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 xad—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.
The first history of a federal district court in a midwestern state, A Place of Recourse explains a district court’s function and how its mission has evolved. The court has grown from an obscure institution adjudicating minor debt and land disputes to one that plays a central role in the political, economic, and social lives of southern Ohioans.
In tracing the court’s development, Alexander explores the central issues confronting the district court judges during each historical era. She describes how this court in a non-slave state responded to fugitive slave laws and how a court whose jurisdiction included a major coal-mining region responded to striking workers and the unionization movement. The book also documents judicial responses to Prohibition, New Deal legislation, crime, mass tort litigation, and racial desegregation.
The history of a court is also the history of its judges. Accordingly, Alexander provides historical insight on current and past judges. She details behind-the-scenes maneuvers in judicial appointments and also the creativity some judges displayed on the bench—such as Judge Leavitt, who adopted admiralty law to deal with the problems of river traffic.
A Place of Recourse demonstrates that, at least in the Southern District of Ohio, the federal district court has played the role its creators hoped it would—upholding federal law even when the citizens of the region actively opposed such enforcement.