"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



Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Giving Thanks for Government Documents


Tomorrow is Thanksgiving, the ideal holiday to celebrate by sharing historical legal information with family and loved ones: out of all holidays, on Thanksgiving there is the best chance that said family and loved ones will be too full to run away from the table quickly when the topic of historical legal research comes up.  Even better, if one’s captive audience falls asleep one can blame it on the turkey.  The following resources may be useful for either legal research or topical dinner conversation:
Most of the popular characterization of the “First Thanksgiving” in 1621 is due to records written by two colonial governors: Of Plymouth Plantation by William Bradford and Mourt’s Relation by Edward Winslow.  These documents were lost and only rediscovered in the 19th Century, when they became the basis for associating Thanksgiving Day with the feast shared by the Plymouth Colony and the Wampanoag Indians. 
During the Revolutionary War, the Continental Congress declared Thursday, December 18, 1777, a day of “Solemn Thanksgiving and Praise” in honor of the victory over British forces at the Battle of Saratoga, and followed other victories with similar occasions. 
George Washington issued the first presidential call for a “Day of Public Thanksgiving and Prayer” to be held on Thursday, November 26th, 1789.  Similar one-time holidays were declared later, by President Washington again and subsequently by John Adams and James Madison.  After President Madison’s call for a “Day of Thanksgiving” on Thursday, April 20, 1815, to give thanks for the end of the War of 1812, no national Thanksgiving holidays were celebrated for almost half a century.
Abraham Lincoln began the tradition of an annual Thanksgiving holiday in 1863, issuing a proclamation calling for a  “day of Thanksgiving and Praise” to be held on the fourth Thursday of November, and requesting that the American people observe the occasion by giving thanks for the nation’s prosperity and by praying for an end to the Civil War. 
In 1939, at the request of retailers hoping for a longer Christmas shopping season, Franklin Roosevelt moved Thanksgiving up to the third Thursday in November in a controversial decision; however, federal holidays are binding only on Washington, D.C. and federal employees, and state response to this move was mixed; Congress moved Thanksgiving back to the fourth Thursday of November in 1941 where it remained to the present day.
Finally, for those in need of a final legal anecdote to wake Thanksgiving guests up for dessert: the start of the tradition of the President ‘pardoning’ the White House turkey, often misattributed to Harry Truman, only dates back to the 1980s.  The idea of a presidential pardon for a turkey was proposed by Ronal Reagan in 1987, who did not pardon any additional turkeys; the tradition of celebrating every Thanksgiving by issuing a pardon to the White House turkey was begun by George H. W. Bush in 1989.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Famous Trials



The internet may be young, but the list of once great web resources that are no longer is far too long. It is always exciting then to find a long-running, self-maintained website that is still updated with content both useful and interesting. Even better if that resource is also perfect for a legal audience. Since 1996 Doug Linder, the Elmer N. Powell Peer Professor of Law at University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, has created, cultivated, and updated his Famous Trials website.

Originally started to serve as a text for Professor Linder’s Famous Trials Seminar course, the site has grown over time to include trials from the Trial of Socrates to George Zimmerman, and many of the world’s most famous trials in between. Each trial begins with a narrative of the case, written to be both engaging and informative. Then, a true treasure trove of material awaits the researcher. Depending on the case, you may original photos and documents, trial transcripts, images of evidence, and even interviews and commentary about the case at the time it was tried. 

After hearing of this site (hat tip to former Nota Bene blogger Matt Mantel), I was immediately captivated by the tale of the trial of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were convicted of espionage and executed in 1953. This section includes not only the story of the trial, but also trial transcripts, photos of evidence used against the Rosenbergs, even the judge’s sentencing statement, and final letter of the Rosenbergs to their sons.  I can’t wait to delve into the next famous trial, and I’m delighted to have found a deep well of great reading for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday. Whether you are interested in finding primary materials from recent trials, or just fascinated by the tales of many of the greatest trials in history, you will be glad that Professor Linder has devoted much of his career to developing this outstanding resource.  

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Transition to Congress.gov


A recent press release from the Library of Congress indicates that starting November 19, the popular Thomas.gov website will redirect users to the new Congress.gov platform.  Thomas.gov will be accessible from the Congress.gov website through late 2014.  

The new Congress.gov website, the planned replacement for Thomas.gov for finding legislative information, was released as a beta version in 2012 with limited content.  Although not all of the Thomas.gov content has been transferred over, during the last year they have continued to add additional content, including the text of legislation back to 1993 and the Congressional Record back to 1995.  For a list of content and coverage dates, see the Congress.gov and Thomas.gov comparison chart.

In addition to providing the text of legislation, the website also contains important information about each piece of legislation such as bill summary and status, the text of various versions of the bill, a list of actions taken on the bill (with links to the Congressional Record), and information about cosponsors.  For example, see the page for the ADA Amendments Act of 2008. 

For more information about Congress.gov and how to search for information, see the About and Search Tips pages.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Texas Voters Approve Proposition 9

Voters statewide on November 5 approved Proposition 9 that amends the Texas State Constitution to provide the State Commission on Judicial Conduct with more options on sanctions against judges for ethical rule violations (see Tex Parte blog for more details). Prior to the amendment, the commission could only issue public censure or removal of judge after a formal proceeding, but now in addition to these sanctions, less severe punishments are available. These include public admonition, warning, reprimand or requiring the judge to undergo additional training or eduction. Senate Joint Resolution (SJR) 42, which allowed the voters to decide on expanding these sanctions was passed by the Texas State Legislature earlier this year and is available on the Texas Legislature Online's website. This website has the history of the bill's progress through the legislature, the full text of the different versions of the bill, bill analysis, and committee reports.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Bloomberg BNA Corporate Law Portfolios

The Tax Management Portfolios (which the law library has access to through the Bloomberg BNA Tax and Accounting Center database, and most of which are available in our print collection) need no introduction to those whose area of interest is tax law. However, Bloomberg BNA also publishes a set of corporate practice series portfolios, available through the Bloomberg BNA Corporate Law Resource Center. These are mini-treatises, each focusing a corporate law related topic such as corporate governance, compliance/regulations, mergers & acquisitions, corporate finance, corporate legal departments, financial reporting, and forms of business.

