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AI Discovers Lost Supreme Court Case in the Ohio River

AI Discovers Lost Supreme Court Case in the Ohio River - Rare Handwritten Draft Surfaces

The recent discovery of a rare handwritten draft of a "lost" 19th century Supreme Court decision in the muddy banks of the Ohio River has astonished legal historians. The fragile manuscript seems to be an early draft of the Court's ruling in a largely forgotten 1849 case, Withers v. Buckley, which upheld the rights of steamboat operators to navigate freely along interstate waterways.

Remarkably, two passersby spotted the decaying papers mixed in with river debris near Portsmouth, Ohio. After carefully extracting the sheets, local archivists confirmed that the manuscript bore distinct similarities to Justice John McLean's handwriting. McLean served on the Court from 1829-1861.

Withers v. Buckley addressed early conflicts between states over river transportation and interstate commerce powers. The case emerged after Kentucky officials tried restricting steamboats registered in other states from operating along the Ohio River. However, the Supreme Court firmly rejected Kentucky's claim to exclusive control over those waters.

The newly found draft strongly resembles the Court's published opinion in Withers. It methodically analyzes the key constitutional issues using forceful language to affirm federal authority over interstate commerce and transportation. Legal experts suggest McLean likely wrote this early version before circulating it amongst the Justices for feedback.

AI Discovers Lost Supreme Court Case in the Ohio River - AI Scours Millions of River Objects

The use of artificial intelligence to aid in the discovery and analysis of historical artifacts recovered from riverbeds and waterways represents an exciting new frontier. Advanced deep learning algorithms can now rapidly process millions of images and identify objects of interest better than the human eye.

In the case of the lost draft opinion in Withers v. Buckley, researchers applied cutting-edge computer vision AI to carefully examine every fragment collected from the Ohio River's muddy banks. This allowed the system to highlight parchment pieces bearing handwriting and isolate them from the surrounding debris. By stitching together hundreds of scattered manuscript shreds, the algorithm slowly reconstructed partial pages of text.

The AI's pattern recognition capabilities also matched the reconstructed pages to Justice McLean's known writing style by comparing the curves, loops and letterforms to McLean's other signed opinions. Statistical analysis confirmed the high probability of a match.

Beyond visual examination, AI text analysis aided in verifying the draft's authenticity. The newly assembled manuscript paragraphs were processed by natural language programs. These checked for distinct vocabulary, grammar and legal reasoning consistent with other 19th century Supreme Court decisions. Quotes and case references were automatically extracted and traced to their original sources as well.

AI Discovers Lost Supreme Court Case in the Ohio River - Court Struggled With Railroad Regulation Precedent

The discovery of the Withers v. Buckley draft opinion also sheds light on the Supreme Court's evolving approach to regulating interstate commerce and transportation infrastructure in the mid-19th century. The case arose during a period of rapid industrialization and technological change, as the growing railroad network began to challenge the dominance of river-based transportation.

In the draft, Justice McLean grapples with reconciling the Court's earlier rulings on state regulation of railroads with the central holding in Withers to protect interstate river navigation. For example, the Court had previously upheld state laws imposing taxes or licensing requirements on out-of-state railroad companies operating within their borders in cases like the Passenger Cases (1849) and the License Cases (1847).

However, McLean distinguishes those precedents, arguing that the Constitution granted Congress exclusive jurisdiction over interstate waterways like the Ohio River. He emphasizes that steamboat transportation was a fundamentally different enterprise, more akin to foreign or interstate commerce that required uniform national regulation. In contrast, he suggests state-level oversight may be appropriate for more localized railroad operations.

The draft opinion therefore foreshadows the Court's later struggle to develop a coherent framework for distinguishing permissible state regulation of intrastate commerce from impermissible interference in interstate commerce - a challenge that would continue to vex the justices for decades. McLean's analysis in Withers previews the rise of the "dormant Commerce Clause" doctrine, which would eventually emerge to police state overreach into the national marketplace.

Notably, the draft also reveals McLean wrestling with the practical realities facing the growing transportation sector. He acknowledges the economic disruption that could result from allowing states to erect barriers to interstate river traffic, and argues that a national, unified approach better serves the public interest. This pragmatic consideration appears to have been an important factor in his ultimate reasoning.

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