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Legal History

A guide to some important dates in legal history.

DECEMBER

2 - EPA Formed

The EPA was established on December 2, 1970, under the administration of Richard Nixon.  The EPA took over responsibilities previously handled by the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Health, Education and Welfare, the Atomic Energy Commission, and two lesser agencies.

The EPA was established due to increased concern about pollution in the late 1960’s.  Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring was a bestseller.  The Cuyahoga River in Ohio caught on fire in 1969.  People demanded action.

The first EPA Administrator was William D. Ruckelshaus.  Under his direction the EPA began issuing rules and regulations within weeks.  Cities were threatened with suits if they did not clean up their drinking water.  DDT was quickly banned.

The EPA is currently responsible for mileage standards, auto emissions, air, soil and water quality, hazardous waste, efficiency standards for appliances, radiation pollution and more.

4 - Founding of the Grange

To unite farmers, Oliver Kelly and six others created the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry on December 4, 1867, soon known as the Grange.  This society was unusual in that it allowed women to become full members from the beginning.  The Grange was a political force that lobbied on behalf of farmers at the state and federal level.  Areas influenced by the Grange included the postal service, interstate shipping, women’s suffrage, and direct election of senators.  The Grange also became an economic force, uniting farmers to create cooperatives and cutting out middlemen.

Due to mismanagement, the Grange’s power substantially decreased in the 1880s; however, its political goals continued through the work of the Greenbacks, the Farmer’s Alliance and the Populists.  The Grange survives today, with 300,000 members.

10 - Human Rights Day

On December 10, 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly. The UDHR’s broad range of political, civil, social, cultural and economic rights are not binding; however, the document has inspired the human rights laws and treaties which constitute an international standard of human rights. The UDHR was created to serve as “a common standard of achievement for all peoples and nations,” and was the first universal document to state that all humans have certain inalienable rights. Human Rights Day was formally observed after the Assembly passed the resolution 423 (V) in 1950, which invited all nations and interested parties to observe December 10th as Human Rights Day.

19 - Clinton Impeached

On December 19, 1998 the House of Representatives approved two articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton, charging him with lying under oath to a federal grand jury and obstructing justice. He was eventually acquitted on both and served his full term.