Life and Death of Legislation in the 110th Congress

Fascinating new study by the folks at the Sunlight Foundation has just been released.

The Life and Death of Congressional Bills in the 110th Congress:A window into what happens to bills in congress,” seems to be a must-read for anyone who teaches legal research.

So, for the 110th congress, did you know:

  • there were 11059 bills introduced
  • of those, 3724 were introduced in the Senate and 7335 were introduced in the House
  • 442 bills became law — 4% of the bill introduced
  • and, most bills died in the committee of the chamber where it was introduced

And, they have all sorts of graphs and charts for you to get a real visual insight into the life cycle of legislation.

[hat tip to Ellen Miller]

Copyright, Technology, and Access to the Law: An Opinionated Primer

“Copyright, Technology, and Access to the Law: An Opinionated Primer”

NYLS Legal Studies Research Paper No. 08/09-1


Recently, the state of Oregon has used copyright law to threaten people who were publishing its laws online. Can they really do that?

More to the point, why would they? This essay will put the Oregon fracas in historical context, and explain the public policies at stake. Ultimately, it’ll try to convince you that Oregon’s demands, while wrong, aren’t unprecedented. People have been claiming copyright in the law for a long time, and at times they’ve been able to make a halfway convincing case for it. While there are good answers to these arguments, they’re not always the first ones that come to hand. It’s really only the arrival of the Internet that genuinely puts the long-standing goal of free and unencumbered access to the law within our grasp.

This essay, written for nonlawyers and people interested in contemporary debates over access to the law, explains what’s at stake in the Oregon dispute, how people have tried such things before, the role of new technologies in improving legal publishing, what the law has to say about it, and where we ought to go from here.


Source:  LSN Legal Information & Technology Vol. 1 No. 8,  04/08/2009

President Obama and Signing Statements

An excerpt from today’s new White House Memorandum:

“In recent years, there has been considerable public discussion and criticism of the use of signing statements to raise constitutional objections to statutory provisions. There is no doubt that the practice of issuing such statements can be abused. Constitutional signing statements should not be used to suggest that the President will disregard statutory requirements on the basis of policy disagreements. At the same time, such signing statements serve a legitimate function in our system, at least when based on well-founded constitutional objections. In appropriately limited circumstances, they represent an exercise of the President’s constitutional obligation to take care that the laws be faithfully executed, and they promote a healthy dialogue between the executive branch and the Congress.”

“With these considerations in mind and based upon advice of the Department of Justice, I will issue signing statements to address constitutional concerns only when it is appropriate to do so as a means of discharging my constitutional responsibilities.”

New Online Searchable Database of Marine Laws

New Online Searchable Database of Marine Laws

Contact: Christina S. Johnson, , 858-822-5334

PALO ALTO – All of the laws pertaining to the management of the California Current ecosystem have been compiled into a single, searchable online database, publicly accessible through the Governance of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem Website at

The massive compilation project – 1,466 state, federal and  international laws were included in the database – will hopefully help ocean stakeholders identify gaps, overlaps and inconsistencies in marine governance as it relates to the California Current ecosystem.

“The database allows you to explore different approaches in managing the same resource across jurisdictions,” says its creator, Julia Ekstrom, a former researcher and graduate student in marine policy at UC Santa Barbara, whose work was funded by the California Ocean Protection Council and California Sea Grant.  “You can also see which agencies have responsibility over whatever topics you are interested in and through what laws.”

The Website, which continues to be updated, allows users to perform keyword searches to find state and federal statutes and/or regulations with the keyword in their text. Bar charts show the number of laws under the jurisdiction of each relevant federal and state agency. State laws in Washington, Oregon and California are included in the digital library.

An article to appear in the May 2009 issue of the journal Marine Policy will detail techniques for using the database to analyze overlap in marine policies. A separate correspondence on the criteria used to assemble the database will appear in the same issue. A third article on how to use the database to identify gaps in ocean law is in review for publication.

Ekstrom, now a post-doctoral scholar at Stanford University, is currently working on building a software application to enable more advanced policy analyses using the database.



Governance of the California Current Large Marine Ecosystem Website


Hat tip to Joe Wible

A Statute by Any Other (Non-Acronomial) Name Might Smell Less Like S.P.A.M., or, The Congress of the United States Grows Increasingly D.U.M.B

“A Statute by Any Other (Non-Acronomial) Name Might Smell Less Like S.P.A.M., or, The Congress of the United States Grows Increasingly D.U.M.B.”

Cleveland-Marshall Legal Studies Paper No. 08-151

CHRIS SAGERS, Cleveland State University – Cleveland-Marshall College of Law

While the question why we Americans name our statutes is rarely asked and not obvious, it turns out to be extremely interesting and, at least in the case discussed in this essay, illuminating. Namely, it appears to have occurred to someone on Capitol Hill that there is something to be gained by devising statute names that spell out clever acronyms. These things normally aim to be amusing or cute in some sense, and also usually serve some rhetorical purpose. A first surprise about them is their recent and shocking profusion. During the first two hundred years of the Republic there appear to have been perhaps two such statutes. In the twenty years since, there have been at least fifty-three.

But on closer examination the practice turns out to be not actually so amusing after all, and thinking about it is not just some trite diversion. This trend in its detail turns out to have something fairly sobering to say about the way our Congress has operated for some years now. It also has something to say about who our elected representatives are as people, how they see their responsibilities, and just how low their opinions of we their constituents really must be. The ugliest thing about it is that, with we Americans, this sort of thing works; American democracy, like the popular names of several recent statutes, is a joke that isn’t funny.


And I love footnote #2 from the article:  “Though librarians are paying attention, God bless ’em.  See Mary Whisner, What’s in a Statute’s Name?, 97 L. Lib. J. 169 (2005).


Source:  LSN Law & Rhetoric Vol. 2 No. 9,  02/03/2009