Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Truthiness in Numbers

In 1953, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson famously said of his place of work: "We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final." Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443 (1953) (Jackson, J., concurring). This week, ProPublica released the results of a study which examined Supreme Court opinions for factual errors. While the sampling of eighty-four cases from 2011-2015 is too small to draw sweeping statistical conclusions, the researchers did uncover factual errors, both large and small, in seven of the twenty-four sampled SCOTUS cases which contained "legislative facts." (The report also highlights five earlier opinions containing additional factual mistakes.)

ProPublica notes that the sources of the mistakes varied: some apparently originated with a justice's extrajudicial research, while other errors had been repeated from faulty filings and amicus briefs. The impact of the errors also varied – some were minor errors with insignificant effects, while other mistakes seemed to carry more weight on the Court's ultimate ruling. The report analyzes errors within six of the seven opinions in the sampling period; a seventh will be described in a separate article.

A sobering error within the sampling period involved Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013), which invalidated section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act based on its outdated "coverage formula" for federal oversight of state voting laws. In support of the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts included a chart on page 2626, comparing voter registration breakdowns by race in the six states which fell under the oversight coverage; the chart was intended to show that voter registration gaps between white and black citizens of those states had narrowed dramatically between 1965 and 2004. As ProPublica notes, Roberts's charts were skewed by a misinterpretation of Census Bureau race categories, using a category for the "White" column which included white voters of Hispanic ethnicity as well as non-Hispanic white voters.

Statistical data was on the Chief Justice's mind again earlier this month, in oral arguments concerning partisan gerrymandering. During questioning in Gill v. Whitford, the Chief Justice expressed concerns about using political science "efficiency gap" (EG) measures as a determining factor in the Court's opinion: "It is just not, it seems, a palatable answer to say the ruling was based on the fact that EG was greater than 7 percent. That doesn't sound like language in the Constitution […] [Y]ou're taking these issues away from democracy and you're throwing them into the courts pursuant to, and it may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe as sociological gobbledygook."

In response, the American Sociological Association released an open letter, defending the use of social science data and describing its benefits to society. The ASA also pointed out that, while "your alma mater would be disappointed to learn that you attributed your lack of understanding of social science to your Harvard education," the ASA would be willing to send representatives to meet with the Court and its staff.

While we don't all have the luxury of renowned social scientists providing in-person overviews of statistical basics, there are many resources available to improve statistical literacy. An accessible introduction to spotting common data misuse in the media can be found in Joel Best's Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists (HM535 .B47 2001 & online) and More Damned Lies and Statistics: How Numbers Confuse Public Issues (HM535 .B474 2004 & online). Shorter guides to spotting erroneous statistics can be found at the UK's Guardian newspaper and at the website Statistics How To. Although not every example contains numbers, you can test your ability to spot misleading statistics and news reports with the Factitious online game developed at American University.

For more academic overviews of statistical methods, the Empirical Collection on Level 3 of the library includes more than 150 titles on statistical methods, including An Introduction to Empirical Legal Research and Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals. Purdue University's Online Writing Lab also offers many tips on accurately Writing with Statistics.

For help with locating information about Supreme Court opinions or statistical methods, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Updated Guide to North Carolina Materials

The Goodson Law Library research guide to North Carolina Practice was updated recently. One of the most important changes? This year's move of the Clarence W. Walker North Carolina Alcove itself – from its former home on Level 2 to its current place on Level 3! (Materials from the former Federal Alcove are located nearby on Level 3, in the William F. Stevens Federal Area.) The North Carolina Alcove, which contains important primary and secondary state law materials, moved to the main floor of the library in order to provide alcove users with convenient access to state materials, as well as to assistance from the library service desk.

What else is new in the N.C. Practice research guide? Here are a few highlights:
  • Updated editions of print treatises like Arrest, Search and Investigation in North Carolina, the North Carolina Personal Injury Liens Manual, and North Carolina Manual of Complaints.
  • Pattern Jury Instructions for North Carolina civil, criminal and motor vehicle cases are now available online in Westlaw, as well as in print in the NC Alcove and online from the University of North Carolina School of Government.
  • A new Style Manual for the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure (April 2017) is now available online.
For help with using North Carolina legal materials in print or online, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

First Monday 2017

Monday, October 2 marks the opening of the U.S. Supreme Court's new October term. The "First Monday in October" has been the Court’s official start date for more than a century, and is codified at 28 U.S.C. § 2 (2012).

