Farewell THOMAS

Effective tomorrow, all searches for Thomas.gov will redirect to Congress.gov, the Library of Congress’ new enhanced legislative information website.

On January 5,1995, the Library of Congress launched THOMAS, named in honor of Thomas Jefferson (the principal founder of the library), at the request of congressional leaders. The website provided unprecedented free public access to legislative documents. When it first became available, THOMAS included full-text of bills from the 103rd Congress and was updated with new bills as they became available.  Here’s how it looked in its early days:

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http://blogs.loc.gov/law/2011/11/the-thomas-starting-point-pic-of-the-week/

Thomas’ user interface changed over time and was expanded to include the Congressional Record as well as bills since the 101st Congress, bill tracking since the 93rd Congress, and committee reports since the 104th Congress.

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THOMAS approximately 10 years ago. Image courtesy of Andrew Weber, Law Library of Congress, Legislative Information Systems Manager.

Here’s how Thomas looks today:

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For more information about the history of Thomas, please see:

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 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 WebsiteScotusblog is another very useful source to keep up to date on cases before the Court.

Will the Federal Register Shut Down?

Nope. The Federal Register has been published every business day since it was first introduced 78 years ago. In the event of a government shutdown it will follow “special procedures” described in—where else—the Federal Register, 77 Fed. Reg. 59974 (September 30, 2013). In brief:

In the event of an appropriations lapse, the Office of the Federal Register (OFR) would be required to publish documents directly related to the performance of governmental functions necessary to address imminent threats to the safety of human life or protection of property.

As a practical matter:

  • The Federal Register will get pretty skinny.
  • Researchers should use the official version of the Federal Register available on FDsys not FederalRegister.gov, which will not be updated.
  • The e-CFR will not be updated.

For more information, please see the OFR blog here.

 

Constitution Day 2013

Tuesday, September 17 is the 226th 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. 

Tracking State Legislation

The Sunlight Foundation has launched Open States. This service allows you to track bills and search for upcoming legislation for all states, D.C., and Puerto Rico, and access campaign and contact information for state legislators.

As noted here previously, the Sunlight Foundation also supports Scout—offering free searching and customized alerts for federal and state legislative action (including bills & speeches) and federal regulations.

Martin Luther King Jr. Day 2013

In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Law Library will closed on Monday, January 21.

The MLK holiday became federal law fifteen years after Martin Luther King, Jr.’s death. The holiday was first observed in 1986, but it took another 17 years for nationwide recognition. In 1994, the holiday was designated a day of service under the direction of the Corporation for National and Community Service. For resources about the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., visit the King Center Website.

 

The 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation

This month marks the 150th Anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation. Signed by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863, the document states, in part:

. . . [O]n the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free; and the Executive Government of the United States, including the military and naval authority thereof, will recognize and maintain the freedom of such persons, and will do no act or acts to repress such persons, or any of them, in any efforts they may make for their actual  freedom . . . .

Lincoln invoked his constitutional authority as Commander-in-Chief to institute a necessary war measure against the rebellion of southern states. The “military necessity” was to deprive the rebelling states of labor resources thereby weakening the Confederate Army. (See Act of Justice: Lincoln’s  Emancipation Proclamation and the Law of War, by Burrus M. Carnahan, for a detailed discussion of Lincoln’s legal theory).

Some interesting resources about Lincoln and the Emancipation Proclamation include:

 

 

Happy Thanksgiving!

On Thursday, November 26, 1789, the first Thanksgiving holiday was celebrated pursuant to a proclamation issued by President George Washington. An 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. 21 9:00am-5:00pm, References Services available 9:00am-2:00pm
  • Thurs. Nov. 22 Closed
  • Fri. Nov. 23 Closed
  • Sat. Nov. 24 Noon-6:00pm
  • Sun. Nov. 26  Regular Hours resume: 11:00am-11:00pm, Reference Services Available 2:00pm-9:00pm

Have a safe and enjoyable holiday!

Law and the Presidency

Presidential documents most often used for legal research include Executive Orders, Proclamations, and Signing Statements. GMU patrons have access to a number of resources for locating these and other presidential documents, including HeinOnline’s U.S. Presidential Library.  This collection includes:

  • Compilation of Presidential Documents (1965-): Published by the Office of the Federal Register this compilation includes Proclamations, Executive orders, Communications to Congress and Federal agencies, Signing Statements, Appointments and Nominations, Speeches, Press conferences, and Press Releases.  Also available on FDsys(1993-)
  • Public Papers of the Presidents (Hoover 1929-)  Published by the Office of the Federal Register, includes writings, papers, and remarks.  (President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s papers, published separately, are also included in the Presidential Library).  Also available on FDsys (Bush 1991-)
  • CFR Title 3 (1936-) Executive Orders and Proclamations are codified here. Also available on FDsys (1996-)
  • Messages and Papers of the Presidents  (Washington-Hoover)  Includes annual, veto, and special messages.

Other useful resources include the Government Printing Office (FDsys) (coverage noted above) and the American Presidency Project which also provides varied coverage of the documents above as well as election-related documents and video.

 

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