August 4th 2010: Prop 8 overturned
On this day in 2010, California’s Proposition 8 which banned same-sex marriage was overturned by District Court Judge Vaughn Walker in Perry v. Schwarzenegger. The ballot initiative was passed by the California electorate in 2008 (52% yes, 48% no) after a heavily divisive campaign in which over $80 million was raised. Walker ruled in 2010 that the ban violated the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. The case has since been appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court, who upheld Walker’s decision in February 2012, and was appealed to the Supreme Court on July 31st 2012.
March 21st 1871: Otto von Bismarck becomes the first Chancellor of Germany
On this day in 1871, Otto von Bismarck became the first Chancellor the newly united German Empire. He had previously served as Minister President of Prussia, and oversaw the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871) which together made up the German Unification Wars. The wars made Prussia dominant over Austria and France and allowed Bismarck to create the German Empire in 1871 out of the old Germanic states, thus essentially making him the father of Germany. Bismarck served as Chancellor until he was dismissed by the Kaiser in 1890 and during that time he had almost complete control over domestic and foreign policy and was known for his ‘revolutionary conservatism’. Bismarck has been called the greatest politician in history and has become known as the ‘Iron Chancellor’ due to his focus on military power.
“The great questions of the time will not be resolved by speeches and majority decisions…but by iron and blood.”
February 1st 1790: The United States Supreme Court meets for the first time
On this day in 1790 the highest court in the US, the Supreme Court, met for the first time at the Merchants’ Exchange Building in New York City. The Court is the only one specifically established in the Constitution (in Article III), and was implemented in 1789 with the Judiciary Act. The location of the court moved a number of times, finally gaining its own building in 1935. The Court consists of a chief justice and eight associate justices who are nominated by the President and confirmed by the Senate. The first Chief Justice was John Jay. The original role of the Supreme Court was jurisdiction over “all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution” (Article III, Section II). The 1803 landmark case Marbury v. Madison formed the basis for the Supreme Court’s exercise of judicial review, when they can invalidate laws by declaring them ‘unconstitutional’.
On this day in 1988, Benazir Bhutto was sworn in as Prime Minister of Pakistan, becoming the first woman to head the government of an Islam-dominated state. Bhutto was a democratic socialist and the 11th Prime Minister of Pakistan. In 1982, aged 29, Bhutto became the chairwoman of the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) - a democratic socialist, centre-left party, making her the first woman in Pakistan to head a major political party. In 1988, she became the first woman elected to lead a Muslim state.
She was noted for her charismatic authority and political astuteness. As Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto drove initiatives for Pakistan’s economy and national security, and she implemented social capitalist policies for industrial development and growth. Her hard line against the trade unions and tough rhetoric opposition to her domestic political rivals and to neighboring India earned her the nickname “Iron Lady”. Her government was dismissed twice on claims of corruption, first in 1990 and then again in 1996.
After nine years of self-exile, she returned to Pakistan on 18th October 2007, after having reached an understanding with Military President General Pervez Musharraf, by which she was granted amnesty and all corruption charges were withdrawn. Bhutto became the leading opposition candidate in the 2008 general election, but, on 27th December 2007, she was assassinated.
April 20th 1968: Enoch Powell’s Rivers of Blood speech
On this day in 1968, British politician Enoch Powell made his controversial ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech at a Conservative Association meeting in Birmingham. Powell was the Conservative MP for Wolverhampton South West. The speech was vehemently anti-immigration with its ideas that immigrants were ‘ruining’ Britain and many refused to integrate, thus fostering racial and religious tensions and leading to violence. Powell argued for greater restrictions on immigration. The speech was very controversial, with some supporting his comments as ‘brave’ and many condemning it as racist. It led to Powell’s dismissal from the Shadow Cabinet by Conservative leader Edward Heath but his message has since been adopted by far-right groups.
The speech gained its infamous name from its reference to Virgil’s Aeneid:
“As I look ahead, I am filled with foreboding; like the Roman, I seem to see ‘the River Tiber foaming with much blood.’”
February 24th 1803: Landmark US Supreme Court case Marbury v. Madison decided
On this day in 1803 in the case Marbury v. Madison the US Supreme Court established the principle of judicial review and gave the Court the power to declare laws ‘unconstitutional’. The principle was outlined in the majority opinion by Chief Justice John Marshall, the words of which are inscribed on the wall of the Supreme Court building. The case arose when Justice of the Peace for District of Columbia William Marbury was not delivered his commission documents which officially granted his title. The Court would not force the then Secretary of State James Madison to deliver them, but held that the provision of the 1789 Judiciary Act allowing Marbury to bring his claim to the Court was itself unconstitutional as it extended the Court’s constitutional jurisdiction. On February 24th the Court ruled unanimously to this effect. The decision gave the Supreme Court the power to interpret the constitution and strike down laws as ‘unconstitutional’. Since then, the Court have made many high-profile rulings branding things unconstitutional; for example segregation in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka (1954), school prayer in Engel v. Vitale (1962) and teaching creationism in science lessons in Edwards v. Aguillard (1987).
On this day in 2000, Vice President Al Gore conceded defeat in the 2000 presidential election, thus ending one of the bitterest and most divisive political events in US history. Gore’s decision to concede resulted in Texas Governor George W. Bush becoming President of the United States.
Gore had won the popular vote by over 500,000 votes with 48.4% whereas Bush had 47.9% of the popular vote. However, Gore narrowly lost Florida which gave the Electoral Collge to Bush (271 to 266) as Bush carried more states (30 to Gore’s 20). (see electoral map above)
Prior to his concession, Gore and his supporters waged a legal battle to recount the votes in Florida. The case went all the way to the US Supreme Court who, in the landmark ruling Bush v. Gore, ruled a recount unconstitutional and ordered the Florida recount be stopped. Had the recount gone ahead, it is likely that Gore would have won the presidency.