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In anticipation of International Women’s Day, we’re excited to announce significant expansions of the Women & Justice Collection, our global database of gender justice caselaw, legislation, and reports from international mechanisms, regional courts, and 116 countries. Almost two years ago, we announced our plans for the Collection, which we inherited from the former Avon Global Center for Women & Justice. Since then, we created a website for the Collection’s new home at LII, where it has doubled in size thanks to our pro bono partners at global law firms White & Case and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher. The first vetted and searchable database of its kind, the Collection provides free online access to these materials to advocates, researchers, practitioners, and lay people.

As part of the Collection’s expansion, our student research associates Ana Gomez, Cornell Law School Class of 2020, and Jenna Kyle, Cornell Law School Class of 2019, have started adding native-language summaries to make our resources searchable in their native language as well as in English. This spring, we are hoping to begin a partnership with our Democratic Governance & Rights Unit and African LII counterparts at the University of Cape Town. The Collection’s Editor in Chief, Jocelyn Hackett and her team of  summer research fellows will draw on our ever-increasing resources to collaborate on progressive training programs for judges from the Southern African Development Community (SADC), remote clerking for judges throughout the SADC, and building a database of pan-African human rights caselaw. We are currently seeking funding to send future research fellows to work as summer interns at African gender justice advocacy organizations and interview women throughout the country in which they work to assess women’s access to justice and socioeconomic autonomy.

You can find the Women and Justice Collection here.

This fall will mark the fifteenth year we’ve published LII Bulletin Previews–student analysis of the cases to be argued before the United States Supreme Court.  (From 1996 – 2004, students previewed cases to be argued before New York State’s highest court–the Court of Appeals.)

Even though the work of this year’s Bulletin Preview staff won’t be complete until the Supreme Court finishes hearing arguments for this term in April, we are already planning for next year.  The first step was choosing leadership from among this year’s class of associates. We are pleased to announce that Kathryn Adamson will be the Editor-in-Chief for 2019-2020 term of the LII Bulletin.  Her Executive Editor will be Angela Zhu.

Kathryn Adamson graduated magna cum laude from the University of San Diego, where she studied International Relations and Spanish.  At Cornell Law, in addition to working on the Bulletin Preview staff, Kathryn is an associate on the Cornell Law Review and an Honors Fellow for the first-year Lawyering skills program.  She has also participated in both mock trial and moot court while at Cornell. Her past legal internship experience includes time at the United State’s Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of California and the California Court of Appeal.   

Angela Zhu studied Financial Engineering with a minor in Applied Math and Economics at Columbia University’s Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science.  Like Kathryn, Angela donates her time to the Cornell Law Review. She is also the IT Director for the Cornell Law Students Association and is the President of the Cornell Association of Law and Economics.

I have really enjoyed serving as an associate on the LII Supreme Court Bulletin for the past months. I not only learned about areas of law that I would not encounter in classrooms, but I also formed friendships with other members. As an Executive Editor, there are a lot more responsibilities but I am excited about welcoming new members to the Bulletin and look forward to another great year of previews.

Angela Zhu

Kathryn and Angela will be joined by Isaac Syed as the Bulletin’s Outreach Coordinator, as well as ten of their classmates who will take the title “Managing Editor” and do the critical work of editing the Previews to be produced by next year’s associates.  Kathryn, Angela, Isaac, and the ME’s will choose those associates in the coming weeks through a competitive application process. All of our new leaders are excited about the greater responsibilities of their new positions and are particularly looking forward to welcoming new associates in the fall.   

Click here to access our Supreme Court Bulletin Previews, and find our students on Twitter and Facebook, too.

conan_the_barbarian

The Constitution Annotated, popularly known as CONAN, has been published by the Congressional Research Service since 1913 and provides analysis of the Supreme Court cases interpreting the Constitution. CONAN is highly regarded as a non-partisan publication that helps readers appreciate how Americans’ understanding of our governing principles has changed throughout our history on timely issues such as the scope of presidential power, limits on free speech, or the right to bear arms.

