"Nota Bene" means "note this well" or "take particular notice." We at the O'Quinn Law Library will be posting tips on legal research techniques and resources, developments in the world of legal information, happenings at the Law Library, and legal news reports that deserve your particular attention. We look forward to sharing our thoughts and findings and to hearing from you.
N.B: Make a note to visit "Nota Bene" regularly.

-Spencer L. Simons, Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law


Monday, September 22, 2014

National Voter Registration Day


Tomorrow is National Voter Registration Day, which falls on the fourth Tuesday of September every year. Although it is not a national holiday, National Voter Registration Day is supported by a wide range of organizations that help to promote voter registration around the country. Here in Houston, a number of registration drives will be held all over the city, including one at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work. To find out more about registering to vote, or to register online, visit the National Voter Registration Day website.

This year, election day falls on November 4. In this midterm election, all 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives will be contested, as well as 33 of the Senate’s 100 seats. If you would like to see your Senator or Representative’s voting record, you can find it at www.govtrack.us. For more information about what’s on the ballot in Texas, see this website provided by the Texas Secretary of State. 

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Empirical Legal Research & Bloomberg Law

One of the most exciting and most used features of Bloomberg Law is its access to court dockets. Bloomberg Law offers law school users the option of downloading federal court dockets and case filings directly from Bloomberg Law, saving users the costs associated with retrieving the items themselves on PACER. The same service is provided for state courts whose dockets and electronic filing systems allow for access by the public, and by extension Bloomberg Law. This vast array of data combined with the search features and alerts offered by Bloomberg Law is one of the product’s best features, and is a great “in” for users who may have otherwise ignored Bloomberg Law.

Whenever presented with a large amount of data from courts across the country that is easily searched, the notion of empirical legal research is bound to come up. And while Bloomberg Law may seem to have “everything,” upon further inspection this is not the case. Unlike PACER dockets, which update automatically, Bloomberg Law dockets are only updated either (1) on the request of the user, who clicks “update docket,” or (2) periodic docket refreshing. Beth Applebaum of the Arthur Neef Law Library at Wayne State University in Detroit Michigan reports that Bloomberg representatives confirmed this. Reportedly, Bloomberg Law sweeps through PACER several times a day to update new cases. Then, dockets are refreshed in U.S. District Courts and Chapter 11 Bankruptcies. To ensure the most recent information, users must send a docket update request.

One imperfect solution is to update all cases in a specific jurisdiction within a specific date range, and then keyword search the results. This approach is time-consuming, and far from foolproof. So far other products like RECAP, PacerPro, and Inforuptcy work under similar conditions, making them unsuitable for empirical research as well. This uncertainty is compounded by the court filings no longer available on PACER, as reported on Nota Bene previously. But now that people are noticing, and asking, perhaps in the coming years we will see product enhancement that will allow all the data-mining of an empirical legal researcher’s dreams.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage and the Supreme Court


News about same-sex marriage cases around the country seems to be popping up all the time.  For instance, this week the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments regarding same-sex marriage restrictions in three states.  And last week, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals declared the same-sex marriage bans in two states to be unconstitutional.  Now, the Supreme Court just revealed that it will be discussing same-sex marriage petitions from five states (Indiana, Oklahoma, Utah, Virginia, and Wisconsin) at a private conference on September 29th.  Whether the Supreme Court will ultimately decide to hear any of these cases is still an open question.  However, given all of this activity, many people believe that the Supreme Court should, and will, act now. 

To find out more regarding same-sex marriage laws in the states, see the National Conference of State Legislatures’ website.  It provides information about which states have same-sex marriage laws as well as the status of those laws, including information about the states where laws have been overturned and are pending appeal (such as Texas) and the state laws that have court challenges pending.  For more information about the cases the Court will consider on September 29th, see the SCOTUSblog.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Title 52 Voting and Elections: A New USC Title (and more on the way)

A new title has been added to the United States Code. The new title, Title 52 Voting and Elections, contains Code sections relating to campaign finance laws, voting rights, and elections, which were transferred from Title 2 and Title 42. The dispositions of sections from Titles 2 and 42 to Title 52 are presented on the website of the Office of the Law Revision Counsel (OLRC) in an Editorial Reclassification Table. The OLRC states that “[n]o statutory text is altered. The provisions are merely being relocated from one place to another in the Code” and that “[t]he transfers are necessary and desirable to create a well organized, coherent structure for this body of law and to improve the overall organization” of the Code.

