1963.

Fundraising and awareness ad for Earth Day published in the New York Times on January 18, 1970.

Fundraising and awareness ad for Earth Day published in the New York Times on January 18, 1970.

Congress went on to make the 1970s the “Environmental Decade” by establishing the bulk of today’s environmental regulatory authority through the passage of 28 pieces of legislation, including the Endangered Species Act, the Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and amendments strengthening the National Environmental Policy Act and the Clean Air and Water Acts. In December 1970, Congress authorized the creation of a new federal agency to oversee environmental issues, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Postage Stamp block issued in October, 1970

Postage Stamp block issued in October, 1970

Today, as climate change accelerates, there are many movements to repair ecological devastation, as well as sources for information still associated with Earth Day, such as The Earth Day Network. You can visit their website here.

April 19, 1816 – Indiana Joins the Union as the 19th State


In 1787 the US defined present-day Indiana as part of its Northwest Territory. In 1800, Congress separated out Ohio and designated the rest of the land as the Indiana Territory. President Thomas Jefferson chose William Henry Harrison as the governor of the territory and Vincennes was established as the capital. Indiana was further reduced after Michigan and Illinois were formed.

On November 7, 1811, a battle with important consequences was fought between U.S. forces led by Indiana Territorial Governor Harrison and Native American warriors under Tecumseh near the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers in northern Indiana. Harrison proclaimed a decisive victory (although that interpretation of the outcome has been contested by historians) and acquired the nickname “Tippecanoe,” which was popularized in the song “Tippecanoe and Tyler Too” during the election of 1840, when Harrison was elected president.


On December 11, 1815 the Indiana Territory General Assembly passed a Memorial to Congress stating that Indiana was qualified to become a state, by virtue of having over sixty thousand “free white inhabitants.”

Delegates to the June 1816 constitutional convention apparently often worked in the shade of the “Constitution Elm."   Said to be enormous with branches that spanned over 100 feet, it died of Dutch Elm Disease in 1925.

Delegates to the June 1816 constitutional convention apparently often worked in the shade of the “Constitution Elm.” Said to be enormous with branches that spanned over 100 feet, it died of Dutch Elm Disease in 1925.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved Indiana’s petition for statehood on March 30 and the U.S. Senate on April 13, and on April 19, 1816, President James Madison signed into law the act passed by Congress which would enable Indiana to become a state “on an equal footing with the original States.”

Various religious emissaries arrived in the new state to set up schools and ministries. A Jesuit missionary born in France, Benjamin Marie Petit, was ordained a priest at Vincennes, Indiana and served in a mission to the Potawatomi Indians near the South Bend of the St. Joseph River. When the Potawatomi were forcibly removed to the west, the priest went with them.

After turning over the spiritual care of the Potawatomi to another Jesuit priest in Kasas, Father Petit fell ill and started back to Indiana. He reached the Jesuit seminary at St. Louis University in January, 1839, and died in February, still only 27 years old. He was buried in a cemetery in St. Louis that was demolished in 1856. Father Edward Sorin, founder of Notre Dame University, South Bend, Indiana, came and took Father Petit’s body back to Indiana. Father Petit’s remains rest under the Log Chapel at the University of Notre Dame.

Father Edward Sorin, Founder of Notre Dame in Indiana

Father Edward Sorin, Founder of Notre Dame in Indiana

Some Indiana trivia:

State Flag:For many years, Indiana was the only state without a flag. The official state banner was adopted in 1917, and renamed the state flag in 1955.

State Bird: Cardinal

Longest River in Indiana: The Wabash, which flows from Ohio across Northern Indiana until it forms the border between Indiana and Illinois.

Official State Stone: Limestone. Indiana limestone was used in the Empire State Building and the Pentagon.

Quilt Gardens: Every year from Memorial Day through the end of September, the seven communities comprising northern Indiana’s Amish Country band together to create blooming quilts along a 90-mile Heritage Trail Driving Tour. Each garden/mural is juried and accepted by a committee of master gardeners, horticulturalists and professional landscapers, and utilizes some 90,000 blooms.


