Friday, November 14, 2014

The Mother Court

The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York celebrated its 225th anniversary earlier this month, with the festivities documented in a just-released video from the U.S. Courts. Featuring historical artifacts as well as interviews with federal judges and even courtroom artists, the video provides a quick overview of the S.D.N.Y.'s important place in judicial history.

The Southern District of New York was the first new federal district court to be established following the passage of the Judiciary Act of 1789. Its historic first session, on Nov. 3 of that year, earned the S.D.N.Y. the nickname "the Mother Court." The name has endured, as the S.D.N.Y. continues to enjoy a position of influence among federal courts. It has served as the setting for many major trials throughout our nation's history, and has most recently emerged as a pioneer in electronic discovery practice, thanks to Judge Shira Scheindlin in the Zubulake cases.

To learn more about this influential federal court, check out the recent American Bar Association publication The Mother Court: Tales of Cases that Mattered in America's Greatest Trial Court (KF8755.N9 Z57 2014). The book chronicles some of the most well-known cases tackled by the court, including the Ulysses obscenity trial, the espionage case against Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, and numerous Mafia convictions. Author James D. Zirin, a former U.S. Attorney in the S.D.N.Y., provides both a short history of the court and a more thorough personal recollection of the cases with which he was directly involved. Because Zirin's former World Trade Center office was destroyed in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the personal anecdotes were assembled from memory – a particularly impressive feat for a lifetime of law practice before the court.

Additional publications on the history of S.D.N.Y. have been digitized by the court. For assistance with researching the history of federal courts, be sure to Ask a Librarian.