"Our national history will not be adequately written until the history of our judicial systems can be adequately told through monograph studies of individual [lower federal] courts."
Felix Frankfurter and James M. Landis, The Business of the Supreme Court
“This book is a solid history of our judicial system written by someone who is both an historian and a lawyer. It describes the growth of the U.S. Court system by focusing on one federal district court out of ninety-one and the types of cases handled by the judges.
This is an important study of the court system. It would be good for first-year law students to read so they understand how the court system developed and what some of the major arguments have been. Certainly, we who practice in the courts should read this book to gain valuable background into our legal system and its history.”
Janyce Katz, Columbus Bar Briefs
“Alexander goes beyond narrative by providing strong historical context for each period of time considered, rich biographies of each judge, pointed explanations of the varying jurisprudential approaches of the judges, and numerous tables setting out the criminal and civil dockets.”
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.
Roberta Sue Alexander is Distinguished Service Professor of History and Professor Emeritus at the University of Dayton. She is the author of North Carolina Faces the Freedmen: Race Relations During Presidential Reconstruction, 1865-67.
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