Zivotofsky v. Kerry

Now that we are well into June, the “major” cases that the Supreme Court has taken up in the current Term are beginning to be decided. For dates when opinions will be released, see the Mondays marked in blue on the calendar on the Court’s home page.

One such case is Zivotofsky v. Kerry, a/k/a the Jerusalem passport case, decided on Monday. The Court struck down §214(d) of the Foreign Relations Authorization Act, Fiscal Year 2003, which directed the secretary of state, upon request, to record “Israel” as the place of birth of a U.S. citizen born in Jerusalem. In a 6-3 decision, the majority held that Congress had intruded on the power to recognize foreign nations and governments, designated to the President by Article II of the Constitution.

Numerous commentators have written about the decision.

Still to come this month are the highly anticipated King v. Burwell (which challenges IRS regulations extending tax credits to coverage purchased through exchanges established by the federal government, involving the health insurance of millions  of Americans) and Obergefell v. Hodges (the same sex marriage cases).

Stay tuned.


Summer Reading

With Memorial Day past and the first day of summer fast approaching, summer reading lists and suggestions are beginning to appear. If nothing else, these can serve as reminders
to reclaim a pleasure that may have been consumed by the busyness of law school.

The New York Times has published its Summer Reading section, with lists of titles in TravelThrillers, Humor, Cooking, Science Fiction & Fantasy and other categories.

NYT summer

Below are some of the other interesting lists we have seen so far. We’ll add to list of lists as interesting new ones appear.


And there are the programs designed by schools and libraries for young people, such as these from the Boston Public Schools and the American Library Association.

Whatever your reading interests or genre: enjoy!


Congress.gov for Treaty Information

As you may know, Congress.gov is the official website for official U.S. legislative information and documents such as bills, committee hearing transcripts and committee reports. It took over that roll from THOMAS, the original Congressional website, in 2012.

For most of the period since the transition, however, THOMAS continued to be the better source for information about treaties: Senate consideration and action on treaties submitted by the President. For example, see the information provided by THOMAS on the Senate’s consideration of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities below.




This Spring, Congress.gov began providing detailed information about treaties back to 1975. See the display of information on the disabilities convention in Congress.gov below.




Unlike the display in THOMAS, Congress.gov provides links to several relevant documents, including the Treaty document itself, 112-7, and the accompanying Senate reports, in HTML text or PDF.

Using Congress.gov can be an adjustment. Fortunately, the site provide extensive Help screens, including Search tips.



The Marriage Arguments at SCOTUS Today

Due to the extraordinary public interest in the oral arguments held today at the U.S. Supreme Court in Obergefell v. Hodges and the other same-sex marriage cases, the Court has made the audio recording of the argument available on the same day: HERE.

The transcript of the oral argument will be made available later today on the same page.

Extensive coverage of the cases and the arguments has been provided by The New York Times, SCOTUSblog and many other news outlets.

UPDATE: The Court posted the audio file and transcript on the second question in Obergefell here.


Resources for Exam Preparation

As we get farther into April, and the beginning of law school exams approaches, attention turns to exam preparation.

Our exam preparation guide provides links to a wide range of resources, included online access to law school exams given in previous semesters. (Note, post-2004 exams are available exclusively online; earlier exams are shelved in bound volumes, in Pappas and Annex Reference at KF 292 B5 A23.) Also provided: a range of study aids, books on how to take exams, CALI lessons and miscellaneous advice and tips.

Black Letter Evidence         Writing Essay Exams     Con Law flashcards

CALI tips   Lexis_QandA_Family Law

The above list does not exhaust what is available. This directory provides a more comprehensive list of study aids. The “Exams” topic collects posts from this blog on the topic, including, e.g., Jenna’s post on flashcards. See also the suggestions on taking exams in the LLM Survival Guide and 1L Survival Guide.

For other suggestions, or questions about accessing any of these materials, please speak with a reference librarian.

We have also noted tips on the importance of practicing good self-care and stress management during exam season, and suggested campus resources that are provided for students by the Student Health Services office.




Update on same-sex marriage cases

An earlier post in this blog reported on the status of the same-sex marriage cases that are pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

At that time (March 18), as noted on SCOTUSblog’s merits cases section, most of the amicus curiae briefs that had been filed at that time supported the rights of those seeking to establish a Constitutional right to marry. In recent weeks, the filing of briefs has continued, and the Court has received numerous briefs that support the state laws that prohibit same-sex marriages; these include those of the Republican Platform Committee, the Concerned Women for America and the Conference of Catholic Bishops.



SCOTUSblog continues to be a major source of legal analysis on the case and the arguments of the parties. Lyle Denniston has posted the first three of four preview articles summarizing (1) the perspective of the same-sex couples who have challenged laws prohibiting recognition of their marriages; (2) the position of the state governments defending their laws, and (3) the amicus briefs supporting the couples. A fourth post, summarizing the amicus briefs supporting the state governments, is forthcoming.