The addition of Title 52 is part of a larger project to add several titles to the Code, transferring laws from various existing titles to several new titles, with the intent of enacting these new titles as “positive law.” The OLRC explains that “[a] positive law title of the Code is a title that has been enacted as a statute. To enact the title, a positive law codification bill is introduced in Congress. The bill repeals existing laws on a certain subject and restates those laws in a new form – a positive law title of the Code.” To date, twenty-six titles of the fifty-two titles of the Code have been enacted into positive law (source here) with the remaining titles being non-positive law. If a title has not been enacted into positive law, cite the session laws (Statutes at Large) if the language in the Code title “differs materially from the language in the session laws.” Bluebook, R12.2(c).  For an extensive discussion by the OLRC of positive law titles and the Code see here.

The new titles in process are: Title 53 Small Business; Title 54 National Park System; Title 55 Environment. The OLRC has drafted bills to accomplish the enactment of the new titles as positive law. The bill to enact Title 54, H.R. 1068, has passed the House and has been referred to the Senate Committee on the Judiciary. The bill for Title 52 was drafted but has not been acted upon by Congress. The OLRC moved ahead and made the transition as an Editorial Reclassification.

The new Title 52, effective September 1, 2014, is available online at the website of the Office of the Law Revision Counsel and the new citation should be used, according to the Office. For the printed versions of the Code, the transfers will be effective with supplement II of the 2012 edition of the United States Code. 

By Spencer L. Simons

Friday, September 5, 2014

I.R.S. Cumulative Bulletins are on Hein Online

The law library now has access to the Cumulative Bulletins, which compile the Revenue Rulings, Revenue Procedures, IRS Announcements/Notices, as well as proposed, temporary, and final regulations (announced as Treasury Decisions) from the weekly I.R.S. Internal Revenue Bulletins. Our subscription includes all volumes from 1919 until 2008 when the agency stopped publishing them in the original format. Users can access the Cumulative Bulletins by taking the following steps:
  • First, log on to the law library's VPN and click "Hein Online" from the drop-down menu under "legal databases" on the law library's website.  
  • Second, scroll down the menu and click the "+" sign next  to "Federal Agency Documents, Decisions, and Appeals"
  • Third, click "U.S. Federal Agency Documents" from the menu
  • Fourth, scroll down the page until you arrive at "Internal Revenue Cumulative Bulletin. Click the "+" sign to browse through the volumes. The Internal Revenue Bulletins are available from 2009-2013 on Hein Online by clicking "Internal Revenue Weekly Bulletin Cumulation"
The 1996-2014 issues of the Internal Revenue Bulletin are available on IRS.gov in PDF format.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Law Library Brown Bag Series

Each semester the law library presents a series of presentations on legal research topics. These presentations are held at 12 noon on Tuesdays and Wednesdays in Room 4 BLB. We will be offering the following sessions during the Fall 2014 semester:

1. Federal Legislative History Research
Tuesday, 9/30, Wednesday, 10/1
Robert Clark, Reference and Research Librarian

2. Federal Administrative Law Research
Tuesday, 10/7, Wednesday, 10/8
Dan Donahue, International and Foreign Law Librarian

3. Researching Federal Income Tax Law
Tuesday, 10/14, Wednesday, 10/15
Chris Dykes, Reference and Research Librarian

4. Power Searching on Westlaw, Lexis, and Bloomberg Law
Tuesday, 10/21, Wednesday, 10/22
Katy Stein Badeaux and Emily Lawson, Reference and Research Librarians

5. Advanced Databases Search Strategies
Tuesday, 10/28, Wednesday, 10/29
Emily Lawson, Reference and Research Librarian

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Alternate Sources for Court Opinions Removed from PACER

For legal researchers looking for alternate free online sources for case documents that have been removed from Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER), case opinions may be obtained from databases hosted by the Second Circuit, Seventh Circuit, Eleventh Circuit and Federal Circuit.  The U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California does not maintain its own searchable online database, but does provide instructions on how to request print copies of case information.

Additionally, researchers may be interested in the United States Courts Opinions collection hosted by the U.S. Government Printing Office; in addition to documents still available through PACER, this collection also currently includes Seventh Circuit opinions dating from 2005-08.

Update: as of 9/19/14, the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts has announced plans to restore these documents to PACER.  Details are available here.