April 14, 2014 – U.N. Protocol on the Rights of Children Goes Into Effect

On this day, a legal instrument granting children access to international human rights protections takes effect. The Protocol, adopted in December 2011 and opened for signature in 2012, specified it would be entered into force three months after the deposit of the tenth instrument of ratification or accession. On January 13, 2014, Costa Rica became the 10th nation to ratify the Protocol, thereby giving it legal effect. (The U.S. has not ratified this Protocol. Nor, for that matter, is it a signatory to the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child.)

This new Protocol permits children or their representatives to submit formal complaints to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRD), upon which the CRD must review the allegations and decide whether to take action. According to the UN, the Protocol effectively places children on equal legal footing with adults with respect to several international treaties.

You can read the full text here.


April 7, 2003 – The Supreme Court Decides Virginia v. Black

In the 2003 case Virginia v. Black (538 U.S. 343), three defendants were convicted in two separate cases of violating a Virginia statute against cross burning. In an opinion authored by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, the Court struck down Va. Code Ann. §18.2—423 (1996) to the extent that it considered cross burning as prima facie evidence of intent to intimidate:

We conclude that while a State, consistent with the First Amendment, may ban cross burning carried out with the intent to intimidate, the provision in the Virginia statute treating any cross burning as prima facie evidence of intent to intimidate renders the statute unconstitutional in its current form.”

In the opinion, Justice O’Connor recounted the history of the Ku Klux Klan and the display of a burning cross “used to communicate both threats of violence and messages of shared ideology.” She cited the Klan constitution which claims that the “fiery cross” is the “emblem of that sincere, unselfish devotedness of all klansmen to the sacred purpose and principles we have espoused.” She also adduced instances in which the burning cross was used by the Klan as “a sign of celebration and ceremony” such as at a marriage of two Klan members. Nevertheless, she acknowledged:

…while a burning cross does not inevitably convey a message of intimidation, often the cross burner intends that the recipients of the message fear for their lives. And when a cross burning is used to intimidate, few if any messages are more powerful.”

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor

Nevertheless, she was unwilling to compromise the First Amendment, applicable to the States through the Fourteenth Amendment, providing that “Congress shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.” Citing previous rulings of the Court, she observed: “The hallmark of the protection of free speech is to allow “free trade in ideas”–even ideas that the overwhelming majority of people might find distasteful or discomforting.”

She admitted that “Virginia’s statute does not run afoul of the First Amendment insofar as it bans cross burning with intent to intimidate.” But the Court agreed with the Supreme Court of Virginia in its finding that the Virginia statute was “overbroad” in inferring intent from the burning of a cross by itself:

As the history of cross burning indicates, a burning cross is not always intended to intimidate. Rather, sometimes the cross burning is a statement of ideology, a symbol of group solidarity. It is a ritual used at Klan gatherings, and it is used to represent the Klan itself. Thus, “[b]urning a cross at a political rally would almost certainly be protected expression.” R. A. V. v. St. Paul, 505 U.S., at 402, n. 4 (White, J., concurring in judgment) (citing Brandenburg v. Ohio, 395 U.S., at 445). Cf. National Socialist Party of America v. Skokie, 432 U.S. 43 (1977) (per curiam). Indeed, occasionally a person who burns a cross does not intend to express either a statement of ideology or intimidation. Cross burnings have appeared in movies such as Mississippi Burning, and in plays such as the stage adaptation of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lady of the Lake.”

Justice O’Connor did not address what would constitute sufficient proof of “intent to intimidate.” It seems she was willing to accept any explanation offered by Klan members, notoriously not given to self-incrimination.

In his dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas basically writes, “Oh, come on!” He argues:

In our culture, cross burning has almost invariably meant lawlessness and understandably instills in its victims well-grounded fear of physical violence.”

Justice Clarence Thomas

Justice Clarence Thomas

In addition he contended that the Virginia statute prohibited only conduct, not expression. However, he clarified:

Even assuming that the statute implicates the First Amendment, in my view, the fact that the statute permits a jury to draw an inference of intent to intimidate from the cross burning itself presents no constitutional problems. Therein lies my primary disagreement with the plurality.”

