Archive for the 'Government Documents' Category

Nov 12 2014

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Supreme Court Resources (1/2)

For information on the Supreme Court and cases pending before the SCOTUS, the law library offers a wide range of commercial databases, along with free Internet resources.


These resources can provide almost anything you may want to know about a case at the Court. For an example, consider Zivotofsky v. Kerry, a case involving the constitutionality of a statute that directs the Secretary of State, on request, to record the birthplace of an American citizen born in Jerusalem as “Israel” on a United States passport. The Court’s web site provides docket information about the case, and much else: after the case was argued last week before the Justices, the transcript was posted later that day; and the audio recording of the argument was posted on Friday afternoon, following the Justices’ conference.

Among sources that compile information about the case, see SCOTUSblog for links to the briefs on the case; news coverage and links to commentary on the case; and a link to the lower court decision, which held the statute in question unconstitutional.

Among subscription services, Bloomberg BNA’s U.S. Law Week provides several useful tools for tracking the case, including the case summary from the Supreme Court Today Navigator, and news coverage at all stages of the case–e.g., the story on last week’s argument. Major general newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, are also excellent sources.

For news once the Court issues its opinion in the case, try also The Supreme Court Bulletin (syllabi of new opinions from Cornell’s LII) or Justia’s Opinion Summaries. For up-to-the-minute coverage, nothing beats the Twitter feeds of SCOTUSblog, other news sources or legal correspondents who cover the Court (Adam Liptak, Nina Totenberg).

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Nov 13 2013

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Research with Congressional Research Service Reports

Many researchers may be unfamiliar with one of the most useful types of U.S. government documents, the reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for members of Congress on topics relevant to current political issues. CRS defines its mission as serving Congress, rather than the general public. Because there is no comprehensive source providing public access to all CRS reports, identifying reports and locating them is frequently not as easy as running a Google search.

CRS reports can support legal research in several ways. Reports generally identify and discuss primary legal documents, particularly legislation, presidential executive orders and agency regulations that pertain to a topic. They provide historical, statistical and other information that provides context to current issues. And CRS Reports often address varying policy proposals and viewpoints. For law students, CRS reports could be a great resource to help select a Note topic, efficiently conduct background research or seek leads to further sources of information.

A sampling of recent CRS reports suggests the almost unlimited range of topics addressed: the history and recent increases of the debt limit, NSA surveillance leaks, sanctions against Iran, legal issues related to hydraulic fracturing (fracking), U.S.-China Trade Issues, and campaign finance policy.

One subscription database that can be helpful is ProQuest Legislative Insight. During a session, select the “Guided search” options and click the box to search “CRS and Misc. Publications.” A flexible advanced search feature allows searching by title keywords, full text, etc.



Other effective means of locating CRS reports include:

  • Open CRS is a project that seeks to make as many CRS reports as possible available by pointing to reports that have already been released to the public
  • U.S. Department of State provides access to a collection of CRS Reports and Issue Briefs, with a focus on foreign relations and national security (arranged by date, region and topic)
  • Federation of American Scientists (FAS) arranges CRS Reports by topic
  • University of North Texas has created a search engine to locate CRS Reports by keywords

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Sep 16 2013

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Government Documents

Filed under Government Documents

GPO Fdsys is the home of official U.S. Government documents. Take a look at the current FDsys “Featured Collections.”

Now that’s what I call official!

The new link is spelled out below.

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Aug 08 2013

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Deja vu all over again?

DOJ Archives logo(DOJ Archives Logo from

A more serious look that our usual technology Thursdays, but an interesting one nonetheless–the U.S. Department of Justice has released a previously unseen series of opinions ranging from the 1930s to the 1970s from the archives of the Office of Legal Counsel. In many cases, the opinions do not reflect the current positions of the office, but illustrate how areas of law developed around previously hot-button issues and thus, may shed light on how similar issues will be dealt with in this day and age, such as domestic surveillance and violations of the Espionage Act of 1917 (For example, in 1941, the OLC weighed in on the Naval Intelligence Service’s desire to listen in on phone calls to use the records “in prosecutions involving espionage, sabotage, and subversive activities,” and in 1942, they opined on the criminal liability for newspaper publication of naval secrets under the Espionage Act).

The opinions also look at historical political issues, such as the legal and practical consequences of a blockade of Cuba, and the removal of Japanese citizens from Hawaii to the United States, as well as recurring constitutional issues, like the President’s power in the field of foreign relations. At 508 pages of historical legal goodness, with contributions from legal heavyweights like Antonin Scalia, William H. Rehnquist, and Robert Bork, they’re perfect for some end-of-summer beach reading. Pick up the PDF from the OLC here or read the highlights from the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.

* hat tip: Above the Law


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Jul 09 2013

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The FISA Court and the Expansion of NSA Power

Did you know that the the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or FISA court) consists entirely of judges appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts without the advice and consent of the Senate? Or that this court’s secret proceedings are invariably ex parte, with the government making its case unopposed before the court (nearly always) grants the government’s requests?

In a recent segment of the Rachel Maddow Show, guest host Ezra Klein explained how the FISA court operates and summarized recent news stories about the the court:

Given the secrecy and lack of adversary proceedings that usually aid the fact-finding mission of courts, NYU law professor Elizabeth Goitein observed in this program, the FISA court is “a flawed institution by design.”