As shown in the 1916 law's compiled legislative history, available to the Duke University community in the ProQuest Legislative Insight database, the change to "first Monday" (from the second Monday in October) was intended "to shorten the vacation and give the court an extra week when the weather is favorable to work." In the House debate printed in the Congressional Record, Illinois representative James Robert Mann expressed his concern that since the change "is a matter largely of the convenience of the members of the Supreme Court, may I ask […] that that change is entirely satisfactory to them?" (He was assured that the change was actually at the Justices' request.) While inclement weather was likely a greater cause for concern to the justices of yesteryear, the "first Monday in October" has remained consistent since it became effective in 1917.

You can learn more about the OT2017 cases at the U.S. Supreme Court's recently-redesigned website, which provides access to Court calendars and links to case documents. The commercial website SCOTUSblog is another great resource for keeping up with the Court's upcoming term. Each SCOTUSblog case page (for example, the three consolidated employment arbitration cases which will be the subject of the term's first oral argument) contains links to available filings on an easy-to-read docket sheet.

Also new this term are revised Rules of the Court which will become effective on November 13. As noted in the Court's press release, the changes pave the way for a long-planned electronic filing system, which is also scheduled to launch on November 13. The new rules, as well as the current rules in effect through November 12, can be found on the Supreme Court's Rules and Guidance page.

To learn more about the history and operations of the U.S. Supreme Court, visit the Goodson Law Library's research guide or Ask a Librarian.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Constitution at 230

Sunday, September 17 marks the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. "Constitution Day" was established in 2004, piggybacking on the existing federal recognition of September 17 as "Citizenship Day." See 36 U.S.C. § 106 (2012). Celebrate Constitution Day at the Goodson Law Library by picking up a free pocket Constitution at the library service desk, courtesy of the U.S. Government Publishing Office. (GPO also sent us some government information notecards with QR codes to key federal resources, as well as bookmarks promoting Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government, its educational site for children. These are also available at the service desk giveaway rack, while supplies last.) Throughout the year, the service desk also has free pocket Constitutions courtesy of LexisNexis.

You can also read the text of the Constitution online through the U.S. Senate, the National Archives, and at the start of every print or online version of the United States Code, as part of the "Organic Laws." GPO also provides free access to the Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation (CONAN), a treatise providing historical context and analytical discussion of U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of each article, clause, and amendment of the Constitution. CONAN begins with a "Historical Note on the Formation of the Constitution," which describes briefly the events of September 17:
The Convention met on Monday, September 17, for its final session. Several of the delegates were disappointed in the result. A few deemed the new Constitution a mere makeshift, a series of unfortunate compromises. The advocates of the Constitution, realizing the impending difficulty of obtaining the consent of the States to the new instrument of Government, were anxious to obtain the unanimous support of the delegations from each State. It was feared that many of the delegates would refuse to give their individual assent to the Constitution. Therefore, in order that the action of the Convention would appear to be unanimous, Gouverneur Morris devised the formula "Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present the 17th of September . . . In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names." Thirty-nine of the forty-two delegates present thereupon "subscribed" to the document.
To learn more about the history of the United States Constitution, try a search of the Duke Libraries Caalog for the subject heading "Constitutional history – United States." You'll find titles like The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution (KF4541 .K53 2016) and Blessings of Liberty: A Concise History of the Constitution of the United States (KF4541.Z9 B463 2016). To find more works about constitutional law or constitutional history, in our print collection or online, just Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

U.S. Code on the Move

Like primary law from the other two branches of government, federal legislation is a living entity, subject to frequent changes. Every legal researcher knows that sections of the U.S. Code can be later amended, repealed, invalidated by a court, or rendered indirectly obsolete by subsequent changes in the law. However, there is another potential fate for federal statutes, less dramatic but no less important: the ability of editors to pick up an existing statute section and relocate it elsewhere in the Code, as part of an editorial reclassification.

Effective September 1, that's what happened inside Title 34 of the U.S. Code, which sat empty for decades after its former subject area (The Navy) was repealed in 1956. Title 34 has finally been repurposed into a new subject area, Crime Control and Law Enforcement, by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel. This editorial reclassification simply moves existing Code sections in force from their previous locations in Title 18 (Crimes and Criminal Procedure), Title 28 (The Judiciary), and Title 42 (Public Health and Welfare). The OLRC announcement of the change includes an outline of the new Title 34 sections as well as a table of which specific Code sections have moved there.

