This Month in U.S. Legal History – March

Each month of the year is packed with legal events of historical significance. Here are some memorable and important legal history events that have taken place regarding U.S. law in the month of March.

  • 03/01/1781. The Continental Congress adopts the Articles of Confederation, the first foundational document to formally bind the states of America together. The Articles empowered the Continental Congress to conduct the Revolutionary War against Britain, but many critics argued that it did not create a strong enough federal body. Accordingly, the Articles were later replaced with the Constitution.
  • 03/02/1917. President Wilson signs the Jones-Shafroth Act into law. The Act officially makes Puerto Rico a U.S. territory and makes its residents U.S. citizens.
  • 03/03/1873. The Comstock Act becomes law, making it illegal to send obscene materials through the mail. This ban included informational materials and contraceptives. The laws still exist, although the definition of “obscene material” has changed markedly over the years, and no longer includes contraception.
  • 03/04/1789. The Constitution is adopted to replace the Articles of Confederation as the foundational document of American government. The Constitution made a number of critical changes to the relationship between the states, including the establishment of a federal president with executive powers, a court system and the power of taxation.
  • 03/05/1970. The Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons becomes effective after ratification by 41 nations, including the United States. The treaty prevents nuclear armament by non-nuclear nations, and promotes disarmament by those already in possession of nuclear weapons.
  • 03/06/1820. The Missouri Compromise becomes law, allowing Missouri and Maine to become states, and preserving the northern part of the Louisiana Purchase as a territory in which slavery is prohibited.
  • 03/09/1841. The Supreme Court issues a landmark ruling in United States v. The Amistad, 40 U.S. 518 (1841), absolving would-be slaves of wrongdoing for their role in taking over a ship by force in order to prevent their enslavement. The case would later become the subject of the movie Amistad.
  • 03/12/1993. Janet Reno is sworn in as the United States’ first female Attorney General.
  • 03/14/1964. Jack Ruby is found guilty of the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald, and is then placed into custody as a suspect in the assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
  • 03/19/1918. Congress establishes the boundaries of time zones in the U.S. and approves the official use of Daylight Savings Time.
  • 03/22/1871. William Woods Holden, governor of North Carolina, becomes the first such official to be impeached and convicted in the U.S. for his crimes in connection with the enforcement of civil rights legislation adopted in the wake of the Civil War.
  • 03/26/1999. Dr. Jack Kevorkian is convicted of second-degree murder for assisting a terminally ill man in Michigan with committing suicide by lethal injection. Eight years later, he was released on parole on the condition that he cease offering suicide advice.
  • 03/28/1978. In a 5-3 majority in Stump v. Sparkman, 435 U.S. 349 (1978), the Supreme Court rules that judges are personally immune from certain suits related to claims arising from performance of their official functions.

Check out our past legal history posts:

This Month in U.S. Legal History – February

This Month in U.S. Legal History – January