Liberty on Trial in America: Cases That Defined Freedom
Douglas O. Linder is the Elmer Powell Peer Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. He graduated summa cum laude from Gustavus Adolphus College and from Stanford Law School. Professor Linder has taught as a visiting professor at the University of Iowa and Indiana University School of Law.
Professor Linder has published extensively in legal journals and books on such topics as great trials, legal history, constitutional law, and the legal profession. He has served as a consultant on numerous documentary film projects and theater projects involving historic trials. In addition, Professor Linder has published reviews of movies and books focused on historic trials and has lectured or participated in panel discussions considering the significance of various historic trials across the country, both at university campuses and professional gatherings.
In addition to being named a UKC Trustees Fellow, Professor Linder has received his law school's highest teaching award (twice) and its highest publishing award (three times). For more than two decades, he has taught a seminar in famous trials using his own materials published on a website of his creation, the Famous Trials website. The website hosts the largest and most varied collection of original writings, images, and primary documents relating to 78 famous trials. It is the most-visited trial-related site on the Internet and has been the subject of a review in The New York Times.
Professor Linder is the coauthor of two books published by Oxford University Press, The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law and The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law. In addition, he has appeared in televised documentaries about great trials produced by HISTORY, AMC, PBS, Court TV, Discovery Networks, and A&E in addition to documentaries produced by Canadian and European production companies. He has appeared in televised interviews about great trials on CBS, CNN, Fox News, and other cable networks.
01: The Trial of Anne Hutchinson
There was no toleration of religious dissent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s; you either accepted Puritan orthodoxy, or you could leave. And there certainly was no room for religious argument for a woman! When Anne Hutchinson shared with others her religious ideas and gathered a following, the governor put her on trial for heresy. Explore the trials, defense, and punishment of the woman sometimes called “America’s first feminist.”
02: The Trial of John Peter Zenger
Freedom of speech was not a recognized liberty in the early years of American colonies. Speech critical of the powers that be could land one in legal trouble—even if everyone involved agreed the statements were true. Explore the colonial history of the press freedom, voter suppression, and attempts to influence juries as they all came together to affect the libel trial of John Peter Zenger. Did this landmark freedom of the press case actually set any precedent?
03: Two Slave Trials
The citizens of the newly formed United States could not agree on the overall moral issue of slavery, but they were willing to take up its more narrow legal issues. Gain a greater understanding of the many ways in which the legal system supported the institution of slavery by examining the trials of two slaves: Anthony Burns, whose freedom was eventually purchased by abolitionists, and Celia (no last name), who was hanged.
04: The Trial of John Brown
John Brown was an abolitionist who believed he could end slavery by arming the slaves. His plan, however, came to a tragic end at Harper’s Ferry, VA, when guards were killed as he seized the federal armory and only a few slaves joined his revolt. Instead, Brown was charged with treason, murder, and slave insurrection. Learn how John Brown’s trial and execution nevertheless played a significant role in the eventual end of slavery in the United States.
05: The Trial of Susan B. Anthony
Susan B. Anthony believed she was a citizen of the United States according to the Fourteenth Amendment—and, as such, she believed she had the right to vote. But in 1872, the law was not on her side. So when she dropped her ballot into the box at the West End New Depot in Rochester, NY, on Election Day, she was arrested. Learn about the trial that brought nationwide attention to the issue of women’s suffrage.
06: The Trial of the Haymarket Eight
Labor tensions were already at the boiling point in Chicago, when someone threw a bomb into a group of police officers. Although the bomb thrower was never found, eight defendants were tried by a jury handpicked by the bailiff, and seven were found guilty and sentenced to death—for the crime, it was claimed, of inciting violence. Explore the ways in which this trial became a key event in the history of free speech in America.
07: The Trial of John T. Scopes
In 1925, Tennessee enacted a law making the teaching of evolution in any state-supported school a crime. John Scopes was a young science teacher at the time who agreed to serve as a test case for the law, defended by Clarence Darrow. Explore the heated opinions expressed on both sides and how the trial’s publicity brought the issue directly into American homes.
08: The Sweet Trials, Race, and Self-Defense
In 1925, Dr. Ossian Sweet, an African American, bought a home for his family in a white neighborhood of Detroit. When a white crowd gathered around the house and violence broke out, one member of the crowd was killed. Police charged everyone in the Sweet home with premeditated murder. Explore Clarence Darrow’s defense, and what the trial revealed about American society at that time.
09: Jehovah’s Witnesses and Flag-Salute Cases
Between 1938 and 1946, the Supreme Court handed down 23 opinions involving civil liberties issues raised by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Explore two of those cases, both of which address whether or not Jehovah’s Witnesses can be forced to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. Learn why the Court came down first on one side of the issue, and then the other.
10: Korematsu v. United States
In 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring that all Japanese Americans move to “relocation camps” as a matter of national security. Fred Korematsu refused, was arrested for violating an “exclusion order,” and convicted. Learn how Korematsu carried his fight against what he thought was an “un-American” law all the way to the Supreme Court, and why the decision ultimately went against him. How did history and subsequent Courts treat this decision?
