Legal History Category Archives

The Federal Rules of Civil Procedure first became effective seventy-five years ago, on September 16, 1938.[1]  Subject to frequent but relatively minor amendments, the FRCP remain in force today.  The new rules culminated decades of creeping reform, with dramatic effect.  Upon enactment, the FRCP at once unified civil practice in the federal district courts.  They also implemented a particular theory for the adjudication of disputes. Rule 2 epitomizes the approach of the FRCP, stating in its entirety: “There is ...


William Cranch was born on July 17, 1769.  He served with distinction on the Circuit Court of the District of Columbia, first as Judge (1801-06) and then Chief Judge (1806-55).[1]  From the bench Cranch had occasion to decide, among many other things, whether John Quincy Adams had been elected President in accordance with the federal constitution, a treason case against Aaron Burr and two of his associates, and how to dispose of two separate cases of criminal assault in ...


On May 10, 1886, the United States Supreme Court decided County of Santa Clara v. Southern Pacific Railroad Co.[1]  The main issue presented by the parties was whether certain taxes assessed by a state agency against the railroad company defendants violated the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  The Supreme Court sidestepped that issue, disposing of the case on grounds that fences along the railway lines in question were “improvements,” not part of ...