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Happy 790th, Magna Carta!

Tom McSweeney is an Assistant Professor of Law at William & Mary.

If you were to ask William Shakespeare, or one of his contemporaries, when Magna Carta was issued, he would likely tell you that it was issued in the ninth year of King Henry III, or 1225. In fact, for most of Magna Carta’s history people have associated it with the year 1225, not 1215. In 1215, no one had yet thought to call the charter that the barons had forced John to issue at Runnymede “Magna Carta,” and few people would have thought it had a bright future ahead of it. Within a few months of its issuance in June of 1215, King John had repudiated his charter of liberties with the blessing of Pope Innocent III. By September of the same year, John was at war with his barons.

The charter only became important because it was reissued several times over the course of the thirteenth century. When John died a little over a year into the civil war—leaving as king his 9-year-old son, Henry III—his side was losing the war. As a show of good faith to the rebels, Henry’s guardians hastily issue a revised version of the charter in November of 1216. When peace was finally reestablished in 1217, they reissued a second revised version of the charter of liberties along with a second charter, called the Charter of the Forest. The first known use of the term “Magna Carta” refers to the 1217 reissue, but the charter was not called Magna Carta because it was considered a great document. In 1218, a chancery clerk drafted a writ ordering that these charters be read out in the counties. In that writ he referred to the Charter of the Forest and, apparently not quite sure what to call the other one, the “bigger charter” (maiori carta). When another clerk copied that clerk’s roll, he changed “bigger charter” to “big charter” (magna carta).

Magna Carta did not settle into its final form until Henry III issued a third revised version in February of 1225. It was this 1225 text, not the 1215 charter, that people thought of as Magna Carta for many centuries. The 1225 texts of Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest came to be regarded as England’s oldest statutes, parts of which are still on the books in England and the United States. When Sir Edward Coke wrote his line-by-line commentary on Magna Carta in the early seventeenth century, it was therefore on the 1225 text. It was really not until 1759, when Sir William Blackstone made an edition that noted the differences between the texts of 1215 and 1225, that the 1215 text became commonly available.
This is not to say that 1215 is unimportant in the history of Magna Carta, but the text agreed to at Runnymede was merely a first draft of the text that would come to be known and revered as Magna Carta. So Happy 790th, Magna Carta!

 

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FAN 56 (First Amendment News) Floyd Abrams Signs Contract to do Third Book on Free Speech

Floyd Abrams

Floyd Abrams

If only he didn’t so much enjoy the lawyering life, Floyd Abrams might have been a law professor. For he surely savors publishing books and articles. Witness his Speaking Freely: Trials of the First Amendment (Penguin, 2006), followed by his Friend of the Court: On the Front Lines with the First Amendment (Yale University Press, 2013) — this in addition to numerous law review articles and op-eds (see here).

Now, only a little more than a year since his last book was published, Mr. Abrams has signed a contract to do yet another book on free speech. Its title: Why the First Amendment Matters. The book will be a part of the “Why X Matters” series published by Yale University Press. Other works in that series include Mark Tushnet’s Why the Constitution Matters (2011) and Louis Begley’s Why the Dreyfus Affair Matters (2010).

The work will be in the 30,000-40,000 words range with a submission date of November 15, 2015. Steve Wasserman is Abrams’ editor. Mr. Wasserman is the former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review and served as the editorial director of Times Books and publisher of Hill & Wang, an imprint of Farrar, Straus & Giroux. He is a past partner of the Kneerim & Williams Literary Agency and is currently the executive editor at large for Yale University Press (he specializes in trade publications).

The 78-year-old Abrams shows no signs of retiring anytime soon and continues to manage a full workload (and then some) as a practicing lawyer. That said, he still has a ways to go to top the publishing record of another First Amendment lawyer, Theodore Schroeder (1864-1953) — the co-founder of the Free Speech League (the precursor to the ACLU) and the author of several books on free speech.  To be fair, however, Schroeder was more of a writer and activist than a litigator, so he did not have to worry about the demands of being a full-time practitioner.

 See also Floyd Abrams, “Libert is Liberty” (March 16, 2015 speech at Temple University Law School)

Go here for a list of practicing lawyers who have written books on free speech.

