Liberty on Trial in America: Cases That Defined Freedom

Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Judicial Process and American Freedom These lectures are thought-provoking and stimulating. The professor presents a comprehensive background to the case, goes into great depth to explain the verdict, and gives an extensive presentation of the outcome(s) of the case
Date published: 2020-08-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Engaging explanations of the cases and circumstances surrounding them. Covers perspectives I never heard before, even as a history major in college.
Date published: 2020-08-13
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Although liberty is supposed to be a unifying theme, the cases seem arbitrarily selected. They may or may not be particularly significant for defining liberty. One thing that does become very clear, is how often liberty in the United States has hinged on the vote of one old white man with a blatant conflict of interest. Most lectures just regurgitate what lawyers claimed, with no suggestion of what the real story may have been. For example, the Korematsu case (the California concentration camp order), no mention was made of all the property confiscated (possibly $3 billion in 1940 dollars) which would be an obvious tie-in with Kelo, the Hartford property confiscation case. Nor is there any explanation of why, if the case was so clearly wrong, repudiating it took 30 years. A lukewarm recommendation, raises some interesting questions but don't expect much insight towards liberty in the American legal system.
Date published: 2020-08-12
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Mostly excellent For the most part this was an excellent course. The instructor is an excellent story teller and one should be aware that this course is long on stories and relatively short on deep analysis. The 24th and final lecture was, however, a major disappointment. I would have much rather had a lecture earlier on one of those cases for which he didn't have time than that one which, about 'liberty for nonhuman people' didn't rise nearly to the importance of most of those the instructor mentions as having not had time to present.
Date published: 2020-07-11
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Law as it should be taught I am a retired maritime lawyer and long-time customer of the Great Courses. I complement Professor Linder on the excellence of his presentations in this course. I particularly enjoyed and appreciated the way he described the history and context of the issues and cases before addressing the course of the trials or the appellate arguments and decisions, and I was impressed by how much research he must have done to accomplish that. He clearly described the main testimony, arguments, and holdings without adding superfluous points. I was disappointed in the teaching quality in my law school, but I would have had a different opinion if the courses were like Professor Linder's presentation.
Date published: 2020-07-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Fascinating Journey of Liberties Denied and Won Combine a personable and extremely knowledgeable instructor with a vitally important topic like "liberty" and you end up with a blue ribbon course. All the cases and lectures were presented so well you will probably want to do a deeper dive into the cases, especially the ones in which the Supreme Court decided to support or deny individuals their "liberty." Bravissimo, Professor Linder. Well-done!
Date published: 2020-06-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Good history Many good lessons in these history segments. A quote (Not from these courses): the farther back you look the further forward you can see.
Date published: 2020-06-09
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stories with a theme This was a totally entertaining course but was also full of inspiring historical stories of courageous people who fought for what they believed. After watching Law School for Everyone (good course) and a course on the history of the Supreme Course, this was especially fascinating and the instructor clearly loves his subject.
Date published: 2020-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Thorough examination of each case This is the most interesting of all courses we have watched. We wish he did another with the many other cases he listed at the end.
Date published: 2020-05-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent coverage of cases reviewed Great choice of legal issues, Instructer suberb!
Date published: 2020-04-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great course! This is one of the most satisfying courses I have ever had, and I've had a lot of them. The professor is excellent, the trials chosen are truly important, and he sheds new light even on ones I thought I knew. I've been binge watching since yesterday and am close to completion. I have only one tiny complaint about the video version: They have placed moving images behind the lecturer which can be very distracting. In theater this known as upstaging and it adds nothing. Fortunately, the subject matter is so compelling that I usually don't notice.
Date published: 2020-04-05
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good teacher, interesting subject. Each of the trials was an exciting experience, and showed the historical significance of the trial.
Date published: 2020-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Informative and engaging I have been watching the Great Trials course with a group of friends. It is incredibly interesting and I’ve learned a lot. And Dr. Linder is very engaging and brings history to life. Highly recommend!
Date published: 2020-02-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from to understand the United States Everybody fromoutisde the Unites States should buy this course After onehas seenist,the fascination this country exudes also for citizens of,fore xample,the Old World,likeme,is far clearer to grasp.Superb.
Date published: 2020-02-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course Prof. Linder has done an excellent job in selecting and presenting the 24 cases that comprise this course. He is a very effective storyteller, and each case or group of cases is persuasively presented as a separate, standalone story. Prof. Linder is very easy on the ear, and his lectures are replete with interesting and entertaining background information that humanizes the case participants and enlivens the material. Although I watched the video version of the course, I think the audio version would be entirely satisfactory. Two further points. First, although the course is titled "Liberty on Trial," many lectures focus on the appellate history of the chosen cases, a number of which resulted in important US Supreme Court decisions, and the trial portion of many cases is given short treatment. In addition, unlike his presentations in his Great Trials course, which I thought were largely apolitical or politically balanced, Prof. Linder allows his politically liberal views to show through in some of these lectures, particularly in the last half of the course, without the same attention to political balance in discussing competing legal arguments that he showed in his earlier course. All that said, I think this is an excellent course and give it very high marks!
Date published: 2020-01-29
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Very timely This course is inter and informative. In this time of the Impeachment Trial, it helps understand what is going on. He did a great job!
Date published: 2020-01-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from This is an excellent course Professor Linder has long maintained the excellent Great Trials website. I did notice one minor and understandable factual error. In the Scopes Monkey Trial, Professor Linder assumes that Attorney Sue Hicks was a woman. Alas, Hicks was literally a boy named Sue.
Date published: 2020-01-09
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Liberty on Trial in America: Cases That Defined Freedom
Course Trailer
The Trial of Anne Hutchinson
1: The Trial of Anne Hutchinson

