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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.

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.

Jun 182008

getlegalhome.png The LII has agreed to partner with GetLegal.com on a series of projects that will provide legal information to the public and also offer free legal research materials for both the public and legal professionals. The partnership allows content to flow both ways between LII and GetLegal.com. GetLegal.com and the LII will share each other’s currently existing content and develop new content in both English and Spanish. We will also provide Spanish translations of selected portions of the U.S. Code and other important primary source materials.

GetLegal.com will provide online interactive resources for the public and the legal community when it launches this summer. Other GetLegal sites will include GetLegalTV.com, an online video site with legal news, information and entertainment; GetLegalCafe.com, a social networking site with a legal twist; TheAttorneyStore.com, a one-stop shop for the legal community; and USALegalOpinion.com, a gateway for the public to connect with attorneys about legal issues. We're looking forward to the collaboration.

vaclavhavel.jpegThe law is only one of several imperfect and more or less external ways of defending what is better in life against what is worse. By itself, the law can never create anything better.... Establishing respect for the law does not automatically ensure a better life for that, after all, is a job for people and not for laws and institutions.

Václav Havel (b. 1936), Czechoslovakian playwright, president. “The Power of the Powerless,” pt. 1, sect. 17, Living in Truth (1986).

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Jun 162008

cello.jpegFifteen years ago this month LII's director and co-founder Tom Bruce released the first web browser for Windows. June 8, 1993 is the anniversary of the 0.1 release, with a succession of follow-up releases soon after: Cello 0.2 on June 14th, 0.3 on June 16th, 0.4 on June 18th, 0.5 on June 24th, and 0.6 on June 30th. For good or ill, the web browser didn't catch on -- though it did incorporate some features that have only recently been incorporated into mainstream browsers, and it went on to live a brief existence as the underpinning of a couple of commercial products.

Asked to comment on the fifteenth anniversary of Cello, Tom said something about it being a long time ago and his head still hurts. We aren't worried. He's invented a lot more fun toys to play with in the mean time, all to the benefit of open-access information technology -- and for those who comprise the LII's 10 million hits a week.

Jun 142008

remand.jpeg'Send back', usually in the context of reversal of an appellate decision or the custody of a prisoner. When an appellate court reverses the decision of a lower court, the written decision often contains an instruction to remand the case to the lower court to be reconsidered in light of the appellate court's ruling. Cases are also remanded to Federal agencies for reconsideration in disputes over regulation or administrative decisions. See INS v. Ventura. A prisoner is said to be remanded when he or she is sent back into custody to await trial.