Law and the Great Plains: Essays on the Legal History of the Heartland

By John R. Wunder | Go to book overview

attentions. Much remains to be done to this virgin territory of American legal history.

The two essays that follow are but a beginning. They include studies of the federal judiciary of the Western District of Missouri and modern tribal courts with specific reference to those functioning in South Dakota on Sioux reservations.

Lawrence H. Larsen, in his overview of the hundred-year history of federal judging in Missouri, explains the contributions federal district judges made to national jurisprudence. The Western Missouri District Court originally covered the entire northern Plains region but eventually was geographically restricted to the Plains periphery, headquartered out of Kansas City. This court's contributions range from direct participation in Dred Scott v. Sandford4 and reconstruction legalisms to monitoring prohibition, prosecution of urban political corruption, and modern antitrust struggles. For Larsen, the federal judges at this particular court were careful, serious, competent judges. They were not bought-off political hacks who cared little about justice. The Western Missouri District Court even spawned a U.S. Supreme Court justice, Charles Whittaker.

Frank Pommersheim, himself a tribal court judge, offers a broad sweep of the problems confronting modern Indian courts in terms of their abilities to make a jurisprudential impact. Judge Pommersheim explains how significant it is for tribal courts to develop their judicial record with tribal customs in mind. He tells how the Rosebud Sioux Tribe severed its relationship with the federal government in the conduct of its tribal courts and how it is traveling the road of constitutionalism. He shows how the Chief Justice Marshalls--John Marshall of the U.S. Supreme Court and Sherman Marshall of the Rosebud Sioux Tribal Court--have tried to place Native American judges within a framework that includes the conflicting residues of sovereignty and colonialism.


NOTES
1.
John R. Wunder, Inferior Courts, Superior Justice: A History of Justices of the Peace on the Northwest Frontier, 1853-1889 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1979).
2.
John D. W. Guice, Rocky Mountain Bench ( New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1972).
3.
Robert M. Ireland, The County Courts in Antebellum Kentucky ( Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1972) and Little Kingdoms: The Counties of Kentucky, 1850-1891 ( Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1977).
4.
Dred Scott v. Sandford, 19 US 303 ( 1857).

-136-

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