Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Law > 179. Ephraim Kirby

179.  Ephraim Kirby (1757-1804).  Reports of cases adjudged in the Superior Court of Connecticut; with some determinations in the Supreme Court of Errors. Litchfield: Collier & Adam, 1789. Arthur W. Diamond Law Library, Special Collections

This was the first publication of decisions of an American court, the Superior Court of Connecticut. Lawyers and judges faced a dilemma after the thirteen colonies won independence because there was no publication of American reports during the colonial period. Would lawyers continue to base their arguments on English law reports which were not widely available in the new nation? How could decisions of American courts be cited if they were not printed? Connecticut was first to address this problem. The legislature passed and act in 1784 requiring judges to submit written judgments which could be kept on file with the clerk of the court. Filing decisions, however, is not the same as publication for sale or distribution. It was the initiative of Ephraim Kirby, a private citizen who recognized the need and opportunity, who undertook the task of finding interested purchasers to subscribe to a volume of reports. Names of 230 subscribers listed in the back of the volume show that lawyers from Vermont and New York were interested to acquire reports from this court. Nor was it a simple matter for Kirby to assemble these reports. The court was ambulatory, meeting in New London, Hartford, Litchfield, Windham, Fairfield, and New Haven counties. The completed volume covers decisions from 1785 to 1788 and distinguished Kirby as the first reporter of court decisions in the United States.

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