On getting online state codes (mostly) right

This post is a slight update of one that originally appeared on lawlibrary.case.edu.

I recently had occasion to confirm a citation to the codified statutes of Wisconsin. Wisconsin happens to be one of the minority of states that produces both a directly state-published statutory Code and a commercially published (West, in this case) annotated code.

But the quality of the online availability of the “official” code, the Wisconsin Statutes & Annotations is worthy of special praise. Continue reading

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IRS Controversy: What is a 501(c)(4) anyway?

Allegations of inappropriate IRS investigations of the tax status of “tea party” groups have put so-called 501(c)(4) groups in the headlines. Section 501 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code (i.e. Title 26 of the U.S. Code) identifies many types of organizations exempt from most federal income taxation (with exceptions provided by certain other sections of this sub-chapter of the Code). Sub-section 501(c) lists out the types of exempted organizations. 501(c)(3) is the most well-known of these, and covers non-profit corporations including many charitable, religious, and educational institutions. Until recently 501(c)(4) has received far less public, political, or non-specialist legal attention. 501(c)(4) exempts “civic leagues or organizations not organized for profit but operated exclusively for the promotion of social welfare” or certain kinds of local employee organizations.
Read more on lawlibrary.case.edu

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Marriage Cases

Today the U.S. Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in Hollingsworth v. Perry, a challenge to the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriage after it was (briefly) made legal in that state. Tomorrow, the Court hears oral arguments in United States v. Windsor, which is a challenge brought to part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act by a widow who was required to pay estate taxes on her same-sex spouse’s inheritance, which would not have been owed had federal law recognized their marriage (which was conducted in Canada and legally recognized by their state of New York). Together, these are the celebrated same-sex marriage cases. While there are significant differences between the two, both come to the Court framed as equal protection cases.

Obviously, the cases are all over the news. But here are a few select news sources likely to be worth following — including within the next few hours as recaps of the Hollingsworth arguments begin to filter out. While all the usual opinion and general-interest outlets have commentary and analysis (some quite insightful) these are just places to turn for quick, newsy, takes and in some cases for links to deeper treatment.

Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu

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New Law Review format on display at Circ. Desk

The Case Western Reserve Law Review has put a lot of really solid work into the typesetting and page layout of their journal. Besides some real benefits for their operation in the pre-production process, this reformatting makes the Law Review uniquely well-suited to viewing on tablet and portable e-reading devices.

Articles are still distributed as a PDF document, rather than in a “reflowable” e-reader format, to retain the standard pagination and footnoting conventions required for citation. But the scale and dimensions of the PDF pages and the text block within them will now be very comfortable to read on major mobile devices without requiring awkward zooming and panning of the screen. A full-issue PDF, including all front-matter (masthead, table-of-contents, etc.) is now provided. Each article PDF now includes a full cover page the same as the one that would be included in the author’s reprint of that article.
Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu

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Legislative History “genres”

In my last post I mentioned that the technical/mechanical tools for working with legislative materials (at least at the federal level) have lately become much more accessible and, if not intuitive, at least not so much of an actual barrier to research. This has in fact been the general trend in legal information, and therefore legal research — improvements in interface design, and the alignment of law-specific information-seeking with online search and retrieval techniques we use elsewhere in our lives have removed much (not all!) of the sheer mechanical and ‘interface level’ obstacles from specialized research. This is not to say that learning particular tools and interfaces is now unimportant. I, for one, still think every legal and/or scholarly researcher would benefit greatly from an understanding of controlled-vocabulary indexing, for example, and “Google-style” search can certainly be done either well or poorly.

But it does seem quite apparent that the mere mechanics and process of research have become accessible to a degree that proportionately more of our attention can be devoted to the other difficulty of being a good legal researcher; that of simply knowing enough of the institutional structures, law-making activities, and written work-product of the governing institutions you are concerned with that you have an adequate knowledge of what it even is that you are looking for.
Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu

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Demystifying Legislative History

Knowing how to do legislative-history research, at least in the federal system, is now not really any different than simply having general knowledge of the work-product of Congress: what, in a documentary sense, is it that the legislature actually does?

It wasn’t always so. “Legislative history” research has long had a sort of mystique among legal practitioners, and even among librarians. Early in my career, I even worked for a senior librarian who would “spring” a mock legislative history question upon unsuspecting candidates for entry-level librarian jobs: the idea (besides assessing general demeanor and presence in a reference discussion) was that familiarity with certain indexes and other finding tools was the perfect proxy to distinguish the candidate who actually knew his practical art as a reference librarian from someone who might have gone to law and/or library school but hadn’t acquired any real hands-on depth in the field.

But the world has changed. Read more on lawlibrary.case.edu

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Short Book Review: Typography for Lawyers

This post originally appeared on the blog of the Case Western Reserve University Law School’s library.

Book Cover Image

image from www.typographyforlawyers.com

Matthew Butterick’s 2010 Typography for Lawyers: Essential Tools for Polished & Persuasive Documents, with a forward by legal (and non-legal) style and usage expert Bryan Garner, is a must-read for law students interested in mastering the presentational aspects of legal documents. A Los Angeles litigator with previous visual-arts experience, including as a font designer, Butterick seems to have taken maximum advantage of his unusual set of credentials in two distinct fields to have produced this book. A companion website is also full of valuable information.
Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu

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Federal Statutory Codes: Free (official? authentic?) Research Here?

This post originally appeared on the blog of the Case Western Reserve University Law Library.

I recently wrote about the fact that website distribution of digitally-signed PDF facsimiles of the “classic” printed versions of certain Government Printing Office publications made it possible to do “official” research into federal administrative regulations freely, online. Among those free resources is the Code of Federal Regulations, the codification of federal administrative-agency regulations.

There isn’t any quite comparable access to “fully official” online legal research in statutory law in the federal system, due to the complicated status of the United States Code.
Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu

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Free, Official, Federal Regulatory Research

This post originally appeared on the blog of the Case Western Reserve University Law Library.

In finding free, or very low cost, ways to conduct legal research one of the obstacles is often the unofficial status of freely available web-based tools. In other cases, even where the official, formal, “weight” of free (or low-cost) resources is equivalent to, say, much-prized unofficial resources like the annotated codes available in print or through Lexis or Westlaw, the effective cognitive authority and assumed merit (deservedly or not) of the resource is much lower.

In the case of Federal regulatory resources, however, the most official and formal research methods — hearkening back to those used for “old fashioned” print-bound regulatory research — are available, for free, online. There is a penalty in convenience, and there are drawbacks in terms of updating to which the wary researcher must be attentive. But the tools are there and they are used, in fact, very much in the fashion of print-based research into the Code of Federal Regulations, the Federal Register, and the other tools and tables that connect those resources together in response to a real research question.

Read the rest on lawlibrary.case.edu

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