Tuesday, September 21, 2010

City of Milwaukee

Law school started for me a few weeks ago, and I've greatly been enjoying the classes. It's a lot of reading, but it's interesting material and I like all my professors. At the same time, it's somewhat unsettling because for most of the classes, the vast majority (if not all) of the grade is riding on the final exam. So I have no idea how it is really going--here's hoping I am feeling well on the day of the exam.


We read a lot of court opinions to discern the rules guiding the judges, and one of the cases has captivated me more than the others. I noticed that the case Milwaukee v. Illinois, 451 U.S. 304 (1981) is referred to by the shorthand "City of Milwaukee," which has the same scansion as the title City of New Orleans, the 1972 Steve Goodman song. The similarity mostly ends there: the song tells the bittersweet and nostalgic story of a train ride from Chicago to New Orleans, while the case deals with issues of federalism and the role of the federal government vis-à-vis the states, specifically in a lawsuit over pollution in Lake Michigan.


Since one good song deserves another, I took about forty-five minutes this afternoon to write a companion song, not about trains, but about the Supreme Court case. To understand the case, you could read the 9,000-word opinion of the court, or you could find a YouTube version of the song, and sing along to the following text, which I wrote today, and which I think sums up most of the procedural history and holding. Perhaps you'll do both.


Pleading for the city of Milwaukee
Springfield says our water is not clean
SCOTUS is their most preferrèd venue
But the motion is denied to be seen

A continu’ng legal odyssey:

They refile in Illinois, N.D.

Saying nuisance is the outcome of our acts

Sewage treatment they prefer

Their motions we deny, defer

And they set about to counterprove our facts.


Oyez, oyez, our great judicial system!

I work on briefs from rise to set of the sun.

I’m the lawyer for the City of Milwaukee

And I know that when it’s through, we will have won.


Now the Congress seeks the grand affair to enter

Clean water law, they enact and decree

With the EPA the administrative center

Disallowing discharges except from a permitee

Our Wisconsin regulators urge

That we guard against a rainstorm surge

And get a state court’s rule to that effect

Illinois still pursues its claim:

“Regulate more, in nuisance’s name

Where maritime health and cleanliness intersect!”


Oyez, oyez, our great judicial system!

I work on briefs from rise to set of the sun.

I’m the lawyer for the City of Milwaukee

And I know that when it’s through, we will have won.


Judges of appeals upheld the cleanup action

Illinois did thoroughly persuade

But the ruling of a robèd six-man faction

The nuisance cause the Supreme Court forbade:

“On such matters where the people speak

Through their congressmen, ye courts, be meek.

We need not craft such fed’ral common law.

Representative democracy

Demands that we should silent be

And rule only on what the congress’ bill foresaw.


Oyez, oyez, our great judicial system!

I work on briefs from rise to set of the sun.

I’m the lawyer for the City of Milwaukee

And I know that when it’s through, we will have won.

Perhaps I shall compose all of my legal documents in rhyming verse!

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1 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

i like your song

7:25 PM  

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