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Mar 312008

The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently reported some interesting findings from its survey about how people use the internet, libraries, and government agencies when they need help. Here's one: For help with a variety of common problems, more people turn to the internet than consult experts or family members to provide information and resources. Another finding is, perhaps, more of a surprise -- members of Gen Y (age 18-29) are the leading users of libraries for help in solving problems and in more general patronage.

The study (done in partnership with the the University of Illinois -Urbana-Champaign) also found that the vast majority of Americans want and expect information about government programs to be available on the internet. We're doing our part: LII is a partner in Cornell's e-Rulemaking Initiative, a multidisciplinary collaboration to consult with government agencies on the technology and practice of e-rulemaking and related areas of e-government.

The good lawyer is not the man who has an eye to every side and angle of contingency, and qualifies all his qualifications, but who throws himself on your part so heartily, that he can get you out of a scrape.

Ralph Waldo Emerson, From Works of Ralph Waldo Emerson (1883)

lens.gifThe LII's link census seems like an odd place to go to find out what's on people's minds. But there are some interesting tidbits there, especially when you look at links to the US Code. Seems that people are concerned about going bankrupt (Title 11, 2101 links), belonging to the National Guard (10 USC 311, 860 links), and telemarketers who bother them while they're trying to finish blog posts (47 USC 227, 738 links). There are some fascinating questions awaiting a social scientist who wants to work with our data; any takers?

Mar 262008

Because Federal courts only have constitutional authority to resolve actual disputes (see Case or Controversy) legal actions cannot be brought simply on the ground that an individual or group is displeased with a government action or law. Only those with enough direct stake in an action or law have "standing" to challenge it. A decision that a party does not have sufficient stake to sue will commonly be put in terms of the party's lacking "standing". For Supreme Court decisions focusing on the "standing" issue, see, e.g., County of Riverside v. McLaughlin, 500 U.S. 44 (1991), Northeastern Fla. Chapter of the Associated Gen. Contractors v. City of Jacksonville, 508 U.S. 656 (1993) and Lujan v. Defenders of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555 (1992).

supct.jpegOn Wednesday March 26, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in Indiana v. Edwards. Ahmad Edwards, the defendant in the case, stole a pair of shoes from an Indiana department store and then shot at the store security guard who chased after him, wounding the guard and a passer-by. The State of Indiana charged Edwards with theft, criminal recklessness, battery, and attempted murder. After six years of treatment for schizophrenia, an Indiana trial court declared Edwards competent to stand trial, but, when Edwards made a request to represent himself, the judge said that as a diagnosed schizophrenic he was not competent to represent himself. Edwards went to trial with counsel, a jury found him guilty, and he was sentenced to thirty years in prison. Edwards appealed, arguing that the court deprived him of his Sixth Amendment right to represent himself at trial. The Indiana Court of Appeals agreed with Edwards, and the Indiana Supreme Court affirmed the appeals court's decision.

The Supreme Court will now consider whether states may adopt a higher standard for measuring competency to represent oneself at trial than for measuring competency to stand trial. Allowing a trial court to bring a defendant to trial while simultaneously limiting his Sixth Amendment right of self-representation touches on sensitive issues of defendant autonomy and judicial fairness. Yet denying trial courts such discretion may prevent them from making crucial assessments and trial management decisions concerning mentally ill defendants.

The full analysis, including a comprehensive set of links to briefs on both sides of the argument, is here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/07-208.html.

On Tuesday March 25, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Munaf v. Geren (06-1666) and Geren v. Omar (07-394), both appealed from the United States Court of Appeals, D.C. Circuit (2007). The cases present the Supreme Court with another chance to address habeas corpus issues raised by the international war on terrorism. Omar and Munaf, both American citizens, were detained in Iraq by U.S. military forces operating as part of a multi-national military coalition. While still in custody of the U.S. military in Iraq, Omar filed a habeas corpus petition in the D.C. District Court, asking that he either be released or brought to the U.S. for trial. The District Court granted the habeas petition and issued an injunction preventing the U.S. military forces from transferring Omar to Iraqi custody. Munaf, however, was transferred to Iraqi custody, charged, tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by the Central Criminal Court of Iraq. The same D.C. District Court denied Munaf’s petition for a writ of habeas corpus, holding that since he had been convicted in a foreign court, the U.S. federal courts no longer had habeas jurisdiction.

The writ of habeas corpus “has for centuries functioned as the ‘symbol and guardian of individual liberty’” and is used today in a wide variety of detention cases, including those by the executive branch undertaken as part of the war on terror. (Omar v. Harvey, 479 F.3d 1, 5 (D.C. Cir. 2007), citing Peyton v. Rowe, 391 U.S. 54, 58 (1968)). The power of a federal district court to entertain a petition for habeas corpus from an American citizen detained on American soil is firmly established. The question that arises in these cases is whether the same court has the power to hear a habeas petition from American citizens detained in the international war on terrorism by U.S. authorities acting as part of a multi-national force on foreign soil.

The full analysis, including a comprehensive set of links to briefs on both sides of the argument, is here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/06-1666.html

Future lawyers should be more aware that law is not a system of abstract logic, but the web of arrangements, rooted in history but also in hopes, for promoting to a maximum the full use of a nation's resources and talents.

Justice Felix Frankfurter, in an address to the College of the City of New York, September, 30, 1942

A latin phrase for "At first sight." A prima facie case presents enough evidence for the plaintiff to win the case barring any defenses or additional evidence presented by the defendant. See, e.g. Hernandez v. New York, 500 US 352 (1991).

16784F8A-D09F-4C5F-8EBB-320F1EF86218.jpgOK, so this story is pretty much what happens when somebody has to gin a daily blog post up out of nothing. But it's that kind of March day here in Ithaca, New York, the North American seat of His Holiness the Dalai Lama (we are not making that up). Winter has been going on much too long and we're in for snow, rain, sleet, and freezing muck. The students are all off on spring break. Naturally, our thoughts turn to those who are climatically much better off than we are: our users.

Over the past month, we've had a surprising number of visits from people who are not afraid to get sand in their laptops:

50 from Nassau
42 from the Caymans (no, not banking law)
6 from Marbella
1 from Iraklion
1 from Vanuatu

Oh, and 7 from Yellowknife, judicial center of the Northwest Territories, where the average high temperature for March is 11.8 degrees Fahrenheit. See, we feel better already.

Last Monday, March 17th, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments in Rothgery v. Gillespie County, TX (07-440). In this case, the U.S. Supreme Court will clarify when an arrested person’s Sixth Amendment right to counsel attaches. In resolving this issue, the Court must balance the accused person’s liberty interests with law enforcement officials’ interest in retaining effective investigatory techniques. Upholding the decision of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit would maintain a bright-line standard concerning the right to counsel and permit a wide scope of permissible police investigatory tactics. However, this standard could easily be abused and undermine the very rights that the Sixth Amendment was intended to protect. Regardless of outcome, this case will have a profound impact on the efficiency and costs of administering criminal adjudicatory proceedings.

The full analysis, including a comprehensive set of links to briefs on both sides of the argument, is here: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/07-440.html.