There was no toleration of religious dissent in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in the 1600s; you either accepted Puritan orthodoxy, or you could leave. And there certainly was no room for religious argument for a woman! When Anne Hutchinson shared with others her religious ideas and gathered a following, the governor put her on trial for heresy. Explore the trials, defense, and punishment of the woman sometimes called “America’s first feminist.”

31 min
The Trial of John Peter Zenger
2: The Trial of John Peter Zenger

Freedom of speech was not a recognized liberty in the early years of American colonies. Speech critical of the powers that be could land one in legal trouble—even if everyone involved agreed the statements were true. Explore the colonial history of the press freedom, voter suppression, and attempts to influence juries as they all came together to affect the libel trial of John Peter Zenger. Did this landmark freedom of the press case actually set any precedent?

29 min
Two Slave Trials
3: Two Slave Trials

The citizens of the newly formed United States could not agree on the overall moral issue of slavery, but they were willing to take up its more narrow legal issues. Gain a greater understanding of the many ways in which the legal system supported the institution of slavery by examining the trials of two slaves: Anthony Burns, whose freedom was eventually purchased by abolitionists, and Celia (no last name), who was hanged.

29 min
The Trial of John Brown
4: The Trial of John Brown

John Brown was an abolitionist who believed he could end slavery by arming the slaves. His plan, however, came to a tragic end at Harper’s Ferry, VA, when guards were killed as he seized the federal armory and only a few slaves joined his revolt. Instead, Brown was charged with treason, murder, and slave insurrection. Learn how John Brown’s trial and execution nevertheless played a significant role in the eventual end of slavery in the United States.

29 min
The Trial of Susan B. Anthony
5: The Trial of Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony believed she was a citizen of the United States according to the Fourteenth Amendment—and, as such, she believed she had the right to vote. But in 1872, the law was not on her side. So when she dropped her ballot into the box at the West End New Depot in Rochester, NY, on Election Day, she was arrested. Learn about the trial that brought nationwide attention to the issue of women’s suffrage.

30 min
The Trial of the Haymarket Eight
6: The Trial of the Haymarket Eight

Labor tensions were already at the boiling point in Chicago, when someone threw a bomb into a group of police officers. Although the bomb thrower was never found, eight defendants were tried by a jury handpicked by the bailiff, and seven were found guilty and sentenced to death—for the crime, it was claimed, of inciting violence. Explore the ways in which this trial became a key event in the history of free speech in America.

30 min
The Trial of John T. Scopes
7: The Trial of John T. Scopes

In 1925, Tennessee enacted a law making the teaching of evolution in any state-supported school a crime. John Scopes was a young science teacher at the time who agreed to serve as a test case for the law, defended by Clarence Darrow. Explore the heated opinions expressed on both sides and how the trial’s publicity brought the issue directly into American homes.

32 min
The Sweet Trials, Race, and Self-Defense
8: The Sweet Trials, Race, and Self-Defense

In 1925, Dr. Ossian Sweet, an African American, bought a home for his family in a white neighborhood of Detroit. When a white crowd gathered around the house and violence broke out, one member of the crowd was killed. Police charged everyone in the Sweet home with premeditated murder. Explore Clarence Darrow’s defense, and what the trial revealed about American society at that time.

