Category Archives: Legal News

SCOTUS Oral Arguments Audio to Go Live for the First Time in the History of the Court

For the first time in history, people outside the U.S. Supreme Court’s walls will be able to hear oral arguments as they happen. SCOTUS will be livestreaming ten arguments over the next two weeks. The live audio will begin at 7:00 a.m. Arizona time on Monday, May 4th on C-SPAN and other networks. C-SPAN is making the oral arguments available live on its main network as well as on the C-SPAN Radio app, its radio station, and on its website.

Historically SCOTUS has not had cameras in the courtroom or same-day audio. Oral arguments have been open only to the public but with very limited seating. Since the court is closed to the public right now due to the coronavirus, we will have, for the first time in the 231 year history of the court, the opportunity to witness the oral arguments as they happen.

To learn more about the Supreme Court, please consult the Law Library’s Supreme Court LibGuide.

Annotations: SCOTUS and Law Librarians Cherish These Research Tools

“Terrorism” has many legal definitions, with Black’s Law Dictionary defining no less than a dozen terms including the word. But when the State of Georgia tried to stretch the meaning and label free distribution of state law annotations as an element of a “strategy of terrorism,” the Supreme Court snapped it back.

The contentious, 5-4 victory for a nonprofit seeking to provide free access to Georgia’s state code prevents the pay service LexisNexis from claiming exclusive rights to distribution of the statutes and their Lexis-produced annotations. Lexis had agreed to limit the price of the annotated Georgia code and freely distribute the code without annotations in exchange for exclusive copyright. Even the state’s governmental websites direct users to Lexis’ 2020 Georgia statutes. Although the public may find current print statutes in libraries and older versions online, until the recent holding that statutes as well as annotations are not-copyrighted as “government edicts,” Lexis had been able to restrict access to the current, annotated Georgia Code.

By contrast, although Arizona’s Legislature has agreed to credit West’s Arizona Revised Statutes Annotated as the official state code, the current statutes are freely available online without channeling through a publisher’s website. Current and superseded versions of the statutory code are available in print in the Ross-Blakley Law Library.

As for Georgia, the Supreme Court, through Chief Justice John Roberts, held that officials who create law, such as legislators in this case, and judges in previous decisions, may not copyright legal materials they produce in line with their duties. When a nonprofit posted the annotated statutes online, Georgia sued. After the state saw its district court victory overturned in the circuit court, the Supreme Court crushed the state’s copyright claims by reasoning that legislators cannot be the “authors” of official works. This official distinction extends to annotations in legislative works just as it does to headnotes in judicial works. If the law can presume, as it does, that everyone has a duty to know the law, the Court reasoned, decisions that exclude the entirety of legal works are necessary to preserve important legal principles. Copyright barriers to annotations might keep important information from people, such as whether provisions are unenforceable, and might empower states to monetize their codes at the expense of legal integrity.

In dissent, Justice Thomas emphasized that annotations do not necessarily represent the will of the people, and that it should be a legislative and not judicial decision as to whether to copyright them. He worried that lack of copyright protection might discourage states from investing in annotations. Justice Ginsburg, furthermore, dissents on the grounds that annotations are not official lawmaking duties, merely summarize nonbinding commentary, and are mere conveniences—“they aid the legal researcher” but being included alongside noncopyrightable statutes “does not alter their auxiliary, nonlegislative character.”

Here at the Ross-Blakley Law Library, we have a strong appreciation for how much annotations, commentaries, and summaries of cases can “aid the legal researcher.” Whether or not they are subject to copyright and free to all, secondary materials make research more efficient and thorough. As Chief Justice Roberts’ controlling opinion indicates, they quickly provide valuable information that readers of plain case law or statutory text would likely overlook. Regardless of their stance on whether copyright applies, all three opinions underscore the importance of annotations. If you’d like to know more about how to use them to improve your legal research, Meet with a Librarian! We’ll be happy to chat over Zoom or email.

