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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Confusion About Dates

Here's a technical issue that I often encounter about the dates of nineteenth-century cases. When one of my articles is being cite-checked, a student editor will sometimes look at a Supreme Court case from, say the 1869 Term and conclude that the case was decided in 1869. I then gently point out that by a certain point Supreme Court terms wrapped around two calendar years, so an 1869 Term case could be an 1870 case. Old Supreme Court reports, though, do not contain the date of decision, so it's an understandable mistake.

Circuit cases present a different problem. Take Corfield v. Cornell. Sometimes the case is cited as decided in 1823. Sometimes the cite says 1825. Which is correct? The answer is 1825. Why, then, do some cites say 1823? Because that's when the case was tried. The final decision came out two years later because there was an intervening Supreme Court decision--Gibbons v. Ogden--and a reargument. The practice in the 1820s--or for Justice Bushrod Washington's reports-- was to date the circuit case to its inception rather than its conclusion.

Now consider another example. The proceedings in Jefferson Davis's treason case ended in 1868 (or 1869, if you include the formal dismissal of the case after his pardon). But the circuit report says 1871. Why is that? I'm less certain, frankly, but this does confuse people. How could the case be from 1871 if Davis got a pardon in 1868? 

The bottom line is that you need to pay careful attention to case dates from this era.

Posted by Gerard Magliocca on February 15, 2024 at 01:20 PM | Permalink


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