Happy Fourth of July!

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 relevance of this document has been the subject of some debate in 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 Wednesday, July 4 in observance of Independence Day.  Enjoy the fireworks!

The Health Care Decision

The Supreme Court has issued its decision in National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius reviewing the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Public Law 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 (2010).  The Court upheld the “individual mandate” as constitutional under the Congress’ power to tax under Article 1, Section 8, Clause 1. Chief Justice Roberts wrote the opinion for the majority, in which Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan joined.



Stay Up to Date on Legislation and Regulation

Scout, sponsored by the Sunlight Foundation, is a new service (in beta) that offers free searching and customized alerts for federal and state legislative action (including bills & speeches) and federal regulations. Scout searches several government information sources, including:  Federal Register.gov, GPO (Fdsys), GovTrack, Capitol words, and Open States.

For more information about Scout, please see the OFR Blog here.



Happy Law Day 2012

President Obama followed a tradition established by President Eisenhower by proclaiming May 1, 2012:  Law Day.  In 1961, Congress officially designated May 1 as Law Day, 36 U.S.C. § 113.  Each year, the American Bar Association selects a theme for the Law Day celebration.  This year’s theme is:  No Courts, No Justice, No Freedom.

For more information about Law Day, please see the ABA’s Law Day Page.

Law and the Titanic Tragedy

One hundred years ago today, the RMS Titanic sank, tragically costing more than 1,500 people their lives.

In Custodia Legis blog has a very interesting post about this disaster from a legal perspective, specifically the then applicable laws related to lifeboats–with which the Titanic was in compliance.  Under UK shipping laws at the time, lifeboat capacity was based on ship tonnage rather than numbers of passengers.  According to a Senate Report issued after 18 days of hearings, the Titanic exceeded those requirements by having a lifeboat capacity of 1,176.  The ship had more than 2,200 passengers and crew, but fewer than a quarter of that number survived.

There were lawsuits for personal injury, wrongful death, and property damage. Claims against the ship’s owner in a U.S. courts, however, were severely limited under U.S. Admiralty Law. See Oceanic Steam Navigation Co. v. Mellor, 233 U.S. 712 (1913). Ultimately, cases filed in both the United States and England were resolved by a consolidated settlement. See Robert D. Peltz, The Titanic’s Legacy:  The History and Legal Developments Following the World’s Most Famous Maritime Disaster, 12 U.S.F. Mar. L.J. 45 (1999). 

After Robert Ballard discovered the Titanic wreckage, Congress passed the R.M.S. Titanic Memorial Act of 1986 designating the site “an international maritime memorial to the men,women, and children who perished aboard her.”

Some of the the resources available to GMUSL readers to learn more include:

In addition, the International Maritime Organization website has information on the history of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) adopted in response to Titanic tragedy.



Women in Law

Since 1995, U.S. Presidents have proclaimed March as “Women’s History Month.”  These proclamations are officially reported in the Compilation of Presidential Documents published by the Office of the Federal Register and later included in the Code of Federal Regulations.  President Obama’s 2012 Women’s History Month Proclamation is available here.

In honor of this celebration, below are some female “firsts” in the American legal profession.  Please see also our earlier post noting some of the African American women who were attorney pioneers.

  • Myra Colby Bradwell: First woman to seek admission to the bar after passing the bar exam, but denied admission because she was a married woman (1869)
  • Arabella Mansfield: First woman to be formally admitted to practice law (1869)
  • Ellen Spencer Mussey: First woman law school dean (1898, Washington College of Law)
  • Lemma Barkaloo: First woman to try a case in court (1870)
  • Ada H. Kepley: First woman to graduate law school (1870, Union College of Law, now Northwestern University School of Law)
  • Alice Rufie Blake Jordan: First woman to receive a degree from Yale Law School (1886) (She was admitted by applying using her initials—women were not officially enrolled until 1919)
  • Florence E. Allen: First woman elected judge (1920), to sit on a state supreme court (Ohio, 1922), and to be appointed an Article III judge (Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals, 1934)
  • Sandra Day O’Connor: First woman justice on the U.S. Supreme Court (1981)
  • Janet Reno: First woman U.S. Attorney General (1993)
  • Elena Kagan: First woman dean of Harvard Law School (2003) and first women to officially serve as U.S. Solicitor General (2009)

Where to Find the President’s Fiscal 2013 Budget

The President’s Budget is made available to the public by the Government Printing Office (GPO). The National Journal has photos of GPO employees producing these documents in print—each set reportedly weighing about 10 pounds.

Online, the Budget is available in PDF format on FDsys.  For the first time, the documents are also available from GPO as an app, available here or by scanning a QR code.

Another place to find the Budget is the White House Website, on the Office of Management and Budget page.

In addition, the law library has the budget available on CD-ROM.