The American Museum of Tort Law

How many museums in this country are dedicated to a legal cause of action?  None, according to Ralph Nader, and this is one of the reasons that he recently opened the American Museum of Tort Law in his hometown of Winsted, Connecticut.  For those unfamiliar with Ralph Nader, he is a prominent advocate for consumer safety who has spent decades fighting for his causes as an attorney, author, and even presidential candidate.

The American Museum of Tort Law has been in the works for nearly twenty years, and finally became a reality with the help of $2 million in private donations.  The stated purpose of the museum is:  “…  to increase citizen understanding of Tort Law – the law of wrongful injury – and the role it plays in protecting personal freedom, health, and safety through the American civil justice system.”  The museum serves this mission through both exhibits at its physical location and its website.

The museum features displays on numerous significant tort cases and harmful consumer products, which serve to illustrate the development of the law of torts.  Nader designed the museum as a storytelling space, and so emphasizes the human toll caused by products such as the Ford Pinto, cigarettes, asbestos insulation, and even “Toys that Kill.”

The centerpiece of the museum space is a Chevy Corvair, a car particularly associated with Ralph Nader. Nader rose to fame upon publication of his book, Unsafe at any Speed, which was an indictment of the safety practices of the U.S. auto industry and which specifically targeted the Corvair as an example of an unsafe vehicle.  Nader alleged that the car’s rear-engine design and suspension system made it prone to crashing.

Another case that features prominently at the museum is the infamous McDonald’s “spilled coffee” case of Liebeck v. McDonald’s.  That 1992 case involved a 79 year old woman who suffered severe burns after spilling a cup of McDonald’s coffee in her lap. While tort reform advocates held this case up as an example of lawsuit abuse (asking why someone should be awarded $2.7 million for carelessly spilling coffee) the museum takes the position that the verdict was reasonable once the facts are fully understood. Such facts included the approximately 700 previous complaints from customers about the coffee being served at a dangerously high temperature and how competitors served their coffee at much lower temperatures.

The director of the museum is Richard L. Newman, is a trial attorney who practiced law for many years in Connecticut.  Among the listed “founders” of the museum is Fred Baron, who was a high-profile Texas attorney specializing in product liability and mass tort claims.  The fact that so many people involved in the creation of the museum are plaintiff’s attorneys will likely be used as a point of criticism.

The Chicago-Kent Law Library has many books written by Ralph Nader, as well as access to many articles he has written during his career.  To see what we hold, go to the library’s online catalog and run a search for “Ralph Nader.”

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Banned Books Week: I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

This is the second book review for Banned Books Week 2015 from Gwen Osborne, Director of Public Affairs:

photo by York College ISLGP

photo by York College ISLGP

Before her death last year at age 86, Maya Angelou had begun work on the eighth book in her multi-volume memoir.

Angelou led a colorful life that included work as San Francisco’s first African-American streetcar conductor, a brothel madam, an Alvin Ailey dancer, a civil rights activist and a poet. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, published in 1969, is the first book in the autobiographical series.

maya angelou i know why the caged bird singsThe book recalls events in Angelou’s childhood in Stamps, Arkansas and St. Louis, Missouri. Like many works in African-American literature, birds are used as a metaphor for freedom. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings takes its title from a line in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s 1899 poem “Sympathy.” (In 1983, Angelou published her own poem, “Caged Bird,” as a variation on that theme.)

Despite spending two years on the New York Times paperback bestseller list and being nominated for a National Book Award, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings is one of the most banned and/or challenged books in America for its language and portrayals of violence, racism, sexuality, childhood rape and teen pregnancy.

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Banned Books Week: International Issues

While we are celebrating the American Library Association’s national “Banned Books Week” on our blog, the freedom to read is an international issue. Here’s an example: Newsweek reported Iran instituted a ban on all works by Paulo Coelho, the author of international bestsellers such as The Alchemist, The Diary of a Magus, and Veronika Decides to Die:

Paulo Coehlo Banned in Iran

Over the years, Iran’s theocracy has fearlessly thumbed its nose at Israel, the United States, and the United Nations. But now Tehran has taken its row with the West a disturbing degree further. This week the Iranian government reportedly banned all works by Paulo Coelho, the Brazilian mystic and author…

Here’s a reveiew of one book by Paulo Coelho by Library Technology Specialist Kim Koppen:

Paulo Coelho VeronikaDespite its title, Veronika Decides to Die is a surprisingly uplifting and inspirational book. The story opens with a young woman, Veronika, who attempts to commit suicide from overdosing on sleeping pills. She is unsuccessful and upon regaining consciousness in a local mental hospital, is told by her doctor that she damaged her heart so badly in her attempt, that she doesn’t have much longer to live anyway.