For many years, the LII published CONAN on our website and regularly updated it each time the Government Publishing Office (GPO) released a new version. But then GPO stopped making the underlying code publicly available, choosing instead to release only a print version and an unwieldy 2800 page PDF online. Without the software “roadmap” that facilitates not only re-publication but also the sort of feature-rich improvements that distinguish our collections, our online CONAN fell out of date. But, in 2018, with help from open government advocates Josh Tauberer of GovTrack and Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, the LII re-created that XML software map, put it on the web and then used it to improve upon the government’s online version. In addition to being fully up-to-date, LII’s CONAN is easy to find online, to navigate and to search. It’s also accessible to people with disabilities; and, it links directly to close to 9000 Supreme Court cases on our site. Subsequent versions will use Semantic Web technologies to assist interconnection and data integration with other online resources.

“We have created an enhanced version that will not only be better in and of itself, but also act as a resource for improving other parts of our collections, notably our set of Supreme Court cases,” explained LII Director Tom Bruce. “For example, we can make use of citations in footnotes to establish relatedness between cases, allowing us to show which of the cases that are related to a particular case by citation are actually the most related with respect to a particular topic. We think it is going to be quite something.”

SCOTUSBlog and Roll Call wrote about our new resource, and The American Association of Law Libraries spread the word in their newsletter. Looking at our traffic stats, we can tell it’s been very popular among educators, from high schools across the country to Duke University and the U.S. Naval Academy. It’s also been used by journalists covering current events and linked to in articles by the Washington Post and the Atlantic among others. Most recently, CNN included a link to Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 that explains the power that Congress has in deciding how money should be appropriated from the Treasury for government projects in an article covering the national state of emergency declared by the President in order to build a wall on the southern border.

Since we made it available to the public this Constitution Day (September 17, 2018) CONAN has now been viewed more than 570,000 times!

We set out to refurbish this resource without being quite certain of the audience because we knew there WAS an audience and thought someone ought to do it form. CONAN is an invaluable document that helps us understand how our interpretation of the Constitution has evolved over the years. Now, a few months in, we are glad to see how quickly it’s been adopted and grown in popularity. And we’d like to say thank you – without your support, this would not be possible! The Library of Congress refers to the Constitution Annotated as “one of our most important resources in answering questions about the Constitution and its history.”, and we look forward to making it even easier to find and understand.

You can find the Constitution Annotated here.

Friends:

Just a quick note to say thanks to all of you who made contributions to the LII during our end-of-year fundraising campaign. Your gifts make it possible for millions of people around the world to find and understand the law. You should be proud.

How proud should you be? Good question. We know that your contributions help many, many people in ways that you may not expect. Some of the impact is direct:

I have relied on your website for reliable, quality information for years as a policy researcher for the White House and the NC Lieutenant Governor and Senate, as well as many clients, both nonprofit and governmental. Keep up the great work.

Thank you for providing access to education law, so parents can find & understand the regulations that apply to ed. assessment and placement. We are the parents of a child in the 10th grade. Although we’ve provided multiple, full IEEs at our own expense, our schools refuse to acknowledge any disability. Our son’s poor, basic literacy skills place growing limitations on his current & future access to education. We can’t afford private intervention.

As a retired federal prosecutor who helped put dozens of people in prison and now as a member of the public without a law office, I strongly support free, universal access to the law as the best way to create respect for it. This is the 21st century equivalent of the musty law libraries in thousand of county courthouses across the land.

Some is indirect. A lot of people in our audience make use of what they find here to help others:

Access to your resource helped me to assist a victim of crime in an application for a US visa. My client is a father who, I am arguing, suffered “direct and proximate harm” from his son’s murder. I used your resource to help explain my request for support to a local law enforcement agency.

Your info has helped me win many VA claims for my clients as well as give great info to pro se Veterans. Thank you!

As a solo practitioner, your website has given me the opportunity to conduct legal research on a wide range of topics, without the expense to the client.

