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US Code updates via RSS

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May 072008

rss We now offer notification of changes to the US Code via RSS. It’s a beta service, and we’re eager for your reaction to it. You can access the service by clicking the standard RSS icons next to the listing-by-Title on our main US Code page (we plan to put icons on every US Code page, but haven’t done so yet).

A couple of notes:

First, the RSS feed is tied to the Classification Tables published by the Law Revision Counsel’s Office at the House of Representatives. This means that you’ll be notified of changes as soon as their ultimate location in the Code is known, which is usually significantly after the law is passed by Congress. For up-to-the-minute updating, you’ll still need Thomas. A really good, if dated, guide to US Code updating is here.

Second, the service is offered on a Title-by-Title basis because (based on observation) we don’t think the volume in any Title (even 26) is likely to become overwhelming. We could be wrong about that — and we might also be able to format the information in the feeds in a way that makes it easier for you to find exactly what you want.

That’s the great thing about an experimental service — we can change it, and we’re eager for your suggestions. Let us know.

Our favorite quotes: John Arbuthnot

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May 062008

harpyinferno.jpegLaw is a Bottomless-Pit, it is a Cormorant, a Harpy, that devours every thing.

John Arbuthnot: The History of John Bull, ed. Alan Bower & Robert Erickson, chapter 6, p. 10 (1976) (first published in 1712).

LII Director Bruce teams with Carl Malamud for podcast

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May 052008

L2L On May 1, LII Director Tom Bruce and open-access advocate Carl Malamud of were featured on the popular practitioner’s podcast Lawyer2Lawyer. Also included in the podcast, but recorded separately, was Andy Martens, Senior Vice President of New Product Development for Thomson West. No doubt the discussion was less lively than it might have been had all three been present simultaneously, but it’s still a good run through the issues. Tom also said that “it was good fun trying to talk faster than Carl”. We’re grateful to L2L hosts Bob Ambrogi and J. Craig Williams (pictured) for the opportunity to appear on the show.

You can listen to the podcast here (also available in WMA format)

Readings in Legal Information, pt. 6

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May 042008

skinner An interesting topic about which little has been said: information-seeking behavior by lawyers. We all know it’s different, both in its drive for a comprehensiveness (as opposed to simple utility), and in the ways in which it serves advocacy. But there hasn’t been very much research on how, exactly, that works — or on how lawyer information-seeking practices differ from those of information seekers in other fields (actually, we might back away from that claim a little — this area is ripe for a literature review that we have not had time to do).

Much of the little that is out there describes a transition from printed books to online research, something that now looks a bit dated. But there are a exceptions to that, good starting points all:

Advisory opinion:definition of the day

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May 032008

dry-run.jpegAn advisory opinion is a sort of judicial “dry run” — the court states a non-binding opinion on a legal question submitted by a legislature or government official without the filing of a case. See, e.g., the advisory opinion of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court on civil unions.

81 years ago today

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May 022008

150px-carrie_buck.jpgOn May 2, 1927, the US Supreme Court ruled in Buck v. Bell that a Virgnia statute allowing the compulsory sterilization of the so-called feeble minded did not violate the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution. The effect of Buck v. Bell was to legitimize eugenic sterilization laws in the United States as a whole, leading to the forcible sterilization of more than 50,000 people. Buck v. Bell was never overturned by the Supreme Court, but, in 1942 (in the aftermath of WWII), the Supreme Court ruled in Skinner v. Oklahoma that compulsory sterilization could not be sentenced as a punishment for a crime and the practice gradually fell out of use. You can read the whole sad story at

Readings in Legal Information, pt. 5

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May 012008

european_roulette_wheel.pngMarc Galanter’s Why the Haves Come Out Ahead: Speculations on the Limits of Legal Change is one of the most-cited law review articles of all time, and we’ve quoted from it here before. It discusses the advantages that accrue to repeat players in our legal system. For legal information junkies, it’s interesting to note how many of those advantages are information-based — that is, rooted in one party having access to information that the other one doesn’t.