Under the USA Patriot Act, the Wall Street Journal article states “the Federal Bureau of Investigation can require businesses to hand over ‘tangible things,’ including ‘records,’ as long as the FBI shows it is reasonable to believe the things are ‘relevant to an authorized investigation’ into international terrorism or foreign intelligence activities.” Concluding that the FISA court effectively has revised the USA Patriot Act in ways that resulted in the surveillance recently disclosed by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, the article continues:

In classified orders starting in the mid-2000s, the court accepted that “relevant” could be broadened to permit an entire database of records on millions of people, in contrast to a more conservative interpretation widely applied in criminal cases, in which only some of those records would likely be allowed, according to people familiar with the ruling.

In interviews with The Wall Street Journal, current and former administration and congressional officials are shedding new light on the history of the NSA program and the secret legal theory underpinning it. The court’s interpretation of the word enabled the government, under the Patriot Act, to collect the phone records of the majority of Americans, including phone numbers people dialed and where they were calling from, as part of a continuing investigation into international terrorism.

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Jun 18 2013

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The 2012 SCOTUS Term Winds Down

In the final weeks of a Supreme Court Term, there are dramatic moments on the days when opinions are released. Court-watchers and those who have a strong interest in the pending cases follow the news from Washington closely. Often, the most highly anticipated cases are among the last to be released, later in June.

Of the 64 opinions from the current Term, five were released on Monday. Still, as news coverage noted (see here, here, here), the “big” cases were not yet decided: neither of the same-sex marriage cases (DOMA or Proposition 8), nor the affirmative action case involving admissions at the University of Texas, nor the challenge to section 5 of Voting Rights Act. The Atlantic provides a brief summary of these four cases.

The next day for new opinions will be this Thursday. Once again, interested followers can visit SCOTUSBlog for its live-blogging from the Court, starting at 9 a.m.; at around 10 a.m., the justices will begin reading summaries of their opinions from the bench and the opinions will be posted on the court’s web site, as they are released.

And if the case you’re following isn’t announced on Thursday? Tune in again, on Monday …

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May 22 2013

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New Database for Massachusetts Legislative History Research: InstaTrac

Anyone who has tried to do Massachusetts Legislative History Research knows it can be very challenging because the Commonwealth does not publish reports and other legislative documents for the general public.  We have acquired a new database, InstaTrac, which is collecting these reports, starting in 2011.  InstaTrac also allows users to track current legislation, and receive the Daily Journal and legislative news via email.  These updates are an excellent way to stay up to date on the activities of the General Court.

In addition to this great content, InstaTrac also provides helpful tips on how to use the system.  The database includes a document on How to Get the Most Out of Your MassTrac Service as well as a detailed Help section.  If you have any questions about using InstaTrac, please contact a reference librarian.

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Apr 04 2013

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Certification class: Free Legal Research

The convenience of the major commercial legal databases has made them so popular that many law students rely on them almost exclusively for legal research. This session will highlight free tools available via Internet that are increasingly important for lawyers who need to do cost-effective research in the current economic environment. In some cases, these resources are as good as (or better than) anything provided by commercial publishers. We’ll consider resources for both primary and secondary legal sources, including: federal and state government web sites, Google Scholar (and tips for using Google), blogs and other current awareness tools, and more.

The class page is HERE.

Free Legal Research
April 8, 10 & 12 | 1 p.m. (Room 334)
David Bachman, instructor;

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Mar 19 2013

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Court Documents Certification Class

Need to find a brief?  Need to see if that motion to dismiss was granted?  As court documents become available electronically more and more attorneys find that they need to find these documents.  And who has to find them?  You!  Come learn what court documents are, how the system works and how to find these documents.

Monday, March 25th at 1pm in Rm 1570

Wednesday, March 27th and Friday, March 29th at 1pm in Rm 334

Instructor: Stefanie Weigmann

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Feb 27 2013

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Roll-Call Votes and the Hagel Nomination

Late on Tuesday afternoon, the Senate confirmed the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel to be the next Secretary of Defense. The vote on the confirmation was 58-41. With all Senate Democrats on record supporting the nomination–and Democrats in the majority–the nomination was not in doubt, once it came to an up-or-down vote. The key vote was the one to invoke cloture, or end the filibuster of Hagel’s nomination. There, the vote was 71-27.

A comparison of the roll-call votes in the Senate (numbers 23 and 24 of the 113th session) reveals who made the difference.  Altogether, there were 15 Republicans who split their votes. While ultimately voting to oppose Hagel’s confirmation, these Senators allowed the nomination to go forward: Alexander (TN), Ayotte (NH), Blunt (MO), Burr (NC), Chambliss (GA), Coburn (OK),  Collins (ME), Corker (TN), Flake (AZ), Graham (SC), Hatch (UT),  McCain (AZ), Murkowski (AK), Sessions (AL) and Thune (ND). Just four Republican Senators were pro-Hagel in both votes: Cochran (MS), Johanns (NE), Paul (KY) and Shelby (AL).

For ordinary citizens, this kind of analysis used to be difficult because roll-call vote information could be hard to locate. The more obscure the issue, the more difficult it was to find the voting records. The New York Times provided tables to show how members voted, but only on selected, major votes. The Congressional Record was a source for those who could visit a library that had CR in print. Beyond those, interested citizens may have had to consult  Congressional Quarterly (CQ) publications, Roll Call (the Capitol Hill newspaper), or possibly political, business or labor organizations that had a stake in the issue. In some cases, it may have been necessary for a constituent to contact the office of the Congressman or Senator directly.

Now, with Congressional and other government web sites providing House and Senate voting information, anyone with Internet access can learn how members of Congress voted on issues that matter to them–provided they know where to look.

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