11: Segregation on Trial
In 1892, the Supreme Court, in a case involving the conviction of Homer Plessy for sitting in a section of a Louisiana train designated for “whites only,” established the principle of “separate but equal.” Learn about Charles H. Houston, the African American lawyer who made it his life’s work to challenge Jim Crow laws and who won a critical Supreme Court victory in the case of Gaines v. Missouri, paving the way for the Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Houston’s work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to end segregation led his successor, Thurgood Marshall, to say he was just carrying Houston’s bags—and that Houston was the Moses who charted the legal path to racial equality.
12: The Lenny Bruce Trials
Today, Lenny Bruce is considered a trailblazer of American stand-up comedy addressing the now-common themes of politics, sex, and religion. But in the 1950s and ‘60s, he was considered an obscene subversive, and arrested numerous times. Explore the ways in which Bruce and the First Amendment affected each other. Today’s authors, publishers, poets, and comedians owe a debt of gratitude to Bruce.
13: The Evolving Right to Marry
Richard Loving wanted to do nothing more than to marry the woman of his dreams. But Richard was white, and Mildred, according to the commonwealth of Virginia, was “colored,” which made it illegal for them to marry. Learn how the case of this modest, unassuming couple went all the way to the Supreme Court, and how the Court’s ruling eventually led to marriage equality for same-sex couples, as well.
14: Wisconsin v. Yoder
In the 1960s, the Amish had several disagreements with the state concerning their children’s education. But most important, they did not believe their children should be required to attend school past the age of 16. Explore the conflicting views and goals of these parents, schools, and state. Learn how the issue made it to the Supreme Court, which conflicting liberties were considered, and why the Court decided in favor of the parents.
15: Furman v. Georgia
Public support for the death penalty in the United States has historically ebbed and flowed. In 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment as then administered was unconstitutional, many legal experts—including some justices—believed that would end the death penalty. Learn why that was not the case, and explore the deep complexities of the law as it relates to capital punishment.
16: The Trial of Daniel Ellsberg
Is it legal for an individual to copy top-secret documents and release them to the press? Is it legal for agents of the government to break into a psychiatrist’s office to look for information about a criminal defendant? Can the government legally stop a newspaper from publishing classified material? Explore how these questions—and their answers from the courts—affected the country’s political life during the Nixon administration, and ultimately led to the president’s resignation.
17: The Road to Roe v. Wade
Norma McCorvey knew two things: She was pregnant and she did not want the baby. Desperate for an abortion, she agreed (under the name “Jane Roe”) to take the case to court, and ultimately the Supreme Court. As you learn about the famous decision that resulted, you’ll also gain a better understanding of the many other ways in which American courts have intervened in personal decisions related to sterilization and birth control, as well as abortion.
18: The Right to an Intimate Life
Should the government interfere in activities in your bedroom? Well into the 20th century, every state had laws prohibiting at least one sexual act, even between heterosexual married couples in the privacy of their own home. Explore the numerous lawsuits and trials that eventually extended the protection of privacy to include intimacy, regardless of sexual orientation.
19: The Ruby Ridge Trial
Do we Americans have the freedom to isolate ourselves, hold and express views considered racist and hateful by the majority, and stockpile legally purchased weapons? Do we have the liberty to sell a sawed-off shotgun? Explore the complex story and resultant trial that started with Randy and Vicki Weaver wanting to separate themselves from mainstream society, and ended with three dead at Ruby Ridge.
20: The Trials of Jack Kevorkian
Jack Kevorkian believed strongly that individuals should have the right to end their pain and suffering, and with his inventions of the “thanotron” and the “mercitron,” Kevorkian helped hundreds do just that. Legally tried, having escaped conviction time after time, a final trial proved his undoing. Explore Dr. Kevorkian’s work on behalf of an individual’s right to euthanasia, why he believed he was taking a stand for liberty, and why he was eventually convicted of second-degree homicide.
21: Boy Scouts of America v. Dale
Do private organizations have the right to exclude members based on criteria that many—maybe even most in society—find objectionable? When the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) expelled scout leader James Dale because he way gay, Dale challenged the BSA’s authority to use sexual orientation as a basis for exclusion. In a case pitting Dale’s claimed right to be free from discrimination against the associational rights of the Scouts, the Supreme Court sided with the Boy Scouts. Examine why the U.S. Supreme Court decided as it did, and the effects and implications of its ruling.
22: Kelo v. City of New London
Does a city have the right to use eminent domain to take private property and sell it for private development if the city believes that development will improve the city’s economy? Learn how Susette Kelo’s refusal to sell her “little pink house” in New London, CT, led to a Supreme Court case addressing what she described to Congress as “eminent domain abuse”—and why she lost the case.
23: The Citizens United Case
U.S. candidates have a long history of trying to outraise and outspend their opponents to win elections. This has meant, oftentimes, that big corporations and wealthy donors determine election outcomes and, at least potentially, gain an opportunity to influence the votes and policies of the candidates they helped elect. In response, Congress had repeatedly tried to curtail such “corrupting” activities. Explore why, then, in 2010, the Supreme Court declared any ban on political spending by corporations to be unconstitutional—and why, at the same time, most polls show strong support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling.
24: Liberty for Nonhumans?
Many Americans were initially excluded from “liberty and justice for all.” Is it possible that future trials will result in greater liberties for apes, cetaceans, and elephants? Learn how “Tommy” became the first chimpanzee to have a suit for his freedom filed on his behalf and why one judge on the New York Court of Appeals says the issue of fundamental rights for nonhuman animals is not going away.