Day-By-Day Walk Through US Legal History: March

1 March 1875Civil Rights Act of 1875 is passed and allows African Americans to access public transport and other accommodations. In the Civil Rights Cases of 1883, the Supreme Court ruled that the Act was unconstitutional.

2 March 1807Congress puts an end to the African slave trade with the passage of an act that prohibits the importation of slaves from overseas to the US. This did not put an end to the trade of slaves in the South.

3 March 1879Belva Ann Lockwood, a feminist, politician and attorney is the first woman admitted to practice law before the Supreme Court. She lobbied Congress throughout the 1870s until they finally passed an anti-discrimination law that she herself had drafted. She first argued a case before the Supreme Court in late 1880.

4 March 1789On this day the government under the U.S. Constitution began. The first congress was held in New York, although only nine senators and 13 representatives were in attendance to negotiate the amendment of the Constitution.

5 March 1984The Supreme Court hands down its decision in the case Lynch v Donnelly, which challenged the annual Christmas display of Pawtucket, Rhode Island on the basis that it violated the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Court held that the display was not in violation of the Amendment and had “legitimate secular purposes”.

6 March 1857Decision in case of Dred Scott v Sanford is handed down, with the court holding that African Americans did not have standing to sue in the federal court because they were not citizens.

7 March 2011U.S. President Barack Obama reverses a two-year ban on military trials in the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

8 March 1917The cloture rule (Rule 22) is adopted by Congress to limit filibusters. Under this rule the Senate was able to end a debate with a two-thirds majority vote.

9 March 1841The Supreme Court rules that illegally kidnapped African slaves who had rebelled on the Spanish ship La Armistad in 1839 had acted as free men and were entitled to take necessary measures to escape captivity.

10 March 1848The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo, a peace treaty that ended the Mexico-American War, is ratified by the U.S. Senate. The treaty gave the U.S. ownership of California, a large part of New Mexico, parts of Wyoming and Colorado and the majority of Arizona, Utah and Nevada.

11 March 1941President Roosevelt signs the Lend-Lease Bill, which was to provide the Allied countries of WWII with rations of food, oil and materials until the end of the war. $50.1 billion worth of supplies were shipped under the Bill.

12 March 1993The first female Attorney General of the U.S., Janet Reno, is sworn in. She became the second longest serving Attorney General, retaining her position throughout Bill Clinton’s term.

13 March 1925 – The state of Tennessee passed the Butler Act to ban evolution from being taught in schools, and to prohibit teachers from denying the biblical account of human origins. The law remained in place until 1967.

14 March 1900The Gold Standard Act was approved, putting an end to the practice of exchanging silver for gold and making gold the only metal that could be used to redeem paper money.

15 March 1965President Johnson gave a speech before a joint session of Congress, urging Congress to pass new legislation that would guarantee the right to vote for all Americans.

16 March 1751James Madison is born in Virginia. He went on to become the ‘founding father’ of the American Constitution and serve as the fourth President of the United States.

17 March 2011The UN Security Council passes Resolution 1973 to impose a no-fly zone over Libya and authorize military action to protect civilians.

18 March 1963The Supreme Court holds that the 6th Amendment to the Constitution requires states to provide counsel for defendants who could not afford to take on their own attorneys. Gideon v Wainwright extended the right to representation from the federal government to the state governments.

19 March 1920The Treaty of Versailles, a peace agreement between Germany and the Allied countries of WWI, is rejected for the second time by the U.S. senate. The vote count fell seven votes short of the two-thirds majority needed to approve the Treaty, and failed in particular because of Senate majority leader Henry Cabot Lodge’s vocal opposition to the establishment of the League of Nations.

20 March 1816The Supreme Court asserts its power to make decisions that bind the states in civil matters of federal law. Martin v Hunter’s Lessee was the first case to affirm the Supreme Court’s authority in such cases.

21 March 2000 – In FDA v Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp, a pivotal case in US administrative law, the Supreme Court holds that the FDA’s attempt to label tobacco products as ‘drugs’ or ‘devices’ and regulate them as such went beyond the authority given to the body under the Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.

22 March 1972The proposed Equal Right Amendment to the Constitution, which purported to prohibit any law or action of government from discriminating on the basis of sex, was sent to the states for approval. It was not able to muster the necessary three-fourths approval.

23 March 2010President Barack Obama signs the Affordable Care Act, bringing into law the most significant change in healthcare in the U.S. since the introduction of Medicare in 1965.

24 March 2005The famous Terri Schiavo right to life case comes to an end as the Supreme Court denies an appeal by the parents of Ms Schiavo to have her feeding tube re-inserted. Terri Schiavo had been in a vegetative state for almost 15 years, and her husband and legal guardian had elected to remove her feeding tube.

25 March 1931In Alabama, nine black teenagers are arrested for allegedly raping two white women. What followed was a series of legal cases, culminating in the Supreme Court decisions Powell v Alabama and Norris v Alabama, which overturned the convictions and death sentences of the nine men.

26 March 1999Dr Jack Kevorkian, also known as ‘Dr Death’, was convicted of  second-degree murder and delivery of a controlled substance for a lethal injection that he gave to Thomas Youk, whose death was shown on 60 Minutes. He was sentenced to 10-25 years in prison.

27 March 1866President Andrew Johnson used his executive power to veto a bill that would later become the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, and which was to give all American slaves full US citizenship.

28 March 1978In Stump v Sparkman, the leading decision on judicial immunity, the Supreme Court decides 5-3 that the Indiana judge who ordered that a young woman be sterilized as a minor was immune from being sued for issuing the order.

29 March 1951Julius and Ethel Rosenberg were convicted under the Espionage Act of 1917 of conspiracy to commit espionage after the passed US nuclear secret to the Soviet Union.

30 March 1870African American men were given the right to vote when the 15th Amendment of the Constitution was declared in effect.

31 March 1976The New Jersey Supreme Court upholds the request of Karen Ann Quinlan’s parents to disconnect her respirator, holding that the right to make a private decision about her fate was stronger than the state’s right to keep her alive.