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Thank you


If you done it, it ain’t bragging
— Walt Whitman

First of all, thank you to everyone who donated during our June campaign. It was extremely successful — we met our goal and then some — and all of us here are more grateful to you than I can say.  With your help, we done it.  Without your help, we couldn’t.

Because I think you should know what your money is buying — and because I am both lazy and immodest — I’m sending along something originally written as an internal report for our parent institution.  I hope that you’ll find it relevant — and a source of some pride.  A good many of you have supported us for as long as we have been asking for support, and all of you can be proud of the scale and diversity of what you’ve made possible. It is, if I may say so, a very long and impressive list.

Here’s the report:

This year is the LII’s 25th year of operation — which, in Internet years, makes us older than Cornell University.   With that in mind, this report is in a once-and-once-only format. It is a quadranscentennial, shameless display of  immodesty, nevertheless lacking glossy paper and eye candy (and yeah, I had to look “quadranscentennial” up).

First, though, the annual barrage of statistics.  We now publish around half a million pages of information.  Over the last year, we’ve been visited by 34,701,568 people from 241 countries and territories, including a few visits from the Yamalo-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, a part of Russia (no votes were altered).   88% of our visitors were from the US. To put it another way, our materials were used by roughly 9% of all men, women, and children in the United States.  Since January, traffic to the site has risen by 20-25%, driven by increased public desire to read the actual text of laws related to immigration, membership on the National Security Council, the Constitution, and a wide variety of Federal criminal statutes. Many — from all points on the political spectrum — have told us that they are glad to have a source that is objective, trusted, and free.

But the LII is far more than numbers.  It makes about as much sense to try to understand our activities through traffic statistics and financial results as it would to try to understand the full range of what the Law School does by counting its graduates.  

Over the past quarter-century, the LII has helped millions upon millions of people understand and solve problems they encounter in their personal and professional lives, and helped lawyers — particularly those who work in pro bono or legal-services settings — to assist tens of millions of clients.   We are a critical resource for lawyers and other officials at all levels of government. We have spawned imitators and namesakes in at least 20 countries. A good many are the official publishers of law in those jurisdictions.  Arguably, we have had the greatest public impact of any program in the history of the Cornell Law School, carrying the name of the School and its parent institution to hundreds of millions of people, and returning unprecedented and unique value and goodwill to the School and the University.  

Each day,  the LII is visited by somewhere between 5 and 7 times the number of people who have attended the Law School in its entire history.  We have profoundly affected the work of American lawyers, both directly and through a stream of innovations and open-access law sites created by others who followed our lead or built on resources we have published. We have advised and assisted many of those others. The LII’s founders and its technical leaders have been recognized by the American Bar Association, the American Association of Law Libraries, and most commercial legal information providers as pioneering innovators in the field of legal informatics and in the legal profession as a whole. The Dean has remarked that, “if the LII were a faculty member, it would be the most frequently quoted faculty member at the Cornell Law School”. So far this calendar year, entries from our WEX legal encyclopedia have appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, the Allentown Morning Call, the Picayune Item, and the Cherokee Nation One Feather, among many, many other publications, online and off. A reporter for ProPublica, formerly with the New York Times and the Washington Post, has referred to us as “a foundational part of our civic infrastructure”.   Another, the winner of a Pulitzer Prize (plus two additional Pulitzer nominations), a Polk Award, and an IRE Medal, is a regular donor.

The LII was the first legal-information site on the Web, the first web site at Cornell, and somewhere around the 30th web site in the world (by one estimate, there are now 1.2 billion). We were the first to offer for-credit, multi-institutional distance learning courses in law.  We developed the first web browser for the Microsoft Windows platform.  The LII was the first to offer the United States Code and the US Constitution on the web, and the first to offer the opinions of the Supreme Court, 8 years before the Court began developing its web site.  

For a time, in the early years, we published an online magazine for the National Association of Securities Dealers.  We have collaborated on joint projects with numerous institutions in the US and abroad, including the Government Publishing Office, the House of Representatives, and operations like our own in Spain, Italy, Japan, South Africa, and Sweden among others.  We have consulted for the World Bank, the Open Society Institute, the Swedish International Development Agency, the UK National Archives, the United Nations, the Library of Congress, the FDA, the DOT, MITRE Corporation, and all of the major commercial legal publishers.  We were consultants for the Harvard Law School Library for nearly a decade.