He went on to note that in other instances of potential harm, the Court had not imposed a scienter requirement. Indeed, he averred, “Considering the horrific effect cross burning has on its victims, it is also reasonable to presume intent to intimidate from the act itself.” He concluded:

…the plurality strikes down the statute because one day an individual might wish to burn a cross, but might do so without an intent to intimidate anyone. That cross burning subjects its targets, and, sometimes, an unintended audience, see 262 Va., at 782; see also J.A. 93—97, to extreme emotional distress, and is virtually never viewed merely as “unwanted communication,” but rather, as a physical threat, is of no concern to the plurality. Henceforth, under the plurality’s view, physical safety will be valued less than the right to be free from unwanted communications.”

In 2002, the Virginia legislature responded by enacting a new statute numbered § 18.2-423.01. The original Section 18.2-423, held unconstitutional, has not been repealed. The new statute, however, does not contain a prima facie evidence provision and applies to “objects,” not mentioning crosses in particular. The statute makes burning an object on the private property of another with the intent to intimidate a crime in itself; whereas, burning an object on a highway or other public place with the intent to intimidate must be “in a manner having a direct tendency to place another person in reasonable fear or apprehension of death or bodily injury.”

Ku Klux Klansmen and women at a cross "lighting" (as opposed to "burning") on November 12th, 2005.

Ku Klux Klansmen and women at a cross “lighting” (as opposed to “burning”) on November 12th, 2005.

March 31, 1968 – President Lyndon Johnson Opts Not to Seek Re-election

On this day in history, Lyndon Johnson, 36th President of the United States, stunned the nation by announcing “I shall not seek and I will not accept the nomination of my party as your President.” At a later news conference he averred his decision was “completely irrevocable.”


The Vietnam War had gotten out of control, and the country was polarized. Johnson found himself increasingly under fire from both the right and the left. He was unable to devise a strategy for victory, withdrawal, or peace with honor. On March 31, 1968, he announced he would not run for re-election. The War would eventually claim the lives of 58,000 Americans and three million Vietnamese.

NPR has a very good 5 minute program produced in 2008 on the 40th anniversary of President Johnson’s stunning announcement that he would not seek another term in office. As NPR producer John McDonough observed, “nobody saw it coming.” You can learn more about it, and also hear the president make his historic statement here. You can also read the entire text of the speech here, in which President Johnson begins by proclaiming his intention to wind down the Vietnam War.

Lyndon B. Johnson speaks to nation on TV on March 31, 1968

Lyndon B. Johnson speaks to nation on TV on March 31, 1968

March 30, 1867 – The U.S. Purchases Alaska from Russia

On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward agreed to purchase Alaska from Russia for $7.2 million dollars, about two cents an acre. A check for $7,200,000.00 was issued on August 1, 1868 and made payable to Edouard de Stoeckl, the Russian Minister to the United States.

Secretary of State William H. Seward

Secretary of State William H. Seward

The press mocked the purchase as “Seward’s Folly”, “Seward’s icebox,” and Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden.” The discovery of gold in the late 1890s increased Alaska’s value as a U.S. possession and boosted its population. (Today, Alaska is primarily known as a producer of black gold, or oil.)

In 1912, the region was granted territorial status. Alaskans approved statehood in 1946 and adopted a state constitution in 1955. On January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower announced Alaska’s entrance into the Union as the 49th state. It has a land mass larger than Texas, California and Montana combined.


Alaska has more public land owned by the federal government than any other state. Approximately 65% of Alaska (222 million acres) is owned and managed by the U.S. federal government as public lands, including a multitude of national forests, national parks, and national wildlife refuges. The state of Alaska owns 101 million acres. Another 44 million acres are owned by 12 regional, and scores of local, Native corporations created under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act of 1971. Various private interests own the remaining land, totaling about one percent of the state. Alaska is, by a large margin, the state with the smallest percentage of private land ownership when Native corporation holdings are excluded.


