7

Law & Order

I’m a Law & Order fan. I love all of them: Original, Criminal Intent, Special Victims, and Trial by Jury. I also like the re-runs—even when I’ve seen an episode before there are always enough twists and turns and details to get my attention.

I’ve often gone to watch scenes being filmed in lower Manhattan. A neighbor in my building is a script checker for the show and so on occasion I’ve also been able to sneak a peek at draft scripts left in the recycling bin.

Though in real life no criminal case is resolved in one hour, Law & Order is pretty good on the substance of the law. The precedents mentioned are typically real cases. The rulings by the judges (at lightening speed) are often correct. I tell my students they can learn a lot by watching.

One curiosity is that most of the judges on Law & Order are black women. This is not realistic. Even in New York City black female judges are few and far between.

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Markel in Slate

My friend and our former co-blogger Dan Markel has a new essay out in Slate on the death penalty that is well worth reading. Dan analogizes the recent news about wrongfully executed Ruben Cantu to the movie “The Life of David Gale.” In the essay, Dan links to his relatively new Harvard CR-CL piece about retributivism and the death penalty, which is also worth a read (although it will take somewhat longer to digest than the Slate piece.)

1

History of the Book

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Folks here at concurringopinions have been talking a lot about books recently–Nate Oman’s had posts on the appeal of law books (particularly old ones) and law reviews and Dan Solove’s posted about the open library. I find student-edited law reviews problematic in some ways, and the smell of old books doesn’t do much for me. But there is magic, imho, in libraries. Libraries are great enlightenment vehicles of improvement. They’re the places that knowledge is collected and disseminated. (And that’s why I find the stories about segragated libraries particularly important in understanding our history.)

I remember the excitment I used to feel on walking in Van Pelt Library as an undergraduate. The entire world of knowledge, it seemed to me at the time, was open to anyone who had the inclination and time to visit it. In keeping with the Supreme Court’s administrative law opinions of the early 1970s, like Overton Park (about the importance of getting information in front of regulators), I thought that the knowledge in those books held most, if not all, of the keys to a better society.

Sometimes, if I get to the University of Alabama’s library early enough on a Saturday (so there aren’t many other people around), and I’m working on an original project, and the light strikes the windows in the great reading room just right, that enthusiastic eighteen-year old I remember appears again, even if only for a short while.

When I’m thinking about old books, I’m partial to library catalogs. Because they give you a sense of the ideas that people had access to and the kinds of ideas they found appealing. The 1853 library catalog of the University of Georgia is available on the Georgia library’s webstite. Through the magic of the internet, you can see exactly what the catalog looked like. And you can also see what books were in the Georgia library. Historians in recent years have been talking a lot about the “history of the book.” They ask who was reading books, who was writing them, and how books were useful in transmitting ideas.

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3

A common-law right to attend Eagles games

Also in Eagles news (all strange, all the time) is this story: “Man spreads mother’s ashes on Eagles field.” The man in question, Christopher Noteboom, claims he chose Eagles field because his mother was a lifelong fan of the team. Noteboom is being charged with trespass. The police chief seems unsympathetic to Noteboom’s claims, points out that a number of fans were probably terrified when a strage man began spreading an unknown powder at the football game.

Did Noteboom also secure for himself a right to attend Eagles games? Guest blogger Al Brophy has written about the ancient common-law rights of family members to visit the graves of loved ones. Perhaps Noteboom can offer a settlement — drop the charges, and I won’t press my common-law rights of access to a grave. (And if he does try to press them, we may see a very interesting grave-rights case).

Meanwhile, I’ll be busy this weekend, spreading ashes at the Met, the Philharmonic, Madison Square Garden, Yankee Stadium, the Four Seasons . . .

2

Senator Specter on Terrell Owens

My state’s senior senator, Arlen Specter, who has lots on his plate, held a news conference this morning:

[He said that] it was “vindictive and inappropriate” for the league and the Eagles to forbid [their] all-pro wide receiver [Terrell Owens] from playing and prevent other teams from talking to him.

“It’s a restraint of trade for them to do that, and the thought crosses my mind, it might be a violation of antitrust laws,” Specter said, though some other legal experts disagreed.

“I am madder than hell at what he has done in ruining the Eagles’ season,” the Pennsylvania Republican said. “I think he’s in flagrant breach of his contract and I believe the Eagles would be within their rights in not paying him another dime or perhaps even suing him for damages.”

