Category Archives: Courts

Study Suggests that Law Clerks Influence Voting on the Supreme Court

A new study on SSRN examines whether law clerks exert any influence on voting by Supreme Court justices.  According to authors Adam Bonica, Adam Chilton, Jacob Goldin, Kyle Rozema, & Maya Sen, there is indeed “strong evidence that clerk ideology does affect judicial voting behavior.”

The authors examined political donations made by Supreme Court clerks and found that:

on average, a justice would cast approximately 4% more conservative votes in a term when employing his or her most conservative clerks, as compared to a term in which the justice employs his or her most liberal clerks.

We find larger effects in cases that are higher profile (17%), cases that are legally significant (22%), and cases in which the justices are more evenly divided (12%). We interpret these findings to provide suggestive evidence that clerk influence operates through clerks persuading their justice to follow the clerk’s preferred outcome, rather than through justices delegating decision-making to clerks.

Very interesting study.  See the full text on SSRN.  Hat tip to beSpacific.

Book Review: My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Law Library Stacks: KF8745 .G56 A3 2016
Book Review by Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian

My Own Words is a delightful read.  The words and stories are hers.  A woman ahead of her time.  Lucky in love to have met life partner, Marty, who was her champion in all things.  The strong work ethic and independent streak she got from her mom.  A mother herself juggling work-life balance.  An avid reader from early on who also happens to love opera.  These are some of the pictures her stories paint.

Arranged in five Parts, the book includes editorials, speeches, tributes, remarks on some of the major cases of our era, and essays on the work of a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.  Each Part, and their attending chapters are set up with short introductions by Justice Ginsburg’s official biographers, Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams.

The collection begins with an editorial she wrote for her school newspaper in 8th grade.  The year is 1946, just after WWII, and she writes: “Since the beginning of time, the world has known four great documents, great because of all the benefits to humanity which came about as a result of their fine ideals and principles.”  She is speaking about the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence.  “And now we have a fifth great document, the Charter of the United Nations.”

One piece not written by Ruth, but rather her husband, Marty, comes in the form of remarks he made as he introduced the Honorable Ruth Ginsburg on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program at Georgetown University Law Center in 2003.  A man full of wit and good humor, and as you can tell by his comments, lots of love and admiration for his wife.

The legal profession was not populated by many women when she graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959.  She was a trailblazer, but by no means alone.  In Part Two, she offers tribute to other women who have led the way.  These include historical figures such as Belva Ann Lockwood, the first woman to argue a case before the nine Justices, and the brave Anne Frank, as well as, contemporaries like Sandra Day O’Connor, and Gloria Steinem.  Ginsburg writes of Justice O’Connor’s approach to all things: “Waste no time on anger, regret or resentment, just get the job done.”

The 1970s saw Ruth Bader Ginsburg use her legal skills to advocate and advance the cause of women as equals before the law.  The decade was very productive for her, and many other women, as gains were made legally and socially.  The chapters in Part Three speak to her role in this movement, one of which, “The Frontiero Reply Brief” marked her first oral argument before the Supreme Court in 1973.  That same year she wrote in the ABA Journal “The Need for the Equal Rights Amendment.”  Despite the ERA’s failure in 1982 three states short of ratification, the cause of gender equality had moved forward.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1980.  President Bill Clinton then appointed her to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993.  The selections in Part Four include her Rose Garden Nomination Acceptance Speech, and Opening Statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Part Five – The Justice on Judging and Justice – is by far the longest in the book and begins with “Workways of the Supreme Court” in which Justice Ginsburg describes the “procedures at my workplace.”  She explains “one cannot get a firm grasp on the substance of our decisions without some grounding in the rules, practices, and traditions that frame our decisionmaking.”  The next two chapters speak to “Judicial Independence” and the work of the Chief Justice in her “Tribute to Chief Justice Rehnquist.”

