Checks and balances

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Kim Mackey

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Kim Mackey
Hugo Grotius leaned back against the wall of the sauna, a towel between his shoulders and the hot pine. Most of the residents of the Republic of Essen liked to take their saunas at the end of the day, but Grotius enjoyed his in the morning before going to work.

The arrival of Grantville in 17th century Germany had fostered a vigorous revival in both sweat bathing and water bathing. In the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries doctors had proposed new theories about disease transmission that suggested infections could easily enter through the pores of the body when steam or hot water dilated them. With the spread of syphilis from America and the desire to fight disease and prevent its spread, opinion about baths had become more hostile and many had been closed. This trend began to reverse itself as up-time ideas about hygiene and bacteria began to spread through Europe.

The mania for saunas in the Republic of Essen had started in the fall of 1633 when workers in the small chemical distillation plants and percussion cap factories were required to take daily saunas to help purge the body of mercury. Without adequate diagnostic equipment, the body burden of mercury could not be determined and a person with mercury poisoning would have to develop symptoms before it was obvious that there was a problem. So, as a preventative measure to go along with linen gloves and masks, as well as crank-operated fans to ventilate workspaces, daily after-work saunas had been mandated. Finding the saunas and cold water baths soothing and invigorating, the practice soon spread throughout the Republic. Within months every inn that could afford them had separate saunas and cold water baths for men and women. Even a few mixed gender saunas were reported although the more conservative members of the heavily Protestant Republic were properly scandalized. New houses being constructed by Dutch refugees and wealthy merchant immigrants were even building their saunas before they began work on the houses themselves.

Hugo left the sauna and splashed and rubbed cold water over himself before vigorously rubbing his body with his towel. He then dressed and left the sauna at the Inn of the White Queen, tipping the attendant on the way out.

Time to finish that opinion, he thought. The verdict on case 23 would be read this afternoon and he was almost finished.

Hugo Grotius, Chief Justice of the Republic of Essen’s Supreme Court, entered the Supreme Court building on the outskirts of Essen at precisely eight o’clock in the morning. It was going to be a wonderfully sunny day.
In January of 1634, Louis de Geer, newly elected Governor-General of the Republic of Essen, had nominated Hugo Grotius to be the Republic’s first Chief Justice of its Supreme Court. Despite opposition from Counter-Remonstrants in the Senate, his nomination had breezed through. Grotius had decided to take the position only after discovering that not only would his salary be triple what he was getting as a diplomatic envoy for Gustavus Adolphus, but Louis de Geer would also provide him with a small house for himself and his family. In addition, De Geer had written, if he arrived before April, De Geer would sell him sixty acres near Bochum for a guilder an acre. Land, he was told, that might soon be worth much more because of the coal fields underlying it.

It was a major change in lifestyle from less than two years before.

In the winter of 1631 Hugo Grotius, who would become known in the up-time universe as the father and founder of International Law, had returned to Holland from exile in France. He had hoped to be allowed to stay permanently and depended on his friends and the Arminian towns to arrange things. But the hard-core Counter-Remonstrant cities of Haarlem, Leiden and Gouda rallied the small towns, including the zealous strongholds of Edam, Schoonhoven, and Enkhuizen. The Arminians had been defeated in the States by twelve votes to seven and once again Grotius had been forced into a near penniless exile, this time in Hamburg. Before leaving he had begged his friend and burgomaster of Rotterdam, Gerard von Berkel, to find a patron for his protégé, Dirck Graswinckel, the young jurist who had helped him complete his famous work De Jure Belli ac Pacis, The Law of War and Peace, in the summer of 1623 at Senlis near Paris. Von Berkel had talked to Louis De Geer and De Geer had taken Graswinckel with him to Grantville.

Graswinckel had impressed both Louis de Geer and De Geer’s brother-in-law, Steven Gerard, with his pleasant nature, sharp wit, and knowledge of the law. He had assisted Gerard in negotiating a land grant of portions of County Mark and County Kleve from Elector Georg Wilhelm of Brandenburg in exchange for Louis de Geer assuming the payment of interest on a 248,000 guilder, seven percent interest loan made to the Elector of Brandenburg by the Amsterdam Admiralty in 1616. Graswinckel had also helped negotiate mining concessions for De Geer in the New World with both the English and French governments. When it came time for the new Governor-General to nominate a Chief Supreme Court Justice, he turned to his, by then, highly trusted legal confidante.

Naturally, Dirck Graswinckel returned the long ago favor and suggested Hugo Grotius.

Louis de Geer had at first been skeptical, remembering the strife caused by Grotius when he had been one of the principal supporters of Oldenbarnevelt in the States of Holland. Graswinckel was convincing, however, and, after initial rumblings, Grotius had had little difficulty being confirmed.

For the sixth time Hugo Grotius read over the majority opinion he had written for case 23. He enjoyed reading his own writing, especially when he wrote well and the case was significant, as this one was. But it had taken a lot of trust on the Governor-General’s part to let the Supreme Court handle the issue.

In November of 1633, the constitutional convention for the Republic of Essen had been a time-compressed organized chaos of only ten days. Under intense pressure from Louis de Geer, compromise solutions to problems had flown back and forth between the various constituencies. One major sticking point had been the franchise.

