Anyone who has looked for government information in the past several years knows that most of it is available online. As long ago as 1998, when I started working with government documents, the word was spreading that “soon” everything will be online. I’m not sure we even knew what a PDF was in those days, nor authentication, but we knew which way the wind was blowing. Close to 15 years later, not everything is online, but many government information sources are not distributed in print any more. The trend towards putting more and more online continues.
That raises an obvious question which troubles some in the government information community. If virtually everything is available online – and in the realm of government information, almost free of charge – why on earth do we still need depository libraries? When a researcher can sit in the comfort of his own home, in his bunny slippers, and find all the information through a Google search, why maintain the depository system?
The answer is expertise from librarians, particularly government information specialists. Each depository library is required to designate a staff member as a “coordinator” who is charged with maintaining the collection, ensuring access to the public, and assisting researchers in need of assistance. While it is true that a simple Google search can turn up a wealth of information, can it verify that you’re looking at the most recent edition? Can it suggest an agency’s other publications that might be useful? And if the search is too successful, can it help you weed through thousands of results, by suggesting additional terms to include or avoid? A government documents specialist can do all of that, and more. The depository system is not just a distribution method for print documents, it is also a network of specialist librarians across country. These librarians are often the best gateway to information aside from an agency itself, and they are so much more convenient – wherever you happen to be.
I don’t think depositories are going anywhere. I think they bring value to researchers and the general public, and as the Government Printing Office says, they keep American informed.
It is a well-accepted fact that the law is a cautious and conservative profession. While it is populated with intelligent people, these people also tend to be risk averse, be it with their client’s money or their clients’ lives. Whatever the reasons may be, there are times when the law finds itself having to play catch-up with concepts that are new to the courts. The introduction of the cell phone is an excellent example. For many years the laws regarding wire-tapping were clearly delineated, then along came cell phones. Now, rather than getting a warrant for an area where the suspect has a “reasonable expectation of privacy” (Katz v. United States, 389 U.S. 347 (1967) law enforcement needs warrants for the individual, irrespective of the type of the phone or type of communication (voice-mail, e-mail, etc.) he or she is using.
The criminal law field is not the only one where technological changes have left the law behind. Copyright and property law play a part in the amusing battle between band Def Leppard and Universal, the company that holds the rights to the band’s songs. Although Universal has rights to the songs, they do not have rights to release them digitally since at the time the contract was made (1979) digital rights did not exist. In order to make the songs available on iTunes Universal would need the permission of the band; permission that Def Leppard is not willing to give. Lead singer Joe Elliott discussed some of the details on a recent segment of NPR’s “All Things Considered” and shared the band’s plan to re-record most of its back catalog. As Elliott explained, until Universal is “willing to come to the table with some kind of reasonable proposal…we shall go in the studio and have a bit of fun.”
The band is taking advantage of the compulsory license for non-dramatic musical compositions under the Copyright Act of 1976. This compulsory cover license allows an artist to “legally sell their rendition…of another song based on a set royalty payment scale….The terms for a compulsory cover license are established by the U.S. Copyright office rather than the artist or record label and a compulsory cover license does not require negotiations with the original musical composition copyright holder. ”
After looking at the comparably negligible royalty fees, and realizing that that “Rock of Ages” has recently moved from Broadway to the movie screen and features at least three of Def Leppard’s songs, it is likely that this maneuver is causing a bit of Hysteria over at Universal.
With all the news reporting on the major changes in healthcare legislation and reform, some may have missed the newest decision analyzing the 1st Amendment. I am not a constitutional scholar, but I do want to highlight this particular decision because of it close proximity to the Fourth of July.
You may ask yourself why there is any relation between the two. Well first, let’s remember what the Fourth of July really stands for: Independence Day. No, not the Will Smith blockbuster. The Fourth of July is a federal holiday that celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of the Independence on July 4, 1776 and the rights that were conferred onto the new colonies at America’s creation.
