Independence Day marks the adoption of the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. But what exactly is this document? It is printed in Statutes at Large. It is included in the United States Code as one of “The Organic Laws of the United States of America.” It has been mentioned periodically in Supreme Court decisions. Not surprisingly, the legal relevance of this document has been the subject of some debate by members of the legal academy. “Declaration of Independence” as a title search in HeinOnline will yield several articles.
Visit the National Archives website to view images of the Declaration of Independence and to read a brief history of this document. The original is housed in the Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom. You can also view a 1998 video of then members of the Supreme Court reading the complete text.
The law library will be closed on July 3 and 4 in observance of Independence Day. Enjoy the fireworks!
After the horrific events of September 11, 2001, Congress acted quickly to pass the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, better known as the USA Patriot Act. It was signed by President Bush on October 26, 2001.
The Act expanded the investigative authority of federal officials, including their ability to track and intercept communications, in addition to other enhanced powers to combat domestic and international terrorism. The Act has been very controversial because of its impact on civil liberties.
Effective midnight May 31, certain provisions of the act expired, including § 215 which had been used by the National Security Agency as authority to collect of millions of telephone records. Prior to this sun-setting, the House had passed H.R. 2048: the USA Freedom Act of 2015. Today, the Senate passed this bill and it was signed by President Obama. His signing statement is available on the White House Website. Track the law’s history on Congress.gov.
To learn more about the Patriot Act, please consult the law library’s National Security Research Guide. Resources available in the library include a five volume compiled legislative history of the Act. To discover more about the controversy surrounding this law, GMUSL patrons may wish to search these databases, in additional to traditional news sources:
In observance of Memorial Day, the law library will be closed Sunday, May 24 and Monday, May 25.
A brief Memorial Day History is available on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Website. Also of interest may be two famous Memorial Day speeches delivered by Oliver Wendell Holmes, one in 1884 and the other addressed to the graduating class at Harvard Law School in 1895. PDFs of these speeches are available using The Making of Modern Law: Legal Treatises Database (GMUSL users may link to this database here).
And where is Memorial Day officially designated a Federal holiday? Title 36 of the United States Code includes statutes relating to “Patriotic and National Observances.” 36 U.S.C. § 116 designates the last Monday in May as Memorial Day.
In 1961, Congress officially designated May 1 as Law Day (36 U.S.C.§ 113):
§113. Law Day, U.S.A.
(a) Designation. May 1 is Law Day, U.S.A.
(b) Purpose.-Law Day, U.S.A., is a special day of celebration by the people of the United States-
(1) in appreciation of their liberties and the reaffirmation of their loyalty to the United States and of their rededication to the ideals of equality and justice under law in their relations with each other and with other countries; and
(2) for the cultivation of the respect for law that is so vital to the democratic way of life.
Each year, the American Bar Association selects a theme for the Law Day celebration. This year’s theme is: Magna Carta: Symbol of Freedom Under Law, in recognition of the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta:
Perhaps more than any other document in human history, Magna Carta has come to embody a simple but enduring truth: No one, no matter how powerful, is above the law.
In the eight centuries that have elapsed since Magna Carta was sealed in 1215, it has taken root as an international symbol of the rule of law and as an inspiration for many basic rights Americans hold dear today, including due process, habeas corpus, trial by jury, and the right to travel.
As we mark the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta, join us on Law Day, May 1, 2015, to commemorate this “Great Charter of Liberties,” and rededicate ourselves to advancing the principle of rule of law here and abroad.
Learn more about this year’s Law Day:
On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth fatally shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theater in Washington, DC. Booth was shot and killed 12 days later. Eight alleged conspirators were tried before a military commission and convicted; four were sentenced to hanging.
A ninth alleged conspirator, John Surratt fled the country when he learned of Lincoln’s assassination, and was not captured and returned to the United States until November, 1866. The U.S. House Judiciary Committee issued a report criticizing the “the executive department of the government” for failing to use “due diligence” in arresting Surratt (39 H.R. 33). He was ultimately tried in a civilian court but acquitted of murder after a mistrial.
