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Law matters.

I see that theme over and over again as I read our supporters’ comments and stories. We are grateful for each supporter, each donation, each comment, and each story.

Whether it’s a solo practitioner in zealous advocacy for her client, the regulatory web facing small business owners, the daily grind of a career in government service at any level, or just Americans looking to stay informed and empowered, our supporters make it clear time and time again that they support us because we embody something they believe – law matters.

“Simply stated, you bring the power of the law into the reach of ordinary citizens. I am most appreciative. Keep up the good work!”

LII donor Mark D.

The Legal Information Institute started 26 years ago with a simple question: we’re all bound by the law, why don’t we all have access to it? This old video we made still rings true. When we started, creators and publishers of legal materials balked at the notion that the law needed to be easily accessible by the public. Now accessibility is the default, and those who would profit from putting the law behind paywalls must explain themselves.

That means that each day, more and more “ordinary citizens” are finding reliable yet free answers to their questions about newsworthy topics that relate to politics, the Constitution, or the Supreme Court, as well as the more mundane but no less important sections of the US Code and the CFR that govern our lives

High-quality, structured, machine-readable data is becoming the standard, and the result is a bevy of free and low-cost services, databases, and “legal tech” of every shape and form. Attorneys, students, and even the judiciary are becoming ever less reliant on high-priced subscriptions and poorly-designed government sites as Free Law takes hold.

Those aren’t mere conveniences: they increase access to justice.

“I visit your site frequently, especially when researching 49 CFR for my consulting work, and 38 CFR for veterans’ claims. Since my work with veterans on their disability claims is pro bono, having the laws readily available, easily searchable and free is extremely helpful. Thanks for all the good work.”

LII Donor Margaret Felts

Law matters. It’s what we do. It’s what so many of you do, too. Thank you for helping us.

We know you’re busy this time of year – thank you for taking the time to read this. Many of you have already pitched in or are planning to make a donation to help LII this year. It makes an enormous difference to the nine of us who provide this service and the millions and millions of people who use it. Thank you.

This time of year has been keeping us busy as well, and the feedback you’ve been sending us has been truly heartening.

“I look up Federal Rules and statutes on LII all the time. It is the easiest and best-formatted site for a quick lookup.” – recent donor William Hubbard

Not long ago, I popped by my colleague Val’s office and discovered her making final pre-publication checks for the Federal Rules updates before they went into effect on December 1st. Unlike the rest of the US Code, the Federal Rules are not made available in a machine-readable format until after they go into effect, so we have always reviewed each change and new rule individually and incorporated them by hand into the text so that users like you would have the changes as soon as they go into effect. The last step is the pre-publication review: where Val’s colleague Craig reads the new text aloud while Val reviews the copy we’ve edited and are ready to share with users like you. It’s painstaking work, and not really the kind of thing a tech-forward group like ours usually talks about, but then we get to hear from some of the two million law students, paralegals, judges, and lawyers who rely on those rules.

“I am an MS Taxation student and I am using this site every day. It is wonderful” – Anji, a recent donor

LII’s engineering team has been prototyping new features for the US Code and the Code of Federal Regulations for some time now. But when we went to bring these features to the public, we realized that our publishing software was too slow. Even though we could keep up with legislative or regulatory updates (there are usually no more than a few thousand in a day), it was a strain to regenerate the hundreds of thousands of web pages to deploy each new feature across every section – or even just the Tax Code. So the engineering team rebuilt our web publication pipeline from the ground up – Sylvia tuned the software that finds the processed text; Nic automated bringing in extra cloud hardware for processing; Ayham wrote a new search back end, and Jim wrote the software to generate the website from the content. Now, when we learn something new about the Code, we’ll be able to get it to you – and 20 million other readers of the US Code and CFR – without delay. We know you appreciate that.

“I use your site regularly. It is the most current, and easiest to use, free site for access to the US Code.” – an anonymous donor

Your support helps us help millions of people advance their educations, earn a living, make government more effective, or simply find and understand the law. We hope you will continue to help us help out.

DONATE NOW

Thank you,

Sara Frug
Associate Director
Legal Information Institute

The best part about fundraising is the people we meet and the stories they tell us about why they support our mission.  We’re so grateful for each and every one (donors AND stories!), and we want to hear your stories. Our new friend Gretchen Eikermann sent us a donation last week and told us this story:

The reason I was using the website last night was to assist my niece, an 8th grader, with her homework. The homework was essentially to determine whether the narrator of A Telltale Heart would qualify for the insanity defense in any of its iterations for a mock trial this Friday. Although I specialized in defending persons suffering from mental illness and developmental disability as a Public Defender, I would have been hard pressed completing this assignment following her teacher’s instructions to use the inscrutable search results Findlaw produces as my reference. My niece called me utterly confused and panicked trying to figure out what the heck M’Naughten and Durham were. I sent her the link to your site’s Insanity Defense page and by the time I called her back to “explain the law” she had pretty much figured it out herself after reading your site’s clear and accessible, but not “dumbed down” information on the law of insanity defense. She is no longer panicked but excited for her mock trial.  I was excited that she was excited about the law.