According to the National Archives, “drafted by Thomas Jefferson between June 11 and June 28, 1776, the Declaration of Independence is at once the nation’s most cherished symbol of liberty and Jefferson’s most enduring monument. Here, in exalted and unforgettable phrases, Jefferson expressed the convictions in the minds and hearts of the American people. The political philosophy of the Declaration was not new; its ideals of individual liberty had already been expressed by John Locke and the Continental philosophers. What Jefferson did was to summarize this philosophy in “self-evident truths” and set forth a list of grievances against the King in order to justify before the world the breaking of ties between the colonies and the mother country.”
In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson wrote, “we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”
With these words, many questions have grown. What are self-evident truths? What is liberty? What is freedom? Where does freedom come from? What is the difference between freedom and liberty? Is liberty a license to do whatever ‘I want” whenever ‘I want to’? To learn more, read Michael P. Zuchert’s article, “Self-Evident Truth and the Declaration of Independence” published in The Review of Politics.
The Declaration of Independence has been interpreted in wildly different ways throughout its lifespan. Here are a few of the articles that might shed more light on the intent and construction behind the Declaration of Independence.
- Philip F. Detweller, “The Changing Reputation of the Declaration of Independence: The First Fifty Years” 19 The William and Mary Quarterly, 557 (1962).
- Barry Bell, “Reading, and Misreading,” the Declaration of Independence” 18 Early American Literature 71 (1983).
- William Pencak, “The Declaration of Independence: Changing Interpretations and a New Hypothesis” 57 Pennsylvania History 225 (1990).
One of the liberties, which we do know fairly clearly, that the founders wanted to ensure with the new country is the Freedom of Religion. To learn more on this topic read “Religious Freedom and the First Self-Evident Truth: Equality as a Guiding Principle in Interpreting The Religion Clauses” by Jay Alan Sekulow, James Matthew Henderson, & Kevin Broyles – 4 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 351 (1995-1996.).
Others came out in the development of the Bill of Rights, specifically the First Amendment. According to the National Archives, “during the debates on the adoption of the Constitution, its opponents repeatedly charged that the Constitution as drafted would open the way to tyranny by the central government. Fresh in their minds was the memory of the British violation of civil rights before and during the Revolution. They demanded a ‘bill of rights’ that would spell out the immunities of individual citizens. Several state conventions in their formal ratification of the Constitution asked for such amendments; others ratified the Constitution with the understanding that the amendments would be offered.”
“On September 25, 1789, the First Congress of the United States therefore proposed to the state legislatures 12 amendments to the Constitution that met arguments most frequently advanced against it. The first two proposed amendments, which concerned the number of constituents for each Representative and the compensation of Congressmen, were not ratified. Articles 3 to 12, however, ratified by three-fourths of the state legislatures, constitute the first 10 amendments of the Constitution, known as the ‘Bill of Rights’.” The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” And even though this was drafted in 1789, we’re still seeing its power today.
In last week’s Supreme Court decision, United States v. Alvarez, Justice Kennedy wrote, “Lying was his habit. Xavier Alvarez, the respondent here, lied when he said that he played hockey for the Detroit Red Wings and that he once married a starlet from Mexico. But when he lied in announcing he held the Congressional Medal of Honor, respondent ventured onto new ground; for that lie violates a federal criminal statute, the Stolen Valor Act of 2005. 18 U. S. C. §704.” However, the court found “when content-based speech regulation is in question, however, exacting scrutiny is required. Statutes suppressing or restricting speech must be judged by the sometimes inconvenient principles of the First Amendment. By this measure, the statutory provisions under which respondent was convicted must be held invalid, and his conviction must be set aside.” And with the last words that “the Nation well knows that one of the costs of the First Amendment is that it protects the speech we detest as well as the speech we embrace,” the court found that “though few might find respondent’s statements anything but contemptible, his right to make those statements is protected by the Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech and expression.” These protections being the same principles that were born in the Declaration of Independence.