But Specter said, “I do not believe, personally, that it is appropriate to punish him (by forcing him to sit out the rest of the season). He’s not committed a crime, he’s committed a breach of contract. And what they’re doing against him is vindictive.”

There are several statements here that are interestingly wrong. One worth thinking about is the idea that the Eagles are punishing Owens by enforcing the contract’s “conduct detrimental” clause. On one level this can’t be right – the Eagles are paying their employee for not working, hardly an onerous result. But theory notwithstanding, reading the arbitrator’s decision, it sort of feels like punishment. Doesn’t it?

7

On Becoming a Supreme Court Clerk

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This article about David Bragdon, who was just hired to clerk for Justice Thomas, is worth reading, especially for those who miss their A3G fix. Bragdon is significantly more forthcoming in print than I would have expected. Two choice quotes:

“I think conservative justices are more likely to hire conservative clerks,” he said. “I interviewed with Justice Thomas and his clerks, and his clerks really drilled me on my judicial philosophy, both to see how much I knew and to test my ability to argue various issues.”

“There could be some shifts in the way the Supreme Court decides certain issues [based on the new justices coming to the court],” he said. “I don’t think Roe vs. Wade will be overturned, there aren’t enough votes to change that decision, but other key issues could be affected.”

Too bad the interviewer didn’t ask the obvious follow-up question: which “key issues” does this rising Supreme Court clerk think will be affected by the confirmation of Justice Roberts and the possible confirmation of Judge Alito?

(Hat Tip: Howard B.)

17

Google’s Empire, Privacy, and Government Access to Personal Data

google-priv.jpgA New York Times editorial observes:

At a North Carolina strangulation-murder trial this month, prosecutors announced an unusual piece of evidence: Google searches allegedly done by the defendant that included the words “neck” and “snap.” The data were taken from the defendant’s computer, prosecutors say. But it might have come directly from Google, which – unbeknownst to many users – keeps records of every search on its site, in ways that can be traced back to individuals.

This is an interesting fact — Google keeps records of every search in a way that can be traceable to individuals. The op-ed goes on to say:

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11

The End of Shame

With talk these days about the decline of privacy, the disappearance of shame deserves attention. People have become less self-conscious—more willing to let the world into their intimate spaces without any sense of embarrassment. Webcams, whose operators actually invite voyeuristic strangers to observe their every move, are just one example.

The past few years have also seen a marked rise in the number of people who believe it is acceptable to take care of personal hygiene and grooming in public. Every morning I ride the subway, professional women in my car are busy applying makeup. I don’t mean making last minute touch-ups—with makeup kits perched on their knees, they’re painting a blank canvas.

I frequently also see otherwise normal looking subway riders filing and trimming their fingernails. I’ve seen eyelashes curled, eyebrows plucked, and nose hairs removed with little tweezers. (Where do these people suppose all their personal droppings end up?)

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7

Clearly I’m teaching the wrong classes. . .

The CNN headline pretty much says it all: “Girl with peanut allergy dies after kiss.” It is proof of my through law-geekiness that my first thought was “that would make a great question for a torts exam!”

Torts finals always seem to involve strange hypotheticals. I still remember my own torts final as a law student — it involved a man who opened his umbrella in the rain, and was struck by lightning.

It’s pretty hard to work a peanut-kiss-death into my Wills final or my Securities Regulation final. (I suppose I could try to work it into some strange hypothetical to test the statutory bar on inheriting from a decedent who is murdered by the devisee, but that would be a stretch. And besides, those exams are already written.).

But if I ever teach torts, I’ll be thinking back to the peanut case — and wondering if I can turn it into a good hypothetical about a “kiss of death.”

0

Voices from the Past

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This very fine New York Times article on the New York Historical Society’s exhibit on slavery in New York begins by talking about visitors recording their reactions to the exhibit. We should also think about listening to the voices of people who had lived as slaves.

Some of the great treasures of American history are the slave narratives collected by the WPA. And through the magic of the internet, you can listen to the Library of Congress’s audio collections of the voices of people who were born into slavery.

I’ve enjoyed listening to them, because I love hearing the songs (like Keep your Lamp a’ Trimmed and Kingdom Coming), the accents, and the recollections of the folks.

Of course, the WPA and other New Deal agencies recorded a lot of other folks, too. I highly recommend the audio downloads that are available on the LOC’s website. And the LOC has some other great audio collections, like these fiddle tunes recorded in the 1960s.

The picture is from the Library of Congress’ collection of black and white photographs from Great Depression to World War II, LC-USF34- 044206-D.