The Corporate Law Resource Center can be accessed by logging on to the law library's VPN, clicking "Bloomberg BNA Databases A-Z" from the drop-down menu under legal databases on the law library's website, and then by clicking "Corporate Law Resource Center" from the list. The portfolios then can be accessed by utilizing the options available under "BNA's Corporate Law Portfolios" on the left side of the page.

These portfolios can also be accessed from the Bloomberg Law database (this is a separate platform from the Bloomberg BNA databases and does not require the law library's VPN), by clicking the "Legal News & Analysis" tab at the top of the main page, selecting "Bloomberg BNA Portfolios" from the drop-down menu, and then by choosing "Corporate Practice Series" from the list. UHLC students and faculty can access Bloomberg Law by visiting www.bloomberglaw.com and clicking the "Register a Law School Account" link from the main page. Fill out the information (there is no activation code) and make sure to use your University of Houston e-mail address. You should receive your user id and password within 24 hours.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Spying and International Law

With increasing numbers of foreign governments officially objecting to now-widely publicized U.S. espionage activities, the topic of the legality of these activities has been raised both by the target governments and by the many news organizations reporting on the issue.  For those interested in better understanding this controversy by learning more about international laws concerning espionage, here are some legal resources that may be useful.

The following is a list of multinational treaties relevant to spies and espionage:
  • Brussels Declaration concerning the Laws and Customs of War (1874).  Although never ratified by the nations that drafted it, this declaration is one of the earliest modern examples of an international attempt to codify the laws of war.  Articles 19-22 address the identification and treatment of spies during wartime.  These articles served mainly to distinguish active spies from soldiers and former spies, and provided no protections for spies captured in the act.
  • The Hague Convention (II): Respecting the Laws and Customs of War on Land (1899).  This treaty was primarily concerned with the rules of military engagement, and only addressed espionage occurring during wartime.  Article 24 acknowledged the use of “ruses of war” and “methods necessary to obtain information” about the enemy army and nation; while not legalizing espionage.  Articles 29-31 address the identification and treatment of spies during wartime; these articles provided for spies captured in the act to receive a trial, but offered no further protection.
  • The Hague Convention (IV): Respecting the Laws and Customs of War (1907).  This treaty retained in its annex the espionage provisions of Convention (II), in identically numbered articles.
  • Geneva Convention (IV): Relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War (1949).  This treaty is concerned with the treatment of captured civilians during wartime.  Article 5 addresses the treatment of persons detained as spies, providing that captured spies could be denied privileges that would permit spies to reveal damaging information, but otherwise requiring the same protection for spies as for other prisoners; in context, this article prohibits the treatment of espionage (by the enemy) in wartime as a capital offense.
  • The Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations (1961).  This treaty is concerned with the privileges of a diplomatic mission while in a foreign country.  Article 22 protects the premises of the mission from invasion, Article 24 outlaws both forcible and covert examination of the archives and documents of a diplomatic mission, and Articles 27 and 40 protects mission communications from being monitored; articles 30, 36 and 40 extend these guarantees of privacy to an official diplomat’s private residence and property.  This agreement is one of the earliest instances of nations placing legal limits on their own espionage activities.
  • The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations (1963).  This treaty is concerned with extending to consulates many of the privileges and protections enjoyed by diplomats.  Articles 27 and 31 protect the premises of the consulate, Articles 33 and 61 protect its documents (with some restrictions), Articles 35 and 54 protect its communications, and Articles 50 and 54 protect the personal bags of consular employees and their families from customs inspection while travelling.
  • Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (1994) (TRIPS).  An annex to the Marrakesh Agreement establishing the World Trade Organization, TRIPS is concerned with the protection of intellectual property.  Article 39 requires the protection of trade secrets, but Article 73 exempts national governments from following TRIPS for any reason they consider essential to their security interests; effectively, TRIPS prohibits private corporate espionage.
The following is a list of academic legal studies available online; readers may find them useful in explaining why so little of what is considered spying is illegal under international law, and why there is often conflict between international and domestic laws concerning espionage:
  • Craig Forcese, Spies Without Borders: International Law and Intelligence Collection, 5 J. NAT'L SECURITY L. & POL'Y 179 (2011), available from the Journal of National Security Law and Policy website.
  • A. John Radsan, The Unresolved Equation of Espionage and International Law, 28 MICH. J. INT'L L. 595 (2007), available from the Social Science Research Network (SSRN) website. 
  • Glenn Sulmasy & John Yoo, Counterintuitive: Intelligence Operations and International Law, 28 MICH. J. INT'L L. 625 (2007), available from SSRN.
  • Simon Chesterman, The Spy Who Came In from the Cold War: Intelligence and International Law, 27 MICH. J. INT'L L. 1071 (2006), available from SSRN.
  • Roger D. Scott, Territorially Intrusive Intelligence Collection and International Law, 46 A.F. L. REV. 217 (1999), available from the Air Force JAG website.
  • David P. Fidler, Economic Cyber Espionage and International Law: Controversies Involving Government Acquisition of Trade Secrets through Cyber Technologies. 17 ASIL Insights, no. 10 (2013), available from the American Society of International Law website.