Saturday, April 9, 2011


This was a very quick trip but even with one day mostly a rainout--leaving aside the hours I was working--some perceptions about Lincoln, Nebraska, came through. First of all, Lincoln isn't as small as I expected. It has a population that exceeds 250,000. The day we arrived, that was bolstered by the simultaneous arrival, almost all of them at our hotel, it seemed, of the annual state gathering of the Future Farmers of America, which is big stuff out this way.

Probably should have expected something like that when you decide to stay at the leading hostelry, the Cornhusker Marriott. The FFA members are high-school age, clean cut in their navy FFA sweater-jackets with gold lettering and black trousers or skirts. The room clerk was being thoughtful in asking us to wait for available rooms so she didn't have to put us "on a floor with the kids." We spoke to a few who had medals for raising dairy cattle.

The rain kept me from seeing the campus of the University of Nebraska across town but we met in a room of the skyscraper state capitol, which is quite a building in itself. It looks to be about 18 storeys high with a dome. Inside there is a marvelous three or four-storey open space with gothic stonework, rose windows, and mosaics, most devoted to agricultural themes.

In the main hall are sculptures of some famous Nebraskans, from George Norris, the U.S. Senator who may be remembered more for the Norris-LaGuardia Anti-Injunction Act than the Tennessee Valley Authority, both of which were his accomplishments; to General Pershing of World War I fame, to, of course, Nebraska's most famous literary figure, Willa Cather, and not to forget the immortal William F. Cody, aka Buffalo Bill. The Supreme Court sits at the end of one of the four corridors, a distinguished chamber featuring inlays and woodwork.

The prudent Plains denizens even anticipated the need for an intermediate court of appeals so built a notable chamber for it across from the Supreme Court's courtroom back when the capitol went up--in the 1920's, although the court itself didn't come about until the 1970s. Until that happened, it was used for legislative hearings.

The legislative chamber is close to the central hall and you will note I said chamber in the singular. There is a 40-member Senate which makes Nebraska the only state with a unicameral legislature. They got rid of the Assembly in 1934, in what was regarded as a progressive move supported by Senator George Norris; one major argument was that the conference committees that resolved differences in bills enacted by the two chambers met and acted secretly. It is surprising to look to the other side of the great hall at the center of the building and see only two small closed doors that denote where the second chamber once met. The Senators, by the way, are elected on a nonpartisan basis.

We stayed over mainly to meet with the Chief Justice and another judge leading the caseflow management effort who had been sitting in Omaha the first day. Our meeting place was a restaurant in an old house, nicely remodeled to serve its current purpose with much memorabilia -- mainly posters and lithographs -- befitting its name, Billy's. That, of course, referred to perhaps the most famous, if non-native, Nebraskan of them all, the three-time Presidential candidate, William Jennings Bryan, the Boy Orator of the Platte.

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