 Forthcoming Event: Floyd Abrams Institute: Freedom of Expression Scholars Conference # 3 (Saturday, May 2, 2015 – 8:15 a.m. to Sunday, May 3, 2015 – 5:15 p.m.) (Mr. Abrams will be in attendance)

Hillary Clinton: ‘I would consider’ anti-Citizens United amendment

The movie that gave rise to the Citizens United case

The movie that gave rise to the Citizens United case

This from an MSNBC news report: “Taking questions from Facebook users at the social media giant’s California headquarters Monday evening, Clinton expressed some interest in the idea. ‘I would consider supporting an amendment among these lines that would prevent the abuse of our political system by excessive amounts of money if there is no other way to deal with the Citizen’s United decision,’ she said in response to a question on the measure.”

“Taking questions from Facebook users at the social media giant’s California headquarters Monday evening, Clinton expressed some interest in the idea. “I would consider supporting an amendment among these lines that would prevent the abuse of our political system by excessive amounts of money if there is no other way to deal with the Citizen’s United decision,” she said in response to a question on the measure.”

→ See also YouTube video clip here.

Garry Trudeau Takes Aim at Charlie Hebdo — Critics Fire Back  Read More

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Posner Mania — Two New Books Coming this January: One by Posner, the other on Posner

Can one ever have his or her fill of Richard Posner? Perhaps, perhaps not. However that may be, the maverick jurist will be in the limelight once again by way of two forthcoming books — yet another book by him, and biography about him (the first of its kind).

On New Years day of next year, Oxford University Press will release Richard Posner by William Domnarski. The book is slated to be 336 pages long and will sell for $29.95 in hardcover. Here is the publisher’s blurb on the book:

Unknown“Judge Richard Posner is one of the great legal minds of our age, on par with such generation-defining judges as Holmes, Hand, and Friendly. A judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit and the principal exponent of the enormously influential law and economics movement, he writes provocative books as a public intellectual, receives frequent media attention, and has been at the center of some very high-profile legal spats. He is also a member of an increasingly rare breed-judges who write their own opinions rather than delegating the work to clerks-and therefore we have unusually direct access to the workings of his mind and judicial philosophy.”

“Now, for the first time, this fascinating figure receives a full-length biographical treatment. In Richard Posner, William Domnarski examines the life experience, personality, academic career, jurisprudence, and professional relationships of his subject with depth and clarity. Domnarski has had access to Posner himself and to Posner’s extensive archive at the University of Chicago. In addition, Domnarski was able to interview and correspond with more than two hundred people Posner has known, worked with, or gone to school with over the course of his career, from grade school to the present day. The list includes among others members of the Harvard Law Review, colleagues at the University of Chicago, former law clerks over Posner’s more than thirty years on the United States Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, and even other judges from that court.”

“Richard Posner is a comprehensive and accessible account of a unique judge who, despite never having sat on the Supreme Court, has nevertheless dominated the way law is understood in contemporary America.”

 → See The Promethean Posner – An Interview with the Judge’s Biographer, Concurring Opinions (Dec. 29, 2014)

℘ ℘ ℘

Three days after the release of the Oxford biography, Harvard University Press will release Divergent Paths: The Academy and the Judiciary by Judge Posner.  The 350-page book (he has done some 40 or so of them) will also sell for $29.95 in hardcover. Here is the publisher’s blurb on the book:

Unknown“Judges and legal scholars talk past one another, if they have any conversation at all. Academics couch their criticisms of judicial decisions in theoretical terms, which leads many judges—at the risk of intellectual stagnation—to dismiss most academic discourse as opaque and divorced from reality. In Divergent Paths, Richard Posner turns his attention to this widening gap within the legal profession, reflecting on its causes and consequences and asking what can be done to close or at least narrow it.”

“The shortcomings of academic legal analysis are real, but they cannot disguise the fact that the modern judiciary has several serious deficiencies that academic research and teaching could help to solve or alleviate. In U.S. federal courts, which is the focus of Posner’s analysis of the judicial path, judges confront ever more difficult cases, many involving complex and arcane scientific and technological distinctions, yet continue to be wedded to legal traditions sometimes centuries old. Posner asks how legal education can be made less theory-driven and more compatible with the present and future demands of judging and lawyering.”

“Law schools, he points out, have great potential to promote much-needed improvements in the judiciary, but doing so will require significant changes in curriculum, hiring policy, and methods of educating future judges. If law schools start to focus more on practical problems facing the American legal system rather than debating its theoretical failures, the gulf separating the academy and the judiciary will narrow.”

