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Michigan's Legal Milestones

Historical Date Milestone Dedicated
1805–1824 Augustus B. Woodward (1774–1827) – Brilliant but eccentric, the first Chief Justice of the Michigan territorial court is recalled at the site of his law office. Placed inside in the Millender Center Atrium, Detroit.

1831 Conveying Michigan – Much of the land in southwest Michigan was conveyed out of the White Pigeon Land Office, built in 1831. Placed at the land office, which is now a museum in downtown White Pigeon.

1836–1842 Justice William A. Fletcher (1788–1852) – The first Chief Justice of the Michigan Supreme Court. Placed outside the Power Center for the Performing Arts on the University of Michigan Campus in Ann Arbor.

1847 Freedom Road – The white and free black residents of Cass County rallied to protect runaway slaves in the Kentucky Raid of 1847. Installed on the south side of the 1899 courthouse in Cassopolis.

1848 Cooley Law Office – The career of Justice Thomas M. Cooley (1824–1898) is recalled in this milestone. Placed at Justice Cooley’s 1848 law office on Maumee Street, Adrian.

1857 Sojourner Truth (1797–1883) – Her life as a crusader for justice is recalled in her hometown. Dedicated at the Battle Creek Hall of Justice; rededicated and placed at the Calhoun County Justice Center, Battle Creek.

1860 Pond’s Defense – Michigan Supreme Court Justice James V. Campbell authored an important decision about self-defense and defense of others in Pond v People (1860). The Court overturned a lower court decision finding Augustus Pond, an Upper Peninsula fisherman, guilty of manslaughter. Placed outside City Hall, Mackinac Island.

1866 The King’s Grant – A celebrated 19th-century U.S. Supreme Court case involving a dispute over land granted by French King Louis XV in 1750. Dedicated and placed at Brady Park at the site of Fort Brady and Fort Repentigny, Sault Ste. Marie.

1885 Ten Hours or No Sawdust – Michigan’s largest labor strike of the 19th century, which took place in 1885. Although unsuccessful, it paved the way for later workers’ rights legislation. Installed in Morley Plaza, Saginaw.

1887 Rose of Aberlone – The classic contracts case involving Hiram Walker & Sons, Rose the cow, and the principle of rescission based on mutual mistake. Placed in Kellogg Park in Plymouth.

1888 Eva Belles' Vote - Eva R. Belles tried to vote in a Flint school board election. Because she was a woman, the election inspectors refused to receive her ballot. She fought that decision up to the Michigan Supreme Court and won an early victory for women's suffrage. Dedicated at the Genesee County Courthouse.

1889 Laughing Whitefish – The Michigan Supreme Court recognized the legal validity of Native American tribal laws and customs. Placed at Michigan Iron Industry Museum, Negaunee.

1911 Improving Justice – The idea for the American Judicature Society was born in Manistee during a boat ride on Lake Michigan shared by founder Herbert Harley and benefactor Charles Ruggles. Installed at the Manistee City Marina, Manistee.

1913 Roosevelt-Newett Libel Trial – A much celebrated trial involving former President Theodore Roosevelt. He prevailed as plaintiff, but was only awarded 10 cents in damages. Dedicated at the Marquette County Courthouse, Marquette.

1914 Baseball's Reserve Clause – A decision in a Grand Rapids courtroom “bound a player to his team for as long as the team chose to keep him.” Originally placed at the Grand Rapids Art Museum; rededicated at Fifth-Third Park (West Michigan Whitecaps Minor League Baseball stadium), Grand Rapids.

1918 Protecting the Impaired – An act of the Michigan legislature providing for forced sterilization of the mentally impaired was held unconstitutional by the Michigan Supreme Court. Dedicated at the Old Lapeer County Courthouse, Lapeer.

1925 Ossian Sweet Trial – Dr. Ossian Sweet was arrested and charged with murder after a member of a white mob that attacked Sweet’s home was shot and killed. Clarence Darrow defended Sweet, who was acquitted. Placed inside the Frank Murphy Hall of Justice, Detroit.
1925 Public Access to Public Water – Legal affirmation of the public’s right to the recreational use of rivers and streams began with a trout fishing trip on the Pine River in 1925. Installed at the Peterson Bridge Landing along the Pine River west of Cadillac.
1927 Ending Jim Crow – Keith’s Theatre in Grand Rapids discriminated against patrons on the basis of race (a practice called “Jim Crow”), but the practice was found to violate Michigan’s Constitution by the Michigan Supreme Court in a major civil rights decision. Dedicated outside Old Kent Bank Plaza, downtown Grand Rapids.
1936 Emelia Schaub (1891-1995) – The first woman in Michigan to be elected as prosecuting attorney (more​), the first woman in the United States to defend a murder trial successfully, and the woman responsible to a great degree for protecting the rights and tribal existence of Native Americans in Northwest Michigan. Placed outside at the Leelanau County Courthouse, Leland.

