Research Projects Presented Wednesday, April 11, 2018
Ceremonial Courtroom

All presentations videorecorded: webcast links below

Judicial Panel 1:  3:15pm – 4:15pm
Justice Nels S.D. Peterson, Supreme Court of Georgia and Presiding Judge Sara L. Doyle, Georgia Court of Appeals

Professor Clark D. Cunningham: Introduction to Corpus Linguistics (video 9:40 minutes)

Pearson Cunningham & William Lasker: 1st Amendment, “Congress shall make no law . . . abridging . . . the right of the people . . . to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” (video 26:43 minutes)

When the colonial governments were formed, the right to petition was protected by many colonial charters; this right was later established in state constitutions. Each of these petition clauses protected the right to petition the legislature, as did proposed amendments submitted by states during the ratification process. Madison’s proposed draft of what became the First Amendment likewise guaranteed the right to petition the legislature; however, during deliberations in the First Congress, Government was substituted for legislature. Was the original meaning of “Government” in the First Amendment all three branches of government, including the judiciary? After studying the historical context of the right to petition, and the drafting history of the First Amendment, we applied a textual analysis using corpus linguistic methods. We found that petition is an ambiguous term as it appears in the Petition Clause. Our modern sense of the term incorporates a more collective process sense (e.g., we received 300,000 signatures on our petition and sent it to the committee). But, petition also connotes a lawsuit (in both legal and ordinary dictionaries). Our linguistic analysis revealed that “petition” has undergone linguistic drift. While recently it is more commonly interpreted as the collective process sense, in contrast, during the founding era, “court” is the most common noun associated with the verb form of petition (e.g., he petitioned the court). Finally, we turned to “redress” and “grievances” and found that both terms do occur in the context of petitions filed with courts.

Eleanor Miller & Heather Obelgoner: Article II, Sec. 1, “executive power” (video 26:06 minutes)

This paper uses both linguistic and historical analysis in an effort to discern the original public meaning of the phrase “executive power” in Article II of the United States Constitution. Part I engages in a linguistic analysis of the phrase “executive power,” drawing primarily on corpus linguistic methodology surrounding founding era usage of the phrase. Part II analyzes the history of Article II, with particular attention to the public discourse concerning the scope and reach of the king’s powers. Part III fuses these two areas of analysis and propose a synthesized original meaning of the phrase “executive power.” Finally Part IV considers the Supreme Court cases of Myers v. United States and Steel Seizure, seminal cases in executive power jurisprudence, as well as the public discourse surrounding those cases at the time of their decision.


Judicial Panel 2:  4:30pm – 5:30pm
Justice Keith R. Blackwell, Supreme Court of Georgia
Chief Judge Stephen Louis A. Dillard, Georgia Court of Appeals and Judge Carla Wong McMillian
, Georgia Court of Appeals

Professor Clark D. Cunningham: Introduction to Corpus Linguistics (longer version of Introduction to Judicial Panel 1) (video 17:56 minutes)

Isaac Godfrey: 8th Amendment, “excessive bail” (video 27:03)
            Every year people accused of violating state laws or city ordinances are kept in jail while they await trial because of their inability to pay their bail. The English Bill of Rights was enacted in 1689 to address many of the abuses including King-appointed judges demanding excessive bail solely to keep the King’s political enemies in jail to punish them pre-trial. For bailable offenses, the English Bill of Rights required judges to set a sufficient bail after considering the importance of a person’s freedom and the circumstances of his or her case. It is from this that the Excessive Bail Clause of the Eighth Amendment finds its genesis. The Corpus of Founding Era American English is a collection of nearly two-thirds of all early American writings from 1760-1799. By analyzing the use of “excessive bail” and other related terms from this time period, we are better able to understand the original meaning of the Excessive Bail Clause. The appropriate standard for setting a sufficient bail is one focused on the reasonableness of the bail and not the amount. A sufficient bail is one that is no more than is necessary to address the government’s concern in setting the conditions of release, and this should be arrived at in a fair and sensible way.

Anna Celia Howard & Aaron Smothers: 8th Amendment, “cruel and unusual punishments” (video 18:24 minutes)
The purpose of this paper is to explore the original public meaning of the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause. Looking first to well-known originalists Justice Antonin Scalia and Professor John Stinneford, we discovered that while they both used original British and American documents to support their arguments they reached different conclusions about whether the original meaning of the clause could apply to punishments that were greatly disproportional to the crime committed. We then examined the origins of the Clause in events taking place in 17th Century England which gave rise to this language in the 1689 English Bill of Rights: “excessive bail ought not to be required, nor excessive fines imposed; nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.” After our historical review, we took the words of the Clause, particularly focusing on “cruel,” and inserted them into multiple databases to conduct a linguistics analysis of the Clause. A thorough look into the digital edition of The Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution did not reveal any use of the word “proportionality” by the Framers; the concept of proportionality seemed to arise when it came to voter representation and numerical quotas. “Excessive” appeared somewhat more often, and while its use suggested a meaning synonymous with “unjustly disproportionate,” it was rarely used in the context of punishments. Finally, “cruel” provided a somewhat unexpected twist. Unlike any other word in the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause, it was often accompanied by another adjective.    Additionally, “cruel” was often used to describe a measure as “tyrannical” or “oppressive.”