Justice Fields’s Docket E-book (October Time period 1885) – Purpose.com

    Justice Fields’s Docket Book (October Term 1885) – Reason.com

    Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, Supreme Court judges used so-called "filing books" to track the votes cast at the conference. These leather-bound volumes were printed with the names of bridging cases. When new cases were added, the clerk wrote the new information on blank pages. The file books were finally phased out after the October semester of 1945 and replaced by three-ring binders.

    The Supreme Court recently acquired Judge Stephen Field's long-lost file from October 1885. Unfortunately, the book has no markings in Justiz Field's handwriting. The Supreme Court's Historical Society described the discovery:

    The book lists cases, but also the lawyers who argued them, including Belva Lockwood, who was the first woman to discuss a case before the Supreme Court in 1880. Future judges Melville W. Fuller and George Shiras Jr. are also listed as supporters. During the 1885 term, the court registered 1,348 cases and disposed of 444. The Biographer of Field, Paul Kens, author of Justice Stephen Field: Shaping freedom from the gold rush to the gilded age (1997), Field says, wrote many opinions that Term and the discovery of the book are "really exciting."

    How the book survived is still a mystery, including how it ended up near Richmond. It is believed that Field or his associates destroyed his Supreme Court papers and filing books after he retired in 1897 because there is no significant collection of his papers today. The file book from 1885 must therefore have left its possession earlier. The rest of Field's personal law library was donated to the Stanford University Law Library by his widow Sue Field around 1900, but none of his other filing books are there today.

    Here is the cover of the volume:

    Here is the index. All hold-over cases were printed in the tape.

    For each case, the arguing lawyers, the case name and the lower court were listed in the file.

    And when a case fell out of the file, it was literally deleted from the file book.

    Two prominent cases were decided during OT 1885: First, Yick Wo was discussed against Hopkins (118 US 356) on April 14, 1886 and on May 10, 1886. Second, Presser was ruled against Illinois (116 US 252) January 4, 1886. The latter is an important case of the second change.

    I asked Matthew Hofstedt, Associate Curator of the Supreme Court, if he would be willing to share the entries for these cases. He kindly sent the following graphics.

    The presser planned last year was printed on page 13:

    The entry for Yick Wo was handwritten because it was a new case. This section spanned two pages.

    Here is the left side of the page. The entry lists the petitioner as "Yick Wo" with the notation "P.E." (Plaintiff in error). His lawyer is D.L. Smoot. The respondent is "Peter Hopkins, Sheriff".

    And here is the right side of the page. You can see the reference to "Cal Sup. Court".

    Thanks again to Matthew for sharing these important files.


    Please enter your comment!
    Please enter your name here