31 min
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Flag-Salute Cases
9: Jehovah’s Witnesses and Flag-Salute Cases

Between 1938 and 1946, the Supreme Court handed down 23 opinions involving civil liberties issues raised by Jehovah’s Witnesses. Explore two of those cases, both of which address whether or not Jehovah’s Witnesses can be forced to salute the flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools. Learn why the Court came down first on one side of the issue, and then the other.

28 min
Korematsu v. United States
10: Korematsu v. United States

In 1942, two months after Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt signed an executive order requiring that all Japanese Americans move to “relocation camps” as a matter of national security. Fred Korematsu refused, was arrested for violating an “exclusion order,” and convicted. Learn how Korematsu carried his fight against what he thought was an “un-American” law all the way to the Supreme Court, and why the decision ultimately went against him. How did history and subsequent Courts treat this decision?

30 min
Segregation on Trial
11: Segregation on Trial

In 1892, the Supreme Court, in a case involving the conviction of Homer Plessy for sitting in a section of a Louisiana train designated for “whites only,” established the principle of “separate but equal.” Learn about Charles H. Houston, the African American lawyer who made it his life’s work to challenge Jim Crow laws and who won a critical Supreme Court victory in the case of Gaines v. Missouri, paving the way for the Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. Houston’s work for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) to end segregation led his successor, Thurgood Marshall, to say he was just carrying Houston’s bags—and that Houston was the Moses who charted the legal path to racial equality.

31 min
The Lenny Bruce Trials
12: The Lenny Bruce Trials

Today, Lenny Bruce is considered a trailblazer of American stand-up comedy addressing the now-common themes of politics, sex, and religion. But in the 1950s and ‘60s, he was considered an obscene subversive, and arrested numerous times. Explore the ways in which Bruce and the First Amendment affected each other. Today’s authors, publishers, poets, and comedians owe a debt of gratitude to Bruce.

31 min
The Evolving Right to Marry
13: The Evolving Right to Marry

Richard Loving wanted to do nothing more than to marry the woman of his dreams. But Richard was white, and Mildred, according to the commonwealth of Virginia, was “colored,” which made it illegal for them to marry. Learn how the case of this modest, unassuming couple went all the way to the Supreme Court, and how the Court’s ruling eventually led to marriage equality for same-sex couples, as well.

29 min
Wisconsin v. Yoder
14: Wisconsin v. Yoder

In the 1960s, the Amish had several disagreements with the state concerning their children’s education. But most important, they did not believe their children should be required to attend school past the age of 16. Explore the conflicting views and goals of these parents, schools, and state. Learn how the issue made it to the Supreme Court, which conflicting liberties were considered, and why the Court decided in favor of the parents.

29 min
Furman v. Georgia
15: Furman v. Georgia

Public support for the death penalty in the United States has historically ebbed and flowed. In 1972, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that capital punishment as then administered was unconstitutional, many legal experts—including some justices—believed that would end the death penalty. Learn why that was not the case, and explore the deep complexities of the law as it relates to capital punishment.

29 min
The Trial of Daniel Ellsberg
16: The Trial of Daniel Ellsberg

Is it legal for an individual to copy top-secret documents and release them to the press? Is it legal for agents of the government to break into a psychiatrist’s office to look for information about a criminal defendant? Can the government legally stop a newspaper from publishing classified material? Explore how these questions—and their answers from the courts—affected the country’s political life during the Nixon administration, and ultimately led to the president’s resignation.

30 min
The Road to Roe v. Wade
17: The Road to Roe v. Wade

Norma McCorvey knew two things: She was pregnant and she did not want the baby. Desperate for an abortion, she agreed (under the name “Jane Roe”) to take the case to court, and ultimately the Supreme Court. As you learn about the famous decision that resulted, you’ll also gain a better understanding of the many other ways in which American courts have intervened in personal decisions related to sterilization and birth control, as well as abortion.

29 min
The Right to an Intimate Life
18: The Right to an Intimate Life

Should the government interfere in activities in your bedroom? Well into the 20th century, every state had laws prohibiting at least one sexual act, even between heterosexual married couples in the privacy of their own home. Explore the numerous lawsuits and trials that eventually extended the protection of privacy to include intimacy, regardless of sexual orientation.