We served on American Bar Association committees concerned with public participation in Federal agency rulemaking, and with the accreditation standards related to distance learning.  We have testified on legal information policy issues before two Congressional committees, and spoken to groups at the United Nations, the Global Forum on Law and Development, and the Interparliamentary Union, each on multiple occasions.  We have worked with the European Commission and the Hague Conference on Private International Law on the problem of obtaining authoritative legal information across national boundaries. We have given dozens of presentations at AALS, AALL, and CALI.  For five years, our version of the tax code was published on CD-ROM by the IRS for use in its own outreach programs.  We were, for a few years, the de facto editors of the Federal Rules of Bankruptcy Procedure.

We have often served as a matchmaker and convenor.  Academics who study or otherwise work with government have benefitted from the unusual cooperation that is available to Cornell researchers because officials throughout government are well aware of the services the LII provides.  We have introduced law faculty to collaborators from the computer-science world, as when we introduced Bob Hillman to a Cornell expert on software development as part of his work on software contracts and the UCC.   Our guest blog, VoxPopuLII, has become a place where practitioners in all of the disciplines that touch on legal informatics — law librarianship, information science, and design, among others — can find accessible reports of the latest work that touches their areas of interest.  We have attracted postdoctoral students from Serbia, Finland, Brazil, and Spain. We hosted residencies for online democracy activists working in the Middle East, South America, Africa, and the Ukraine, and for an African software engineer building a plug-and-play system now used to publish legal information in 10 African countries.  We held the second largest conference in the history of the School, with the largest international attendance of any.  LII principals serve on editorial boards and program committees for any number of international conferences and publications in the area of legal informatics, law and AI, and legal publishing technology.

We have created tremendous goodwill in unexpected places and in unexpected ways. Our donors include a former president of the World Bank, and the procurement manager for a food bank;  a former Solicitor General of the United States, and a guy who prototypes machine parts for a living; at least 7 Federal judges, and a woman who runs a project that works for prisoner’s rights at the Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary. Our acquisition of the OYEZ collection of Supreme Court opinions brought recognition from an unexpected direction (and one near to my heart):  program credits and lobby notices at the Berkeley Rep, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and the Washington Arena Stage performances of “Roe”, a play about the Supreme Court.

We have done all of that with a staff whose effective size has never exceeded eight, and which for the first fifteen years of the LII’s history was substantially smaller.   

We have great things in the works for the coming year. As most of you know, through the generosity of its founder, we acquired the Oyez collection of Supreme Court oral arguments last fall; we are now  building out the Oyez materials in ways that connect to our other collections.  We are much of the way through renovating — and hugely improving — a regulatory-agency monitoring program called Docket Wrench. Originally created by the Sunlight Foundation, but deprecated and then put up for adoption, it will provide remarkable insights into notice-and-comment rulemaking activity, using over 3 terabytes of data.  In another line of investigation, we want to extend our work on using natural-language processing to identify and link statutory and regulatory definitions in ways that make use of definitions from authorizing statutes easier to follow, and allow the assembly of a “CFR dictionary” that invites comparison of definitions across different areas.  Last summer, we also adopted the former Avon Center’s Women & Justice collection, which we’ve been expanding with additional content and will be re-launching on our domain shortly under the name “And Justice For All.”  

We’re looking forward to another 25 years that will be as successful as the first 25.   As always, we welcome your comments and suggestions.

All the best,

Tom, Sara, Craig, Nic, Sylvia, Kimball, Val, Charlotte, Taylor, and Pete.

PS:  We’re in the middle of our June fundraising campaign.  At the risk of looking like we’re a weight-loss program, purveyor of acai berries, or other shady user of anonymous testimonials, I’d like to share some things our donors told us about their reasons for donating:

“Because you help me win claims for Veterans.”

“I refer to this site on occasion as the most reliable and well organized place to obtain the most current and precise version of provisions of the U.S. Code. the site provides a very valuable service to attorneys and to the public at large.”