We sit in a literal tower on a college campus in a little city in Upstate New York.  Over 40 million people use our resources each year. In the typical year, we only hear from a few hundred of you (most donors don’t leave comments of any sort.)  So, for every great story we hear, we’re sure there are lots we don’t. So we thought we’d ask.

Please consider taking a minute to email us your best story about how you’ve used the materials at www.law.cornell.edu or www.oyez.org by clicking here.

Or, if you’ve been meaning to support our fundraising efforts anyhow, you can click on the button below and leave your story in the Comment box on the donation page.

GIVE NOW

Thanks,

Tom, Sara, Craig, Val, Nic, Sylvia, Jim, Ayham & Neli

We understand that when you choose to donate to the Legal Information Institute you are likely choosing among a number of causes you care about deeply. On behalf of everyone here, I’d like to say thank you to those who have already given this year and to those who plan to make a gift before year’s end.

When you support the LII, you are also supporting many, many other worthwhile organizations who use our website to support their own operations. We know that 58 branches of the United Way, 126 YMCA centers, 94 cancer research and treatment centers, 27 offices of the American Red Cross, and myriad other worthy causes have looked up the law on our website in support of their own mission.

“Your site constantly helps me give Veterans the help they need for their claims”
– recent donor Debra T.

We also hear from attorneys doing pro bono and “low bono” work, government employees (local, state & federal), and even individuals navigating some aspect of the legal or regulatory landscape without professional advice–all of whom say the collections we provide help them in ways large and small.

“I find Cornell’s Legal Information Institute a valuable resource in my job as Legal Counsel for the Michigan Legislature. I think LII does a great job keeping information up to date, for which I am very grateful!”
– recent donor Lorna B.

When you support us directly, you are supporting all of them indirectly. On this Giving Tuesday, we hope you get as much satisfaction from that as we do.

HELP US HELP THEM: DONATE NOW

Thank you,

Craig Newton
Associate Director
Legal Information Institute

We can never say it enough: thank you. Your contributions help millions of others to find and understand the law. More than that, they are a powerful vote of confidence in the LII’s mission, and in the strategies we use to provide an objective source of legal information to more than 30 million people each year. One purpose of this letter — and it’s a long one, to be sure — is to show you just how many things you have to be proud of. Your contributions support a stunning variety of activities that help millions of people.

Your support does much more than simply providing “more free law stuff” to the world. To be sure, we reach remarkable numbers of people in remarkable places.  Those 30 million people come from more than 240 countries and territories in addition to the US.   India is home to the largest foreign audience, at well over half a million.   Nearly 200,000 of our users prefer to browse the web in Chinese. 15,000 are in Iran.  3 reached out to us from Christmas Island, one of the most isolated spots on the globe. Because of your help, our work reaches everywhere on the planet.

Your donations increase the range and quality of the objective legal commentary that we offer.  On that front, this year’s biggest news is our new edition of the United States Constitution Annotated (CONAN), a comprehensive explanation of the United States Constitution and of the key Supreme Court cases that interpret it.  The base text is a scrupulously objective commentary written by the Congressional Research Service for the benefit of the Congress and its staffers.  We’ve made it better, adding navigation, search, and links to the Supreme Court opinions.  The result is an accessible, usable, and objective guide to some of the key issues before us as a nation. You can read more about this project here.

CONAN and our Federal law collections serve around 13-15% of the adult population of the US. But your contributions also help particular groups of people who are at risk. The editors of our Women & Justice collection work with our law firm partners White & Case and Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to provide free online access to global gender justice jurisprudence, legislation, and reports representing 116 countries, three regional human rights organizations, and international criminal tribunals and treaty monitoring bodies.  The information is used by advocates and judges around the world who are dealing with issues of domestic violence, acid attacks, sexual violence in conflict zones, and other aspects of justice for women.

