Precedent Carolina

pre·ce·dent: (adj.) Happening or taking place earlier in time; previous or preceding; (noun) A decided case which is cited or used as an example to justify a judgment in a subsequent case.

North Carolina’s [Confederate] Supreme Court

It’s fairly well-known that lawyers rely on precedent found in case law to formulate arguments in court, assess the merits of cases, and to guide their advice to clients on a variety of legal questions.  There’s a big divide, though, in terms of the usefulness of precedent.  Cases from a higher court (e.g., the North Carolina Court of Appeals, if you’re arguing before an N.C. Superior Court) within the same state are clearly strong precedent, and generally set forth rules that all lower courts are bound to follow (or risk a swift reversal on appeal).  Cases from courts in other states or countries, however, are generally only considered “persuasive” precedent, and even then, only if they describe a similar situation or the exact same legal rule as the one being discussed or applied in the case at bar.  As I’ve explored earlier in this blog, cases from England and the pre-Revolution colonial courts were often considered strongly persuasive, based on their status as sources of original precedent.

So, what about cases from North Carolina while it was a member of the Confederate States?  Are those cases somehow applicable to today’s rendering of the law?  It would seem so.  While I haven’t ever personally seen a North Carolina case circa 1861-1865 applied in a brief (though I’m sure they have been), the opinions of CSA-era cases from the North Carolina Supreme Court are readily available on your friendly neighborhood legal research service or in a dusty case reporter at your local law library.  I’ll explore this a little below.

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Samuel Spencer (c. 1734 – 1794) Homesite and Cemetery

Traveling back from the beach this weekend, I forced my wife and dog to endure something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, which is to find, and then visit, the homesite and resting place for one of my favorite deceased North Carolinians, Judge Samuel Spencer. I’m going to post some seemingly inane photographs, because the site is harder to find than it should be, especially if you’re expecting it to just be off the highway.  If you ever find yourself driving westbound on I-74 outside of Lilesville, in Anson County, you may notice this sign:

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I’ll explain more below.

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Old Fourth Creek Burying Ground

I swear, this blog will (probably) not be all about Presbyterian gravestones, circa 1760 -1860!  I will explore other subjects – more legal history, books I’m reading, etc!  Or so I think.  I’m on a roll, though, with these ‘stones.  Here are my recent photos from the Old Fourth Creek Burying Ground (c. 1756), perhaps the most important cemetery in Iredell County.

Sitting beside what is now First Presbyterian Church of Statesville, the stones here were a mixed bag in terms of level of preservation and dates.  Most predate the Civil War, but the stones that predate the American Revolution are generally in rough shape.  There are a few more tomb chests/table markers than in other Presbyterian cemeteries in the area.  This is a general view of a portion of the graveyard, for an introduction:

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Scalia v. Breyer and…zombie William Wirt?

The Supreme Court issued its opinion today in National Labor Relations Board v. Noel Canning, a case primarily centered on (a) when recess appointments can be made by the President, and (b) whether or not the vacancy needed to occur before or after Senate went into recess.  Just as a refresher, Article II, Section 2 of the Constitution says that “the President shall have Power to fill up all Vacancies that may happen during the Recess of the Senate, by granting Commissions which shall expire at the End of their next Session.”  So, in an opinion of the sort that causes non-lawyers to hate lawyers, Justice Breyer discusses the meaning of the words “the” and “during”…over the course of 41 pages.

The good news though, is that this opinion cites a great deal of historical research.  In reading the opinion, I don’t think I’ve seen this much evidence of pure history footwork since Boumediene v. Bush (2006) or District of Columbia v. Heller (2008).  Somewhere, some history Ph.D.’s have earned their keep for the past few years by pawing through the nation’s archives for this case.

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More Presbyterian stones

I was in Rowan County today for court, and my time there extended into my lunch hour.  Since I was headed straight back to the office anyways, I decided to turn off of Highway 150 to visit Back Creek Presbyterian Church (est. 1805).  When I drove up, I was excited by the similarity in architecture to Centre Presbyterian in Mooresville – both are plain, minimalist greek revival structures with tall windows.  The graveyard is located in a pastoral setting, with rolling farmland extending in the distance.  Most of the graves dated from after the Civil War, but a few antebellum graves existed.  I didn’t see any graves that were older than about the 1831.  

Here’s the church itself (grave photos after the jump):

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“Book Debt”, Early American Law, and Slavery

In doing some research today on actions on account, I managed to run across a fairly musty case, Mitchell v. Clarke, 3 N.C. 13, 1 Martin 25 (Superior Court, 1791).  I figured it might be interesting to explore the case a little further, give it some context, and see where this goes; I present the text below, with my discussion after the jump:

“Motion by Iredell for plaintiff to prove work and labor done, not by the plaintiff himself, but by negroes which he employed: and goods &c. sold and delivered for the use of the defendant, by sundry persons and paid for by the plaintiff, under the book debt act.

Objected by Mr. Attorney General Moore, that this is neither within the spirit nor letter of the act, because the work was not done by the plaintiff himself, &c.

But, on a long time taken up in discussing the subject, the court overruled the objection, and admitted the plaintiff to swear.”

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Birth, via Death

It may be apropos that I begin this blog on history, etc., with a post on gravestones.  For most, gravestones are likely the most tangible historical record they will encounter; not only are they stub biographies, but as Daniel W. Patterson explores in The True Image: Gravestone Art and the Culture of Scotch Irish Settlers in the Pennsylvania and Carolina Backcountry, they are also the only works of art many people (or their families) commissioned or will ever commission.

Having grown up in the eastern Piedmont of North Carolina (read: the area more traditionally connected to the English coastal plain, the English “Southside” Virginia, and the Anglo-Scottish Cape Fear River valley), I was unaware of the great Scots-Irish gravestone tradition that can be seen from Pennsylvania to upstate South Carolina.  After reading Patterson’s work last year, and visiting (and later joining) Centre Presbyterian Church in Mooresville (founded, 1765), I took it upon myself to begin documenting interesting specimens.  Below are some of my favorites.

This one at Centre Presbyterian Church has a fairly haunting poem as a requiem for a wife who died too young:

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Another specimen (my favorite in this post) from Centre:

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