Andrea Gass, Reference Librarian

Celebrate Constitution Day with the New Constitution Annotated

Constitution Day commemorates the formation and signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787.  To celebrate this year’s Constitution Day, the Law Library of Congress is launching the new online Constitution Annotated. Prepared by the American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service, it provides a comprehensive overview of how the Constitution has been interpreted over time. The website brings the Constitution Annotated into the 21st century with Boolean search capabilities, case law links, browse navigation and related resources. The new Constitution Annotated is not only a historical record but also an analysis of current constitutional understandings.

The new website is a great example of the Library’s mission to put users first, says Carla Haden, Librarian of Congress. It maximizes public access to the Constitution Annotated and, through it, to the Library’s expansive collections: now people across the country can access and use the same resources that are available to Members of Congress.

Happy Constitution Day!

Image result for constitution

 

Prodigious Honor for Ross-Blakley Law Library Director

Dean Victoria Trotta is the 2018 recipient of the American Association of Law Libraries Marian Gould Gallagher Distinguished Service Award. The Distinguished Service Award was established in 1984 to recognize exemplary service to the Association. The Award is given in recognition of a career of outstanding, extended, and sustained service to law librarianship and to AALL. This award is the Association’s highest honor.  We are so happy for Tory and her well-deserved accolade. Tory Award Slide

Big Week at the Supreme Court

 

Quite a few significant Supreme Court opinions were announced this week, including two of the biggest cases from this term: same-sex marriage and Obamacare.

Read on for more information on each case from this week and links to the Court’s opinion.

 

 

Same-sex marriage – Obergefell v. Hodges
Issues:
1) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to license a marriage between two people of the same sex?
2) Does the Fourteenth Amendment require a state to recognize a marriage between two people of the same sex when their marriage was lawfully licensed and performed out-of-state?

Holding:
The Court ruled that states cannot ban same-sex marriage, and concluded the majority opinion with the following paragraph:

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

Obamacare – King v. Burwell
Issue:
Whether the Internal Revenue Service may permissibly promulgate regulations to extend tax-credit subsidies to coverage purchased through exchanges established by the federal government under Section 1321 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Holding:
The Court held that the tax credits are available to individuals living in states with their own health care exchanges as well as individuals living in the 34 states that have a federal exchange.

Other cases from this week

  • City of Los Angeles v. Patel
    Constitutionality of a Los Angeles Municipal Code ordinance which requires hotel operators to keep specific information about guests for 90 days and make it available to LAPD officers on demand.
  • Kingsley v. Hendrickson
    Whether proving an excessive force claim requires a pretrial detainee to show that officers are subjectively aware that their use of force was unreasonable.

For full coverage of these decisions and others, check out these websites:

SCOTUSblog
The SCOTUSblog covers all aspects of the Supreme Court and provides both commentary and resources related to the Court including opinions, briefs, select petitions for certiorari, and news coverage of every merits case before the Court.

Oyez
This website offers a variety of resources devoted to the Supreme Court including opinions, recordings of oral arguments, information about the individual justices, and more.

Free ABA Membership for Law Students

ABA law student divisionThe American Bar Association announced on Monday that it now provides free membership to law students attending ABA-approved schools.  The benefits of ABA membership are numerous and include access to ABA publications, the ABA Job Board, continuing legal education (CLE) courses, and member discounts.  To join, enroll online at http://www.americanbar.org/abalawstudents or call the ABA Service Center at 800-285-2221.

HeinOnline On the Go

Hein app

A new app is available for HeinOnline!  The app allows you to view the database’s image-based PDFs, access content by citation, browse by volume, navigate a volume with the electronic table of contents, and use full advanced searching techniques on an iPhone or iPad.  The app can be downloaded from iTunes. HeinOnline has also created a User’s Guide to maximize your use of the app.

Note on access:  ASU utilizes IP authentication for students, faculty, and staff access to HeinOnline, so in order to IP authenticate using this app, you must be on campus. After you IP authenticate via the app on campus, the authentication will be good for 30 days.  After 30 days you will need to once again authenticate on campus.

Halloween Lawsuits: Scary Stuff

Costumes gone awry, haunted houses, and mean-spirited decorations – oh my!  Have care while celebrating Halloween this week, because as these cases show, Halloween is fertile ground for lawsuits:

Mary and Her (flaming) Little Lamb
Susan and Frank Ferlito attended a Halloween party dressed as Mary and Her Little Lamb.  Frank’s lamb costume consisted of hundreds of Johnson & Johnson cotton balls glued to a set of long underwear.  While at the party, Frank tried to light a cigarette using a butane lighter and set his costume aflame, causing significant burn injuries.

