Tuesday, September 4, 2007

On September 4, ...

... 1957 (50 years ago today), Arkansas Governor Orval Faubus ordered the state's National Guard to surround Central High School and forbid entry to African-American teenagers -- 5 young women and 4 young men known as the "Little Rock 9" -- due to be enrolled pursuant to a school board integration plan in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's holding in Brown v. Board of Education (1954) that the Constitution forbids segregation of schoolchildren on the basis of race. The crisis continued for weeks, and on September 25, President Dwight Eisenhower sent the U.S. Army to Little Rock to escort the children to and from school. The school board's bid to halt desegregation the following year prompted Cooper v. Aaron, in which the Supreme Court, meeting in a special summer session, unanimously reaffirmed Brown and asserted judicial supremacy in interpretation of the Constitution. (Legal History Blog's roundup of books on the Little Rock crisis is here.)
... 1957 (50 years ago today), following a 3-year inquiry, a government-sponsored commission headed by Sir John Wolfenden issued a 155-page "Report on Homosexual Offences and Prostitution," which concluded that "homosexual behaviour between consenting adults should no longer be a criminal offence." Supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury as well as health and law enforcement professionals, the recommendations paved the way for England's decriminalization of sodomy in 1967. Disregard of these events in 1986 became one basis on which the U.S. Supreme Court, in its 2003 decision in Lawrence v. Texas, held that the U.S. Constitution forbids criminalization of same-sex sodomy.
... 1962 (45 years ago today), U.S. President John F. Kennedy issued a statement warning Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev that the placement in Cuba of "long-range missiles would raise the gravest issues," as Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. (at left, conferring with the President that same year), wrote in his 1978 biography, Robert Kennedy and His Times (ch. 22). The statement derived from an August 29 memorandum on national self-defense in international law, prepared by Assistant Attorney General Norbert Schlei. The Presidential statement proved a precursor of the Cuban Missile Crisis of the following month, about which more later this anniversary year. For now, consider Schlesinger's account of the President's response when Schlei invoked the 1823 Monroe Doctrine as a basis for U.S. claims to "special rights" in the Western Hemisphere:

John Kennedy snapped: 'The Monroe Doctrine. What the hell is that?' -- meaning: what the hell standing did it have in international law? The answer was, of course, none; and Kennedy, who knew how much Latin Americans resented unilateral declarations from Washington, never mentioned the doctrine throughout the subsequent crisis.

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