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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

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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?

 

Today at SCOTUS - 12/9/2013

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Dec 092013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about (1) airline immunity under the Transportation Safety Act when an employee files a false report; and  (2) if a court’s decision is “final” when contractual attorney fees remain unresolved:

(1)  Air Wisconsin Airlines v. Hoeper  [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-315]

  • Can a court deny an airline immunity under the Aviation and Transportation Security Act for a report made by its employees to the Transportation Security Administration about another employee, without first determining that the airline’s disclosure was materially false?

(2)   Ray Haluch Gravel Co. v. Central Pension Fund  [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-992]

  • Can a district court’s decision that does not resolve a request for contractual attorney’s fees be a “final decision” under 28 U.S.C. § 1291?

Today at SCOTUS - 12/4/2013

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Dec 042013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments in a case about the rights of citizens of public roads cutting through military installations:

(1)  US v. Apel  [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-1038]

  • Can 18 U.S.C. § 1382, which prohibits a person from reentering a military installation after a commanding officer has ordered him not to reenter, be enforced on a portion of a military installation that is subject to a public roadway easement?

The other case scheduled for today, Township of Mount Holly v. Mount Holly Garden Citizens in Action, Inc., settled.  You can nevertheless read our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/11-1507, and some thoughts on the settlement here. 

Today at SCOTUS - 12/3/2013

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Dec 032013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about (1) preemption of state law tort claims under the Airline Deregulation Act and (2) standing to bring a false advertising claim under the Lanham Act:

(1)  Northwest, Inc. v. Ginsberg  [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-462]

  • Does the Airline Deregulation Act preempt a state claim for breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing concerning a frequent flyer program?

(2)   Lexmark International, Inc. v. Static Control Components, Inc. [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-873]

  • What is the appropriate framework to determine standing in a false advertising action under the Lanham Act?

Today at SCOTUS - 12/2/2013

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Dec 022013

Today, the Supreme Court hears arguments about (1) the role of federal courts in private arbitrations and (2) the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act:

(1)   BG Group, PLC v. Republic of Argentina  [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-138]

  • Does an arbitrator or a court decide whether a precondition to arbitration has been satisfied?
  • To what extent can federal courts review such decisions?

(2)   Michigan v. Bay Mills Indian Community [see our preview at http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/cert/12-515]

  • Can a federal court exercise jurisdiction over a state suit alleging violations of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act where the gaming activity is not located on Indian lands?
  • Does tribal sovereign immunity bar a state from suing a tribe in federal court for violations of the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act?