Skip to content

July 28, 2013

Guest post: Prof. James Pfander

by Dan Rodriguez

Fed courts scholar extraordinaire.  This from Jim:

Northwestern Law School has many virtues, among them a strong sense of history.  I sit in the old section, Levy Mayer Hall, where the portraits of English jurists dot wood paneled walls and classrooms with such names as Lincoln Hall feature stained glass windows contributed by the graduates of yesteryear.  One cannot escape the sense that Anglo-American law has both a dignity and a distinguished past.  Perhaps that’s what our former dean, John Henry Wigmore, realized when he assembled the collection.

I sit in LM 215, a dark office with a closet and washstand, and a satisfyingly substantial set of bookshelves that hide behind wood panels in what I’m told was a style adapted from the chambers of English judges.  I’m down the hall from the Owen Coon library, not too far from the portrait of Elbert Gary, and only a few yards further away from the chair in which Justice John Paul Stevens sat during much of his tenure on the Court.  Wigmore’s own chair sits in the office of my colleague Ron Allen, the Wigmore Chair at Northwestern.

Northwestern maintains its sense of history with a light touch.  Recently, a recent graduate and I completed a few articles on the subject of the anti-injunction act, a much misunderstood statute that Congress enacted in 1793 to prevent federal courts of equity from staying state court suits.  (Yes, you can find them on SSRN.)  I won’t bore you with the details, but we did become quite intrigued by the early seventeenth century battle between law and equity that gave rise to the equitable stay practice addressed in the 1793 legislation.  In one corner, representing law, was the great chief justice of King’s Bench, Edward Coke.  He held that equity had no power to enjoin the enforcement of a common law judgment.  In the other corner, were the chancellor, Lord Ellesmere, King James (he of divine right fame) and the brilliant Francis Bacon.  In the end, James issued a decree confirming Bacon’s conclusion that courts of equity had long exercised the power in question and could do so notwithstanding Coke’s protestations.  Coke left the bench in disgrace a short time later, and Bacon became Lord Keeper only to suffer his own fall (away from law and into science).

As it turns out, Northwestern has portraits of both Coke and Bacon, no doubt collected by Wigmore in his perambulations around England.  What’s more, the managers of Northwestern’s facilities operation have a good sense of humor.  When asked, they agreed to relocate the two portraits and they now occupy a place on either side of the door to my office.  Come by Room 215 and check out Coke and Bacon, the symbolic parents of the division between law and equity.

Read more from Law School News

Comments are closed.