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postkennedy.jpegIt is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope.

Robert F. Kennedy, Speech, South Africa, 1966.

Andrew Abbott's The System of Professions was a breath of fresh air when it was first published, and it still is. It's about the sociology of the professions -- a subject that seems a little far afield. But we spend some time thinking about how all this legal information is going to alter the contours of the profession, and Abbott's book is a guidepost -- it talks about the role of information and knowledge in defining professional boundaries, and about the commodification of knowledge. Ever think about why Quicken Willmaker Plus is like an eighteenth-century aspirin? Thought not. Seriously, though -- this one's fundamental if you want to know how all this public information is going to affect the profession.

Financial Institution Fraud (FIF) involves fraud or embezzlement occurring within or against financial institutions that are insured or regulated by the U.S. Government. Financial institutions are threatened by a wide array of frauds, including commercial loan fraud, check fraud, counterfeit negotiable instruments, mortgage fraud, check kiting, false applications, and a variety of traditional and non-traditional FIF scams.

Apr 152008

dctwrlicenseplate.jpgNo doubt every legal blogger in the US is going to say something about the fact that today, April 15, is the annual due date for personal income tax filings in the US (it's also the date on which Wordsworth found his inspiration for I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud, but there's not nearly as much to say about that.)

We like tax law, because it's complicated and geeky. It's also a place where the public frequently comes face to face with the law -- Amazon lists over 68,000 books with the words "income tax" in the title. And it's a longstanding arena for disputes over professional jurisdiction between lawyers and other groups (like accountants, for instance, or financial planners). Those things alone would make tax more than usually interesting. But let's start with the numbers:

  • Title 26, the Internal Revenue Code, is the most structurally complex part of the US Code. It is not the largest in terms of sheer bulk -- that honor goes to Title 42 (Public Health and Welfare). But there are some 2138 sections organized into 656 hierarchically arranged containers (chapters, subtitles, and so on) using a 5-level scheme.
  • It's a busy little devil. Right now we show 757 changes in Title 26 entered into the Classification Tables since Jan. 1 of 2006, with the most recent posted last Friday.
  • Tax-code traffic accounts for about 17% of our traffic for the US Code during the last month, or about 572,000 page views. Curiously, the traffic follows a regular weekly cycle and has not increased much as the filing date approaches.

Popular linking destinations within the tax code include:

  • 26 US 7343 , which defines the term "person" as it's used in describing criminal penalties for tax evasion (thus presumably saying something about who's going to jail...)
  • 26 US 2036, which has to do with estate tax, somehow
  • 26 US 7201, which defines the penalties for tax evasion.

But that's all the really boring stuff. The tax code is...well, it's unique. More than any other chunk of law we can think of, it's created a language of its own. We say things like "it's a Subchapter K", or "we're forming a 501(c)(3)", and people who are not tax lawyers have some idea what they're talking about. It also holds a prominent place in many systems of what we guess you'd call "alternate jurisprudence" -- the beliefs of those who, like militia groups, see something fundamentally different when they look at the way the US is governed. The IRS deals with many such arguments on its page debunking a number of claims by tax protesters; it's one of our favorite pieces of public legal information. Wikipedia strongly distinguishes between tax resisters and tax protesters -- a valid distinction we confess we hadn't thought about, but probably also one of those places where Wikipedians have agreed to disagree. You can find other debunking pages linked from the Wikipedia articles.

All in all, a lot of things to distract you from the fact that you forgot to file that extension....

old_tv.jpgMost of the time, the LII thinks about law on the Internet rather than the law of the Internet. But we often work with our friends at the University Computer Policy and Law Program to sponsor things here at Cornell. They've got a great archive of video material -- including presentations by Dan Solove, Yochai Benkler, William ("Terry") Fisher, John Palfrey, Fred Schneider, and many more. These will be particularly interesting to you if you're trying to explore law-of-the-Internet issues with undergrads or other non-law folks. Highly recommended.

douglass.jpegFind out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue until they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both.

Frederick Douglass, "West Indian Emancipation" (August 4, 1857)

supreme-ct.jpegApril 14th: Plains Commerce Bank v. Long Family Land & Cattle will test the degree to which tribal courts have jurisdiction over non-tribal parties.
Phoenix Bond & Indemnity Co. v. Bridge: The Court's decision in this case will determine whether reliance on a fraudulent mailing is necessary in a civil claim under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act ("RICO") and, if so, whether it must be by the plaintiff.

April 15th: In Irizarry v. United States the Supreme Court will decide whether a district court is required to provide a defendant with notice of its intent to depart from the sentence range established by the US Sentencing Guidelines under certain circumstances.
Greenlaw v. United States: The decision in this case will reflect the Justices' view of the appropriate balance between the interest of the courts in consistently interpreting and applying sentencing statutes, and defendants’ right to appeal without subjecting themselves to a sentence increase.

April 16th: In Kennedy v. Louisiana the Supreme Court will clarify the Eighth Amendment constitutionality of capital child rape statutes.
Taylor v. Sturgell: The decision in this case will clarify the circumstances under which courts' denial of one person's Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) claim prevents a second person from asserting a very similar claim in a later lawsuit.

perrittBack when the Internet was struggling from the primordial ooze of the ARPAnet and shedding its gill flaps on the way to becoming something known as the NREN, Hank Perritt started to think about what that might mean for publishers and other information providers -- particularly legal publishers. The "value chain" he posited twenty years ago is obvious stuff now -- but remember that in those days we were still arguing about whether there should even be commercial use of the Internet (yeah, I know, I'm dating myself here).

So take a look at "Market Structures for Electronic Publishing and Electronic Contracting", in Building Information Infrastructure: Issues in the Development of the National Research and Education Network (Harvard University and McGraw-Hill 1992) . The publication date on the book is 1992, but I remember seeing a draft of this article as early as 1989. Seems like it's out of print and hard to get now (I can't find it in Amazon), but any good academic library will have it, and you can find it on e-Bay.

Hank has done a lot of good stuff since, but this one (also something of an oldie) is a personal favorite of ours -- it says a lot of things about legal information by talking about GIS data. See "Should Local Governments Sell Local Spatial Databases Through State Monopolies?", 35 Jurimetrics Journal 449 (1995).

click.jpegAccording to the Pew Research Center, the number of people using the internet is steadily increasing. Indeed, more adults are online than ever before. Pew's latest survey (April 2006) shows that about 147 million adults -- fully 73% of respondents -- are internet users, up from 66% (about 133 million adults) in their January 2005 survey. And, 42% of Americans now have broadband connections at home (about 84 million people), up from 29% (about 59 million) in January 2005.

prohib-man.jpegAn act which is immoral because it is illegal; not necessarily illegal because it is immoral. See, e.g. United States v. Bajakajian, 524 U.S. 321 (1998).