29 min
The Ruby Ridge Trial
19: The Ruby Ridge Trial

Do we Americans have the freedom to isolate ourselves, hold and express views considered racist and hateful by the majority, and stockpile legally purchased weapons? Do we have the liberty to sell a sawed-off shotgun? Explore the complex story and resultant trial that started with Randy and Vicki Weaver wanting to separate themselves from mainstream society, and ended with three dead at Ruby Ridge.

30 min
The Trials of Jack Kevorkian
20: The Trials of Jack Kevorkian

Jack Kevorkian believed strongly that individuals should have the right to end their pain and suffering, and with his inventions of the “thanotron” and the “mercitron,” Kevorkian helped hundreds do just that. Legally tried, having escaped conviction time after time, a final trial proved his undoing. Explore Dr. Kevorkian’s work on behalf of an individual’s right to euthanasia, why he believed he was taking a stand for liberty, and why he was eventually convicted of second-degree homicide.

30 min
Boy Scouts of America v. Dale
21: Boy Scouts of America v. Dale

Do private organizations have the right to exclude members based on criteria that many—maybe even most in society—find objectionable? When the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) expelled scout leader James Dale because he way gay, Dale challenged the BSA’s authority to use sexual orientation as a basis for exclusion. In a case pitting Dale’s claimed right to be free from discrimination against the associational rights of the Scouts, the Supreme Court sided with the Boy Scouts. Examine why the U.S. Supreme Court decided as it did, and the effects and implications of its ruling.

28 min
Kelo v. City of New London
22: Kelo v. City of New London

Does a city have the right to use eminent domain to take private property and sell it for private development if the city believes that development will improve the city’s economy? Learn how Susette Kelo’s refusal to sell her “little pink house” in New London, CT, led to a Supreme Court case addressing what she described to Congress as “eminent domain abuse”—and why she lost the case.

29 min
The Citizens United Case
23: The Citizens United Case

U.S. candidates have a long history of trying to outraise and outspend their opponents to win elections. This has meant, oftentimes, that big corporations and wealthy donors determine election outcomes and, at least potentially, gain an opportunity to influence the votes and policies of the candidates they helped elect. In response, Congress had repeatedly tried to curtail such “corrupting” activities. Explore why, then, in 2010, the Supreme Court declared any ban on political spending by corporations to be unconstitutional—and why, at the same time, most polls show strong support for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling.

30 min
Liberty for Nonhumans?
24: Liberty for Nonhumans?

Many Americans were initially excluded from “liberty and justice for all.” Is it possible that future trials will result in greater liberties for apes, cetaceans, and elephants? Learn how “Tommy” became the first chimpanzee to have a suit for his freedom filed on his behalf and why one judge on the New York Court of Appeals says the issue of fundamental rights for nonhuman animals is not going away.

34 min
Douglas O. Linder

In life, we encounter a wide range of crucial issues-freedom of speech, the death penalty, and the meaning of equality. And the trials that grappled with, or failed to grapple with, these issues are often trials of enduring consequence.


Stanford Law School


University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law

About Douglas O. Linder

Douglas O. Linder is the Elmer Powell Peer Professor of Law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law. He graduated summa cum laude from Gustavus Adolphus College and from Stanford Law School. Professor Linder has taught as a visiting professor at the University of Iowa and Indiana University School of Law.

Professor Linder has published extensively in legal journals and books on such topics as great trials, legal history, constitutional law, and the legal profession. He has served as a consultant on numerous documentary film projects and theater projects involving historic trials. In addition, Professor Linder has published reviews of movies and books focused on historic trials and has lectured or participated in panel discussions considering the significance of various historic trials across the country, both at university campuses and professional gatherings.

In addition to being named a UKC Trustees Fellow, Professor Linder has received his law school's highest teaching award (twice) and its highest publishing award (three times). For more than two decades, he has taught a seminar in famous trials using his own materials published on a website of his creation, the Famous Trials website. The website hosts the largest and most varied collection of original writings, images, and primary documents relating to 78 famous trials. It is the most-visited trial-related site on the Internet and has been the subject of a review in The New York Times.

Professor Linder is the coauthor of two books published by Oxford University Press, The Good Lawyer: Seeking Quality in the Practice of Law and The Happy Lawyer: Making a Good Life in the Law. In addition, he has appeared in televised documentaries about great trials produced by HISTORY, AMC, PBS, Court TV, Discovery Networks, and A&E in addition to documentaries produced by Canadian and European production companies. He has appeared in televised interviews about great trials on CBS, CNN, Fox News, and other cable networks.

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