The story follows Veronika during her stay at the hospital, and the variety of emotions and road to self-discovery she experiences as she reflects on her life, her regrets and all the emotions she never allowed herself to feel.

Veronika Decides to Die is based on events in Coelho’s own life, and is one of those books that is filled with wonderful quotes about individuality and the difficulty people often face when attempting to conform to societal norms. While there are many quotes to choose from, I would have to say the following is my favorite,

Haven’t you learned anything, not even with the approach of death? Stop thinking all the time that you’re in the way, that you’re bothering the person next to you. If people don’t like it, they can complain. And if they don’t have the courage to complain, that’s their problem.”

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Banned Books Week: The Case of Mistaken Identity

Books and authors can be banned, challenged, or removed from reading lists for all kinds of reasons.  Many books have been found offensive because they mention drug use, profanity, or obscenities – and, in one recent case, mistaken identity.

bill martin brown bear brown bearBill Martin Jr. was a well-known children’s author who wrote many popular picture books.  If you have kids of a certain age, you’ve probably long since memorized his immortal Brown Bear, Brown Bear.  Certainly children’s picture book authors have faced numerous challenges (Maurice Sendak‘s In the Night Kitchen andWhere the Wild Things Are, for example).  But until now, Martin’s endearing works had escaped notice.  What changed?

In 2010, when discussing which authors to include on a list of cultural icons for 3rd graders, the Texas Board of Education decided to exclude Martin because of his books for adults, citing as an example his 2008 work, Ethical Marxism: The Categorical Imperative of Liberation.  According to one board member, Martin’s work included “very strong critiques of capitalism and the American system” and therefore Martin was not bill martin ethical marxisman appropriate author for the list.

The appropriateness of this reasoning aside, there was a much larger underlying issue: Bill Martin Jr. died in 2004, four years before the book on Marxism was released.  Was the book published posthumously?  No.  The 2008 book is by a completely different author, Prof. Bill Martin of DePaul University.

A little research could have avoided this mess altogether.  The Board probably should have checked with a librarian first.

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Banned Books Week: Recent Challenges

The ALA Banned Books Week website and lists give us a “big picture” view of how often specific authors and works are challenged in America, but the lists don’t help us see how these challenges and bans occur in specific schools and communities.

Want to stay informed about current book bans? Following the Office for Intellectual Freedom Blog is a great way to keep up:

These recent stories are just a sampling of this broader issue. They provide local context and show how authors and readers are able to push back through blogs and social media to raise awareness and encourage the freedom to read when a book is threatened with local censorship.

  • 2015: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Knoxville, TN
  • 2015: Some Girls Are – Charleston, SC
  • 2013: Persepolis – Chicago, IL

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

rebecca skloot - henrietta lacksChallenge Context

In Knoxville, TN, a local mother found the book on her son’s high school summer reading list and objected to it, describing the book as “pornographic.” She is currently working to have it removed from the school’s summer reading list.

News Coverage

This in-depth review from the local news station includes the author’s response, interviews with the parent who is leading the challenge and a review of the book challenge process:

Author’s Response

The author also reached out to her readers to help her address the situation directly by supporting a local teacher’s crowdfunding campaign to provide direct access to the book in the middle of the controversy:

School’s Response

The Vice Principal Jim Allen also chimed in to provide more context in a comment on Rebecca Skloot’s Facebook posts:

“Know that the book and teachers have the complete support from the administration of the school. It’s an amazing book that fits with our STEM curriculum better than almost any book could! The next book that the sophomores are reading? Fahrenheit 451… Oh, sweet, sweet, irony.” – Jimm Allen

Chicago-Kent Connection

Body Bazaar Cover ImageChicago-Kent’s Professor Lori Andrews is very familiar with the legal ethical issues raised in The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks since she and her co-author also covered the story of Henrietta Lacks in their 2000 book, Body Bazaar: The Market for Human Tissue in the Biotechnology Age. Professor Andrews caught up with Rebecca Skloot on her book tour in 2010 when she spoke at the Northwestern Medical School and wrote about their encounter on the ISLAT Blog.

 Some Girls Are, by Courtney Summers

courtney summers - some girls areChallenge Context

West Ashley High in Charleston, SC removed this book from the high school summer reading list after one parent was disturbed by sexual references while reading the book with her daughter. The mother started by writing a letter to the editor in the local newspaper, then demanded the school remove the book from the reading list, and the school library, and only provided to children whose parents specifically give them permission.

Responses Online

Courtney Summers wrote about the ban on her tumblr, saying:

I’m sorry Some Girls Are will not have the chance to be read, contemplated, and discussed in a school environment and more than that, that it might not have the chance to reach the teens at West Ashley High who need it. I hope they’ll find it, in spite of its removal from the summer list.

Another author and a former librarian, Kelly Jensen, organized a donation drive, asking readers to help send copies of the books to the young adult library collection at the Charleston County Public Library.