But people also come to the LII for a lot of things that simply help them understand and anticipate all the important but far less dramatic ways in which the law can affect their business, their livelihoods, and their families. In January and early February last year, we saw a huge spike of interest in 15 USC 206, Standard Gauge for Sheet and Plate Iron and Steel.  The reason?  Announcements about tariff changes on imported metal products, which affect thousands of businesses and those who work for them.   We could name a hundred more pages on our site that get that kind of attention when people want to know how the actions of government are going to affect them.  No single one is dramatic  — but all of them together inform hundreds of thousands of people — people that you have helped to understand how the law is likely to affect them. Others take notice of the work that your donations make possible.  Whenever there is a hot-button issue in the public eye that requires an understanding of the laws that govern us, you will see media outlets linking back to the LII. The recent topic of birthright citizenship is a prime example, as a wide spectrum of publications linked to our pages, including The New York Times, CNN, Fox News, The Washington Post, USA Today, Politico, NBC News and The Atlantic.

It’s a little hard to find a big collection of dry legal text entertaining, but the LII reaches into popular culture, too.   Our work has appeared on the Colbert Show, in murder mysteries on television and in print, as an important part of an episode of “This American Life”, and (quite recently) in a Jeopardy question about the Supreme Court.  And audio recordings of Supreme Court oral arguments, taken from the LII’s Oyez site, are an important part of “Roe”, Lisa Loomer’s play about Roe v Wade.  “Roe” has been presented at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, the Berkeley Rep, and the Arena Stage in Washington, DC.  Last month, a playwright pal of ours ran into Lisa Loomer’s agent at a conference, and learned that Roe will be produced in Minneapolis this year, and has been optioned for production on Broadway.  You won’t see “LII” in lights, but audiences will see an LII credit in the program.

For the last few years, we’ve had a hard time filling vacancies in our engineering staff.  Ithaca has always had a small startup culture, but in recent years it’s grown, and become a significant competitor for the kind of advanced technical talent that makes our work possible.  This year, we were extremely lucky to hire two very talented individuals.  Ayham Boucher came to us from the Ag-Analytics project at the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Ag-Analytics.org is a web application that integrates geographical, weather, and precision agriculture data collected by farm equipment; it used big data and predictive analytics techniques to help farmers assess different possible crop insurance strategies.  Jim Phillips came to us from the Gleason Corporation in Rochester, where he has worked for over 20 years, starting as a Controls Engineer and most recently working as a Software Engineer in Research and Development. Like Ayham, Jim is a full-stack developer with experience working “close to the metal” on hardware projects. He is also highly curious and a tinkerer. At Gleason, he worked on some of the company’s first web applications. A qualified paramedic, he’s also certified as a cave scuba diver and wrote software to mix his gases — an extreme exercise in trusting your own work as a developer.

We also realized we need more help in better communicating our work and mission to the world so Neli Karabelova joined us as our new engagement specialist. Neli came to us after working as a marketing professional for Miller Mayer, LLP, an international law firm with a heavy emphasis on immigration law. She led a successful full rebranding campaign for them among others, and if you’ve ever tried to get two lawyers to agree on something, you’d understand what an accomplishment that is. Neli has also been a photographer for over 10 years and will use her creative eye and love for visuals to give you colorful relief from our penchant for big blocks of text.

If you’d like a refresher on what our full team looks like, head over to our staff page.

When you think about it, though, it’s amazing — nine people in Ithaca, NY serving the needs of 30 million around the globe.  And your contributions make it all possible.

The LII is a small band of experts — Val, Neli, Ayham, Jim, Nic, Sylvia, Sara, Craig, and me.  Over the years, we’ve transmitted that expertise to people in state and Federal government, to international bodies like the UN and the Hague Conference on Private International Law, and to more than 25 operations like ours serving people around the globe.  We’ve testified to Congressional committees and advised operations on five continents.  With your help, we’ve built new technologies and taken new editorial approaches to make the law easier to find and understand. Your contributions have helped hundreds of thousands of advocates to help millions and millions of people to understand and solve problems that affect their lives in important ways.  That is huge.

Let me just close by saying one more thank-you.  Your contributions support an incredible range of work on behalf of millions of people worldwide.  We are very, very grateful for your past support, and are looking forward to the future.

All the best from all of us,

Tom, Sara, Craig, Neli, Val, Ayham, Jim, Nic, and Sylvia

DONATE NOW!

Read the Constitution Annotated here!

  • The Constitution Annotated is well-known and highly regarded as an invaluable resource for non-partisan explanations of Constitutional concepts.
  • Previously only available to the public as a PDF or in print, the Constitution Annotated now exists in XML courtesy of Cornell’s Legal Information Institute.
  • The LII’s Constitution Annotated is navigable, accessible, hyperlinked, searchable, and fully up-to-date.

Cornell’s Legal Information Institute is celebrating Constitution Day by publishing the first publicly-available web version of the Congressional Research Service’s Constitution Annotated, a non-partisan publication that helps readers appreciate how Americans’ collective 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.  