As the date of oral argument (April 28) approaches, news and commentary on the cases is increasing, including articles anticipating an expected ruling in support of the couples and the relationship of the marriage cases to the “religious freedom” laws proposed or adopted in some stated. See, e.g., these articles in NPR, Slate and The Huffington Post.

Stay tuned.


Using Westlaw for Court Documents

A previous post discussed the Bloomberg Law docket search feature and access to federal court filings from the PACER system. While provided in different way, Westlaw Next also provides access to many court dockets, briefs and other court filings.

If you were researching, for example, Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., the pregnancy discrimination case decided recently by the Supreme Court, you could begin by retrieving the case on Westlaw Next. In the KeyCite information above the case report, the History tab provides information about lower court proceedings, in both list and graphical format. The Filings tab provides access to dockets, briefs and other court filings–not only for the case at the Supreme Court, but at lower courts as well. The Adobe icon indicates a document that is available in PDF; other documents are in HTML. (Click images below to expand.)

WLN-young     WLN-40 filings


Starting with a published case is the easiest way to locate court documents related to that case, but you can also find these documents by searching appropriate databases on Westlaw. From the main browse menu, Westlaw Next provides databases for briefs, dockets and argument transcripts, allowing the researcher to select smaller databases for those documents arranged by jurisdiction.

WLN-browse menu     WLN-search results

For example, an advanced search of briefs filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit retrieves three briefs from the Young case before that court.

While these databases on Westlaw Next do not provide the full list of all filings in lower court proceedings–and is less comprehensive than Bloomberg Law for current federal cases–it is a major source of dockets and other court documents for federal and some state courts.

For more information on locating court documents, consult our research guide or speak with a reference librarian.


Bloomberg Law for Court Documents

One of the most useful features of Bloomberg Law (BL) is the ability to access court dockets and filings in current and recent cases. For federal District and Circuit Courts of Appeals cases, BL allows you to access documents provided through the Federal Courts’ PACER system. Using your academic passwords, you can do this without paying the charges that PACER customers incur, which is generally 10 cents per page for each document accessed.

During a BL session, go to the Litigation & Dockets tab; then select the Search Dockets feature. From the resulting search screen, there is a two step process: first, select the court from the browse menus; then search for the particular case for which you are seeking docket information. (If you are seeking federal court information and already know the docket (or file) number for the case, these two steps can be merged into one search.) Click below to expand images.

BL-docket    BL-docket-2


For example, consider David King v. Sylvia Burwell, the case that challenged the legality of federally-sponsored insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, currently pending before the Supreme Court. That case originated in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and the trial court ruling was appealed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Suppose you were seeking documents from the District Court proceedings.

BL-docket-3     BL-docket-4

At the search page on BL, the first step is to select the court; here, the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. To run a search for the case, you could search for the name of a party, David King; the search retrieves two cases. Selecting the most appropriate case retrieves the docket. Access listed court filings by clicking the “View” or “Request” link for that item. Listed first, the Complaint is available as a PDF file, which appears in a window within the BL environment. Documents can be downloaded, printed or emailed.



The State of Same-Sex Marriage and the Law

Over the past year, no U.S. legal issue has generated more news coverage and commentary than the legal status of same-sex relationships, particularly the questions whether the Constitution requires states to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples and to recognize such licenses grated in other states.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court decided United States v. Windsor (2013), which struck down as unconstitutional a provision in the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined “marriage” under federal law to exclude same-sex couples. After Windsor, numerous federal and state courts ruled that the Constitution requires states to recognize same-sex marriages. In November 2014, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reached a different result, upholding bans on same-sex marriage under the laws of several states.

By granting certiorari in cases from the four states comprising the Sixth Circuit–Bourke v. Beshear (KY), DeBoer v. Snyder (MI), Obergefell v. Hodges (OH) and Tanco v. Haslam (TN)–the Supreme Court decided to address two questions left unresolved by Windsor. (Click below to expand image.)

 SSM questions

The Court has scheduled oral argument for April 28. In the past two weeks, dozens of briefs have been filed. Many of them are amicus curiae (or “friend of the court”) briefs, filed by persons or entities that are not parties to the case but wish to provide their perspectives to the Court. Most of them–including those of The American Psychological Association, The Cato Institute and the United States government–support the right of same-sex couples to marry. The Court’s decision is expected by the end of June, with these cases among the last to be decided in the Court’s October 2014 Term.

For those monitoring the topic, some of the best information sources are organizations that have been involved in the legal battle–e.g., Freedom to Marry and Lambda Legal. Other good sources include The New York Times and SCOTUSblog.

For worldwide information, the Jones Day law firm provides a database of jurisdictions, detailing the degree to which each country recognizes the status of same-sex relationships.