The Lawbook Exchange has published a catalogue of Celebrating Forty Years, 1983-2023. It celebrates their 40 years in business, so they have selected 40 works for their catalogue. Some of them are of prime importance, others they describe as “personal favorites.” Whichever they are, they naturally are books or documents concerning the law. These are a few samples.
It's hard to believe with Russia today ruled by a nothing that it once had leaders who earned the sobriquet “The Great.” Empress Catherine II was such a lady. She ascended to the throne after overthrowing her husband, whom she detested, and ruled for 34 years. She made Russia a major power and was hardly a soft touch. However, she was impressed the the ideals of the Enlightenment and brought those to Russia. We begin with the Nakaz. Several years in the making, it covers Catherine's views of Russia with much on the law. While hardly perfect, and protections of liberty did not exclude authoritarian rule, she did support equal protection of the law, enforced by judges, not the police. She was against torture and the death penalty, the former accepted by almost everyone today, the latter not so much. The Nakaz was written early in Catherine's reign, with much based on the writings of Voltaire, Montesquieu, and other enlightenment writers. Item 11 is the fourth “and best” edition. It is written in four languages, Russian, Latin, German, and French, the only four-language edition. Priced at $3,000.
This edition goes back to the early days of printing, but the book itself goes back several centuries more. The title is Concordia Discordantia Canonum, or Decretum Gratiani. This edition was published in 1481. It is a comprehensive gathering of works on ecclesiastical law. It was created by an Italian monk and jurist, Gratian, around 1140. Little is known of the author. The book was composed from thousands of texts of canon law and other materials, which he brought together where it could be studied in one place. The “discordantia” refers to the discordant positions he found. Gratian sought to explain differences so as to make the work a consistent whole. This edition also includes the Rosarium Decretorum of Guido de Baysio, a canonist and law professor, written around 1300. Item 2. $29,000.
This is a royal warrant signed by King George I of England. Before any Americans get upset, this is not the George you despise. That was George I's great-grandson. This warrant grants to “Our trusty and well beloved John Baskett Our Printer,” and “Robert Gosling of Our City London Bookseller,” and their assistants, “free liberty and access” to documents of Parliament from the Magna Carta to the current time (1726), along with those from the Tower of London, royal libraries, etc. “without paying any fees.” The King notes they are undertaking a “a hitherto unattempted” task of creating “a very usefull and necessary worke conducing to Our Honour and Service, and for the Benefit and Advantage of all Our Loving Subjects.” That “worke” would be The Statutes at Large, from Magna Charta to the seventh year of King George the Second inclusive, six volumes published in 1735, one more in 1742. It already being the seventh year of George II's reign, George I did not live to see the fruits of the authorization he had approved. Item 30. $7,500.
The State of Maryland's constitution at the turn of the 19th century required all public officials to profess a belief in the Christian religion. That included not only officials such as legislators but lawyers and jurors also met the definition. What that meant was the exclusion of Jews from all of these professions. You might think this to be unconstitutional and it is. The U.S. Constitution clearly provides for freedom of religion in the First Amendment, as well as Article VI saying that no religious test can be required for any office or public trust of the United States. However, until the passage of the Fourteenth Amendment after the Civil War, the Bill of Rights only applied to the federal government, not the states. The result was that Maryland had to decide for itself whether to remove this restriction. Judge Henry Brackenridge of Baltimore was one of the greatest proponents of what was known as the “Jew Bill,” to grant equal rights to Jews. The May 29, 1819 issue of Niles' Weekly Register includes the first separate printing of Brackenridge's speech advocating passage of the bill. He described the existing law as “degrading” and “odious,” a violation of the federal constitution and the founding principles of the nation. As had happened several times before, the “Jew Bill” failed to pass. It was not until 1826 that the legislature finally approved the bill. Item 6. $2,500.
There weren't a lot of women lawyers a century ago, but some managed to step out of from their expected roles into the professions dominated by men. This photograph documents a group of them. It was taken at the first annual convention of the National Association of Women Lawyers in Minneapolis in 1923. At the center of the picture is a lone man. He is U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice and former President William Howard Taft. You can't miss him as Taft was a large man. Seated next to him is the President of the NAWL, Emilie Bullowa. Item 31. $3,500.