Friday, October 28, 2011

Summer Travel and the Law: Looking Back

    Now that the chill of fall is here, and the appellate courts are back in session, it is time to take a pause from drafting briefs and preparing for oral argument, to look back to the days of summer.  
    Summer is, of course, a good time to travel, and when I do I try to catch the local sites of legal interest. Jacqueline and I have always enjoyed Virginia, so we decided to see parts of the state we had not explored: the Shenandoah Valley, the Blue Ridge Mountains, and other places in the far west of the state. One of the things we quickly learned is that the Civil War is ever present wherever we went.
    The first stop on the drive from New York was the town of Frederick in western Maryland, the scene of much Civil War conflict. Sitting on a quiet street is the Roger Brooke Taney House, home of the fifth Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court and the author of the Dred Scott decision. Traveling south from Frederick one passes through Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the scene of John Brown's famous 1859 raid on the federal armory designed to incite a slave insurrection.
   Our first stop in Virginia was Winchester, a town which reportedly changed hands 72 times during the Civil War, including 13 times in one day! In the center of town there is a statue of a Confederate soldier, and behind the statue sits an impressive courthouse which served as a hospital during the Civil War.
    The layout of the courtroom was particularly striking: the jury would sit directly below the judge's bench facing the courtroom, and the witness would sit directly in the front of the jury facing the jurors. This face-to-face arrangement is, of course, very different from the modern courtroom in which the witness sits to the side of the judge's bench and the jurors sit perpendicular to the witness. Jurors must weigh credibility, and I wondered as I viewed the Winchester courtroom whether the face-to-face arrangement is actually better suited to this purpose than the modern configuration.
    On the second floor of the courthouse is a museum which displays not only the weaponry of the Civil War, but recounts the terrible suffering of the troops. We tend to forget that over 600,000 soldiers died during the war, many because battlefield medicine was simply inadequate to the task.
    From Winchester we traveled south, stopping at the New Market battlefield: the stillness was haunting as we looked over a plain grass field which was the scene of an 1864 Confederate victory. From there we visited the Virginia Quilt Museum in Harrisonburg, and then on to the Woodrow Wilson Presidential Library and Museum in Staunton. I had frequently read that Wilson was a racist, but only in Staunton did I realize that he was a southerner.
    Next was Hot Springs, high in the Alleghany Mountains. Not only did we stay in a wonderful inn, but we bathed in the Jefferson Springs which have been bubbling up at 98 degrees for hundreds of years. It is said that Thomas Jefferson bathed here, but there seems to be some difference of opinion whether he found it beneficial. We loved it.
    A detour took us into White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia--site of a secret underground bunker built in the 1950s to house members of Congress in the event of a nuclear attack--and from there we went back to Lexington, Virginia, home of Virginia Military Institute, Washington and Lee University, and the George C. Marshall Museum and Library. I had always thought that Marshall--Army chief of staff during World War II and later Secretary of State--was a West Point graduate, but he actually attended VMI. VMI, of course, was the school at the center of the Supreme's Court's ruling in U.S. v. Virginia, 518 U.S. 515 (1996), holding its males-only admissions policy a violation of equal protection of the law.
    We left the Shenandoah Valley, and traveled east through Lynchburg to Appomattox Court House, the town in which Lee surrendered to Grant in the parlor of the Wilmer McLean home. The town is now a National Historical Park and contains a number of restored buildings, including two law offices. Outside the town is a small cemetery with the remains of 13 unknown Confederate soldiers and one unknown Union soldier. Very moving. 
    We traveled further north to Montpelier Station, the site of James Madison's estate, Montpelier. The 2,700 acres are magnificent, and the tour of the main house particularly meaningful for any student of the Constitution. I was so inspired that I purchased and have read James Madison and the Struggle for the Bill of Rights by Richard Labunski (Oxford Univ. Press).
    From Montpelier we headed west to the Blue Ridge Mountains and turned north for the 100 mile Skyline Drive--a stunning ride with beautiful, unobstructed mountain vistas. A calm, leisurely conclusion to a wonderful summer journey.            

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