University of Louisville University Libraries


Digital Collections : Law Library Collection

Law Library Collection

About the Law Library

The Law Library is a major regional resource for legal information, serving the university community, the practicing bar, and the general public. Its primary mission is to support the curriculum and the research needs of the faculty and the students of the University of Louisville Louis D. Brandeis School of Law. However, as part of an historic and distinguished law school whose roots reach deeply into Kentucky legal history, the Law Library has over the years accumulated rich collections of materials of national and state legal publications, many of which date back to the foundation of the American republic. In addition, through the efforts of Louisville native Louis D. Brandeis, the Law Library has been able to acquire Justice Brandeis' papers and books, as well as some of the papers of fellow Kentuckian, Justice John Marshall Harlan.

About the Collection

This digital collection will draw on the varied collections of the Law Library. One component will feature rare volumes from the library's book collection, starting with titles from its collection of early Kentucky law books, but later including rare law books such as the 1575 Salamanca edition of the Las Siete Partidas of Alfonso X. The first titles provided are William Littell's Statutes of Kentucky, which compile all the legal enactments relating to Kentucky from its beginning as a district of Virginia, the Report of the Debates and Proceedings of the Convention for the Revision of the Constitution of the State of Kentucky (1849), a rare transcript of the debates of the convention that drafted Kentucky's third constitution, and the original plates of H. Levin's Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky (1897), including portraits of 104 of the leading legal practitioners and statesmen of nineteenth-century Kentucky.

An upcoming collection will digitize the early class composites of the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, starting with prints from the 1890s.

In the future, the Law Library digital collection will dip into the institution's archival collections, reproducing scrapbooks kept by Malvina Harlan that document the life and times of Justice John Marshall Harlan.

The materials currently included are:

Littell's Statutes of Kentucky

William Littell's Statutes of Kentucky have long been recognized by lawyers as founding documents of state law and by historians of early Kentucky as an indispensible primary source for the understanding of everything from the founding of cities and towns, to the regulation of marriage on the early Western frontier.

Born in New Jersey and raised in Pennsylvania where tradition says he studied theology and medicine, William Littell joined the migration to the Kentucky frontier, presenting himself in 1799 for admission to the Fleming County bar. Littell soon threw himself into the political turmoil of the new commonwealth. A Jeffersonian, his literary skills were enlisted by leading Democratic-Republicans in their struggle with the Federalists over their alleged involvement in the so-called Spanish Conspiracy. In Political Transactions in and Concerning Kentucky (1806), Littell used historical narrative to defend his party's leading figures from the charge of conspiring to align frontier Kentucky with Spain.

Littell's political connections no doubt helped him in 1805 to obtain a contract from the Kentucky legislature to publish a compilation of the state's statutes. In a letter to the Kentucky Gazette published when he was attempting to promote the work on a private subscription basis, Littell set out his political justification for such a publication, noting that "[t]here is no principle more truly republican than that the people who are amenable to the laws should know their import." The idea that the law should be public and readily accessible to those under its rule occurs often in his writings. The finished work, The Statute Law in Kentucky (1809-1819), would eventually run to five volumes. "Littell's Statutes," as it would be known to generations of lawyers, was immediately recognized (even by the author's many critics) to be of the highest quality and it cemented Littell's reputation as a legal scholar.

While compiling this massive work, he took time to write Principles of Law and Equity (1808), the first digest of Kentucky case law. Littell continued his work on Kentucky legislation with Digest of Statute Law (1822) compiled with the help of his protege Jacob Swigert. He also published five volumes of reports along with a single volume of older unpublished decisions. In 1810, Littell's legal scholarship was recognized when Transylvania University, the leading institution of higher learning in the Western frontier, granted him the L.L.D.

Debates of the 1849 Kentucky Constitutional Convention

Kentucky's third constitution, ratified by voters in 1850, still resonates in state constitutional law and is important historically as the first state charter for which complete record of the convention that drafted it was published.

