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Help the Man

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Jun 302008

help.jpgWe think Matthew Burton’s essay, “Why I Help the Man, and Why You Should, Too” is perhaps the most important thing anybody’s said about open access to legal information in the last few years. Highly recommended reading, and it fits well with what we’re up to over at CeRI. Those with an ongoing interest in these issues might want to take a look at the Open House Project group in Google Groups, which seems to be a magnet for like-minded transparency hackers.

longgoodbye.jpegThe law isn’t justice. It’s a very imperfect mechanism. If you press exactly the right buttons and are also lucky, justice may show up in the answer. A mechanism is all the law was ever intended to be.

Raymond Chandler (1888–1959). Sewell Endicott, in The Long Goodbye, ch. 8 (1953).

interop.jpgOver the last year or so we’ve been delighted to get to know the folks at ITTIG, the closest thing Italy has to the LII. Like us, ITTIG brings together legal and technical expertise to create legal-information systems that serve the public (unlike us, ITTIG is government-funded).

Yesterday, we were excited to receive a new book by ITTIG’s Enrico Francesconi. Technologies for European Integration describes work in legal-information interoperability growing out of efforts in the EU to bring together the independent bodies of legal information from each of the member states. It’s a great survey of what’s been done in Italy — and a reminder of how much more there is to do in the US.

Congratulations, Enrico.

aclureno.jpegToday marks the anniversary of two important US Supreme Court decisions. Reno v. ACLU (announced on June 26, 1997) is close to our heart, as it was the first major Supreme Court ruling regarding the regulation of materials distributed via the Internet. The case involved the Communications Decency Act, passed by Congress in an attempt to protect minors from explicit internet material by criminalizing the intentional transmission of certain messages and images. The Court ruled that the Act violated the First Amendment because its regulations amounted to a content-based blanket restriction of free speech.

In Lawrence v. Texas (announced five years ago today), the Supreme Court struck down a Texas consensual-sodomy law in alawrencetexas.jpeg prosecution involving two men who were having sex in a private home. The Court ruled that intimate consensual sexual conduct was part of the liberty protected by substantive due process under the Fourteenth Amendment. Lawrence has had the effect of invalidating similar laws throughout the United States that purport to criminalize homosexual activity between consenting adults acting in private.

felixf2.jpegIf one man can be allowed to determine for himself what is law, every man can. That means first chaos, then tyranny. Legal process is an essential part of the democratic process.

Justice Felix Frankfurter, concurring, United States v. Mine Workers.

gimmelmann.jpegJames Grimmelmann’s Copyright, Technology, and Access to the Law: an Opinionated Primer is a first-rate overview of the issues surrounding the recent copyright fracas over the Oregon Statutes. Grimmelmann provides all the relevant background in a well-organized format that should make the issues clear to practically anyone (especially in the open-access community) who is wondering what all the fuss is about. Plus, he says nice things about us. Thanks, James.

miranda.jpegWhen suspects are arrested or detained, they must be informed of their constitutional right against self-incrimination and the right to an attorney. If they are not told of their rights, any information gathered by police during an interrogation is inadmissible in a court of law. See, e.g. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436 (1966). Subsequent lower court cases have ruled that statements given voluntarily are admissible even if Miranda rights were not read before the statement was given.

See also CRS Annotated Constitution: Fifth Amendment: Miranda v. Arizona

gbshaw.jpegThe law is equal before all of us; but we are not all equal before the law. Virtually there is one law for the rich and another for the poor, one law for the cunning and another for the simple, one law for the forceful and another for the feeble, one law for the ignorant and another for the learned, one law for the brave and another for the timid, and within family limits one law for the parent and no law at all for the child.

George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950): The Millionairess (1936), preface, The Bodley Head Bernard Shaw: Collected Plays with their Prefaces, vol. 6, ed. Dan H. Laurence (1973).

publicschools.jpegEight years ago on June 19th, the US Supreme Court announced a landmark decision on one of the most controversial topics in American jurisprudence: school prayer. In Santa Fe v. Doe, the Court ruled that public schools cannot permit student-led, student-initiated prayer at football games without violating the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. The Court concluded that the football game prayers were public speech authorized by a government policy and taking place on government property at government-sponsored school-related events, and that the District’s policy involved both perceived and actual government endorsement of the delivery of prayer at important school events. Such speech is not properly characterized as “private,” wrote Justice Stevens for the majority. In dissent, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, noted the “disturbing” tone of the Court’s opinion that “bristle[d] with hostility to all things religious in public life.”

monopoly-titlethumbnail.jpgA person has “color of title” to a piece of property when, for one reason or another, the document evidencing title (a deed, for example) is invalid.