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Creating America’s Freedoms in the Limelight

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.

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.

A kiss is just a kiss… until you write a book about it!

February 7, 2012 Leave a comment

“An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.” – Proverbs 24:26.

Honestly, but skipping the kiss, this book is interesting and intriguing from the start.The Legal Kiss, written by Victoria Sutton, Paul Whitfield Horn Professor at Texas Tech University School of Law, reads like a collection of short essays.

The clever titles for each chapter give you insight on where the author is going to take you – whether it be to the Garden of Gethsemane where Judas places an identifying kiss upon Jesus’ cheek or to a modern day New Delhi where Richard Gere and Shilpa Shetty are publicly shamed for a passionate back-bending kiss at a charity event. In all of the situations that Sutton takes the reader, she outlines the act of the kiss and its intended and unintended consequences within society and the law.

As an academic librarian, I am always looking at how other people introduce and explain complex or abstract legal theories. For that purpose, I would recommend this book for being able to make obscure concepts of the law come to life. For example, Sutton discusses “the celebrated contractual kisses” in the context of whether or not a kiss (or a bunch of kisses) can be consideration for a contract. And if so, would the court require specific performance for the enforcement of said contract? In my opinion, it is much more interesting reading about specific performance when the performance involves the question of what constitutes a legal kiss rather than whether a duck is adequate consideration for a sales contract. As an added feature, I don’t believe libraries would have a hard time marketing this book to their patrons. It basically promotes itself. I think it would be an easy addition to any new books shelf or on a book display set up around our favorite February holiday because its title and appearance would spark the interest of shelf browsers.

Let me step back and take a hard look at the content, not just the packaging. Before Sutton begins to even explore the legal kiss, she provides the caveat that this work is not a complete treatise on the subject. Take her word for it. It is not. I was a bit disappointed in the lack of authority cited throughout the book and in the bibliography at the end. That being said, Sutton does provide the relevant authority when discussing subject-specific topics, such as citing the Restatements when discussing tort and contract claims, Supreme Court opinions when considering “Kisses and the Konstitution [sic],” and various other legal primary and secondary authority along the way. I believe the scope of the work is intentionally surface level, which provides an air of lightheartedness to the book.  Because of the coverage, I would not recommend this for a book to keep at reference, unless your reference staff is compensated with two lips in lieu of dollars and cents!

Overall, I enjoyed the book.  It was fun to sit and read about all the different ways a simple kiss on the cheek, lips, or a “Kiss my A**” has been twisted and construed by our courts and legislatures. If you plan to kick off your Valentine’s Day celebration with a kiss, make sure you read this book to be sure you’ll steer clear of any legal ramifications! Or if you do get caught kissing (say in Times Square) and someone makes big bucks off of the picture of you and your partner, know that you can consult this book for your chances to cash in. After reading this book, I kiss off with a positive and doting review.

This book review was originally published in the AALL Spectrum Blog.

The Legal Kiss: The Legal Aspects of the Kiss, by Victoria Sutton, MPA, PhD, JD. Vargas Publishing, Inc (2011). Trade paperback, 131 pages, listed on Amazon for $18.99.

New from Hein Online – World Constitutions Illustrated

April 19, 2010 Comments off

The initial release of this new library to Hein Online includes the current constitution for every country (193 countries) and substantial constitutional histories for the United Kingdom, France, Brazil and Colombia. 

Every country includes:

  • The current constitution in its original language format, accompanied by at least one English translation
  • Links to commentaries and other relevant sources such as the World Fact Book, Annual Human Rights Reports Submitted to Congress by the U.S. Department of State, Country Studies
  • Direct links to specific chapters within the 800 classic constitutional books that discuss the country
  • Links to scholarly articles that discuss the constitutional and political development of the country
  • A bibliography of other select constitutional books about the constitutional development or the history of the government
  • Links to online sources such as the Portals of the World and the official government website for the country

The initial release of this library is only the framework for this project.  Hein Online will be continually adding constitutional documents, books, periodicals, articles, and links to expand the constitutional timeline for every country.

This is a tremendous resource for those engaging in foreign and comparative legal research!

You can access Hein Online from the PCL’s Online Services Page.