The official state flag of Alaska was officially adopted in 1959. The golden stars represent the Big Dipper and the North Star, also called Polaris (representing Alaska’s northern location). The pattern was chosen from a contest in 1926 won by a 13-year-old Native American boy named Bennie Benson. Bennie was from the village of Chignik; he won a 1,000-dollar scholarship and a watch for winning the contest.

Today, Alaska has a population of some 730,000 people and 30,000 bears. Of the 20 highest peaks in the United States, 17 are in Alaska. Mt. McKinley, the highest peak in North America, is 20,320 ft. above sea level. Denali, the Indian name for the peak, means “The Great One.”

Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park, Alaska

Mt. McKinley, Denali National Park, Alaska

Alaska also is home to the third longest river in the U.S. (The Yukon), and an estimated 100,000 glaciers. It boasts the northernmost (Point Barrow), the easternmost (Pochnoi Point on Semisopochnoi Island in the Aleutians), and the westernmost (Amatignak Island in the Aleutians) points in the United States.

March 29, 1867 – The United Dominion of Canada Created


On this day in history, the British Parliament passed the British North America Act, a constitutional document creating an independent and united Dominion of Canada. It went into effect on July 1 that year, at which time, three British colonies became four provinces of the new dominion. The existing United Province of Canada was divided into the new provinces of Ontario and Quebec, and two other colonies, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, also became provinces of the new Dominion of Canada.


You can read the text of the Act here.

Review of “The Racketeer” by John Grisham

When we first meet Malcolm (“Mal”) Bannister, the “hero” of this novel, he is a small-town black lawyer who has been convicted of a RICO violation and is serving the fifth year of his ten year prison sentence. (RICO, or the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, provides for extended criminal penalties for acts associated with “racketeering,” a concept that is so broadly defined that it can sweep up people who have only a very tangential relationship with any serious wrongdoing. You can read the statute here.)


Mal, disbarred, divorced by his wife, and losing his son, firmly believes he is innocent of any wrongdoing, and Grisham lays out a plausible scenario about how a naïve lawyer might be caught up in a scheme that results in serious prison time. Bannister has exhausted his appeals and knows enough law to realize that he has virtually no chance of an early release through normal channels. However, when he learns that a local federal district judge has been murdered, he concocts a scheme that employs Rule 35 of the Federal Rules of Criminal Procedure that just may procure his freedom. (Rule 35 provides that “Upon the government’s motion…the court may reduce a sentence if the defendant, after sentencing, provided substantial assistance in investigating or prosecuting another person….”)

What follows is a very complicated concatenation of events that gets Bannister released and temporarily enrolled in the Federal Witness Protection Program. In the process, Grisham – through Bannister, has the opportunity to inveigh against the sometimes unfair abuse of power by federal authorities. He also describes the details of some very effective interrogation techniques used to educe confessions and gives us a glimpse of the very unpleasant realities of incarceration.

This is not a mystery novel in the classic sense where the investigator-narrator shares his thoughts with the reader as he (the narrator) gradually uncovers information that allows him to solve the crime. Instead, Grisham’s narrator tells us what he is doing, but seldom tells us why he is doing it. In addition, Grisham sometimes switches from using Bannister as narrator to an omniscient narrator to fill in facts of which Bannister would not be aware. The result is that the reader is left for 150 pages or so (out of 338) thinking that the protagonist is engaged in some very odd behavior. It all gets untangled in the end, although it takes about thirty pages of dialog for Bannister to explain his actions to some of the other characters, including the FBI agents.

Evaluation: The whole series of events is highly implausible, but who cares? The writing is clear and fast-paced, and even though Grisham “unfairly” hides some valuable information from the reader, the ending is pleasantly surprising.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Doubleday, a division of Random House, Inc., 2012

March 22, 1972 – Equal Rights Amendment for Women Passed by Congress

On this date in history, the Senate passed the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which would have banned discrimination based on sex. The E.R.A. was subsequently sent to the states for ratification, but could not muster the needed three-fourths approval.

