Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Lemmon v. People II

The Historical Society of the Courts of the State of New York has a nice web page on the case, with links to the full texts of the decisions in all three courts (the trial court decision in New York City Superior Court; the first-level appeal in the Supreme Court; and the second-level appeal in the Court of Appeals), as well as to some of the briefs, the statutes that formed the background for the decisions, and other materials.

The page focuses on the opinion for affirmance (i.e., affirming the discharge of the slaves) of Court of Appeals Judge William B. Wright. This is understandable, for Judge Wright's opinion includes impassioned denunciations of slavery. Passages such as this lead me to assume that Judge Wright was a Republican:

". . . [S]lavery is repugnant to natural justice and right, has no support in any principle of international law, and is antagonistic to the genius and spirit of republican government. Besides, liberty is the natural condition of men, and is world-wide; whilst slavery is local, and beginning in physical force, can only be supported and sustained by positive law. 'Slavery,' says Montesquieu, 'not only violates the laws of nature and of civil society; it also wounds the best forms of government; in a democracy where all men are equal slavery is contrary to the spirit of the Constitution.'"

20 N.Y. at 617.

In fact, there were two opinions for affirmance, the first of which was authored by Hiram Denio, and Judge Denio's opinion appears first, before Judge Wright's. It is not clear (to me at least) whether this is because Judge Denio was senior (he joined the Court in 1853; Judge Wright is listed as officially joining the Court in 1861 and in 1860 was apparently a Supreme Court Justice sitting by designation). Nor is it clear how many of the five Judges in the majority joined in each opinion, or whether some or all joined in both opinions.

I will next look at Judge Denio's drier, scholarly opinion.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts with Thumbnails