The Catholic University of America



Law School Hosts Annual D.C. Legal History Roundtable

As is true with many subjects, delve a little deeper into the history of the law and one is sure to unearth the unexpected, the controversial, the little-known, and the theoretically fascinating. 

All of these facets of legal history were on display on April 13 as the Columbus School of Law hosted the annual  “D.C. Legal History Round Table,” an informal gathering of legal historians from around the country.
Organized by Catholic University law professors Geoff Watson, Ken Pennington, Cara Drinan, Megan LaBelle, and Sarah Duggin, the event drew about 25 participants and featured four presentations. In past years, most of the presenters have been local academics. This year, the D.C. Roundtable seemed to evolve into  more of a nationwide attraction.   
The guest speakers included:
Brad Snyder, assistant professor of law, University of Wisconsin Law School.  Presentation: “Pop goes Felix: Frankfurter as Popular Constitutionalist.” Snyder argued that Justice Frankfurter’s jurisprudence has been unfairly criticized by progressives. He asserted  that Frankfurter emerges as a principled “popular constitutionalist” in three decisions for which he is often criticized – his supposed vacillation on Brown v. Board of Education, his dissent in West Virginia v. Barnette and his dissent in Baker v. Carr.  Professor Watson served as the respondent.
Victoria Saker Woeste, visiting associate professor of Law and American Studies, Indiana University. Presentation: “Henry Ford’s War on Jews and the Legal Battle against Hate Speech.” Woeste’s presentation focused on Ford’s distribution of anti-Semitic periodicals, and on lawsuits that attempted (unsuccessfully) to shut the papers down. Professor Lewis Grossman of American University’s law school gave the response. 

Danaya C. Wright, professor of law, The University of Florida Levin College of Law. Presentation: “Is The Trope of Separate Spheres Useful in Post-Modern Family Law History? A Question, an Excursus, and a Hypothetical.” The most theoretical of the four presentations, Wright traced the development of what she described as “patriarchy” pervading family law and the legal system generally. 

Caroline R. Sherman, assistant professor, The Catholic University of America’s Department of History. Presentation: “Jacques Godefroy’s Florilegium and its Afterlife.” Godefroy was a 17th-century French jurist whose handbook on aspects of Roman law was disseminated widely in Europe and, to some extent, beyond – and whose “modifications” of Latin maxims sometimes amounted to distortions or fraud or worse. Professor Ryan Max Rowberry of Georgia State University offered commentary in response. 
“All in all, it was a very stimulating conference. The event gave our guests a favorable impression of CUA,” said Professor Watson. “I hope we get a chance to host it again.”