The chapters that follow return to two themes so very central to this book: human rights and the administration of justice.  In “Human Dignity and Equal Justice Under Law,” Justice Ginsburg speaks about Brown v. Board, and Loving v. Virginia to reflect on the pivotal role these decisions have had in advancing the cause of freedom and equal protection under law for all.  Loving was decided by unanimous decision, but many others are not.  Part Five also includes a section on the role of dissenting opinions, and the bench dissent.  In her own words, you can read seven of her recent bench dissents in cases such as Ledbetter, Sebelius, and Hobby Lobby.

No review would be complete without a story about Ruth’s love for the opera.  It is well known she and Justice Antonin Scalia shared this passion.  Composer Derrick Wang penned “Scalia/Ginsburg: A (Gentle) Parody of Operatic Proportions” a comedy in one act inspired by the two Justices’ opinions and the operatic precedent of Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Bizet, Sullivan, Puccini, Strauss, et al. (see 38 Columbia Journal of Law and Arts 237 (2015)).  She writes in preface “If I could choose the talent I would most like to have, it would be a glorious voice.”

This collection of short stories shine a light on the arc of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and career.  Each one is unique, special, and enjoyable to read in their place.  Together they form a much fuller picture of one of the most intelligent, worldwise, and thought-provoking jurists of our time.  Readers can delight in the fact there is a full-length biography underway to be published when the time is ripe.

Latest on the Pacer Litigation

There is a good piece on the latest in the Pacer litigation on Quartz.  Several non-profits claim that fees charged by Pacer, an online database of papers filed by litigants in the US federal courts, exceed the cost of providing the records.

While the 10 cents a page that most people are charged to view documents doesn’t sound like much, critics say that the very existence of the paywall has stifled the development of tools to meaningfully search and analyze the data.

“You should be able to say, for example, ‘Give me everything that has the word motion in its description and that talks about copyright,’” says Mike Lissner, executive director of the nonprofit Free Law Project. “That’s not possible.”

Lissner, whose group provides free online access to primary legal materials, says the system’s shortcomings are a direct result of the fees attached to Pacer documents. “If the data were free,” he says, “you’d see an ecosystem cropping up with competitive services improving it.”

The case is currently before the US District Court for the District of Columbia.  Judge Ellen Huvelle is expected to decide in the coming days whether a lawsuit accusing the government of setting Pacer fees at unlawfully high rates can proceed.

Implementation of Mandatory eFiling in Wisconsin

Last month, the Wisconsin Supreme Court approved a
new rule requiring mandatory electronic filing  statewide.  (Wis. Stat. § 801.18)

According to a recent edition of The Third Branch, the quarterly newsletter of the Wisconsin court system, the mandatory eFiling rule takes effect July 1 but will be phased in gradually over the next three years.

Mandatory eFiling will be established first in a small number of pilot counties that already offer voluntary eFiling in civil, family, small claims and paternity cases and then expand in those case types to other counties statewide by the end of 2017. Other case types will be added with a targeted completion date for mandatory eFiling in all case types statewide by Dec. 31, 2019.

The court’s CCAP staff will implement the program with initial help from contractors.

Federal Court to Consider whether PACER Fees are Excessive

From Robert Ambrogi’s Law Sites:

A class action lawsuit filed yesterday in federal court in Washington, D.C., challenges the fees charged by PACER, the federal courts’ online court records system, as excessive. The lawsuit seeks to obtain relief on behalf of “all individuals and entities who have paid fees for the use of PACER within the past six years, excluding class counsel and agencies of the federal government.”

The lawsuit, filed by the Alliance for Justice, the National Veterans Legal Services Program and the National Consumer Law Center, claims that the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts is violating the E-Government Act of 2002, which mandates that the fees to access court records online cannot exceed the amount needed to maintain the system itself.

The lawsuit alleges that the Administrative Office has improperly increased fees to cover other costs such as courtroom audio systems and flat-screen televisions in jury boxes.

New Edition of Wisconsin Guide to Citation Now Available

The Wisconsin State Bar has recently published a newly updated edition of the Wisconsin Guide to Citation.