This year, we’re especially grateful to you because so many of you pitched in. It was easily the most successful fundraising campaign in our history. Over 4,000 of you helped out, contributing far more than in any prior campaign. More, we’re excited by your endorsement of our work. We meet very few of you in person — but your contributions and your comments remind us of the importance of what we are doing together.

There is one more thing you could do for us. We learn a lot about the impact of our work from the comments that supporters leave when they make online donations. We need to learn more, and so we’ve come up with a survey for donors and non-donors alike. If you could do us a favor and take a few minutes to fill it out, it would be extremely helpful.

Start the survey…

Again, thank you, from all of us. Your generosity means a lot.

T.

And now, at the end of a busy year,  we know.  And you should know how much good you do.  They’ve come to us from all corners of the country, all corners of the globe, really.  From all points along the political spectrum.  Knowing a lot about law or trying to remember that civics class they took in high school. Every last one of the 35 million of them wanting to read the law for themselves.  Every one able to do that without having to pay for that basic right because you helped make it available.

We’ve heard from high school teachers in Texas and a real estate professional in Florida and an Army Inspector General.  From public defenders and Federal prosecutors.  From tax lawyers and helicopter charter pilots and soldiers and sailors and plenty of people who identified themselves as “ordinary citizens”.  Every one needing to find and understand the rules that govern them.

Here at the LII we always knew that it is that way.  People need to be able to find the law for themselves, to read it and understand it, without having to pay for that,  so that they can understand what is happening around them.  We always knew that.  We just couldn’t really prove it to you until now.  So many, with so many needs, have come here.

Not that we needed a lot of proof.  You believed too — you thought there should be a service that made the law available without fee, to anyone who wants it, whenever they want it.  You generously gave us your support and you made it happen just as much as we did.

Because of you, this year’s fundraising campaign has been remarkably successful.  We are running 25% ahead of where we were last year at this time, and well ahead of our ambitious goal.  Thank you, all of you, for everything you’ve done.  And if you haven’t given, but would like to, just follow this link.

Before I go, I’d just like to direct your attention to something we mention elsewhere in this newsletter.  Over the year, we’ve directed your attention to our series of 25th-anniversary blog posts. I think you’ll find them interesting and I recommend them to you.  And, if you’re interested in the LII’s future, you’ll find it expressed in two blog posts by my colleagues Sara Frug and Craig Newton.  Please do read them.

In the meantime, my best wishes, and best wishes from all here, for a happy holiday and a prosperous New Year.

Like Kleenex, Xerox, or Velcro, “Legal Information Institute” is a generic term for organizations that offer free and open access to primary legal materials, worldwide. More than 20 years ago, a group in Canada asked us if they might use “LII” in their name — they became “CanLII”, quickly followed by “AustLII” and a raft of others.  There are now at least 20 LII namesakes worldwide.  Along with other like-minded organizations, they have created a mostly-informal, globe-spanning  alliance that calls itself the “Free Access to Law Movement’.  Over the years, we have provided advice and support to many of its members, creating global goodwill and impact from the contributions of our supporters.

Each year, the organization holds a conference called “Law Via the Internet” (LVI).  LVI2017 was held last week at the Rutgers-Newark School of Law. It was, to say the least, an eclectic event.  There were presentations on everything from a standard system of identifiers for courts worldwide to bias in search-engine algorithms to information services for the Kenyan judicial system.  Keynote speakers were longtime LII friend Ed Walters, CEO of FastCase, and Corynne McSherry, the legal director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation.

The LII was a strong presence.  Sara Frug, the LII’s Associate Director for Technology, Sylvia Kwakye, and Nic Ceynowa described their work on Docket Wrench.  Docket Wrench, originally developed by the Sunlight Foundation, is a regulatory monitoring system that we are extending and improving with the help of students from Cornell’s Masters of Engineering in Computer Science Program.  Craig Newton, the LII’s Associate Director for Content,  talked about what we’ve learned from the strong surge in usage of our site by people checking up on statements made by government officials.  And Peter Martin, the LII’s co-founder and co-director emeritus, presented work on the realities of availability of Federal caselaw.