“I am a former hazmat training officer, now retired from the force. I now teach the transportation companies of Quebec how to train their employees for shipping and hauling dangerous goods through Canada and the U.S. It’s really great to have a web site dedicated to informing people like me on the latest rules and regulations. Keeps me up to date ! Thanks !”

“Cornell’s LII has been an immense help to me and my clients for many years now.”

“I received very accurate legal information from a trusted source, Cornell. I have used this service for years in my representation of federal employees before administrative forums. I truly appreciate the availability of pertinent and very useful info about our laws.”

“I love your website. It’s very useful to the experienced attorney, as well as to the lay person. In Washington, D.C., the Carnegie Library in Mount Vernon Square bears the inscription “A University for the People.” Cornell continues that awesome American tradition with its website.”

“I believe the access to the law, via LII, provides an exceptional opportunity for all to have direct access to the legal and regulatory framework that controls so many aspects of our daily life. Book collections are increasingly more expensive and require costly physical space, which means that traditional public access points for non-university, non-legal everyday citizens are disappearing or are moving to pay-per-access services to save money. LII has been out in front of almost, if not all, other internet providers and is by far the most user friendly.”

“I NEED THE INFO” (that one suggests a Twitter campaign in which we respond by saying “WE NEED THE MONEY”)

The Emoluments Clause

It’s been in the news lately, but what do you know about the Emoluments Clause?  Cornell Law student Stephanie Jurkowski recently contributed the following to our Wex legal reference:

Also known as the Title of Nobility Clause, Article I, Section 9, Clause 8 of the U.S. Constitution prohibits any person holding a government office from accepting any present, emolument, office, or title from any “King, Prince, or foreign State,” without congressional consent. This clause is meant to prevent external influence and corruption of American officers by foreign States. A similar provision was included in the Articles of Confederation, applicable to both federal and state officers. The language of the modern clause, however, suggests that only federal government officials are prohibited from accepting any emoluments.

That the phrase “Offices of Profit or Trust under the United States” applies to all appointed officials is undisputed, however there is much debate as to whether it extends to elected officials.

History does not provide a clear answer: When he served as Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton produced a list of persons holding such offices at the request of the Senate; the list did not include any elected positions. Further, during their presidencies, while George Washington did not seek or obtain congressional consent for foreign gifts, Andrew Jackson did.

The Foreign Gifts and Decorations Act of 1966, on the other hand, enumerates several elected positions in its definition of “employees” who may not accept any gift of more than minimal value without congressional approval. Such “employees” include the President and the Vice President, a Member of Congress, and the spouses and dependents of the same.

A constitutional amendment was introduced in 1810 to modify the Emoluments Clause. The effect would have been to strip the citizenship of any U.S. citizen who accepted, claimed, received, or retained any title of nobility from a foreign government. However, this amendment was never ratified, though it is technically still pending before the states.

The interpretation of the Emoluments Clause has never been litigated before the U.S. Supreme Court.

Historically, there’s been surprisingly little litigation around the Emoluments Clause.  Now, of course, litigation centers around whether the use by foreign officials of hotels of the Trump brand violates the prohibitions of this clause.  The first lawsuit was filed by the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in the Southern District of New York in January of 2017.  The Attorneys General of Maryland and the District of Columbia filed a second suit in the District of Maryland last month.   

LII Alumni Profile: Bill Gameros 96′, Partner at Hoge & Gameros, L.L.P.

For over 20 years the LII has been one of only two universities that are able to publish an official electronic version of the Supreme Court’s decision within minutes after its release. In 1995, these opinions had to manually be converted to HTML. Behind the tedious task was Bill Gameros, law student with a military background, who became the LII Bulletin’s first Editor-in-Chief. Formed by Professor Peter Martin, the bulletin provides a complete synopsis and analysis of Supreme Court rulings written by law students and emailed to subscribers within five days of the court’s decision. For this Alumni profile we talk to Bill about his formative years, and the foundation of the bulletin.

Could you please briefly describe your first career as an army officer?