The amendment was first drafted by the women’s rights leader Alice Paul in 1923, three years after the passage of the 19th Amendment guaranteeing women’s suffrage. Variations of the amendment were proposed through the years, but never passed. Nevertheless, the constitutions of 22 states provide either inclusive or partial guarantees of equal rights on the basis of sex.

Alice Paul Toasting Tennessee's Ratification of the 19th Amendment, August 1920

Alice Paul Toasting Tennessee’s Ratification of the 19th Amendment, August 1920

Women’s groups are still working on eventual passage of the E.R.A. The 14th Amendment is not considered adequate protection against discrimination for women, especially since Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia has gone on the record arguing that the Constitution does not provide this protection, and if “society wants to outlaw discrimination by sex, hey, we have things called legislatures.”

Justice Antonin Scalia

Justice Antonin Scalia

March 18, 1963 – The Supreme Court Decided Gideon V. Wainwright; What Were Its Effects?

On this day in history, the Supreme Court ruled that the states are required to provide legal counsel to criminal defendants who are unable to pay for their own defense. You can read the full decision here and you can read our explication of the case here.

Source: Monk, Linda R. The Bill Of Rights: A User's Guide. Close-Up Publishing: 1991. p. 152.

Source: Monk, Linda R. The Bill Of Rights: A User’s Guide. Close-Up Publishing: 1991. p. 152.

Notably, Justice Hugo Black stated in his opinion:

The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.” 372 U.S. 335 at 344

Unfortunately, the right to “counsel” doesn’t always guarantee competent counsel. A 2009 report published by The National Right to Counsel Committee, Justice Denied: America’s Continuing Neglect of Our Constitutional Right to Counsel, identified grave problems in the provision of legal representation for the poor, especially because of chronic underfunding. As the report notes:

When the defense does not measure up to the prosecution, there is a heightened risk of the adversary system of justice making egregious mistakes.”

Analyzing Gideon more specifically, in June, 2013, The Yale Law Journal published a special issue on Gideon, which you can access free online here.

For example, John H. Blume, Professor of Law at Cornell Law School and Sheri Lynn Johnson, James and Mark Flanagan Professor of Law at Cornell Law School, argue in Gideon Exceptionalism, 122 YALE L.J. 2126 (2013):

As we set forth in this Essay, we think Gideon is both a “shining city on a hill” in the world of criminal procedure and something of a sham. We first discuss the extraordinary features of the decision itself, then lay out how it has survived largely intact, unlike virtually all other Warren Court criminal procedure decisions. Then we turn to the bleaker side of the Gideon story, first illuminating how the stingy law of ineffective assistance of counsel renders Gideon’s “shining city” illusory for many defendants, and then showing how the routine denial of investigative and expert assistance to indigent defendants further undercuts Gideon’s promise.”

Paul Butler, Professor at Georgetown University Law Center, exposes a broader problem, in Poor People Lose: Gideon and the Critique of Rights, 122 YALE L.J. 2176 (2013). He contends:

A low income person is more likely to be prosecuted and imprisoned post-Gideon than pre-Gideon. Poor people lose in American criminal justice not because they have ineffective lawyers but because they are selectively targeted by police, prosecutors, and law makers. The critique of rights suggests that rights are indeterminate and regressive. Gideon demonstrates this critique: it has not improved the situation of most poor people, and in some ways has worsened their plight. Gideon provides a degree of legitimacy for the status quo. Even full enforcement of Gideon would not significantly improve the loser status of low-income people in American criminal justice.”


There is also an excellent resource on the website of The Brennan Center, providing a list of links to articles examining the effects of Gideon fifty years after the decision, prefacing it with the observation:

The average amount of time spent by a public defender at arraignment is often less than six minutes per case. And that is when counsel is present and allowed to give information.”

Particularly recommended is the editorial by Georgetown Law Professor Paul Butler in The New York Times, who recounts some of the more egregious instances of “Gideon’s Muted Trumpet.”

Additionally, the American Bar Association has a list of resources related to the fiftieth anniversary of Gideon, which you can access here.


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