Body of Work
Exploring Where Others Have Not
Writing non-fiction in the nature of a memoir was engaging in its uncertainty—crafting a story not often told when a United States Supreme Court case is the well-publicized outcome, focusing more on who we were as students, how we thought about, and did, what yielded a decision of resilient meaning. The effect of To A High Court publicly aggravates some, including the current Chief Justice, John Roberts, Jr. not because of the decision’s precedential value to be cited in future lawsuits but because of its cultural imperative. Students did it. Irreverent students. Making thoughtful choices amidst hostile industrial interests, powerful law firms, and the United Sates Justice Department long before the case reached the Supreme Court. And the reader is brought inward, not into an era of unique historical character but into an attitude about the law and its purpose and how that purpose was given life. That attitude lingers.
Liliuokalani’s decision not to succumb to the malignant prejudice of Calvinist missionaries and the brash use of military power by an American envoy of unconstrained condescension after Hawaii’s constitutional monarchy was overthrown was not a story explored by historians in or outside of Hawaii. She brought her cosmopolitan thinking to the United States over more than a decade to argue her position concerning illegality and moral duty. The setting was hostile, she was often alone, always using her own money, bringing to bear a political and intellectual sophistication to garner Caucasian allies and affect public sentiment rarely experienced in Washington, DC or exemplified since with comparable skill among Hawaii’s native leaders. She sued the United States of America in 1910. Boldly and unapologetically.
Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco’s horrific experience with the political, prosecutorial, and judicial mentality of the United States endures to this day in many forms—art, music, literature, poetry, theatre, the meaning of official prejudice, and a stultifying preoccupation with the unsuccessful effort to demonstrate their guilt. They were globally recognized figures of enormous consequence except to their families who finally succeeded in quietly burying their ashes in the small villages in which they were born. In that grand setting of Dante-esk malevolence and principled resistance, unexplored was what Vanzetti’s and Sacco’s experience and that of their families meant for those immigrants, especially Italians and their children, who had supported the defense of both men with nickels and dimes until the moment of the execution, then were caught in the rough, ugly, unmitigated discriminatory exercise of Anglo-Saxon law and culture that determined educational choices, job opportunities, a neighborhood’s fate, and a nation’s insistence on what constituted acceptable forms of Americanization.
More non-fiction will follow. The venture with fiction—The Photograph, described elsewhere—reflects it own form of unexplored themes. Patience will be required awaiting publication. From me, too.
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Writing and Speaking Over TimeRead More »
Neil has crafted written legal arguments and broader litigation strategies or presented oral argument in more than thirty-five cases in federal court litigation…Read More »