This news release describes past events and should be used for historical purposes only. Please note date of release.
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield Hall 218
Eau Claire, WI 54702-4004
History Class To Make Presentation
To Wisconsin Supreme Court
phone (715) 836-4741
fax (715) 836-2900

MAILED: Nov. 23, 1998

EAU CLAIRE — Eleven University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire students will find themselves answering to Wisconsin's highest court come December.
But it's their historical research — not legal interpretations — of Wisconsin's Constitution that they'll be defending during their Dec. 7 appearance.
"This is not legal research," said Professor Jim Oberly, who co-teaches the capstone history course with Oscar Chamberlain and Mimi King in which the students are enrolled. "The students will give the justices background on language and issues that involve the Constitution.
"They're looking at the historical context of the Wisconsin Constitution. They're looking at particular clauses in the Constitution and researching what was going on in the state in 1848 that would make the framers put that particular clause in."
For example, Serenity McIntosh's research looked at how Native American history ties to the Indian Suffrage Clause in the state Constitution. She also researched why the state of Wisconsin allowed American Indians to become citizens.
"It's been interesting to see how the interactions between Whites and Indians went during the time of Wisconsin statehood," said McIntosh, a social studies major from Merrillan. "It made me realize that Indians got the short end of the stick much of the time. I also found out how and why the treaties that were enacted over a hundred years ago are valid in today's politics."
Marty Stelter researched why the 1846 Constitution failed. "The main reason was the conflict among the Democratic delegation who had the majority," said Stelter, a history and American Indian studies major from Cumberland. "I showed that the final battle of Andrew Jackson's bank war was fought during the 1846 Wisconsin Constitutional Convention."
Stelter said he hopes his work will help justices as they put the 150-year-old state Constitution into modern context.
"The framers were ahead of their time," Stelter said. "To have a constitution exist for 150 years is incredible. It's been amended and revised but there has never been another convention called. Other states have had subsequent conventions to make new constitutions. The staying power of this one is amazing. That means justices today have to make rulings based on things that were written 150 years ago. They have to figure out what was in the heads of the framers when they make their rulings. Hopefully, our research will make that easier for them."
Another student researched the Constitution's homestead exemption, Oberly said, noting that the exemption is still an issue in bankruptcy laws today.
"My thesis argues that rather than a reactionary position to the market revolution, like banking, the homestead exemption was the underlying force for the union of anti-slavery, free soil ideologies and the common farmer or mechanic of the North," said Brian Cothroll, a social studies major from Oregon. "This is especially important as national politics quickly became sectionalized between the North and the South."
This month, a softbound anthology summary titled "The Wisconsin Constitution of 1848 in Jacksonian Context" will be sent to Wisconsin Supreme Court justices. On Dec. 7, the students will present oral summaries of their research and answer justices' questions.
"You couldn't ask for a more rigorous final exam than being questioned by the justices of the Wisconsin Supreme Court," Oberly said.
Oberly said he's confident the justices will be impressed with the students' work. "Their work is terrific," he said. "We're not interpreting the law — that's for the justices to do. We give it context. The results are very impressive."
The capstone class not only meets UW-Eau Claire's goal to offer undergraduate students opportunities to work with faculty on research, but also provides a service-learning opportunity, Oberly said, adding that the students began work on the project in February.
The justices said they want to make the court more visible. So Oberly wrote to the chief justice, proposing that she allow UW-Eau Claire students to act as researchers for the court, he said, adding that the project is tied to the Court's celebration of the Wisconsin Sesquicentennial.
"We have 11 researchers who have the expertise to look at issues," Oberly said. "Our students learn but also provide a real service to the state."
"I'm absolutely looking forward to it," Stelter said of the presentation. "It's a great opportunity. As a future historian, I am indebted to Professor Oberly for making this possible. This is an opportunity that doesn't come around very often."
The capstone history course was created years ago, with students researching any number of issues during the two-semester course. In recent years, students have done research for the state Legislature but this is its first involvement with the Supreme Court.

UWEC [Administrative Offices] [News Bureau]

Janice B. Wisner
UW-Eau Claire News Bureau
Schofield 218
(715) 836-4741

Updated: Nov. 23, 1998