While the Government Publishing Office makes the Constitution Annotated available in print and online as a 2800 page PDF, it does not release the software “roadmap”(XML) that other publishers need to make feature-rich variations.  With assistance from open government advocates Josh Tauberer of GovTrack and Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, the LII re-created that map and then used it to improve upon the government’s PDF.  In addition to being fully up-to-date, LII’s Constitution Annotated (available at  https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution-conan) is navigable, accessible, hyperlinked and searchable.  Subsequent versions will use Semantic Web technologies to assist interconnection and data integration with other online resources. The projects started with a group of Cornell Computing and Information Science students –  Anusha Chowdhury, Garima Kapila, Tairy Davey, Brendan Rappazzo, and Max Anderson, organized with the help of Professor William Arms. They developed software to convert the original PDF into data the LII’s developers could use as a starting point to building out the full version you see today.

“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.”

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.”  Former Senator Russ Feingold has described it as “an invaluable resource for students, scholars, and other individuals interested in learning how the U.S. Supreme Court interprets our nation’s governing document.” By publishing the text as XML, the LII and its colleagues hope to help the document live up to its full potential.

The Legal Information Institute is an independently-funded project of the Cornell Law School dedicated to identifying, exploring, and implementing technical solutions that make legal information more accessible to all. Our team of technologists unlock government-published legal information and present it at www.law.cornell.edu and www.oyez.org in feature-rich and user-friendly collections used by more than 40 million people each year to find and understand the law.

Today at SCOTUS -- 1/14/14

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Jan 142014

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about (1) the powers of bankruptcy courts; (2) the taxation of unemployment benefits; and (3) federal property statutes:

(1)  Executive Benefits Insurance Agency v. Arkin [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-1200];

  • Does Article III of the Constitution permit bankruptcy courts to enter final judgments in “core” proceedings as defined in 28 U.S.C. § 157(b)? If not, can bankruptcy courts exercise jurisdiction over litigants through their “implied consent”?

(2)  US v. Quality Stores, Inc.s [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-1408]

  • Are supplemental unemployment benefits paid to laid-off employees considered “wages” under the Federal Insurance Contributions Act (FICA), and therefore taxable as income?

(3)  Marvin M. Brandt Revocable Trust v. US [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-1173]

  • Does the United States have a reversionary interest in a railroad right-of-way created by the General Railroad Right of Way Act of 1875 after the federal government granted the lands underlying the right-of-way to a private party?

Today at SCOTUS -- 1/13/2014

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Jan 132014

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments in cases about (1) recess appointments and (2) misbehaving debtors in bankruptcy:

(1)  NLRB v Noel Canning [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-1281]

  • Can the President exercise the recess-appointment power during a recess while the Senate is still in session? Can the President exercise this power when the Senate convenes every three days in pro forma sessions?
  • Can the President use the recess-appointment power to fill any vacancy that exists during a recess, or only to fill those vacancies that arose during the recess?

(2) Law v. Siegel [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-5196]

  • If a debtor in bankruptcy commits misconduct during bankruptcy proceedings, can statutory exemptions previously granted to him be revoked as punishment for his misbehavior?

Today at SCOTUS - 12/11/2013

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Dec 112013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a cases about (1) self-incrimination in a capital punishment trial and (2) the statue of limitations for child custody petitions under the Hague Convention:

(1)  White v. Woodall [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-794]

  • Does a trial court’s rejection of a non-testifying defendant’s request for a no-adverse-influence instruction during the sentencing phase of a capital punishment trial violate that defendant’s Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination when the defendant has pled guilty to all of the alleged crimes and aggravating circumstances?

(2) Lozano v. Alvarez  [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-820]

  • Can a district court considering a petition under the Hague Convention for the return of an abducted child to the child’s home country toll the running of the one-year filing deadline when the abducting parent has concealed the whereabouts of the child from the other parent?

Today at SCOTUS - 12/10/2013

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Dec 102013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a cases about (1) EPA rulemaking and (2) the Child Status Protection Act :

(1)  EPA v. EME Homer City Generation [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-1182]

  • Did the EPA permissibly interpret the phrase “contribute significantly” when it balanced achievable emission reduction levels against the cost of achieving such emission reductions?
  • Can states wait for the EPA to adopt a rule quantifying each state’s “good neighbor” obligations before they adopt a state implementation plan prohibiting emissions that “contribute significantly” to other states’ pollution problems?

(2)  Mayorkas v. Cuellar de Osoria [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-930]

  • Does the Child Status Protection Act grant relief to an alien who qualifies as a child derivative beneficiary at the time a visa petition is initially filed, but who reaches age 21 (“ages out”) when the visa becomes available to the principal beneficiary?