In The Missouri Supreme Court, distinguished legal historian Gerald T. Dunne captures the people and personalities, conflicts and controversies of Missouri's rich legal history. Using a lively anecdotal approach to examine the key cases and political disputes, as well as the strong-minded incumbents who have served on the court's bench, he places Missouri's judicial system in the context of the overall political and legal developments in the United States as a whole.
Dunne sets the scene by presenting Missouri before it became a state, tracing the evolution of Indian, Spanish, and French legal influences until the final adoption of a legal system based on the English common law. Then, through a compelling narrative, he recounts not only the factual background of major cases but also interesting biographical information about the disputants. Dunne reveals the fascinating history of the Missouri Supreme Court from the basic violation of human rights in the Dred Scott case up through the ethical questions addressed in the case of Nancy Cruzan's right to die. These are only two of the important decisions of the United States Supreme Court that had their origins in Missouri and are discussed here. These cases are landmarks not only because of what the higher courts said about them, but because of their intrinsic historical interest.
Dunne concludes with portraits of key judges who served on the supreme court. He tells how diminutive Abiel Leonard killed a man in a duel on his way to the Missouri Supreme Court bench. And we learn of "The Sage of Sedalia," Henry Lamm, if not the greatest, certainly the most quotable member of the court who left behind a sparkling sequence of aphorisms. By incorporating such colorful details and enlivening his subject with gusto, charm, and humor, Dunne personalizes the Missouri Supreme Court beyond its institutional function.
The Missouri Supreme Court is an enduring work that reflects the human condition, in both the law and the society it serves, in all its weakness and strength, error and achievement, and occasional glory.