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Nov 062013

This August, Craig NewtonCraig Newton ‘07, (re)joined the LII as our new Associate Director for Content Development. While a student at Cornell Law School, Craig was the Editor-in-Chief of the LII Supreme Court Bulletin.

He spent the last six years at the law firm Cooley LLP litigating a broad range of commercial disputes for companies such as Adobe, Facebook, and Qualcomm before returning to Ithaca.  Having left a career as first a naval flight officer and then an intelligence analyst to attend law school, Craig calls upon all facets of his prior experience as he mentors teams of law students, manages our network of volunteers and legal professionals, monitors the website to discern usage trends and patterns, and pursues new partnership initiatives–all with an eye toward improving a range of products, including the Supreme Court Bulletin and case collection, the WEX legal encyclopedia/dictionary, the constellation of materials surrounding the US Constitution, and our ever-more capable editions of the US Code and the Code of Federal Regulations.

He and Associate Director for Technology Sara Frug are working together at the intersection of legal content and engineering to improve search and navigation features, as well as on a number of experiments intended to make our content more discoverable and more usable.

We are enthusiastic about his presence and the capabilities he adds to our team, and we look forward to your continued suggestions and feedback on our editorial content.

With the addition of Craig — and of consulting designer Manolo Bevia – the LII crew now numbers 9 1/4, delivering services to over 24 million unique visitors each year.

mohammedThe Semantic Technology and Business Conference showcases business applications from the leading semantic web companies and researchers: RPI, Stanford, MIT, and PARC, as well as Hoffmann-La Roche, Walmart, Yahoo, and Google. At the conference, the LII’s semantic web engineer, Mohammad AL-Asswad, Ph.D., presented approaches to improving access to import/export regulations in agriculture. We had observed that off the shelf, a search engine doesn’t know how to establish the context of a section of the CFR. Mohammad showed the results of his work combining a set of natural language processing techniques with a government-supplied subject vocabulary and our own metadata in order to improve search results.

In July, the International Association of Agricultural Information Specialists brought together 125 delegates from 28 countries for its World Congress, hosted this year by Cornell University’s Mann Library. Agriculture librarians presented the results of research on subjects ranging from innovation proliferation among small scale pineapple farmers in Ghana to digital librarianship in Indian agricultural libraries to open access in institutional repositories. Mohammad presented at the poster session, showing the connections between agricultural regulations and scientific literature.

Why? Regulators need to know about the science related to the regulations they are making and enforcing. Scientists need to know about regulations that affect their research; they often also want the opportunity to know about new rulemakings that affect areas in which they have expertise. Using natural language processing techniques, Mohammad was able to find topics in the regulations that map to keywords in the agricultural ontology AGRIS. You can see preliminary results of this feature using the “Find the Science” feature here.

Nov 062013

Shutdown_government_graphic_20131001182006_320_240The morning of October 2, the United States Government shut down for the first time in nearly 18 years, as a congressional stalemate froze funding and furloughed some government workers.

Aside from more overt casualties — closed federal offices, and shuttered national monuments and parks — some of the government’s websites were not updated or taken completely offline. Behind the scenes, some large data sets were made unavailable, as in the case of the the Library of Congress whose machine-readable schemas became unavailable to applciations around the world that depend on them. Our engineering team made copies of the MODS, MADS and PREMIS schemas available on LII servers to help other applications survive the shutdown.

On the front end, many affected sites posted notices on their home page or on splash screens that attributed the outages to “a lapse in federal government funding,” and those that remained open, like the National Weather Service, continued to point blame at funding while stating that they were remaining available in the “interest of public safety and security.” But who exactly decides what’s in the public interest? It seems to us that the laws of the United States are pretty important, but if the government were to suddenly take them offline completely (as they did with other public sites like the United States Census and NASA) we would still be expected to know and to follow government laws and regulations, wouldn’t we?

Of course, we see this as yet another reason why LII is so important– making the laws available without cost and protecting our right to know and understand these laws without being subjected to the whims of political in-fighting. But this shutdown also produced out some interesting traffic data, which demonstrates just how vital the LII remains to those working in the government sector.

In the two weeks of the shutdown, the LII saw a modest, overall three percent increase in traffic to our site, but when we looked at the locations people were accessing from, those statistics told a different story. Visits from several large cities were up significantly, 14% in New York, San Francisco and San Diego, for example. But traffic from cities with a high degree of federal offices fell drastically– 22% in Boston and 20% in Washington DC. Conversely, the state of Maryland, home to many Washington DC workers, demonstrated a 25% increase in traffic during the same time period.

These numbers might suggest that people who needed access to law continued to receive it at the official government websites, or that they came to the LII thinking that the government sites would be shut down. But it also suggests that a significant number of government workers on furlough from their jobs in DC and Boston visit the LII each day. And that says something even more important. It suggests that thousands of federal workers prefer the LII to the official government primary legal collections, which would confirm anecdotal evidence we hear from government employees all the time. So even though the official sites remained open, the LII is the site of choice for many who rely on accurate current legal information to perform the government’s work. And that’s a recommendation we’re proud to have.