Frank sued. A jury found in favor of Frank, but the District Court held that Johnson & Johnson’s failure to label their cotton balls as flammable was not a proximate cause of Frank’s injuries, that the injuries were not foreseeable, and that the jury’s verdict was against the clear weight of the evidence.  The court concluded, “Plaintiffs…failed to demonstrate the foreseeability of an adult male encapsulating himself from head to toe in cotton batting and then lighting up a cigarette.”  The Sixth Circuit Court of appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling.

Haunted, as a matter of law
Jeffrey Stambovsky bought a lovely Victorian home in the Village of Nyack, New York, only to find out (much to his horror) that the house was widely reputed to be haunted.  In fact, the seller had reported seeing ghosts in the home in both a national publication (Readers’ Digest) and the local press.  Jeffrey sought to rescind his purchase contract and collect damages.  The New York Supreme Court, Appellate Division, agreed that Jeffrey should be able to rescind the contract and held that as to the purported ghosts haunting the home, the seller “is estopped to deny their existence and, as a matter of law, the house is haunted.”

Dead Neighbors
A neighborhood feud over a 38-foot RV led Jeffrey and Vicki Purtell to display a series of tombstones in their yard, each of which chronicled the demise of one of the neighbors involved in the feud.  One tombstone read: “Bette wasn’t ready, but here she lies, ever since that night she died, 12 feet deep in this trench… Still wasn’t deep enough, for that wenches stench!” The Purtell’s lawsuit in this case was brought against the unlucky police officer who was dispatched to mediate the dispute and sued for his efforts, accused of violating the Purtell’s First and Fourth Amendment rights.

Judges are Movie Lovers Too

The Justices of the Texas Supreme Court must be movie lovers.  In the recent Kinney V. Barnes opinion, Justice Lehrmann quotes Walter Sobchak, a character in the cult favorite The Big Lebowski. Lehrmann states that “The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution is similarly suspicious of prior restraints,” and goes on to point out that “This cornerstone of First Amendment protections has been reaffirmed time and again by the Supreme Court, this Court, Texas courts of appeals, legal treatises, and even popular culture.”  The popular culture reference is to Walter’s statement in the 1998 film: “For your information, the Supreme Court has roundly rejected prior restraint…This affects all of us, man! Our basic freedoms!”

 

A 2008 Texas Supreme Court concurring opinion also cites a well-known movie character: Star Trek’s Mr. Spock.  In this case, Justice Willett joined by Justice Lehrmann, writes that “Appropriately weighty principles guide our course. First, we recognize that police power draws from the credo that ‘the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.’ Second, while this maxim rings utilitarian and Dickensian (not to mention Vulcan), it is cabined by something contrarian and Texan: distrust of intrusive government and a belief that police power is justified only by urgency, not expediency.”  The footnote for this statement references Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, in which Spock tells Admiral Kirk “Don’t grieve, Admiral. It is logical. The needs of the many outweigh . . .” to which Kirk replies, “the needs of the few.”

For your reading pleasure, we rounded up a few other court opinions and orders that quote movies:

Noble v. Bradford Marine, Inc. (1992)
This 1992 decision from the Federal District Court for the Southern District of Florida contains multiple references to the movie Wayne’s World, including sections labeled “Hurling Chunks” and “A Schwing and a Miss.”  In addition, the decision holds that the defendants’ “most bogus” attempt at removal is “not worthy” and “way improvident.”  The District Court concludes that the defendant must “party on” in state court and remands the case.

Factac v. King (2006)
This 2006 order from the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Texas dismisses the defendant’s motion based on “incomprehensibility” and cites a scene from the movie Billy Madison in support: “Mr. Madison, what you’ve just said is one of the most insanely idiotic things I have ever heard. At no point in your rambling, incoherent response were you even close to anything that could be considered a rational thought. Everyone in this room is now dumber for having listened to it. I award you no points, and may God have mercy on your soul.”