Brown at 60

The Supreme Court issued its decision in Brown v. Board of Education on May 17, 1954.

Please take a few minutes to view the library’s atrium display commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Brown decision. This exhibit includes historical images and highlights some of the library’s print materials related to Brown.  There are also numerous digital resources that may be of interest, including:


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 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 here (explosion at 42:59).

Happy Halloween!!


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.

Supreme Court Press Event

The law library staff had two attendees at today’s terrific D.C. Bar event, The Supreme Court: The View from the Press Gallery. The all-star panel included:  Robert Barnes (Washington Post), Joan Biskupic (Reuters), Jesse Holland (Associated Press), Adam Liptak (New York Times), Tony Mauro (Gannett), David Savage (Los Angeles Times), and moderator Arthur Spitzer (ACLU).


In addition to the anticipated discussion of some of the major Supreme Court decisions of the October 2012 term, the panel offered some interesting tidbits/quips about the Court, including:

  • Lawyers arguing a conservative position especially worry about questions from Justice Kagan, those arguing a liberal position get some of the toughest questions from Justice Alito.
  • The press views Justice Kagan as one of the Court’s best writers.
  • Each year Justice Scalia dissents at least once from the bench.  He spoke for 13 minutes about the DOMA case.
  • Justice Alito can’t keep a poker face. Reminiscent of the 2010 State of the Union Address, he shook his head and rolled his eyes while Justice Ginsburg gave an oral dissent in the voting rights case.
  • Successful Supreme Court litigators need to field many questions at once and answer them in order of seniority.
  • There are 36 possible pairs of justices who can vote together. The three female justices vote with each other 93 percent of the time.
  • No technology is permitted in the courtroom, so Tom Goldstein from SCOTUSbllog has to write in the Court cafeteria.
  • The running of the interns onto the Court plaza with copies of opinions for the press was new this year.
  • While it appears from the news reports that protesters are often at the Court, in fact they are currently prohibited from protesting on the Supreme Court Plaza.

C-Span’s recording of this event will be available in the C-Span Library (“Reporters Weigh in on Supreme Court Decisions”).

Baseball and the Law

It’s opening day for major league baseball.  As throngs converge on Nationals Park and other stadiums we (i.e. those of us at work/in class instead of at the game!) can take a moment to remember the unique legal status of baseball in all of sports: i.e. its antitrust exemption.

Well timed for the start of the new season, UCLA Law Professor Stuart Banner has just published a concise history of baseball’s antitrust exemption—The Baseball Trust. Banner traces the sport’s legal battles highlighted by the Supreme Court’s 1922 decision in Federal Club v. National League (holding federal antitrust laws do not apply to baseball), reaffirmed 50 years later in Flood v. Kuhn— a decision that famously devotes its introductory paragraphs to a history of “The Game.”


Same-Sex Marriage Cases Set for Oral Argument

All eyes and cameras (outside anyway) will be on the U.S. Supreme Court next week as the justices hear oral argument on March 26 in Hollingsworth v. Perry (California Proposition 8) and March 27 in United States v. Windsor (the Defense of Marriage Act). The question presented in each of these cases are provided in a previous blog post.

It will be hard to avoid the flood of commentary in media outlets about these cases. Scotus Blog is highly recommended for accurate reporting on all things happening at the Court.The blog has extensive previews of both Hollingsworth and Windsor.

Audio recordings of the arguments should be available on the Supreme Court Website on Friday, March  29.


Supreme Court Interprets First Sale Doctrine

If you have ever checked a book out of this or any other library, then you have been the beneficiary of the “First Sale Doctrine.” Under 17 U.S.C. § 109:

…the owner of a particular copy or phonorecord lawfully made under this title, or any person authorized by such owner, is entitled, without the authority of the copyright owner, to sell or otherwise dispose of the possession of that copy or phonorecord.

This provision is at the heart of much of what libraries do—loan materials to patrons. It also allows you to gather up all your long ignored novels or old textbooks and sell them on Ebay.

The question addressed in Kirtsaeng v. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. is whether this right of resale/redistribution extends to someone who pushes the envelope by purchasing numerous copies of an American publisher’s textbooks, lawfully produced overseas, and reselling them at a hefty profit here in the U.S. Yesterday, the Supreme Court answered affirmatively, holding ” that the ‘first sale’ doctrine applies to copies of a copyrighted work lawfully made abroad.”



Gideon v. Wainwright: 50th Anniversary

Today is the 50th Anniversary of the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Gideon v. Wainwright, 372 U.S. 335 (1963), in which the Court held that a state criminal defendant has a Sixth Amendment right to counsel. The opinion states, in part:

The right of one charged with crime to counsel may not be deemed fundamental and essential to fair trials in some countries, but it is in ours. From the very beginning, our state and national constitutions and laws have laid great emphasis on procedural and substantive safeguards designed to assure fair trials before impartial tribunals in which every defendant stands equal before the law. This noble ideal cannot be realized if the poor man charged with crime has to face his accusers without a lawyer to assist him.

Andrew Lewis tells Gideon’s story case in the legal classic, Gideon’s Trumpet—widely considered a must-read for law students.


Chance to Win Up To $5K in the “Supreme Court Challenge”

Here are the details from ScotusBlog:

Bloomberg Law and SCOTUSblog’s Supreme Court Challenge

Welcome to Bloomberg Law and SCOTUSblog’s Supreme Court Challenge! Do you have what it takes to beat Tom Goldstein’s expert team and win up to $5,000?

You and your teammates will use the first-class resources provided by Bloomberg Law and SCOTUSblog – including opinions, Supreme Court briefs, Justices’ profiles, and news – to perform research to make your predictions for merits cases and petitions for certiorari that will be considered by the Court in March 2013. View the required training videos to learn more about these resources, and visit Bloomberg Law for tips and tricks on how best to execute your research.

Prizes will be awarded to the three student teams with the most points as follows:

  • First prize is a minimum of $3,500, with an additional $1,500 awarded if your team also beats the experts at SCOTUSblog.
  • Second prize is $1,500, with an additional $1,000 if you beat the SCOTUSblog team.
  • Third prize is $1,000, with an additional $500 if you beat the SCOTUSblog team.

Teams of up to five students from the same law school can register by February 28, 2013 and submit their picks by March 14, 2013. See the competition rules for more details.

Good luck!



Supreme Court Justice is the Newest Racing President

William Howard Taft was the first and only U.S. President to also serve as a justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.  His newest claim to fame: he has joined the roster as the fifth racing president at Nationals Park.

Nominated to the Supreme Court by President Warren G. Harding in 1921, Taft served as Chief Justice until February 3,1930.  Arguably, Justice Taft’s greatest legacy was his role in improving the administrative efficiency of the U.S. Courts. Two significant reforms during his tenure include the establishment of the predecessor to the Judicial Conference of the United States and his push to narrow the Supreme Court’s mandatory jurisdiction, embodied in the Judiciary Act of 1925 (43 Stat 936).

Time will tell how #27 (aptly nicknamed “Big Chief”) will transfer his judicial acumen to challenge the often illicit antics of his more seasoned rivals.


The Taft Court, Supreme Court Historical Society.