Nov 062013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about (1) the First Amendment’s Establishment Clause and (2) when actions brought by a state fall under the Class Actions Fairness Act:

(1)   Town of Greece v. Galloway [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-696]

  • Does a town violate the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by starting its board meetings with prayer?

(2)  Mississippi v. AU Optronics Corp. [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-1036]

  • When is a state’s parens patriae action a “mass action” under the Class Action Fairness Act, and therefore removable to federal court?

 

Nov 052013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about (1)   (2) the intersection of Congress’ treaty power and federal criminal law; and (3) federal questions in state administrative procedures:

(1)  Medtronic, Inc. v. Boston Scientific Corp. [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-1128]

  • Does the burden of proving patent infringement in a declaratory judgment action fall upon the licensee or licensor?

(2)  Bond v. United States [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-158]

  • Do the Commerce and Necessary and Proper Clauses, read in connection with the treaty power, allow a statute that was enacted by Congress to enforce a treaty to serve as a valid basis for prosecuting a criminal defendant in Federal District Court?

(3)  Sprint Communications Co. v. Jacobs [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-815]

  • Should federal courts abstain from remedial actions—state administrative proceedings initiated by a private party—involving a federal question?
Nov 042013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about (1) the Fair Labor Standards Act and (2) the outer limits of personal jurisdiction and venue:

(1) Sandifer v. United State Steel Corp. [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-417]

  • Should workers be compensated for time spent putting on and taking off safety gear, when the applicable collective bargaining agreement excludes time spent “changing clothes” from the compensable workday and that exclusion is permitted by section 203(o) of the Fair Labor Standards Act?

(2) Walden v. Fiore [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-574]

  • Can a court exercise personal jurisdiction over a defendant whose only contact with the forum state is his knowledge that the plaintiffs had contacts with the state?
  • Is the district where a plaintiff suffered injury a proper venue if all of the alleged events giving rise to the claim were committed by the defendant in a different district?

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about the Constitutional limits on (1) freezing a criminal defendant’s assets without a pretrial hearing; and (2) a state’s use of mental health exam results as rebuttal testimony:

(1) Kaley v. United States [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-464]

  • Do the Fifth and Sixth Amendments require a pretrial, adversarial hearing, at which the defendant may challenge the underlying charges before the government can freeze assets needed by the defendant to retain counsel of choice?

(2) Kansas v. Cheever [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-609]

  • When a defendant presents expert testimony that he was not in the required mental-state to commit a capital offense because of methamphetamine use, does the State violate the defendant’s right against self-incrimination by presenting rebuttal testimony based on a court-ordered mental evaluation of the defendant?

 

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about (1) prohibitions on considering race in public university admissions; (2) the jurisdiction of federal courts over certain foreign corporations; and (3) the statue of limitations for judicial review on denied disability benefits claims:

(1) Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-682]

  • Does a state violate the Equal Protection Clause or political-restructuring doctrine by amending the state constitution to prohibit public universities and schools from using race in their admissions processes?

(2) DaimlerChrysler AG v. Bauman [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/11-965]

  • Does a federal court have jurisdiction over a foreign corporation not incorporated in the forum state solely because the corporation’s indirect corporate subsidiary performs services for the corporation in the forum state?

(3) Heimshoff v. Hartford Life & Accident Insurance Co.  [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-729]

  • Does the statute of limitations for judicial review of an adverse determination on a disability benefits claim begin to accrue at the time specified by an insurance policy or when the claimant files an ERISA disability claim?
Oct 092013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about (1) tax law and the jurisdiction of federal district courts; and (2) the intersection of contracts and the rules governing proper venue for resolving disputes:

(1)  US v. Woods  [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-562]

  • Does a district court have jurisdiction to determine whether an overstatement penalty should be applied in a partnership-level proceeding?
  • Does the overstatement penalty apply to an underpayment in federal income tax where the transaction lacks economic substance because the sole purpose of the transaction was to inflate the taxpayer’s basis in property?

(2)  Atlantic Marine Construction Co. v. US Dist. Court for the Western Dist. of TX  [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-929]

  • Can forum-selection clauses render statutorily proper venue improper?
  • How much weight should courts give forum-selection clauses under 28 U.S.C. § 1404(a)?
Oct 082013

Today at SCOTUS:

(1)  How should a court adjudicate a claim of ineffective assistance of counsel when the defendant accepted a plea deal?

- See our preview of Burt v. Titlow at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-414

(2)  Do aggregate limits on individual political campaign contributions violate the First Amendment?

- See our preview McCutcheon v. FEC at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/oral_arg_previews.php