The Law Library of Congress has digitized documents related to the assassination trials available here.
The Conspirators: Mary E. Surratt, David E. Herold, Lewis Payne, George A. Atzerodt, Edward Spangler, Samuel A. Mudd, Samuel Arnold, Michael O’Laughlin
(Source: Law Library of Congress)
On Thursday, November 26, 1789, the first Thanksgiving holiday was celebrated pursuant to a proclamation issued by President George Washington. A 1863 proclamation by President Abraham Lincoln established the last Thursday of November as the regular date for this celebration.
That tradition continued until 1939, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed the holiday would be celebrated on the second to last Thursday of November that year (November 23, 1939). Roosevelt was responding to pressure from retailers to expand the Christmas shopping season.This change sparked controversy and angered some football coaches, whose season was scheduled according to the holiday. There was also a a split among states, 32 issuing proclamations following the President but 16 others refusing to change the date. See H.R. Rep. No.77-1186, at 1 (1941) (available to GMU patrons on Proquest Congressional)
Two years later, on December 26, 1941, President Roosevelt signed a joint congressional resolution, known as the Thanksgiving Day Act (55 Stat. 862) establishing Thanksgiving as a Federal holiday on the fourth Thursday of November.
In observance of the Thanksgiving Holiday, the law library will have reduced hours:
- Wed. Nov. 26 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, References Services 9:00 am -12:00 pm
- Thurs. Nov. 27 Closed
- Fri. Nov. 28 Closed
- Sat. Nov. 29 noon – 6:00 pm
- Sun. Nov. 30 10:00 am -11:00 pm, Reference Services 2:00 pm – 9:00 pm
Have a safe and enjoyable holiday!
Pursuant to 5 USC § 6103, Veterans Day is November 11 each year.
GMUSL has a special commitment to serving our country’s veterans. Since 2004, the law school has provided a Clinic for Legal Assistance to Servicemembers and Veterans (CLASV):
The clinic enables Mason law students to represent servicemembers and veterans in a wide variety of litigation and non-litigation matters. Since its inception, clinic students have assisted over 70 clients from all five branches of the armed services, in litigation, adjudication and negotiation regarding consumer protection, administrative and military law and entitlements (TSGLI, PEB Boards and discharge upgrade appeals), family law, bankruptcy, immigration, landlord-tenant, contract, estate and entitlement matters in federal and state forums.
Students interested in CLASV will find additional information here. For more information about Veterans Day, please see the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Website.
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 2013). 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. Scotusblog is another very useful source to keep up to date on cases before the Court.
Today is the 227th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. Pursuant to 36 U.S.C. §106, September 17 is designated as “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day”, and under 36 U.S.C. §108, the President is requested to “designate the week beginning September 17 and ending September 23 as ‘Constitution Week.’”
Useful resources about the U.S. Constitution include:
- American Memory (Library of Congress) Find documents from the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention (1774-1789), includes images of original documents and related materials.
- Founder’s Constitution (University of Chicago Press) Provides links to historical documents related to the development of the Constitution.
- LII: CRS Annotated Constitution Prepared by the Congressional Research Service, provides links to Supreme Court opinions, the U.S. Code, and the Code of Federal Regulations.
- National Archives Images of original documents and historical information
If your answer is 51, then you will only be correct until September 1. Starting next month the U.S. Code will extend to include Title 52. Title 52, “Voting and Election” will cover federal election statutes under three subtitles:
- Voting Rights
- Voting Assistance and Election Administration
- Federal Campaign Finance
Was there a congressional bill needed to add this title? Nope. The U.S. Code is administered by the Office of Law Revision Counsel pursuant to 2 U.S.C. § 285. The OLRC has authority over the preparation of the United States Code, including the ability to make revisions. In the case of voting and election laws, the OLRC staff determined that the volume of laws enacted on these topics warranted a separate title.
More information about this Code reclassification is available on the Office of Revision Counsel Website.