The new eighth edition reflects recent changes made to The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation, now in its 20th edition. New developments discussed in this edition of the Wisconsin Guide include:

  • A new section on how to cite uniform acts, model codes, sentencing guidelines, and standards
  • New sections discussing how to cite blog and social media posts
  • Update to guidelines for citing sources on the Internet
  • Update regarding how to cite legal dictionaries
  • New examples showing how to cite various sources with different pincites

I’d like to thank Attorney-Editor Rita Knauss for offering me and my Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin colleagues the opportunity to comment and make suggestions for the new edition.

More information about the Guide, including information about how to order it, is available on the State Bar of Wisconsin website.

WI Appeals Court Affirms No Constitutional Right to View Porn in the Library

Today, the Third District Court of Appeals affirmed that library patrons do not have a constitutional right to view pornography on library computers.

The defendant was cited for disorderly conduct in 2014 after a couple of students reported he was watching pornography on a UW Eau Claire library computer.

From Channel 3000:

Reidinger argued he has a First Amendment right to view legal adult pornographic material at a public library. He also alleged UW System administrators, campus police and Eau Claire County prosecutors conspired to harass him.

The 3rd District Court of Appeals rejected his arguments Tuesday, ruling that the evidence showed Reidinger’s conduct tended to provoke a disturbance. The court opted not to address his harassment allegations, calling them unsupported and undeveloped.

The full opinion is available on the Wisconsin Supreme Court and Court of Appeals Case Access system (WSCCA).

Thanks to my colleague, Mary Jo Koranda, for alerting me to the story.

Dane County Court Converts to E-records

Beginning in January, the Dane County Clerk of Court’s office will convert to electronic record-keeping.  All records must be filed electronically or scanned in on receipt.  However, print copies may be obtained at the usual statutory rate of $1.25 per page using the office’s public terminals.

According to the Isthmus, Dane County had already been keeping probate court records electronically as a test and the new system has worked well.  Other counties are also gradually phasing in the use of electronic records.

“I think Carlo [Esqueda, Dane Co. clerk of circuit court] sees the writing on the wall,” says John Barrett, clerk of circuit court for Milwaukee County. “E-filing is going to be mandatory.” Milwaukee is currently scanning in whole categories of filed documents, including criminal complaints and judgments, and receiving other filings in electronic form, as will Dane County.

Barrett notes that going electronic is “a culture shock” for some judges and others who still crave records in paper form. “I don’t think you will ever have a paperless court system,” he says. “I prefer to refer to it as paper on demand.” He believes electronic records are better for everyone involved. “You don’t have lost documents. The file itself will be chronologically in order every time you look at it.”

Gerrymandering Lawsuit to Proceed

 

Yesterday, a federal three-judge panel unanimously decided that a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s last legislative redistricting plan as an example of “extreme partisan gerrymandering” may proceed.

According to the Wisconsin State Journal:

“Although we believe that plaintiffs face significant challenges in prevailing on their claims, we conclude that plaintiffs’ complaint is sufficient to state a claim upon which relief may be granted,” wrote the panel, which includes U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb, federal Circuit Judge Kenneth Ripple and Chief Judge William Griesbach, of the U.S. District Court in Milwaukee.

The ruling means that the case, Whitford v. Nichol, will continue with trial scheduled for May 2016.

The Wheeler Report shared this press release from the Wisconsin Fair Elections Project.

Legislation Relating to CCAP Dies

From the Law Librarians Association of Wisconsin Government Relations Chair, Candace Hall Slaminski:

It appears all proposed legislation relating to CCAP has died this session.
AB 253 and SB 234, both relating to restricting access to and limiting information in CCAP, have failed this session.
AB 520, relating to removing certain information in CCAP, failed to pass this session.
SB 620, relating to removing from records and CCAP a criminal conviction if the person has been pardoned, failed to pass this session.
SB 526 and AB 685, both restricting information available on CCAP, have failed to pass this session.