Courtroom Drama — The Law in Pop Culture Sequel

Last week, we brought you a story about Lady Justice and pop culture. This week, we’re expanding on that topic by exploring some of the stories behind famous court cases.

If you’re interested in learning the true stories behind some of the famous cases, faces and places that have been immortalized in popular culture, look no further than the State Law Library collection. In our stacks you will find transcripts, official court opinions and various treatises on “famous” topics. Here’s a preview:

The Amistad, 40 US 518 (1841)— John Quincy Adams provided a seven hour argument to the United States Supreme Court in defense of slaves charged with murder after they seized control of the ship transporting them from Africa, La Amistad. In 1997, director Steven Spielberg cast Anthony Hopkins in the role.

Scopes v. State, 152 Tenn. 424 (1925) — The Scopes Monkey Trial was brought to the screen in 1960’s Inherit the Wind, starring Spencer Tracy as Henry Drummond, based on legendary defense attorney Clarence Darrow. The library’s Bryan and Darrow at Dayton details the famous Tennessee evolution case.

Tennessee v. John T. Scopes Trial: Outdoor proceedings on July 20, 1925.

New York Times Co. v. U.S., 403 U.S. 713 (1971) — Nominated for Best Picture in 2018, The Post covers the famous first amendment trial of the The New York Times and Washington Post, who went against presidential orders by publishing the document United States-Vietnam relations, otherwise known as The Pentagon Papers.

Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co., 130 F.3d 1287 (1997) — Charlize Theron starred in the film North Country as the original plaintiff in the first class action sexual harassment lawsuit in the U.S. The case was filed in 1988 in U.S. District Court following years of abuse suffered by women at a mine in Minnesota. Their settlement was appealed and reversed by the Eighth Cir. Court of Appeals in 1997.

Anita Hill — The 1991 testimony of attorney Anita Hill during the confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas was recently dramatized in HBO’s Confirmation. Transcripts of her account of sexual harassment can be found in the law library collection.

Robert Traver — Traver is a pen name for former Michigan Supreme Court Justice John D. Voelker, who based his novel Anatomy of a Murder on a 1952 case where he served as defense attorney. In 1959 it was made into a film considered one of the first to discuss sexual assault in graphic terms.

John D. Voelker (right) and Otto Preminger in Anatomy of a Murder

Philadelphia — Actor Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his role as Andrew Beckett in the 1993 film Philadelphia, which is based on the story of real-life attorney Geoffrey Bowers, who sued his own law firm in one of the first AIDS discrimination cases.

Nuremberg — Actress Marlene Dietrich was allowed to write some of her own lines for the film Judgment at Nuremberg due to her personal experience with the Nazi regime during WWII. The film is a fictional account of one of the famous military tribunals set up to hold the Nazis accountable for “crimes against humanity.” Former Washington State Supreme Justice Walter B. Beals presided over The Doctors’ Trial in Nuremberg in 1947. Transcripts of the trials are available at the law library. (LE)

Defendants in the dock at the Nuremberg trials