1944 Murphy's Dissent – Michigan’s U.S. Supreme Court Justice Frank Murphy wrote an impassioned dissent in the Korematsu case, protesting the decision to uphold exclusion orders imposed upon persons of Japanese descent during World War II. Installed in front of the Frank Murphy home, Harbor Beach.
1946 Mount Clemens Pottery – Michigan’s Justice Frank Murphy authored an important labor law decision of the U.S. Supreme Court interpreting the Fair Labor Standards Act arising out of a case involving employee work time. Placed at the Macomb County courthouse in Mt. Clemens.
1947 Striking Racial Covenants – The U.S. Supreme Court rejected racial restrictive covenants that would have prevented Orsel and Minnie McGhee and their family from living where they chose to in Detroit. Placed outside the Museum of African American History, Detroit.
1950 Michigan Lawyer, Mackinac Visionary – Prentiss Marsh Brown (1889–1973), a St. Ignace lawyer, is best remembered as the “father of the Mackinac Bridge.” He was appointed chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority in 1950 and remained so until his death in 1973. Through his leadership, the bridge was financed and then completed in 1957. Placed at Bridge View Park, St. Ignace.
1951 Otis Milton Smith, Trailblazing Leadership – Otis M. Smith (1922–1994) was an outstanding leader, lawyer, and dedicated public servant who overcame poverty and prejudice to serve in various prominent positions including chair of the Michigan Public Service Commission, justice of the Michigan Supreme Court, regent of the University of Michigan, and a vice president and general counsel of the General Motors Corporation. Dedicated at the University of Michigan-Flint.
1953 Milo Radulovich and the Fall of McCarthyism – Two Michigan attorneys, the Honorable Kenneth N. Sanborn and Charles C. Lockwood assisted Milo Radulovich in retaining his U.S. Air Force commission. The Air Force had attempted to strip Radulovich of his commission for associating with his allegedly subversive father and sister. Installed outside the Michigan State University College of Law Building, East Lansing.
1960 One Person, One Vote – In one of the famous U.S. Supreme Court redistricting cases of the early 1960s, labor leader Gus Scholle assured that rapidly growing Oakland County would have proportional representation. Dedicated and placed outside the Oakland County Courthouse’s South Plaza, Pontiac.
1961-1962 1961-62 Constitutional Convention – The Michigan Constitution of 1963 was written at the Lansing Civic Arena. Originally placed inside the Lansing Civic Arena; rededicated at Constitution Hall, Lansing.
1971 The Uninvited Ear – Judge Damon Keith’s decision upheld the right of Americans to be free from unreasonable government intrusion. Placed inside the Penobscot Building, Detroit.
1972 Pioneer, Advocate, Woman: Mary Coleman – This milestone focuses on the career of Michigan’s first female Chief Justice, Mary S. Coleman (1914–2001). Placed at the Calhoun County Justice Center, Battle Creek.
1972 Committee of One – Judge Henry Hart of Midland led a “one-man campaign” for the uniform placement of yellow “No Passing Zone” signs on the left side of Michigan roads. The signs, shaped in the form of a pennant, are credited with saving thousands of lives in Michigan since 1972. Dedicated at the Midland County Courthouse.
1974 President Gerald R. Ford – Before becoming the country’s 38th President, Gerald R. Ford, Jr. (1913–2007) was a Michigan lawyer practicing in Grand Rapids. Throughout his years in the U.S. House of Representatives, Ford was a member of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and maintained close ties to the Grand Rapids legal community. He became President shortly after President Nixon resigned in August 1974. Dedicated at the Gerald R. Ford Museum in Grand Rapids.
1979 Elk, Oil, and the Environment – A 1979 landmark Michigan Supreme Court case eventually led to an extraordinary agreement between state government, the oil industry, and environmental groups. It allowed tightly regulated drilling in the southern one-third of the forest, which decades later has yielded valuable gas and oil reserves while the elk herd has continued to grow. Installed outside the Otsego County Courthouse, Gaylord.
1982 From a Whisper to a Rallying Cry – The beating death of Vincent Chin in Highland Park and the lenient sentences meted out to his assailants caused an outcry in the Asian-American community and led to the birth of a civil and victims’ rights movement. Dedicated at the Chinese Community Center in Madison Heights.
1982 Poletown and Eminent Domain – To bolster Detroit’s crumbling economic base, a working-class neighborhood known as Poletown was demolished to make way for a General Motors plant, following a landmark decision by the Michigan Supreme Court. In Wayne County v Hathcock (2004), the Court reversed its decision, ruling that taking property for private development did not constitute a valid public use under the state’s Constitution. Installed at Zussman Park outside Hamtramck City Hall.

​Current as of December 2010. For more information, see the State Bar of Michigan’s website:



​Michigan Legal Milestones Program

The State Bar of Michigan sponsors the ongoing Michigan Legal Milestones program. For the most up-to-date information, view their web site.