The real value of conferences is in informal discussions, and there were many.  We get at least as much help as we give. For example, anyone who has ever had to build a legal information system from scratch by scanning moldy legal documents has a lot to teach us. And our audience has a great deal to gain from alliances between the LII and other partners who create large caselaw collections.  All in all, it was a worthwhile and gratifying experience for us. The work being done here and elsewhere is having profound effects throughout the world, and it is nice to be reminded of that.  It all started here, and it continues because of the generosity of people like you and the ingenuity and forward-thinking of many like us around the world.

PS:  We were delighted to see a number of you at our cybersecurity panel event in New York just before LVI.  We’re doing another in Washington, DC on the 9th of November, and would be delighted if you could join us (don’t be scared if it looks like it’s an event for Cornell alumni — we told them they could come if they agreed to behave themselves).

At LII we think a lot about the relationship between the law and the general public. This year at the Law Via the Internet Conference, LII staff gave presentations that each, in their own way, were about how members of the public interact with the law.

Craig Newton gave a presentation entitled “When Law Goes Viral: The Implications of Social Media for Online Law Publishers.” He showed data from more than 28 million user sessions on the LII web site from January through June of 2017, exploring the specific characteristics of social media-driven traffic – particularly the smaller amount of time people referred by social media spend on the page they’ve been referred to and the smaller number of pages they tend to visit.

Sara Frug, Sylvia Kwakye, and Nic Ceynowa presented the engineering team’s progress reviving the Docket Wrench application, which makes it easier to review electronic rulemaking comments. The recent concern over fake comments on net neutrality submitted in bulk to the FCC has renewed interest in public participation in the notice-and-comment rulemaking process. The Docket Wrench application will help people involved in regulatory work find comments from repeat corporate participants and see how members of the public are weighing in.

Whether we’re looking at public participation in the development of future regulations or public self-education about what the law really says, LII has a unique set of opportunities to see what people care about and help provide them with more context for what they are reading. In other words, we help *people* find and understand the law.

In our last newsletter, we invited you to some events we were hosting around the country in recognition of our 25th anniversary.   We were in the heart of Silicon Valley in late September, and the middle of Manhattan just last week.   For those of you who couldn’t make it (and, with more than 40 million visitors expected to the site in 2017, we’ll say that was “most of you”), we wanted to provide a quick recap, as well as some public thank yous.

At Morrison & Foerster on September 26, Friend of the LII and Adjunct Professor of Law at Cornell Law School Steve Yale-Loehr led a panel discussion on how recent and expected future changes in US immigration policy might impact the tech sector.   One highlight of the evening was when a software developer in the audience stood up and shared his own immigration story from more than twenty years ago.

Last week at Dechert LLP in midtown Manhattan, LII Bulletin alumna Micaela McMurrough moderated a panel on cybersecurity in an era of deregulation.  Not only was the panel equal parts informative and entertaining, the views of some of Manhattan’s most recognizable landmarks from Dechert’s 28th-floor conference room were something our contingency from Ithaca won’t soon forget.

Why host an immigration law panel in Palo Alto and a cybersecurity panel in New York City to celebrate 25 years of rescuing public legal information from for-profit publishers and government file cabinets?   Why not have a lovely dinner party instead?   There are several reasons, and we’ll focus on just a few here.

First, our 25th anniversary marks an occasion for some introspection–to see how much we’ve grown up from the days of Tom Bruce, Peter Martin, and some servers in a utility closet.   Of the many, many things that have surprised us about our subsequent success, one of the more powerful is our capability as a convenor.   We’ve had good luck (and even better results) building bridges over daunting chasms such as those that often exist between, for example, government and the private sector, technologists and lawyers, or academics and, well, everyone!   Calling up our friends and putting together diverse panels speaking on important topics with broad appeal across all of those areas is its own kind of celebration of the status we now enjoy.

