The superhero approach to legal research

We haven’t asked our students to buy a textbook in advanced legal research for a long time.  The existing books are just too darn expensive.  But a new book crossed my desk today that looks particularly useful for teaching legal research; it is:  The Law of Superheroes (catalog record copied below).

This book starts with three pages explaining “Legal Sources and Citations” that explain legal citation about as well as anything I’ve seen.  It also points the reader, presumably the lay reader, to sources of free law:  Google Scholar for legal opinions; Cornell’s LII for the United States Code.  Peter Martin is cited on page xiii, so this tells me the authors know their research!

Throughout the book are wonderful footnotes explaining, in the clearest language possible, different aspects of legal research.  For example, footnote #4 on p. 113:

. . . Restatements of law are scholarly works that attempt to set forth the majority position on particular areas of law or recommended changes to the majority position.  They mostly cover subjects that are still primarily common law rather than those based on legislation. The Restatements are not law themselves, but courts often find them persuasive, and many sections of various Restatements have been adopted as law by state courts.

The section on immigration (is Superman a citizen?) offers a great explanation of private laws:

Private Acts of Congress

There’s another way that someone can become a citizen without going through the immigration process: a “private act” of Congress, i.e., a law targeting a specific person and declaring him or her to be a citizen.[fn 9]  Although unusual today, private acts have a long history in the United States.[fn10]  . . . As a matter of fact, in at least one story, Superman is granted citizenship by every country in the world, presumably by their respective versions of a private act of Congress. . . .

9. . . . These bills are not very common, nor are they usually passed, but it happens.

10.  In fact, for decades after the founding of the country, private acts by state legislatures were the only way for a legitimate 9i.e., non-annullable) marriage to be dissolved.  Similarly, prior to the passage of general incorporation statutes, which create the procedures by which corporations may be chartered with state-level secretaries of state, creating a corporate entity required an act of the state legislature.

The sections on international and interplanetary law are really fun, and explain the very basics of “law” itself:

The important thing to remember about international law . . . is that international law is a matter of custom and practice as much as it is anything else.  This is true of domestic law as well, and is really the reason the common law exists: a “law” is, essentially, a custom or tradition that is enforced by a government.  In the case of common law that tradition is built up by the decisions of the courts. . . .

I may have more to add later, as I’m taking this book home with me for the Thanksgiving break.

Here’s its catalog record:

The law of superheroes / James E. Daily and Ryan M. Davidson.

At the Library:
Crown (Law) > Basement > PN56 .L33 D35 2012

Bookmark: http://searchworks.stanford.edu/catalog/9734665

 

HeinOnline’s Browsable Congressional Record Index

We’ve recently learned that HeinOnline’s “U.S. Congressional Documents” library offers browsable copies of the Congressional Record Index.  Given proposals to axe many print copies of the Congressional Record, there is concern that, among other things, we could lose ready access to the great research tool that is the Index.  Last year, we researched dozens of wilderness-related bills in the 1950s-1960s.  Initially, title searching in Congressional documents databases did not identify them all, because a few of the earlier bills were captioned as “forestry”—a fact discovered by using the print version of the Congressional Record Index.  So, we are  relieved that HeinOnline has preserved the Index’s utility with browsable PDFs.  To boot, they do a great job with metadata structuring.  Each letter within an Index may be accessed via separate hyperlink.  As one browses, the list of hyperlinks remains visible along the left of the screen, allowing for easy navigation.  Thank you, HeinOnline!

Judiciary Approves PACER Innovations To Enhance Public Access

http://www.uscourts.gov/Press_Releases/2010/JudicialConferenceMar2010.cfm

NEWS RELEASE

Judiciary Approves PACER Innovations To Enhance Public Access

 
Contact:
 David Sellers, 202-502-2600

 
March 16, 2010 —  The Judicial Conference of the United States today approved key steps to improve public access to federal courts by increasing the availability of court opinions and expanding the services and reducing the costs for many users of the Public Access to Electronic Court Records (PACER) system. At its biannual meeting in Washington, D.C., the Conference voted to:

 
 
� Allow courts, at the discretion of the presiding judge, to make digital audio recordings of court hearings available online to the public through PACER, for $2.40 per audio file.

� Adjust the Electronic Public Access fee schedule so that users are not billed unless they accrue charges of more than $10 of PACER usage in a quarterly billing cycle, in effect quadrupling the amount of data available without charge. Currently, users are not billed until their accounts total at least $10 in a one-year period.

� Approve a pilot in up to 12 courts to publish federal district and bankruptcy court opinions via the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) so members of the public can more easily search across opinions and across courts.

The Conference approved the plan to make digital audio recordings available on PACER after a two-year pilot project showed significant public interest in accessing these files. Prior to the pilot, such access was possible only by obtaining a CD recording from a court clerk�s office for $26. During the pilot, Internet access to the same content cost eight cents, but the $2.40 fee approved today was deemed by the Conference to be reasonable and come closest to recouping, but not exceeding, costs. Digital audio recording is used in most bankruptcy and district courts (where magistrate judges account for most of the usage).

For printed court documents, the $10 fee waiver affects tens of thousands of PACER users. In fiscal year 2009, about 153,000 PACER account holders�nearly half of all active accounts� did not receive a bill. For that 12-month period, a quarterly waiver would have affected an additional 85,000 accounts� resulting in 75 percent of all active accounts not receiving bills. Analysis of fiscal year 2008 billing data showed a similar impact.

As mandated by Congress, electronic access to court information is funded through reasonable user fees, and not through taxes paid by the general public. Last year, PACER received more than 360 million requests for electronic access to information from the over 33 million federal cases that have documents online. The Electronic Public Access fee revenue is used exclusively to fund program expenses and enhancements that increase public access to the courts. As a result, PACER is a very economical service: the charge for accessing filings, other than opinions, is just eight cents per page, with a maximum charge of $2.40 regardless of the length of a document. At federal courthouses, public access terminals provide free PACER access to view filings in that court, as well as economical printouts (priced at ten cents per page). The charge for copies from the paper case file in the clerk’s office was–and remains–50 cents a page.

All court opinions are available through PACER free of charge, and that will not change. The pilot project to make bankruptcy and district court opinions also available through the Government Printing Office’s system will enhance public access to those opinions.

The Judiciary is conducting a comprehensive assessment of its Electronic Public Access Program services to identify potential enhancements to existing services and new public access services that can be provided to litigants, the bar, and the public. All active PACER users were welcomed to participate in at least one of the assessment surveys, focus groups, or interviews. The results of that assessment will be available by July 2010.

The US Party/Case Index is a tool that enables users to locate a case across the federal courts. The application has been running in its current format since September 1999, and currently receives over 200,000 searches daily. A new version of the search tool, which includes additional search capabilities and result formats, has been developed and will be deployed under the new name PACER Case Locator this month.