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Until recently, American legal historiography focused almost solely on national government. Although much of Kansas law reflects U.S. law, the state court’s arbitrary powers over labor-management conflicts, yellow dog contracts, civil rights, gender issues, and domestic relations set precedents that reverberated around the country. Sunflower Justice is a pioneering work that presents the history of a state through the use of its supreme court decisions as evidence.
R. Alton Lee traces Kansas’s legal history through 150 years of records, shedding light on the state’s political, economic, and social history in this groundbreaking overview of Kansas legal cases and judicial biographies. Beginning with the territorial justices and continuing through the late twentieth century, R. Alton Lee covers the dispossession of Native Americans’ land, the growth and impact of labor unions, antimonopoly cases against railroad and mining companies, a nine-year state ban on the movie Birth of a Nation, and implications and effects of desegregation, as well as the shooting of Dr. George Tiller for performing legal abortions. Because judicial decisions are not made in a vacuum, Lee presents each of the justices in the context of the era and their personal experiences before examining how their decisions shaped Kansas political, economic, social, and legal history.
R. Alton Lee is a professor emeritus of American history at the University of South Dakota. He is the author of several books, including Farmers vs. Wage Earners: Organized Labor in Kansas, 1860–1960 (Nebraska, 2009) and The Bizarre Careers of John R. Brinkley.
“Sunflower Justice demonstrates that the Kansas Supreme Court decided important cases involving unions, prohibition, contracts, and school segregation that were appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. The state high court was in the vanguard in several policy areas, especially during the Progressive period and era of prohibition. The book is a major contribution to the study of state supreme court history.”—John A. Fliter, coauthor of Fighting Foreclosure: The Blaisdell Case, the Contract Clause, and the Great Depression