℘ ℘ ℘

  For more on Posner, see The Complete Posner on Posner SeriesConcurring Opinions (12 postings, Nov. 24, 2014 – Jan. 5, 2015)

Europe Steps Up to the Challenge of Digital Competition Law

Two years ago U.S. authorities abandoned a critical case in digital antitrust. The EC now appears ready to fill the void:

The European Commission is said to be planning to charge Google with using its dominant position in online search to favor the company’s own services over others, in what would be one of the biggest antitrust cases here since regulators went after Microsoft. . . . If Europe is successful in making its case, the American tech giant could face a huge fine and be forced to alter its business practices to give smaller competitors like Yelp greater prominence in its search queries.

I applaud this move. As I’ve argued in The Black Box Society, antitrust law flirts with irrelevance if it fails to grapple with the dominance of massive digital firms. Europe has no legal or moral obligation to allow global multinationals to control critical information sources. Someone needs to be able to “look under the hood” and understand what is going on when competitors of Google’s many acquired firms plunge in general Google search results.

Google argues that its vast database of information and queries reveals user intentions and thus makes its search services demonstrably better than those of its rivals. But in doing so, it neutralizes the magic charm it has used for years to fend off regulators. “Competition is one click away,” chant the Silicon Valley antitrust lawyers when someone calls out a behemoth firm for unfair or misleading business practices. It’s not so. Alternatives are demonstrably worse, and likely to remain so as long as the dominant firms’ self-reinforcing data advantage grows. If EU authorities address that dynamic, they’ll be doing the entire world a service.

PS: For those interested in further reading about competition online:
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The Rights of Donor-Conceived Offspring

Today’s Washington Post prints an interesting article on regulation and the fertility industry.   One issue that it addresses is the rights of donor-conceived offspring to learn the identity of their egg and sperm donors. As I’ve written in numerous articles and books, it is a fundamentally important right for all donor-conceived offspring to learn the identity of their donors (the strength of my advocacy on this issue may not be clear from the Post article).

Other academics disagree with this position, believing it important to protect the identity of gamete donors for a variety of reasons.  I disagree, and I think the  law has a critical role to play in ensuring respect for the rights of donor-conceived people.   Parents can make the legal choice never to find out the identity of their donor.  By contrast, donor-conceived offspring have no such legal right in the United States: unless their parents opted into a known donor program, they are unable to learn the identity of their donors.  While their parents’ choices affect them as children, donor-conceived children grow up, and many become curious about their origins. Yet the law’s tight focus on the parent-child relationship excludes legal questions relating to donor-conceived adults.

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Looking Back — Francis Biddle, Censorship & the “Biddle List”

War threatens all civil rights. Francis Biddle, December 15, 1941

I was reading Sam Walker’s Today in Civil Liberties History (a daily historical calendar — quite good!) when I came upon this entry for today, circa April 14, 1942:

Attorney General Biddle OKs Censoring Father Coughlin’s Social Justice Magazine

“In a letter to Postmaster General Frank Walker on this day, Attorney General Francis Biddle (1886-1968) proposed banning the magazine Social Justice from the mails. Social Justice was the publication of Father Charles Coughlin, a Catholic priest in the Detroit area, who in the late 1930s became a public, ultra-conservative critic of President Franklin D. Roosevelt.”

Unknown“When the U.S. entered World War II, Coughlin became a critic of the war effort, in part because he was anti-Semitic. Coughlin’s criticisms were the reasons for Biddle’s censorship proposal. In the end, the Post Office did bar Social Justice from the mails. It was one of the relatively rare instances of suppression of dissent during World War II . . . .” (See Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, April 15, 1942 story here.)

Biddle, of course, was the one who had been a secretary to Justice Holmes (1911-1912), assistant to the U.S. Attorney (E-Dist., PA), chairman of the NLRB (1934-35), Third Circuit Judge (1939-1940), U.S. Solicitor General (1940), U.S. Attorney General (1941-45), and later a judge on the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg (1945-1946) (Herbert Wechsler served as his main assistant), among other things. Biddle also wrote a biography of Holmes — Mr. Justice Holmes (1942), among other books.

Francis Biddle

Francis Biddle

One more biographical note: he was a half second cousin four times removed of James Madison.

As recounted in a Wikipedia entry, “[d]uring World War II Biddle used the Espionage Act of 1917 to attempt to shut down ‘vermin publications.’ This included Father Coughlin’s publication entitled Social Justice. Biddle has also been ‘credited’ with the creation of what became known later as the ‘Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations.’ In fact, this list was originally known as ‘The Biddle List.'”

