Day-By-Day Walk Through US Legal History: February
1 February 1861 – Texas secedes from the Union. Among the reasons given in the declaration, Texas expressed its solidarity with other slave States and the failure of the government to protect against Indian attacks and raids. On 2 March 1861 it joined the Confederate States.
2 February 1790 – The Supreme Court holds its inaugural session at the Old Exchange Building in New York. The court was established under the Judiciary Act 1789 and the inaugural session was planned for 1 February, but it was postponed because only three justices were present.
3 February 1870 – The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution extends the franchise to African Americans, stipulating that the right to vote is not to be limited on the basis of “race, color or precious condition of servitude”.
4 February 1789 – George Washington is chosen to be the first president of the United States. Washington had initially been reluctant to accept the position but he was elected unanimously by the 69 member Congress, with runner-up John Adams becoming vice president.
5 February 1917 – The Immigration Act is passed by Congress to prohibit residents of most Asian countries from immigrating to the U.S. President Woodrow Wilson had vetoed the Act in December 1916, but an overwhelming majority of Congress voted to overrule the veto.
6 February 1933 – In order to shorten lame-duck periods between Presidencies, Congress passes the 20th Amendment to the Constitution. The Amendment changed the start of presidential and congressional terms from March to January.
7 February 1795 – Congress passes the 11th Amendment to the Constitution, overruling the Supreme Court’s decision in Chisholm v Georgia and limited the jurisdiction of federal courts to cases brought against a state by citizens of another state.
8 February 1924 – The first execution by gas in the U.S. takes place. Gee Jon, a Chinese man convicted of murder, was put to death at Nevada State Prison in Carson City.
9 February 1909 – The ‘Act to Prohibit Importation and Use of Opium’ is passed by the U.S. Congress. It was the first federal Act to prohibit narcotics.
10 February 1967 – Congress passes the 25th Amendment to the Constitution. The Amendment addresses succession procedures for the Presidency, and the process for filling the position of vice-president. It also deals with Presidential disabilities.
11 February 1945 – U.S. President Roosevelt, British PM Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Josef Stalin sign the WWII Yalta Agreement. The three leaders came together in an effort to reorganize war-torn European nations and ensure a peaceful transition to post-war peace.
12 February 1999 – The U.S. Senate acquits President Bill Clinton on both charges of impeachment against him: perjury and obstruction of justice.
13 February 2012 – Washington became the seventh state in the U.S. to legalize same-sex marriage. Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004, and Washington was following in the footsteps of New York, which had passed similar legislation in 2011.
14 February 1899 – Use of voting machines in federal elections is approved by the U.S. Congress.
15 February 1879 – A bill is signed by U.S. President Rutherford B. Hayes to allow women to be admitted to practice and argue cases before the Supreme Court.
16 February 2012 – The ‘Underwear Bomber’, Nigerian man Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was sentenced to four life terms and fifty years without parole after he was convicted of attempting to blow up Northwest Airlines Flight 253 by detonating explosives hidden in his underwear.
17 February 1964 – The Supreme Court hands down its decision in the case Wesberry v Sanders. The Court found that significant population discrepancies between congressional districts in Georgia violated the Constitution, and that states must draw up congressional districts that are approximately equal in population.
18 February 1972 – The death penalty in the state of California is struck down by the California Supreme Court.
19 February 1942 – U.S. President Roosevelt issues Executive Order No. 9066, which permitted the Secretary of War to declare military zones, and consequently giving the power deport Japanese-, German- and Italian- Americans to internment camps.
20 February 1809 – The Supreme Court hands down the decision in United States v Peters, with Chief Justice John Marshall declaring that a “mockery” would be made of the Constitution if states were able to overrule the legal power of the federal judiciary.
21 February 1975 – Former Attorney General John N. Mitchell, and former White House aides H.R. Halderman and John D. Ehrlichman are convicted and sentenced for their roles in covering up the Watergate scandal.
22 February 1865 – Tennessee adopts a constitutional amendment forbidding slavery.
23 February 2011 – The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama declared that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which banned recognition of same-sex marriage.
24 February 1803 – The Supreme Court hands down its decision in Madbury v Madison, asserting that in the event of conflict, the Constitution overrules any Act of Congress. This critical decision established the doctrine of judicial review.
25 February 1913 – The 13th Amendment to the Constitution came into effect, allowing Congress to levy and collect income tax.
26 February 1863 – The National Banking Act is signed into effect by President Lincoln, creating the American banking charter system.
27 February 1951 – The states ratified the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution, which limit a president to serving on two terms of four years each.
28 February 1867 – Congress decides to put an end to federal funding for U.S. diplomatic missions to the Holy See. This put an end to 70 years of diplomatic relations between the two parties.
29 February 1795 – The Jay Treaty, a treaty between the U.S. and Great Britain that was designed to settle remaining issues between the two countries and avoid war, came into effect.