I graduated from West Point in 1987 as an Armor Officer. Armor Officer means I would be in charge of tanks and scouts. So for my time as a junior officer, I went from a second lieutenant to a captain. During the 1990-91 Gulf War, I was a scout platoon leader for Fourth Battalion 64th Armor, then part of the 24th Infantry Division. Probably the most interesting part of my time as a junior officer, was arriving in Saudi Arabia in August of 1990. There was no infrastructure for us. Literally our first nights there we were in a cement factory. We then go out in the middle of the desert in Saudi Arabia and set up camp and wait for the next 4 or 5 months. We spent those months training and getting ready for the war that looked more inevitable as time went on. We went into Iraq one night, two weeks before the ground war “officially” started; we never came back. My unit spent all of our time in Iraq. We came back after that in March. I got out of the Army in August 1992, next stop Ithaca, NY.

Why did you decide Ithaca and to go to Law school after the Army?

I was looking for a joint J.D./M.B.A.When I was in the Army, my next door neighbor was a Cornell Law grad. He told me I should go and look at Cornell. Because if I go and look, I’m going to like it and that’s where I’m going to want to go. He was exactly right. I toured all the other campuses that I looked at, and it just came down to Cornell’s small size and I really liked everything I saw there.

Where are you from originally?

I grew up in Brunswick, Maine.

Did you struggle at all with adjusting to Cornell after the Army?

No, not really. I enlisted in the Army when I was 17. I was enlisted for a year at the West Point prep school and then went to West Point. Honestly, my step dad was a Naval Officer, and I didn’t know what civilians did. I came to Cornell with the idea that if I didn’t like what civilians did, I was going to go back in the Army. However, I liked what civilians did.  I even met my wife at Cornell Law School, so it was a good deal all around. Staying was easy.

How did your legal education compare to being at West Point?

They are night and day different. At the bottom or the core at West Point is something called the “approved solution.” There is a right answer, every time, period, no matter what. One of the things that was different about the law school is there are sometimes many answers. Some are better than others but there’s not that absolute “there is a right answer.” Part of that may be a distinction of the law school as inherently a Liberal Arts style education, where West Point is an engineering program, so it comes from a different educational basis.

How did the Bulletin come about?

I was working with Professor Martin with New York Court of Appeals. I was working with him converting that to HTML manually, that’s how we did it at the time. This was way back in the dark ages of the internet. We had a thing called an FTP site, I don’t even know if they use it anymore, but it stands for File Transfer Protocol. We used FTP site to get the opinions, and then we’d convert them into HTML and publish them. So from that, I had already been doing the conversion work and it was his idea that we should go ahead and figure out some way to provide some sort of enhanced content that related to the first source material that we had from the New York Court of Appeals.

Originally the Bulletin was focused on the High Court for the State of New York. Why was that?

Again, it was because we had a really good data source. We would get copies of the Opinions the day they came out and Professor Martin would give them to me and then I would convert them to HTML. It was a collaborative process for designing what the format for LII Bulletin New York was after that.

Was there anything about working for the LII that made you a better Lawyer after graduation?

Yes, ultimately you have to be a good writer in a team setting. One of the things that it helps for is being able to work with other people. Because I do litigation I can’t speak for the transactional folks, but on the litigation side, it did help with the process of working in teams to develop better written product. That is still something that you have to do at the law firms I work at even today.

What do you think of the Bulletin being switched to the US Supreme court and covering the entire docket?

It certainly is going to reach a broader audience. I used to joke that there is no such thing as a Supreme court case that would affect my practice and that hasn’t been true. Actually, a couple of them have. The most important one is an obscure case called Stern v. Marshall. It affected adversary proceedings in bankruptcy court. But I think there’s a general interest not just among lawyers but among nonlawyers as well as to what goes on at the U.S Supreme Court. Contrasted with the Court of Appeals in New York, I think a lot of people are surprised, they don’t expect that to be the highest court in New York. When they hear the trial court called the Supreme Court they think New York’s upside down I guess. But I think in terms of reaching a broader audience it makes a lot of sense to go with the US Supreme Court.

Why do you think people should support the LII?

I think the LII provides a unique and good public service. In terms of getting the content fast and free, it’s really hard to beat.

Stay tuned next month for our interview with Kathy Gameros, our second ever Editor in Chief, who just so happens to be Bill’s wife…

*The Bulletin first started with about 1,000 subscribers. Today, we have over 15,000 and counting. Not a subscriber? Stay informed with us!