"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, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law



Saturday, December 31, 2011

Nota Bene numbers for 2011

Blogging can be a lonely business, especially when the audience is unknown or undetermined. A blogger tries her or his best to write something meaningful (at least to a certain group of people), yet one may never know how the audience reacts. The bloggers at Nota Bene surely have our moments of uncertainty. But judging from the numbers, 2011 has been a very encouraging year. Below are some figures from Blogger’s statistics:


Total pageviews since the beginning, as of 7 p.m., 12/31/2011: 22,099


Total pageviews of 2011, as of 7 p.m., 12/31/2011: 17,633


Total posts in 2011: 103


Total bloggers in 2011: 8


Top ten viewing countries: U.S., Russia, Germany, France, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Canada, Latvia, Netherlands, and Australia.



As the person starting this blog, I first want to thank my fellow bloggers—reference and research librarians in the University of Houston O’Quinn Law Library. They are great colleagues in many ways. The second entity I should give thanks is Blogger.com, which hosts Nota Bene. But the biggest THANK YOU goes to our viewers (many of them our students). Thank you for viewing our blog. We will do our best to bring you useful information in 2012.





Friday, December 16, 2011

This Day in Legal History -- John Selden

On this day in 1584 noted English jurist and intellectual John Selden was born. In his day-- and for a long time afterward-- Selden was considered by none other than John Milton as “the chief of learned men reputed in this land.” What did John Selden do and why does his name sound vaguely familiar?

Selden, after much education, was called to the bar in 1612. “At bar he enjoyed a high reputation as a giver of opinions, and was called in in cases requiring special learning. But a large legal practice was not the sum of his ambition, nor was contented to be a mere lawyer.” In fact Selden pursued other careers; that of intellectual and as a Member of Parliament. In 1614 he wrote the book Titles of Honor which concerned itself with the history of titles, “. . .the rotes and insignia of appropriate to each, of the ceremonies of investiture, and so on.” He was first elected to the House of Commons in 1621 and served off and on for many years. These were turbulent times; Selden served during the time of the English Civil War and got himself in trouble with the king’s party several times, including his assisting in the drafting of the Petition of Right (which landed him in the Tower) and for writing the book History of Tithes which landed him in trouble with the clergy and for which he was required to recant.

Selden, however, believed most in fairness, and wrote a famous piece that was dedicated to his king. In his Mare Clausum he argued against Grotius famous treatise Mare Liberum. Where Grotius argued for freedom of the seas, Selden argued against it. While Selden is also famous for doing research on Jewish law and custom, he is perhaps best known for his book titled Table Talk. This is an interesting book covering many topics, some in great detail, others in a few sentences.

Now, you may ask, why does the name of this now obscure 17th Century intellectual sound familiar? Selden's name sounds familiar because the Selden Society is named after him. The Selden Society is a “learned society” devoted to “researching the history of everything which is characteristic of our unique English common law and legal system.” The Selden Society was founded in 1887 by Frederic William Maitland a famous English legal historian. The Selden Society publishes original materials that have often never before been printed. They bring together law reports, judges’ records, legal treatises, and compilations of documents never before brought together. Many major libraries are members, but the bulk of the membership consists of individual lawyers and historians who are interested in English legal history. John Selden may be dead, but his name lives on.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This Day in Legal History -- The Bill of Rights

On this day in legal history the first ten amendments to the United States Constitution, the Bill of Rights, were ratified and made the law of the land. We should consider ourselves lucky that we have a Bill of Rights because the path which these amendments strode was a rocky one.

While the Constitution originally came with limitations on the new federal government, there were framers who felt the document did not go far enough to protect individuals. Delegate George Mason, who had drafted Virginia’s Declaration of Rights desired that “the plan had been prefaced with a bill of rights. . .[It] would give great quiet to the people.” Those who supported ratification of the new constitution downplayed the need for it as Alexander Hamilton did in the Federalist Papers. They felt that since Congress could only exert enumerated powers there was no need for a bill of rights; a bill of rights would only constrain national powers. A majority of states had their own bills of rights and the feeling was that these would protect individuals. While that was true, the States only protected some rights and not others. For instance Virginia did not protect freedom of speech, assembly, petition or habeas corpus. While all states protected religious liberty, some permitted or provided for establishment of religion. Their coverage was spotty at best.

Those opposed to ratification of the Constitution (the Anti-Federalists) argued that the absence of a bill of rights showed that rights were insecure under the proposed Constitution. Some have commented that the proposal for a bill of rights was merely a smokescreen and that the Anti-Federalists opposed ratification and were seeking amendments to the Constitution on the issues of direct taxes, judicial power, and the commerce power (how little things have changed in over 200 years). A compromise was reached where the Constitution would be ratified and then amended later.

Once the first Congress convened Madison began the task a creating a bill of rights. On September 25, 1789 twelve proposed amendments were submitted to Congress by the States. The Anti-Federalists tried to stop Madison by stalling, adding additional amendments, and “depreciated the importance of the very protections of individual liberty that they had formerly demanded.” Two of the original twelve were voted down and the final ten were ratified on December 16, 1791. Connecticut and Georgia later ratified the Bill of Rights-- in 1939 on the sesquicentennial anniversary of the ratification of the Constitution.

How the Bill of Rights came to be is a fascinating story. As one commentator characterized it, “The party that had first opposed a Bill of Rights inadvertently wound up with the responsibility for its framing and ratification, while the party that had first professed to want it discovered too late that it was not only embarrassing but politically disastrous for ulterior party purposes.” This sounds like a description of the individual mandate portion of the health care reform law. The moral of the story is the more things change the more they stay the same.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Google Scholar Citations


A recent announcement on the Google Scholar Blog indicates that the company has now made Google Scholar Citations available for all. Google Scholar Citations is a free tool that allows authors to track citations to their articles and compute citation metrics. It provides overall citation information as well as information about citations in the last five years.

Once you provide your name and affiliation, Google Scholar will search for possible articles authored by you. False hits can be deleted easily from the list, while omitted articles can be added as well. In addition, multiple versions of the same article can be merged into one listing. You can also set up an alert to receive an email when a newly published article cites one of your articles. Initially profiles are private, but you can choose to make your information available to the public. Public profiles can be searched, allowing you to locate information about co-authors and other scholars in your area of expertise. To learn more, visit the Google Scholar Citation information page.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Voter ID Laws

As focus on the 2012 election gains momentum, there is also growing attention on the issue of voter identification laws. These laws require people to show ID, or sometimes photo ID, before they are allowed to vote at the polls. There is a great deal of debate about this issue as some argue that these measures are meant to limit the right to vote for particular groups, while others maintain that these laws are necessary to curb voter fraud. In the last few years, voter ID laws have been enacted or introduced in a growing number of states, including Texas. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, in 2011 only three states (Oregon, Vermont, and Wyoming) did not have voter ID laws or consider voter ID legislation.

For information about specific requirements in each state, see the map and chart provided by the National Conference of State Legislatures website. The Brennan Center for Justice has also put together a report detailing the large number of voting law changes in 2011. If you are interested in learning more about voting in Texas, visit the VOTEXAS.org website.