She posted pictures of the books as they came in and were distributed by the local young adult librarian:

The book drive sent 830 copies. The news got out and more people started sending copies, until the final total roese to nearly 1,000 books available for free to any reader in the area:

Challenge Context:

From the Newsletter on Intellectual Freedom, May 2013, pp. 103–4:

Persepolis was removed, via a district directive, from all Chicago, Ill. public schools (2013) due to “graphic illustrations and language” and concerns about “developmental preparedness” and “student readiness.marjane satrapi - persepolis” Seventh- and eleventh-grade students study the graphic novel about the author’s experience growing up in Iran during the Iranian revolution as part of Chicago Public Schools’ Literacy Content Framework.

As the news spread of the directive, students mobilized a media campaign in opposition to “banning a book that’s all about the freedom of speech.” Students took to their Facebook and Twitter accounts, checked out all library copies of the book, wrote blogs, sent e-mails, wrote investigative articles for the student newspaper, contacted the author, staged protests, and appeared on local radio and television programs.

Eventually, the school issued a letter telling high school principals to disregard the earlier order to pull the book.

Student Response:

A student at Lane Tech High School wrote about the ban in the school newspaper, reaching out to the author for commentary:

The author Marjane Satrapi’s wrote in response:

“America is the largest democracy in the world!!! Why? The question turns round and round in my head and I don’t have any answer. And I feel sad. And I am ashamed of people who take these kinds (of) decisions. No matter who they are, SHAME ON THEM!”

(the author’s letter is no longer available on the school website, but she is quoted in a Chicago Tribune article)

Other students at Lane Tech High school participated in a public protest over the book ban:

The Illinois Library Association later presented the school with an award for their advocacy:

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Banned Books Week: Toni Morrison

Suzanne Blaz, a staff member from the Chicago-Kent Law Offices, sent this contribution to commemorate Banned Books Week:

No one uttered the word banned, but certain books assigned at my school were ‘objected’ to. More often than not, the book was written by a woman, including a personal favorite and much banned Margaret Atwood and, in particular, Toni Morrison.

Toni Morrison, 2006, Oil on canvas by Robert McCurdy In the National Portrait Gallery

Toni Morrison, 2006, Oil on canvas by Robert McCurdy
In the National Portrait Gallery

Her books presented such a foreign viewpoint to the predominently white and highly religious parents of my small hometown, they might as well have been science fiction/fantasy, a genre that also inspired fear.

Books with a sexual theme were always the easiest for the censors to complain about, whereas books like Ralph Ellison’s Invisible man, another favorite banned book, would ‘pass’ by. First, they objected to ‘Sula’ due to a scene where she catches her husband cheating, then ‘The Bluest Eye’ for its depiction of incest and rape, followed by objections to ‘Beloved’ and ‘Song of Solomon’ being included on reading lists distributed to students.

Admittedly, Ms. Morrison’s books do contain controversial subjects, but they are not there to be prurient or to encourage such behavior; rather, they are thought-provoking. Tackling difficult topics such as sexual violence, race and the long-term effects of slavery, her high-caliber fiction develops avenues for discussion that textbooks cannot do as easily.

Despite attempts to deny and suppress its discussion, sexual violence is a reality for many and prevention often hinges on open and free dialogue. Thankfully, I grew up with teachers as parents who let me read anything, and were more likely to call the ACLU on the would-be censors.

If you are looking for a banned book writer to “binge” read or suggest to a book group, Toni Morrison is an eye-opening choice.

From the ABA Banned Books Site:

According to the Office of Intellectual Freedom, Toni Morrison’s books have been banned so often that she’s on the list of “most frequently challenged authors of the 21st century” for 5 or the last 15 years and two of her books appear on the “Most Frequently Challenged Books Written by Authors of Color 1990-1999” list.

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Banned Books Week: Fallen Angels

Each year the Chicago-Kent Library Blog hosts reviews to commemorate Banned Books Week. Our first staff contribution this week comes from From Gwendolyn Osborne, Director of Public Affairs.

Gwen will be leaving Chicago-Kent at the end of this week for a new position with the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C., which is scheduled to open next year. We will miss her and her many contributions at Chicago-Kent!

walter-dean-myers fallen angelsFallen Angels is Walter Dean Myers’ eye-averting young adult novel about dreams deferred and the realities of war.

Written in 1988, it is the story of Richard Perry, a bright Harlem high school student who dreams of going to college. When a basketball injury destroys his chance of paying for college with a sports scholarship, Richard enlists in the Army just as the war in Vietnam is escalating.

walter-dean-myers sunrise over fallujaThe book has been banned for its profanity and graphic depiction of war. In 2008, Myers published Sunrise in Fallaujah, a sequel to Fallen Angel. The novel offers a post- 9/11 look at war through the eyes of Richard Perry’s nephew, Robin, a soldier in Iraq.