It is the rare person indeed who has not heard at least something about Johnny Reid Edwards‘ marital affair and brush with the law. Although not convicted of misusing campaign donations, Edwards will never regain his golden boy status. Edward’s entrepreneurial mistress, Rielle Hunter, released a book telling her side of the story on June 26th. While this latest literary effort on a tawdry topic is likely to cover Edwards’ affair and the resulting child from these assignations, I feel confident in predicting that the publicity-savvy paramour will not have given the legal issues from the debacle the same degree of attention. Despite her omission, the array of legal topics throughout the Edwards saga reads like an exam question in issue spotting and may well be of interest to those with an interest in the law.
The legal issue that received the most press, and was of greatest concern to Edwards (as a possible sentence of 30 years does tend to get one’s attention), was the alleged violation of campaign finance laws. After a hearing before the Federal Election Commission, Edwards was required to return over 2 million in federal election funds. However, the FEC also found that donations Edwards used to pay expenses of his mistress and to hide his affair were not campaign contributions and therefore, did not need to be reported. Despite the determine of the FEC, the Justice Department was not convinced and chose to move forward with charges of conspiracy and false statements in addition to receiving illegal campaign contributions. After much sturm and drang, including a two month trial delay for Edwards to undergo heart surgery, a jury eventually found Edwards not guilty on one count and were deadlocked on the remaining five. The Justice Department has announced that it will not refile the case.
Family law issues also abounded. Along with the commonplace matters of separation and divorce, the Edwards legal extravaganza included issues of paternity and the use of an archaic law. When Edward’s initially admitted to his affair, he still denied that he was the father of his mistress’s child. In fact, he claimed that his former aide, Andrew Young, was the actual father and asked the aide to support this story. In a disclosure worthy of Maury Povitch, it was later determined that, JOHN EDWARDS, YOU ARE THE FATHER OF THE CHILD! In addition to the matter of paternity, Elizabeth Edwards added another legal twist when she threatened to sue Young under the concept of “alienation of affection,” based on his role in covering up his former boss’s affair. Not only did she threaten to use this archaic cause of action, she chose not to use it against “the other woman,” but instead she chose the more unusual, yet legally permissible, option of suing a third party who facilitated the marital breakdown. Allegedly, Elizabeth Edwards was using this threat to force Young to stop speaking publicly about the Edwards’ marriage, and to either give her or destroy voice mails that she had left him during the 2008 presidential campaign.
Voice mails were not the only recordings to play a part in the saga. When Andrew Young released his tell-all book about the events, it was discovered that he and his wife were in possession of an alleged sex tape featuring Hunter and Edwards. The Youngs claimed to have found the tape in the trash at a house they shared with Hunter, and claimed that they could not be sure that the tape belonged to Hunter. Hunter alleged that she had stored the tape containing “matters of a very private and personal nature” at the house along with other personal items. Hunter sued the Youngs to recover the videotape and was initially granted a temporary restraining order to prevent the Youngs, from selling or otherwise distributing the tape. Eventually Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones held Young and his wife in contempt and ordered that the “items … be produced and turned over to the court [or the couple would be put] under lock and key — and under seal — until the lawsuit is resolved.” The couple claimed difficulty in complying due to the fact that the tape was “in a safety deposit box in Atlanta that required two keys to open, and one of the keys was in possession of a lawyer undergoing medical treatment in New York.” Despite these concerns, the promise of jail time proved an effective motivator. The contempt charge was issued on a Friday and Andrew Young , with an escort from a court appointed private security guard , managed to retrieve the original tape from the safe deposit box in Atlanta on the following Tuesday and turn it over to the court the next day.
These are only the most notorious of the legal issues. Consider yourself invited to join in this legal “Where’s Waldo” game and share any legal issues that this post overlooked or that you think should have been brought.