The Constitutional convention of 1849 was far better documented than prior conclaves. Both the journal and the Report of the Debates and Proceedings of the Convention for the Revision of the Constitution of the State of Kentucky (1849), reproduced as part of this collection, were published and distributed throughout the state, making it possible to research the intentions of the framers. The delegates were articulate and leaders in their regions, so their comments during debates are a valuable resource for understanding the concerns of Kentuckians on the brink of the civil war that would change the commonwealth forever.

The driving force behind the 1849 constitutional convention was popular democracy and the reform of county government. The main outlines of Kentucky tripartite government remained, but now all three branches, including the judiciary, were directly elected. Along with its electoral reforms, the 1850 constitution is also notable for a provision later interpreted to expand state protections of civil rights. Concerns that a future governor or legislature would abolish slavery led to the addition of Section 2 to the state Bill of Rights which proclaimed that "absolute and arbitrary power over the lives, liberty and property of freemen exists nowhere in a republic, not even in the largest majority." Ironically this provision, which was carried over to Kentucky's current constitution, has been interpreted by courts as an independent source of equal protection and due process rights under state law.


Robert M. Ireland, The Kentucky State Constitution: A Reference Guide (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 1999).

George Lee Willis, Kentucky Constitutions & Constitutional Conventions : A Hundred and Fifty Years of State Politics and Organic-Law Making, 1784-1933 ([Frankfort, Ky.: The State Journal Company], 1930).

Illustrations from H. Levin's Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky (1897)

Lawyers and Lawmakers of Kentucky is an important biographical source for information about the Kentucky bench and bar in the 19th century. The 777-page encyclopedia attempted to capture the geographical breadth of the state's legal community in 1897 by surveying all of Kentucky's disparate regions. While most of the work consists of detailed biographies, there are also historical sketches of legal institutions and articles on the bench and bar of Kentucky's cities, towns and counties.

Good copies of the original 1897 edition are rare because paper used has a tendency to become brittle. The Southern Historical Press published a xerographically reproduced edition in 1982 that is available in many libraries, but the reprint edition made little attempt to replicate the 88 high-quality illustrations in any detail. This collection attempts to remedy this by digitizing these illustrations. They derive from an unusually well-preserved copy of the 1897 work found in the rare books collection of the University of Louisville Law Library. The images reproduced include engraved portraits of some of Kentucky's leading citizens and most renowned attorneys. In addition, there are group arrangement portraits of the judges of Kentucky's high court, its U.S. congressmen, and of Kentuckians who served on the U.S. Supreme Court.

Conditions of Use

The intellectual content of the law books digitized in this collection may have passed into public domain but the specific digital files are the property of the University of Louisville School of Law and are not to be republished for commercial profit.


In the spring and summer of 2005, the Littell's Statutes of Kentucky set and the 1850 Debates of the Kentucky Constitutional Convention were scanned by the digital preservation division of Heckman Bindery, Inc., as 600 dpi TIFF files, which were then converted to PDF files. Each digital volume was collated against the original by Betsy Law and Kurt Metzmeier and declared complete.

Planning for the law library collection is guided by a team of law librarians that includes Virginia Mattingly, cybrarian, Scott Campbell, head of technical services and curator of the Louis D. Brandeis and John Marshall Harlan collections, and Kurt X. Metzmeier, associate librarian. Kurt X. Metzmeier and Virginia Mattingly, assisted by Rachel I. Howard and Emily Symonds, prepared metadata for Littell's Statutes of Kentucky set and the 1850 Debates of the Kentucky Constitutional Convention, in accordance with the University of Louisville Digital Initiatives data dictionary (PDF). Additional proofreading assistance was provided by Gayla M. Cissell and Jamie LaShawn Izlar. The PDF files were converted to JPEG files using Photoshop version CS2 by Kurt X. Metzmeier, Virginia M. Smith, and Emily R. Symonds, and imported into CONTENTdm version 4.3 as full-text searchable JPEG2000 files of maximum quality by Emily R. Symonds. Tami Sexton edited the pagination of the files.

Terri Holtze designed the HTML pages.

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