Chief Judge Edward J. Cleary (’77) Donates Papers from Landmark SCOTUS Case to Law Library
The Law Library and Riesenfeld Rare Books Center recently received an important archival donation from Chief Judge Edward J. Cleary (’77) of the Minnesota Court of Appeals. The donated material is related to R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul (1992), a key U.S. Supreme Court First Amendment case—indeed, the first hate speech case ever heard by the court. Cleary, who argued the case from the trial level to the Supreme Court, has generously gifted the library his copies of the petitions, transcripts, briefs, and correspondence related to the case, for the sake of future study. The donated collection also includes the annotated typescript and proofs of Cleary’s book Beyond the Burning Cross: The First Amendment and the Landmark R.A.V. Case (Random House, 1994).
R.A.V. v. City of St. Paul revolved around the case of a teenager (known in court documents only as R.A.V. and represented by Cleary as an appointed public defender) who was charged under a St. Paul bias-crime ordinance for burning a cross on an African American family’s lawn. The charge was dismissed by the trial court, reinstated by the Minnesota Supreme Court, and ultimately dismissed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a unanimous decision. Under the First Amendment, a government entity may not punish expression on the grounds that it does not approve of the ideas being expressed. In the R.A.V. case, SCOTUS said the St. Paul ordinance could not be enforced because it “prohibits otherwise permitted speech solely on the basis of the subjects the speech addresses.” R.A.V. is the most-cited SCOTUS opinion to come from a case originating in Minnesota in the state’s history.
At the dinner commemorating the Law School’s 125th anniversary in October 2013, R.A.V. was honored—having been chosen from among 150 cases worked by Law School alumni—as the case that had most helped to shape the legal system. Other Minnesota Law graduates were involved in the case, as well. Michael Cromett (’78) was of counsel to Cleary. Tom Foley (’72) was Ramsey County attorney at the time and represented the appellant at the Minnesota Supreme Court; Foley was also the respondent in the SCOTUS case. Judge Charles Flinn (’65) presided in the juvenile court where R.A.V. first appeared with Cleary. Allen Saeks (’56) joined the amicus curiae briefs submitted to the U.S. Supreme Court and represented the Anti-Defamation League. A number of other Law School alumni and professors were involved in the amicus briefs that were filed in support of one side or the other.
Cleary was appointed to the Court of Appeals by Minnesota Gov. Dayton in 2011, after having served as a judge for the state’s 2nd Judicial District (Ramsey County) since 2002. Before that he was director of the Minnesota Lawyers Professional Responsibility Board (1997-2002), a lawyer in private practice for nearly 20 years, and an assistant public defender for Ramsey County. In 1996, Beyond the Burning Cross was named the winner of the American Library Association’s Oboler Memorial Award, which honors the nation’s best work on intellectual freedom.