“What’s the use of being Irish if you can’t be stupid?”
Prizefighter Billy Conn after losing to Joe Louis (1941)
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“To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart.”
U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan of New York
Those of Irish descent, including some nearly 600,000 Minnesotans, will celebrate their heritage Friday, March 17, St. Patrick’s Day. Many others of different ethnicity will join them here and around the world.
As 10% of the state’s residents celebrate their heritage this weekend, along with many other non-Irish fellow travelers, they will extol their lineage with libations and, perhaps, an extension of the fair share of litigation they and their kin have bred in Minnesota. Here’s a look at some of the cases affecting the Irish and their heritage here.
The most memorable St. Patrick’s Day case was the ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court in Hurley v. Irish-American Lesbian and Bisexual Group of Boston, 515 U.S. 55(U.S. 1995), which deviated from the reasoning of a prior gender-discrimination case from Minnesota. The high court in Hurley upheld the First Amendment right of the South Boston Allied War Veterans Council to bar gays, lesbians and bisexuals from marching with them in Boston’s traditional St. Patrick’s Day parade, despite Massachusetts state law banning gender-orientated discrimination.
The court stated that forcing the parade to include the marchers would violate “fundamental First Amendment rights” by depriving the organization sponsoring the march of the right to “choose the context of [its] own message.”
The rationale of Hurley departed from the court’s reasoning nearly a decade earlier in a case from Minnesota dealing with a freedom of association claim under the First Amendment. In Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609(1984), the court upheld a ruling of the Minnesota Department of Human Rights that the all-male unit of the Jaycees violated the “public accommodation” provision of the Minnesota Human Rights Act barring discrimination based on gender by excluding women from full voting membership.
Reversing the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, the high court held that the right of women to be free from gender discrimination trumped by any claimed “associational freedoms” of the male members of the organization because of “Minnesota’s compelling interest in eradicating discrimination against its female citizens.” That ruling opened up that organization and similar groups to equal membership for women in Minnesota and elsewhere.
Another Irish-related case arose in St. Paul when a gay man was ejected from a health club after he danced an Irish jig with another man on St. Patrick’s Day in Blanding v. Sports & Health Club, Inc., 373 N.W.2d 784 (Minn. App. 1985).
The case was brought under the St. Paul Human Rights Ordinance ban on discrimination by public facilities based upon affectional preference, before a similar provision was added to the Minnesota Human Rights Act. The claimant was awarded compensatory and punitive damages of $15,000, because his membership in a health club was terminated.
The Court of Appeals affirmed, noting in its decision that the gay member “impulsively did a four- or five-second dance step … [that] would not be considered obscene, perverted, or unlawful to the community at large.” Terminating his membership due to that incident constitutes the “type of discrimination in public accommodations” that is unlawful under the affectional preference provision of the ordinance.
St. Patrick’s Day is notable for automobile-related legal actions stemming from excessive imbibing of spirits on that joyous day. A DUI conviction of a driver leaving a bar in Austin on St. Patrick’s Day was upheld in State v. Bishop, 2005 WL 2128134 (Minn. App. 2005) (unpublished).
The Court of Appeals affirmed a conviction by the Mower County District Court, who held that an officer, who was tipped off by the bartender, observed the driver changing lanes without signaling. That action constituted a “reasonable, articulable suspicion,” to support the investigatory stop that led to the arrest for driving while impaired.
Another DUI conviction was upheld after a car accident on the night of St. Patrick’s Day in State v. Miller, 2000 WL 462366 (Minn. App. 2000) (unpublished). While in custody, the driver was allowed to seek an attorney but was unable to find one in a 15-minute span before be agreed to an alcohol test, which reflected intoxication. A Ramsey County District Court judge refused to suppress the result and convicted him based on stipulated facts.
In affirming, the Court of Appeals did “kindly disregard” the suggestion by the prosecution that counsel was readily available on the evening of St. Patrick’s Day because a group of defense attorneys, anticipating a high volume of alcohol-related arrests, had made arrangements to be available as an on-call “strike force.” While 15 minutes is not “always adequate” time on the totality of facts, there was sufficient time in this case.
A man who crashed a stolen vehicle into a tree in St. Paul on a snowy St. Patrick’s Day was convicted of motor vehicle theft in State v. Perry, 2008 WL 2102472 (Minn. App. 2008) (unpublished). The Court of Appeals upheld the conviction, which occurred after the defendant’s friend recanted the statement that he had been driving and the defendant was a passenger. Substantial evidence supports the St. Patrick’s Day conviction, including lack of footprints in the snow from the passenger’s side, dry floor mats on the passenger side and eyewitnesses who saw only one person in the vehicle.
The liability insurance policy of the owner of a taxi cab covered an accident that occurred while he was privately transporting a couple to a St. Patrick’s Day party in St. Paul Mercury Indemnity Co. v. Knoph, 87 N.W.2d 636 (1958).
The coverage issue turned on whether the driver was using his car as a public or delivery conveyance at the time of the accident. Reversing a ruling by a Hennepin County District Court judge, the Supreme Court held that the driver was not acting as a public conveyance but was “merely rendering a service to an Irishman by taking him to a St. Patrick’s Day party.”
Since it involved “one isolated instance,” the accident did not convert “his car to a public or delivery conveyance.” Therefore, the exclusion was inapplicable and the driver’s own personal insurance applied.
A prosecutor’s plea to curry favor with Irish jurors on St. Patrick’s Day did not warrant reversal of conviction for criminal sexual conduct, terroristic threats, and second-degree assault in State v. Cuellar, 2005 WL 1870008 (Minn. App. 2005) (unpublished).
Convicted in Ramsey County District Court, a Latino defendant claimed prosecutorial misconduct during voir dire because the prosecutor told the jury that she was “a little Irish” and expressing disappointment that only three of the panel members wore green on that special day.
The Court of Appeals rejected the contention that the prosecutor’s remarks constituted an effort “to predispose jurors to be favorable to her.” Looking at “the trial as a whole,” there was no improper attempt by the prosecutor to “ingratiate herself with the panel of members.”
As these cases illustrate St. Patrick’s Day has been the source of several suits in Minnesota. They reflect the triumphs and tragedies that have been a part of the colorful heritage of the Irish in this state and elsewhere.
Minnesota National Heritage Groups
Marshall H. Tanick is an attorney with the Twin Cities Law firm of Meyer Njus Tanick.
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