Fallen Angels was #11 on the list of top 100 Banned/Challenged books from 2000-2009 and #36 from 1990-1999, according to the ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom, which cites “Reasons: offensive language, racism, violence.”

About the Author:

walter dean myers

photo by Terry Ballard

Walter Dean Meyers has been named National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature and has received two Newbery Honors, five Coretta Scott King Awards, and was the inaugural recipient of the Coretta Scott King-Virginia Hamilton Award for Lifetime Achievement.

He has won more awards than any other young adult author, starting with the Council on Interracial Books for Children contest in 1969, which resulted in the publication of his first book, Where Does the Day Go?.

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The Trial of the Chicago Seven

On this date in 1969, the trial of the infamous “Chicago Seven” began in the courtroom of Judge Julius Hoffman of the Northern District of Illinois.  The Chicago Seven (originally eight, before one of the defendants, Bobby Seale, had his case severed) were a group of protesters at the 1968 Democratic National Convention.  The group of defendants were charged with conspiracy to incite the riots that occurred at the Convention.  The prosecution in the trial stressed the incendiary rhetoric of the defendants and their intentions of disrupting the DNC.  The defense insisted that the violence seen at the Convention was the result of overreaction on the part of police and DNC officials.  

Thanks to a generous donation by Professor Ralph Brill, the Chicago-Kent Law Library  has 4 of the original courtroom sketches from the Chicago Seven trial on display in Room 950.  Also on display along with these sketches is the book Verdict! The exclusive picture story of the trial of the Chicago 8.  


After a five-month trial that saw the defense call numerous high profile artists, activists and musicians to the stand, five of the seven defendants were found guilty. These sentences were eventually overturned in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in 1972, with that court finding numerous examples of procedural error and outright hostility towards the defendants on the part of Judge Hoffman.  

The trial of the Chicago Seven has been depicted in numerous works of art, including the 2007 animated film Chicago 10, which includes language taken from the transcripts of the trial, as well as footage collected in the period surrounding the trial.

For more information on the Chicago Seven and their trial, take a look at the collection of resources put together by the Federal Judicial Center.  This site includes a comprehensive summary of the history of the events surrounding the trial, legal questions and arguments considered by the court, and a wealth of historical documents related to the trial.


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The Kent Connection

In the spring of 1892, at the end of the school year, Professor Marshall Davis Ewell wrote a letter of resignation from the Union College of Law in Chicago, where he had been Professor of Common Law for fifteen years. He had earned his law degree from Michigan Law School in 1868 and soon after became a lecturer in Medical Jurisprudence at his alma mater. In 1884, he received his M.D. from the Chicago Medical College. But from 1877 to the spring of 1892, Ewell had enjoyed his time spent teaching at the Union College of Law. The students knew him as “kindly,” and a letter from a former student published in the Chicago Legal News of July 23, 1892 stated that Ewell was “the cleverest instructor of the law college…the students gained more information from Professor Ewell’s lessons and lectures than from the instruction of any other of the able teachers in the college.”

Professor Marshall Davis Ewell, from The Law Student's Helper, Vol. 2, No. 1. January 1894.

Professor Marshall Davis Ewell, from The Law Student’s Helper, Vol. 2, No. 1. January 1894.

Founded in 1859, the Union College of Law of the Old University of Chicago was the first law school established in Chicago. Continue reading

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Tech you should know: Word 2016 for Mac

Word 2016 for MacAs you start to gear up for your law school writing assignments, you may have noticed a new tool you can use – Word 2016 for the Mac.  Introduced in July as part of Microsoft’s Office 2016 for Mac suite, this new version includes features like:

  • New ribbon tabs: The new version features a Design tab for easier access to design tools, and a References tab to quickly access features like tables of contents, tables of authorities, and cross references.
  • Improved navigation pane:  It includes tools to move from page to page or to any section heading.
  • Style pane: Easily change the style of any part of your document with a convenient tool set on the right side of the screen.
New tabs in the Word 2016 ribbon

New tabs in the Word 2016 ribbon

Word 2016 for Mac looks a lot like Word 2013 for Windows, as well as Word for iPad and Word Online.  It is now much easier to transition between platforms – you don’t need to completely relearn Word every time you use a different device.  You can even use the “control” key for your favorite keyboard shortcuts if you forget to use Apple’s “command” key.  If you’d like to learn more, check out Microsoft’s help guide.

So has Microsoft forgotten about its Windows users?  Not at all — Office 2016 for Windows will be released on September 22.

If you’re running an older version of Word and would like to upgrade, you can download the latest versions from ITS (Mac users, you’ll need a newer version of the Mac operating system to run Office 2016 – Mavericks or higher).

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