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Tom Bruce, the LII’s director, and the multidisciplinary team from CeRI (Bruce, Cynthia Farina, Claire Cardie, and Steve Purpura) are giving workshops and presentations at the Digital Government (dg.o) 2008 conference in Montreal this week.Bruce is co-chairing a workshop entitled “e-rulemaking at the crossroads”. The workshop will consist of presentations from a variety of research teams working in the area of electronic rulemaking: public participation in the notice-and-comment process by which Federal regulations are constructed and reviewed. Presentations range from the policy-oriented to the very, very technical — e-rulemaking is a very useful place to do research in advanced language technologies and machine learning. The policy work draws heavily on Bruce and Farina’s service on the ABA Section of Administrative Law’s Special Committee on the Future of e-Rulemaking, for which Farina is reporter.

On Tuesday, Farina and Purpura will each present papers entitled (respectively) “A Study in Text Categorization for e-rulemaking” and “Active Learning for e-Rulemaking”. The former will present research results from work done with rulemakings from the Department of Transportation and the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industrial Security. The latter is a very technical paper comparing the accuracy of different categorization algorithms used to match comments to a taxonomy of issues raised by the regulation. Not, perhaps, the easiest thing to understand, because there’s lots of scary math involved — but a valuable first step toward increased public participation in the regulatory process.

We’re already learning a lot from people at other institutions. Particularly interesting is Peter Muhlberger‘s project at Texas Tech, some work on ontologies from Carnegie Mellon, and a paper on segmenting SEC filings that looks as though it describes useful techniques for getting better metadata out of Federal Court decisions — all of which can lead to new and better services from the LII.

May 192008

plessy.jpegYesterday — May 18th — was the anniversary of Plessy v. Ferguson, the 1896 US Supreme Court case that upheld a Louisiana state law requiring separate railway cars for blacks and whites. The Court found that separate facilities satisfied the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution so long as they were equal. The separate-but-equal doctrine remained good law in the United States until it was finally repudiated by the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Educationdecided 58 years later, on May 17, 1954.

In Brown v. Board of Education, the Court held that state laws that established separate public schools for black and whitebrownvboard2.jpeg students violated the Fourteen Amendment by denying black children equal educational opportunities. The case was a judicial watershed that eventually dismantled the legal basis for racial segregation in schools and other public facilities, and laid the foundation for the civil rights movement.

health-care.jpegTypes of fraud include kickbacks, billing for services not rendered, billing for unnecessary equipment, and billing for services performed by a lesser qualified person. The health care providers who commit these fraud schemes encompass all areas of health care, including hospitals, home health care, ambulance services, doctors, chiropractors, psychiatric hospitals, laboratories, pharmacies, and nursing homes. Violators may be prosecuted under: 18 U.S.C. 1347 Health Care Fraud. See, also, White-collar crime and Health Law.

bolt.jpegThe law is not a “light” for you or any man to see by; the law is not an instrument of any kind. The law is a causeway upon which so long as he keeps to it a citizen may walk safely.

Sir Thomas More in A Man for All Seasons, Act II, p. 92 (1967) by Robert Bolt.

Some of our colleagues think this is a contrarian pose, but honest: The Reader’s Digest Legal Problem Solver is one of the most intriguing legal-information books you can find. Especially noteworthy is its method of organization, which uses dictionary format to combine definitions of hard law words (“promissory estoppel”) with longer articles keyed on terms a naive user would be likely to use. Thus, the article for “neighbor” might discuss nuisance, boundary disputes, rights of way, and so on. An interesting way of steering the naive user’s preoccupation with fact patterns toward legal concepts and definitions — genuinely novel and useful. Alas, it’s out of print, but you can find lots of used copies.

money.jpegTo start a business it takes 19 separate procedures in Belarus
in the United States — 6
in Australia — 2
To enforce a contract it takes 62 separate procedures in Burundi
in the United States — 32
in Austria — 26

Free legal information for anybody.

May 132008

nino Of course, it is term-paper season, but it seems as though the biggest reason people look at the LII’s Supreme Court collection is an interest in the Justices themselves. Those coming to the site by way of a search on “supreme court justices” or something similar accounted for around 15,000 of the 367,540 visits to the collection last month. They spend roughly twice the average amount of time on the site, too. Unsurprisingly, the next-largest cluster of searches we can identify involves Roe v. Wade.

As far as individual Justices go, Sandra Day O’Connor is the most-searched-for, with Clarence Thomas a distant second. Ruth Bader Ginsburg is in third place. Interestingly, searchers typically type out Justice O’Connor’s name in full (“Sandra Day O’Connor”), but favor a terse, lower-case approach to Scalia (“scalia”). Only one of the 367,540 searched for “nino”.

bloodhoundGoogle Analytics gives us an awful lot of information about the use of our site (we sometimes wish we were a little better at figuring out what the data actually means, but we’re learning). Here are the top ten search terms that lead people to our WEX legal encyclopedia:

  • first amendment
  • bankruptcy
  • death penalty
  • pollution
  • emancipation
  • welfare
  • civil rights
  • equal protection
  • labor laws
  • child custody

We hesitate to draw any larger conclusions from this…but it’s certainly true that emancipation laws (which specify the age at which children may declare themselves independent of their parents) figure in a lot of the e-mail that we get.

May 102008

fed-regs.jpegBetween 1996 and 1998
15,286 new federal regulations went into effect.
222 of these had an annual effect on the economy of
$100 million — each.

The LII has access to them all.

kleenex A surprising number of cases in the LII’s Supreme Court collection are asked for by name — that is, as the end-point of a search for the names of the parties. The top five brand-name cases are:

This ordering probably isn’t strictly accurate — people find an astonishing number of ways to search for a particular case, and there are nearly as many searches for “Gore vs. Bush” as there are for “Bush v. Gore”. No surprises in the rankings, really, though we might have expected Brown v. Board to place higher (it comes in sixth), and Roper v. Simmons ranks higher than we might have predicted — though the juvenile death penalty is probably a fairly compelling topic for school reports.