Saturday, September 12, 2009

New Challenge to Military Commissions

Follow this link to a post on the SCOTUSblog about the latest challenge to the ongoing military commission trials taking place at Guantanamo. The new challenge argues that the Congress had no authority to set up the commission system. Regardless, the suit alleges, the commissions system unconstitutionally treats aliens charged with acts of terrorism differently than the way a US citizen would be treated. Four points to be considered outside the merits of the case:

1. Take a look at the Circuit Court's Order. The three judge panel is acting sua sponte to set the stringent time deadlines.

2. Note the time on SCOTUSblog post - 10:23 pm on Friday, September 11th. It appears that there was no story about this filing or the Court's ruling in any major US newspaper this morning. Thus, the informal and instant nature of blogs as news source continues to scoop the major news gathering services. And, this is an important ruling. The government must reply to this new challenge by noon next Tuesday, September 15th. This is a fast moving story and it will be interesting to see how quickly the news services cover it.

3. The blog post is accompanied by scanned copies of the original documents filed in the case. If you are interested in legal news, this is the kind of thing that helps you understand what is going on. Why rely on the analysis from a blog post or news story when you can read the documents actually on file with the court? You can make up your own mind about what's happening.

4. Somebody at the Office of the Convening Authority for the Military Commissions is going to be working overtime this weekend.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

More Congressional Tracking via Web 2.0

Since last week's post about using Web 2.0 to track Congress I've found two other blogs with posts about the same thing.

First, there is an excellent post by Peggy Garvin on LLRX here that reviews the recent changes in and She also reviews various Twitter feeds that focus on what happens to a bill after it leaves Congress. Apparently, the Office of the Law Revision Counsel is tweeting as are others. Even better, she reveals new RSS feeds from Thomas that allow tracking of House floor action, Senate floor action, and the Daily Digest from the Congressional Record.

Second, the RIPS blog has a similar post here. Jason Sowards also details GovTrack and OpenCongress. He includes a new blog, MapLight, a site that tracks who gave what money to which legislator with what result...

Congress comes back from its August ("Townhall Meeting") recess next week, Advanced Legal Research and Specialized Legal Research classes are starting up, and many of these sources have made substantive changes over the summer. No wonder there are a veritable plethora of posts on these new resources. It will be interesting to see which ones last and which ones will continue to evolve.

Friday, September 4, 2009

9th Circuit RSS Feed

So. How do you know when a federal Circuit Court has issued an opinion about a case that you've been following? There are two ways with the 9th Circuit:

First, the Court set up a general RSS feed to help practitioners, scholars, and reporters find out what cases have been decided each day. That feed can be subscribed to here.

Second, if you are following a particularly important and newsworthy case, you can subscribe to the Cases of Interest feed here. The Al-Kidd v. Ashcroft case was posted via this feed.

Unfortunately, there is a slight disconnect. The Al-Kidd case was not reported via the general feed (shouldn't that be every case?). And, the Mohamed v. Jeppeson Dataplan amended opinion (the extraordinary rendition case) was not reported via the Cases of Interest feed (isn't the rendition case considered a case of interest?).

Oh well. The Circuit Courts are just coming to the Web 2.0 world. There will be an adjustment period.

Iqbal Case Distinguished in Al-Kidd

The 9th Circuit has ruled that John Ashcroft, former Attorney General, can be sued for post 9/11 detention abuses. In an opinion issued today, the 9th Circuit said that, unlike the Iqbal case, the plaintiff can show a concrete connection between his detention and Ashcroft's specific statements about the use of the federal material witness statutes. See a previous post about Iqbal here including a link to that USSC decision.

The 9th Circuit said that the claims made in Al-Kidd's complaint "plausibly suggest" that Ashcroft purposely used the material witness statute, 18 USC §3144, to detain suspects whom he wished to investigate and detain preventively. The Iqbal case, of course, set out what must now be considered the "plausibility standard" of review.

It is relatively easy to find recent opinions issued by federal Circuit Courts. All courts now have a website with links to their recent decisions. Here is the 9th Circuit opinions page. In this instance it was also easy to find the relevant code section. It is mentioned specifically in the opinion but can be found in full at the CornellLII US Code Collection page using the browse feature. And, its all free...

Stevens to Retire from USSC?

Idle speculation or fact? Here's a post from SCOTUS Blog that links to others about the possibility of Justice Steven's retirement.

Read this news with a grain of salt. Is the number of clerks hired a real indicia of Steven's intent to retire? Or, are we just reading tea leaves?

LOISLaw Gains Ground

It should come as no surprise that LOISLaw, a Wolters-Kluwer online legal search engine, is gaining favor among financially stressed law firms. Check out this ATL article that ran in February. One major firm, Locke, Lord, Bissel & Liddle (sounds like a small, philosophical yet religious vacuum cleaner) issued a memo to its attorneys requiring the use of LOIS before using Westlaw or Lexis in non-billable situations.

You might also take a look at this post by Julie Jones on the official blog of the UConn Law Library. Not only does she link to the ATL article but to a recent article on that addresses how firms are saving money by gathering metrics on DB use.

Better still, take a look at this survey compiled in 2008 by Paul Lomio and Erika Wayne from the Stanford Law School library. You will find that a substantial number of responding law firms (about 30%) wanted LOISLaw taught as part of a legal research curriculum.

And now for the caveat - LOIS is really a database for primary law research. There are some secondary source materials available on LOIS but not enough for most thorough researchers. Should this deter a researcher from starting with LOIS? No. Here's a quote from the LLB&L memo:
It [LOIS] is not viewed as a substitute for Lexis or Westlaw, but as a tool to be used to familiarize yourself with precedent related to new cases or issues or simply to find cases, statutes or regulations.
Looks like good advice from a managing attorney with two goals: saving money and providing good client research service.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Web 2.0 Goes to Work Tracking Congress

In the next few days, this blog will discuss a series of new Web 2.0 tools that can be used to track Congressional activity. We are all familiar with Thomas, the website developed by the Library of Congress. These are new kids on the block, many have been developed in the last year, some in the last few weeks.

For today, consider setting up an RSS feed to some of the tracking available through This is another official site from our government. And, they freely admit to using material from Thomas. But, makes use of a veritable plethora of Web 2.0 tools to allow tracking bills, resolutions, the activities of members of Congress, voting records, actions by Congressional committees.

You can set up RSS fees and add widgets to your own webpage. That last feature is of particular interest to practitioners. Many firms that with a niche practice set up a webpage to keep their clients informed about recent developments in their practice area. This new feature from allows you to put a widget on your site to channel relevant information to your clients.

And, if you and your clients are into social networking, there is nothing stopping you from putting that widget on your Facebook page. Web 2.0 feeds off of Web 2.0...

It's a whole new world out there.