Category Archives: Legal News

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.”

Supreme Court Decisions Are Not as Final as You Think

A new study from Harvard Law professor Richard J. Lazarus has revealed that the Supreme Court Justices routinely make changes to Court opinions that extend beyond fixing typographical errors and spelling mistakes.  In fact, Lazarus asserts that the Justices “correct mistakes in majority and separate opinions relating to the arguments of the parties, record below, historical facts, relevant statutes and regulations, opinions of their colleagues, and Court precedent.  The Justices also, even more significantly, sometimes change their initial reasoning in support of their legal conclusions.”  This is major news, because while every Supreme Court opinion contains the formal notice that “this opinion is subject to formal revision” when it is first published, the public is generally not aware of this practice.  Even more concerning is the fact that the Justices rarely announce any changes that are made, and according to Lazarus, “deliberately make it hard for anyone to determine when changes are made.”

Exposing the changes
In response to this practice, David Zvenyach, a lawyer and coder, has created a tool that flags and publicizes changes made to Supreme Court opinions after their publication.  When Zvenyach’s code detects a change to slip opinions posted on the Supreme Court’s website it sends a message to the Twitter account @Scotus_servo, which tweets out an alert.  Zvenyach also tweets about any detected change.

You can read more about the clever piece of code that exposes hidden changes to Supreme Court opinions in this Gigaom article as well as read about the ramifications of changing language in Supreme Court opinions in the New York Times article Final Word on U.S. Law Isn’t: Supreme Court Keeps Editing.

Diane Humetewa Confirmed to Federal Judgeship

Congratulations to ASU’s Diane Humetewa on her historic appointment to the U. S. District Court for  Arizona.  The  U. S.  Senate voted unanimously to confirm her yesterday, Wednesday, May 14th!

Collaborative Research for the Digital Age

While there have been significant changes in the realm of legal research (such as the shift from print to digital resources) conducting legal research is still often a solitary endeavor.  Two new websites are trying to change that, however, and have provided platforms designed to make online legal research a collaborative enterprise: Casetext and Mootus.

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Casetext is a “community of lawyers, law professors, and law students helping each other understand the law by annotating key legal documents.”  The website contains a database of over a million cases, statutes, regulations, and contracts which users can add analysis and commentary to, including tags, documents, and links to secondary sources.  The site also allows users to “upvote” commentaries they like as well as post questions which others answer with case law.  Registering and using the site is free.

Mootus

Mootus states that it “helps law students and lawyers build skills, reputation and knowledge…through open, online legal argument.” Registered users can post legal questions on the site, to which other users respond with legal arguments and supporting cases (in the future users will be able to add statutes and regulations).  Users can also vote for cites, indicating whether they think they are “on point” or “off base.”  Registering and using the site is free although there is a fee for use of upgraded features.

The next time you need to brief a case for class or would like some insightful commentary when working on a memo, check these two sites out.

*Hat tip to Robert Ambrogi’s article “Crowd Searching” in the January 2014 issue of the ABA Journal.

Celebrate Constitution Day with the New U.S. Constitution App

The Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, the Library of Congress and the Government Printing Office (GPO) mark Constitution Day today by launching a new app and web publication that make analysis and interpretation of constitutional case law by Library experts accessible for free to anyone with a computer or mobile device.

The new resources, which include analysis of Supreme Court cases through June 26, 2013, will be updated multiple times each year as new court decisions are issued.

Get the App:  The app can be downloaded for free from iTunes. A direct link is here: beta.congress.gov/constitution-annotated. An Android version is under development.

Happy Constitution Day!

SCOTUSblog Interviews with Nina Totenberg

SCOTUSblog has conducted a five-part series of interviews with Nina Totenberg, NPR’s award-winning legal affairs correspondent and Dean of the Supreme Court Press Corps.  The videos are excellent and provide a unique insight in to the Court from someone who has been reporting on it since the 1970’s.  Links to each of the five interviews are provided below.

Part One: Totenberg talks about her background, how her career began, and how she first started covering the Supreme Court.

Part Two: Totenberg addresses how the Supreme Court works and how to convey its subtleties.

Part Three: Totenberg speaks to which actions of the Court are newsworthy and which are not, as well as how to interview a Supreme Court Justice.

Part Four: Totenberg gives her thoughts on the confirmation process and her role in breaking the Anita Hill story.

Part Five: Totenberg provides insight in to understanding the Court amid its jurisprudence and stories.

New Books at the Law Library – Manifest Injustice

Manifest Injustice: The True Story of a Convicted Murderer and the Lawyers Who Fought for His Freedom
By Barry Siegel
Law Treatises KF224.M18 S56 2013

Manifest Injustice, by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Barry Siegel, details the story of Bill Macumber and the efforts of the Arizona Justice Project, led by lawyer Larry Hammond and Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Professor Bob Bartels, on his behalf.   In 1974 Macumber was convicted for a double homicide that occurred in 1962, despite his assertion of innocence, questionable evidence linking Macumber to the crime, and a confession from a violent criminal.  Manifest Injustice artfully reconstructs the past, detailing the chain of events that led to Macumber’s conviction, and chronicles the present-day fight for his release.

You can learn more about the Arizona Justice Project and its work to overturn wrongful convictions in Arizona at www.azjusticeproject.org.

Update:  The Arizona Justice Project is hosting a conversation with Bill Macumber and Berry Siegel, the author of Manifest Injustice, on March 4th at 4:30pm in the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law Great Hall.   Autographed books will be available at the event and a reception will follow at 6pm.  See the event flyer for more details.

Top Legal Blogs

 

The ABA Journal has announced its 6th Annual Blawg 100, in which its lists its 100 favorite law blogs.  Blogs included in the list focus on a variety of legal topics, from just for fun (Lowering the Bar) to criminal justice (Lawyerist).  In between are blogs on specific topics such as IP, labor and employment, and torts, as well as blogs focusing on legal research and writing.

 

In addition to the list of 100 blogs, this year the Journal named ten blogs to its Hall of Fame:

All of the blogs on this annual list are lively and engaging, with authors who are passionate about their chosen subjects.  Take a break from studying to check a few out.

State v. Federal Law – Medical Marijuana

Eighteen states (including Arizona) and the District of Columbia now allow for medical use of marijuana.  The medical marijuana laws of these states are in direct conflict with federal law, however, as the Controlled Substances Act prohibits the cultivation, distribution, and possession of marijuana.  This has created an incongruous situation in which an individual may be using medical marijuana in compliance with state law but is concurrently violating federal law, and thus exposing him or herself to federal prosecution.  While the U.S. Department of Justice stated in a 2009 Memorandum to U.S. Attorneys that federal prosecutors should generally not focus their resources on “individuals whose actions are in clear and unambiguous compliance with existing state laws providing for the medical use of marijuana,” prosecution is still a real possibility.

It is yet to be seen how the federal government will respond to the state laws authorizing and regulating medical marijuana use, but if in the meantime you would like to learn more about the constitutional law issues raised by these laws  you can read through the recent Congressional Research Service report “Medical Marijuana: The Supremacy Clause, Federalism, and the Interplay Between State and Federal Laws.”

To learn more about the Medical Marijuana Program in Arizona check out the Arizona Department of Health Services webpage.