Second, we have always been and always hope to be a public-facing information service.  A big part of that is building a creative space where some of the best and most dedicated minds in legal informatics can experiment with new ways to process, format and present useful information to the world.   The website you know and support is as much a byproduct of that work as it is the product of that work.  But bringing people important information in new and better ways is our passion.  Panel events on topics in the headlines are very much in that tradition.

Finally, the best reason for these events is you.   We sit quite literally in a tower in a law school on a campus in the “centrally isolated” community of Ithaca, New York.  There are millions and millions and millions of you whom we serve but will never meet.   While events like these will never come close to helping us reach out and connect with everyone, everywhere, it does help us connect with a tiny cross-section of our audience.  Whenever we come down out of that literal tower and leave central New York to meet with users of our website, we always walk away with valuable feedback and invaluable inspiration.   

If you’re in the DC area on November 9th, please come join us for our next event. 

In March of 2015 Alfred Mahlangu, of AfricanLII, stayed with us for a month to create LII in a Box. He was “here to get ideas”, and he felt it was a great opportunity to work with the LII team as a whole. We wrote about Alfred’s visit here, but it’s been awhile, so thought we would reach out and see how it’s been going and what else he might be working on.

Tell us about what brought you to the LII originally

The aim of the trip was to learn about how things are handled technically and have more direct interaction with the technical team at LII given that LII has been around for sometime and were best suited to offer advise on how to go about technical side of things and the experience has been very valuable for me to date.

Can you remind us what LII in a Box is?

LII in a Box is a Drupal packaged distribution that powers up standards-based free and open access legal information websites

What was the hardest part of getting LII in a box off the ground? Is that still a challenge?

Since I was new to Drupal for me it was learning about Drupal standards on how to structure modules but it got better with time.

What was the hardest court or country? – what were its challenges?

We tested with Afghanistan and translation into the Arabic was a bit of a challenge

Did anything surprise you in the way it’s being used (or anything else surprising or interesting)?

Not really

How many are using it now?

We have about 13 websites that are using it

What modifications have you made from the prototype as it’s evolved?

The big modification made was of including enabling legislation to be directly consumed from a platform called Indigo and be presented on the LII-in-a-box site as well as the use of ApacheSOLR as a search engine to give users more alternatives in terms of how they want to filter the search results.

Tell us about the work you do

You work for AfricanLII – what is your job with them?

I am the IT Coordinator for AfricanLII and my main duties include Software Development and System Administration, Project Management and Leadership

What should we know about South Africa and it’s Free Law movement?

Free Access to Law movement is good for a country like South Africa as it ensures accountability and access to justice for ordinary citizens.

What is AfricanLII’s future look like, goals, challenges, successes)?

AfricanLII’s main goal is to promote Free Access to Law and Open Justice in Africa.

Are you working on any new projects?

We have Pocket Law project that enables users who have internet connectivity challeges to  still be able to access legal information as well as mobile apps

Tell us about yourself

We see you also work with South African National Parks, what are the challenges of improving the awareness and reputation of SANParks?

South African National Parks is an organization I worked for prior to joining AfricanLII

What are your favorite parks or sites – what should we see if we visit?

My favourite park is Kruger National Park, seeing the big 5 animals

What do you like to do in your free time?

I read books on Economics,Philosophy and Politics

I keep seeing pictures of you in headphones spinning records – what’s that all about? What types of music do you play?

🙂 every now and then I get invited to be a DJ at functions and that’s why the earphones, with regards to the music type, I would say anything that has Good Tone, Rhythm and Vibration.

Are you ever coming back to Ithaca (or the states)?

In the near future yes

Last month, Attorney General Sessions described civil forfeiture as “a key tool that helps law enforcement defund organized crime, take back ill-gotten gains, and prevent new crimes from being committed.”  Politicians and media outlets on both sides of the aisle were skeptical about his decision to curb some fairly recent federal restrictions on the practice.  But what, exactly, is civil forfeiture and how did the practice come about?  A new wex article by Cornell Law student Stephanie Jurkowski answers those questions and more.  Read it here:  https://www.law.cornell.edu/wex/civil_forfeiture.