An Unintended Activist: Judge Ronald N. Davies and the Influence of the Northern Plains on Twentieth-Century Civil Rights and Judicial Progressivism
Reikowsky, Stacy Michelle
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A devotion to an open and progressive interpretation of human rights and the law secured Judge Ronald N. Davies’ legacy as an unintended, yet influential activist for advancing civil rights and of the twentieth century. His views helped change the definition and meaning of judicial activism in the modern vernacular and transform it into a new notion of judicial progressivism. A biography of Davies crystallizes the meaning of the racial and civil relations across an evolving American landscape. A study of his life alters the way in which scholars and the public perceive and understand the role of the Northern Plain in shaping lasting changes in America’s progressive movements through an interdisciplinary approach of history and law. When Davies of Fargo, North Dakota, rose to the bench of the United States District Court, he ceased any formal political party affiliation and became a Constitutionalist. With an egalitarian approach to the law, he oversaw numerous court proceedings and handed down rulings with measured consideration for any case that appeared on his docket. As his federal appointment came to include cases involving the desegregation of public schools, civil lawsuits against large-scale corporations, and the Alcatraz Indian Occupation, Davies’ sphere of influence exceeded regional and Civil Rights Era boundaries and characterized him as national figure in new facets of legal precedent. His rulings challenged traditional ethics as dictated by society’s majority-consent in the law and cast him as a seminal figure that embodied the meaning and influence of the northern plains within the law and advancing civil rights and social justice in the United States. His efforts to uphold a more inclusive and equal legal standard set into motion renewed consideration of the ways in which an individual’s actions within a broader institution can stimulate a modern national consensus despite entrenched historical precedent. Therefore, Davies’ life and career reflect a historical sensibility of the role, application, and influence of law-based code of ethics. His decisions, though not intended as overt civil activism, instilled lasting social, cultural, and political change in twentieth-century civil rights.