“In the Biddle List, eleven front groups originating in the Communist Party of the United States of America (CPUSA) were singled out as being ‘subversive’ and under the control of the Soviet Union. Unlike the later, more infamous Attorney General’s List of Subversive Organizations, which contained both left and right-wing organizations, the Biddle List contained only left-wing organizations as well as civil rights organizations tied to the CPUSA.”

Biddle List (1941): 

Contrast Francis Biddle, Remarks at the Dedication of the Thomas Jefferson Room, Library of Congress, December 15, 1941, on the occasion of the 150th Anniversary of the Bill of Rights. Here is an excerpt from those remarks:

War threatens all civil rights; and although we have fought wars before, and ourpersonal freedoms have survived, there have been periods of gross abuse, when hysteria and hate and fear ran high, and when minorities were unlawfully and cruelly abused. Every man who cares about freedom, about a government by law — ­and all freedom is based on fair administration of the law — must fight for it for the other man with whom he disagrees, for the right of the minority, for the chance for the underprivileged with the same passion of insistence as he claims for his own rights. If we care about democracy, we must care about it as a reality for others as well as for ourselves; yes, for aliens, for Germans, for Italians, for Japanese, for those who are vdth us as well as those who are against us: For the Bill of Rights protects not only American citizensbut all hunlan beings who live on our American soil, under our American flag. The rights of Anglo-Saxons, of Jews, of Catholics, of negroes, of Slavs, Indians — all are alike before the law. And this we must remember and sustain — ­ that is if we really love justice, and really hate the bayonet and the whip and the gun, and the whole Gestapo method as a way of handling human beings.

As far as I can tell, there has been no book-length biography of Francis Biddle, which strikes me as odd. Such a biography is long overdue and Biddle is certainly deserving of one.

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Advisory Statutes

Here’s an idea that I’m playing with today.  There is a law (enacted in the 1960s) that purports to limit the President’s authority to appoint family members to positions that are subject to Senate confirmation.  In part, this was passed in response to JFK appointing RFK as Attorney General, though more broadly one could describe this as an anti-nepotism statute.

I’m wondering how this statute would work in practice.  If a President did nominate a sibling to the Cabinet, would the Senate be unable to confirm that person?  If the Senate did confirm that person, would there be a judicial remedy to oust him or her from office?  Or is this a kind of advisory statute?  In other words, it isn’t legally binding–it just states a principle that we hope people will observe.

I ask this, in part, because the concept of an advisory statute might help illuminate the War Powers Act.  I’ve always found the practice under this law hard to understand.  It supposedly sets strict limits on the use of military force without congressional approval, but Presidents and Congresses only sort of pay attention to its rules.  Every President since 1973 denies that the Act is constitutional, but they observe at least the forms of the Act and decline to mount a court challenge.  Congress, meanwhile, often looks the other way when invoking the Act would be inconvenient.  Is the best way of understanding this that you can have laws that . . . don’t create law?

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Further Thoughts On The Bill of Rights

I thought I’d provide an update on my book research.  There isn’t a theme to this post.  These are just random observations:

1.  I am now pretty certain that Madison never called the first set of amendments the Bill of Rights after that text was ratified.  Nothing in his papers (from 1791 to his death in 1836) contains such a reference.

2.  I came across a civics book from the 1920s that typifies the blasé attitude that people took toward the Bill of Rights at the time.  Here is the title:  The Short Constitution:  Being A Consideration of the Constitution of the United States, With Particular Reference to the Guaranties of Life, Liberty, and Property Contained Therein, Sometimes Designated the Bill of Rights.  Sometimes!?

3.  I did a search of all law review articles available on Westlaw with “bill of rights” in the title.  The first one that comes up is Felix Frankfurter’s Note (from 1915).  There are no others until after World War II, and the next one that refers to the first set of amendments is Charles Fairman’s famous article  in 1949 attacking incorporation (“Does the Fourteenth Amendment Incorporate the Bill of Rights?“)

 

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Author diversity in legal scholarship

I spent much of Friday at the University of Maryland Law School’s roundtable on Increasing Author Diversity in Legal Scholarship: Individual and Institutional Strategies organized by Prof. Paula Monopoli and the Maryland Law Review.  As might be expected, the roundtable included a diversity of diverse voices, including students as well as faculty.  Participants focused on how faculty members and law journal boards can help increase the chance that an article written by women or people of color will be accepted and how journal leadership can adopt an agenda that results in a more diverse set of authors in its publication.  There were lots of concrete suggestions throughout the day.

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