Law and All Hallows’ Eve

Halloween can be a catalyst for unique lawsuits.  A 2011 article in the New York State Bar Association Journal, titled Case Law from the Crypt: The Law of Halloween summarizes some of these strange cases.

In one case, the plaintiff alleged that a neighbor’s holiday decorations—which included an “‘Insane Asylum’ directional sign pointed towards the plaintiff’s house” and a tombstone referencing the plaintiff— were “defamatory, harassing, and caused emotional distress.” In addition to claims involving Halloween decorations, other cases have involved injury to persons or property and provocative costumes in the workplace.

In her new book, Halloween Law, Law Professor Victoria Sutton calls Justice Scalia the “father of Halloween Law.”  During oral argument in Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, 546 U.S. 356 (2006), held on October 31, 2005, a light bulb exploded loudly.  This led to the following exchange:

Justice Scalia: Light bulb went out.

Chief Justice Roberts: It’s a trick they play on new justices all the time.

Justice Scalia:  Happy Halloween.

Justice Ginsburg:  That’s the idea

Justice Roberts:  Take your time.

Justice Scalia:  We’re even more in the dark now than before.

Listen to the Oral Argument on Oyez.org here (explosion at 42:59).

Happy Halloween!!

So How Does That Law Get Codified?

In a nutshell, Congress passes a bill, it’s signed by the President, assigned a Public Law Number by the Office of Federal Register (most laws are “Public Laws” — i.e. they affect all citizens), and then published chronologically in the United States Statutes at Large (a.k.a. Session Laws).

But wait—aren’t Federal Laws found by subject in the United States Code? Indeed they are, but not immediately upon passage. Under 2 U.S.C.§ 285b, the U.S. House of Representatives, Office of the Law Revision Counsel (“OLRC”) classifies newly enacted laws (general and permanent laws) by subject matter and publishes the U.S. Code. Often a public law relates to many different Code chapters and titles.

The OLRC website is a useful resource for statutory information. It includes (in Beta Version):

  • U.S. Code:  Browse by title; search by keyword, title, section, and sub-parts
  • Cite-Checker:  Enter title and section to find a law’s catchline (heading), public law numbers, and editorial notes
  • U.S. Preliminary Code Search Code provisions in “an advance posting of the next online version of the United States Code”
  • Statutes at Large Table (“Table III Tool”): Cross reference Public Law numbers with corresponding Code provisions  (1789- )
  • Overview of the U.S. Code Classification:  Find general information about the Code, currency, updating, and the classification process

 

Mass Digitization v. Copyright

There have been two significant developments in the ongoing disputes between copyright holders and information providers.

On October 4, the Association of American Publishers (AAP) settled its longstanding copyright infringement case against Google challenging the Google Books Library Project.  According to an AAP press release, under the parties’ settlement agreement “US publishers can choose to make available or choose to remove their books and journals digitized by Google for its Library Project.” This settlement does not impact the continuing dispute between Google and the Author’s Guild.

Last week, a U.S. District Court Judge dismissed a copyright infringement lawsuit brought by writers’ guilds against the Haithi Trust, a digital repository formed by a consortium of university libraries to preserve and enhance access to library materials. Google has done most of the scanning for the project.

The legal issues here involve the right of “Fair Use” (17 U.S.C. § 107), which permits the reproduction of copyrighted works in certain instances. To learn more about fair use and other U.S. Copyright Laws, see the U.S. Copyright Office Website.  For additional resources, please consult the law library’s Intellectual Property Research Guide.

Banned Book Week 2012

It is the 30th Anniversary of Banned Books Week—an annual event launched by the American Library Association’s Office of Intellectual Freedom to “promote awareness of challenges to library materials and celebrate[s] freedom of speech.”

The Banned Books Week Website includes a variety of information, including top ten lists of challenged books from the past decade. The 2011 list includes the legal classic To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee.

Federal Courts have struck down a variety of efforts to ban access to books.  A list of some of these cases is available on the ALA website here.

 

Oyez, Oyez, Oyez: It’s the First Monday in October

Since 1916, the Supreme Court’s Term has begun each year on the first Monday in October. 28 U.S.C. § 2.  Supreme Court terms are therefore called the “October Term”  followed by the year (e.g. October Term 2012). Why the first October Monday?

Under the Judiciary Act of 1789 (1 Stat. 73) the Court sat for two sessions, one beginning the “first Monday of August,” the second the “first Monday of February.” Congress subsequently altered the Court’s term a number of times:

  • 1801   Two Terms, began the first Mondays in June and December (2 Stat. 89)
  • 1802   One Term, began the first Monday in February (2 Stat. 156)
  • 1826   One Term, began the second Monday in January (4 Stat. 160)
  • 1844   One Term, began the second Monday in December (5 Stat. 676)
  • 1873   One Term, began the second Monday of October (17 Stat. 419)

In 1916, Congress passed H.R. 15158 (39 Stat. 726) which amended the judicial code to, in part, fix the start of the Court’s term to the first Monday in October.  According to both the applicable House and Senate Committee Reports, the purpose of changing the term start date was “to shorten the vacation and give the court an extra week when the weather is favorable to work.” H. R. Rep. No. 794 at 1 (1916), S. Rep. No. 775 at 1 (1916).

For more information about the Court’s docket, including oral argument dates, consult the Supreme Court Website. Scotus Blog is another very useful source to keep up to date on cases before the Court.