Despite the example set by Grantville and the United States, many delegates resisted giving women the franchise. In a last-minute compromise suggested and pushed through by Louis de Geer and the Committees of Correspondence, the franchise for women was to be phased in over the first four legislative elections. Since elections for the Senate were every three years, this translated to twelve years before women would have complete and total franchise rights.

In the rush to finish the constitution before the self-imposed deadline, however, one small piece of wording had been overlooked.

That wording became apparent when Colette Modi, niece of Louis de Geer, and two other young women backed by the Committees of Correspondence, were elected to the Senate. The constitution was quickly checked and it was discovered that in the section dealing with candidates, the word “person” was used and not the word “man”.

In the first legislative session in January and February of 1634, the Senators were still feeling out the borders of the power structure and getting used to their new positions. But by the second forty-five day session in July of 1634, with the Republic’s survival assured by the destruction of the Catholic Rhine Alliance’s army at the Battle of Wanheim Creek, the Senators were ready to deal with the franchise issue.

By the slim margin of 68 to 30 (a two-thirds vote being required to pass any law), with two abstentions, the Senate passed Senate bill 15 whereby women Senators could not serve until such time as they had complete franchise rights. When Hugo Grotius heard that Louis de Geer was preparing to veto the legislation, he hurried to the Governor-General’s office.

Louis de Geer had looked at his Chief Justice with astonishment.

“You want me to let the bill become law by not signing it? Are you mad? It’s blatantly unconstitutional!”

Hugo Grotius smiled. “Naturally. That is why you should let it become law. Then the Supreme Court can rule it unconstitutional and establish its power. Checks and balances Louis, checks and balances. Until the Supreme Court rules on a major controversy, it’s just, what do the Americans call it? A paper lion.”

Louis de Geer laughed. “Tiger, paper tiger, not lion.”

De Geer rubbed his chin. “Are you sure the other justices will go along? I really don’t want to take any chances. My niece will be extremely unhappy with me if the Court does not overturn the law, not to mention the Committees of Correspondence will feel like they’ve been stabbed in the back.”

Grotius smiled. “Trust me Louis. Haghen, Greig and Tornow are strict constructionists. The constitution says “person” and that means both men and women. Only Samuel Baudertius is enough of a misogynist to vote against. It will be, what is that other American phrase? A slam punk.”

Again De Geer laughed. “You really do have to brush up on American colloquialisms Hugo. Slam dunk, not punk.”

De Geer nodded. “All right, I’ll do what you ask.” He wagged his finger at Grotius. “Don’t let me down.”
“All rise for the Supreme Court of the Republic of Essen!”

The five black-robed men filed into the court room and took their seats on the elevated dais. The audience seated themselves after the justices did and soon there was barely a whisper in the nearly full courtroom.

The bailiff cleared his throat. “In case number 23, Plaintiffs Colette Modi, Bridgette Wasserman and Giselle Wauchope versus the Republic of Essen, Chief Justice Hugo Grotius will address the audience before the decision is announced.”

Hugo Grotius stood and looked around the audience. His wife Maria and their five children were in the front row. He had, naturally, discussed the case with his wife in general terms. He owed the woman so much for sticking by him and trying to help during the long depressing years of exile in France and Hamburg. Not to mention her assistance in his escape from the fortress of Loevestein in 1621 in a trunk supposed to be full of his books.

This is for you, my darling, he thought. You and Cornelia and little Maria, and all the other strong and glorious women of the world.

“Grantville,” said Hugo Grotius. “By now there are very few people in Europe who do not understand or place meaning upon that simple word. For many Grantville represents a miracle. To others it means an explosion of information that will satisfy all the material wants and needs of the people. But the information that comes to us from Grantville is not just of the physical, but of the spiritual as well.”

“We know now, without a doubt, that Protestants and Catholics and Jews can live in harmony, without strife or rancor. We know too, beyond a doubt, that women are the equal of men. They are just as intelligent, just as politically astute and oftentimes just as courageous in the face of adversity as men.” He smiled at Maria, who smiled back.

“But many in Europe do not believe it. In many nations across this continent women are denied the right to attend universities. In hundreds of towns and villages fathers can enter the houses of their married daughters and beat them, and if the husband attempts to interfere, it is he who is fined, not the father. In some places women are even denied the right to wear underpants because they are deemed to be clothing suitable for men only!”

Hugo Grotius stopped and took a deep breath. “I say to you now, women are indeed the equal of men. We will march into the future as full partners, side by side, hand in hand. In this place, in this Republic, I make that pledge now, to my wife, to my daughters, to all women.”

Grotius turned to the bailiff. “Bailiff, read the decision please.”

The bailiff cleared his throat. “In case number 23, Colette Modi, Bridgette Wasserman and Giselle Wauchope versus the Republic of Essen, the Supreme Court of the Republic of Essen, by a vote of 4 to 1, finds in favor of the plaintiffs. Senate law 15 is hereby declared to be unconstitutional and is therefore null and void.”

The crowd exploded into cheers.

Aferwards, talking to Bridgette Wasserman and Giselle Wauchope, the women playfully invited him to a mixed gender sauna party. Hugo Grotius hesitated, then politely declined as he saw his wife approach.

When he told Maria about the invitation she arched an eyebrow at him. “Mixed gender sauna party? I think not!”

She grinned mischievously. “Not unless it is with your long-suffering and much disparaged wife that is!”

Rolling his eyes, Hugo Grotius took the arm of his wife. They exited the courtroom to enjoy a walk in the afternoon sunlight.

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