Title 34's text is already updated to reflect these changes at the OLRC's free U.S. Code website, and in the annotated versions of the U.S. Code on Westlaw and Lexis Advance. (Bloomberg Law's U.S. Code text has not yet updated, but likely will soon – a good reminder to always note the currency of your online statute sources.) If you attempt to retrieve an outdated citation to a Code section which has been transferred (such as through a link in case law), the updated U.S.C. or annotated codes online will note the transfer of the old citation to its new home in Title 34.

Should you find yourself researching historical Navy law materials, note that the "new" Title 34 has a completely different numbering scheme than the old, repealed one from before 1956 – so there are no worries about confusion due to overlapping section numbers. However, the "old" Title 34 sections' text is not available in most online research services, as they link readers of case law and secondary sources to only the current version of the U.S. Code. If you need to see the pre-1956 text of Title 34 (Navy), you can access historical versions of the U.S. Code through HeinOnline's U.S. Code Library or free through the Law Library of Congress.

Editorial reclassifications within the U.S. Code are common – in fact, internal reorganizations of Title 7 (Agriculture) and Title 43 (Public Lands) happened on July 1 of this year. The Office of the Law Revision Counsel maintains information pages on these Editorial Reclassification projects.

Editorial reclassification should not be confused with the more complex process of positive law codification, which requires Congress to enact an entire U.S. Code title as a single federal statute, thus rendering it legal evidence of the law's text. (Non-positive law Code titles, assembled by editors, are considered to be only prima facie evidence of the law, and the text of the individual session laws in the U.S. Statutes at Large would be the controlling wording of the law in the event of a discrepancy.) About half of the U.S. Code's 54 titles have been enacted into positive law, including Title 10 (Armed Forces) – which resulted in the repeal of the original Title 34 (Navy) when Title 10 was enacted into positive law in 1956. Information about completed and pending positive law codification projects can be found at the Office of the Law Revision Counsel – if all pending projects are ultimately enacted, the U.S. Code would eventually expand to 57 titles.

For help with using the U.S. Code in its current or historical versions, visit our research guide to Federal Legislative History or Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Oxford Bibliographies in International Law

The Duke University community now has access to Oxford Bibliographies in International Law, a peer-reviewed, encyclopedic collection of annotated bibliographies on international law topics. The database (which can be found on our Legal Databases & Links page) contains more than 150 entries by respected international law scholars, each with references to texts, commentaries, encyclopedias, databases, journals, case law, treaties, and other research resources. These bibliographies are excellent starting places to learn basic concepts and to find additional resources on a particular international law topic.

Individual bibliographies can be searched, browsed alphabetically by title, or sorted by Date Added to view the most recent additions. The database is updated on an ongoing basis. One of the most recent additions, Fair and Equitable Treatment in International Investment Agreements (updated August 23), illustrates the typical bibliography style: an introduction and overview of the topic, followed by an annotated list of useful resources.

Note that the GetIt@Duke button under "Find This Resource" for each listed title is somewhat unreliable within this database, particularly for book titles (journal articles tend to connect without issue). If the database indicates that a listed book title is unavailable at Duke University, try a separate search of the Duke Libraries Catalog to double-check.

The International Law module is just one of the many Oxford Bibliographies which are available across campus. To view other available Oxford Bibliographies databases (including Environmental Science and International Relations), search the Duke Libraries Catalog or Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Legal Research for Non-Lawyers

The Goodson Law Library research guide to Legal Research for Non-Lawyers was updated this summer with several new resources in our collection. The library maintains a small print reference collection of legal books written for a general audience, many published by the self-help law publisher Nolo Press.

Some newly-added or updated titles in the guide (and the library Reference collection) include:
  • Emily Doskow & Frederick Hertz, Making It Legal: A Guide to Same-Sex Marriage, Domestic Partnership & Civil Unions, 4th ed. (Ref. KF539.A23 .M25 2016). Updated Nolo Press title on same-sex marriage and other legal unions.
  • Cora Jordan, Neighbor Law: Fences, Trees, Boundaries & Noise, 9th ed. (Ref. KF639.Z9J67 2017). Updated Nolo Press title dealing with all aspects of neighbor disputes.
  • Deanne Morgan, Become an Informed Caregiver: What You Should Know When Caring for an Aging Loved One (Ref .RA645.3 .M68 2016). Written by a Duke Law legal research instructor, this is an accessible guide to the legal concerns of elder care.
  • Richard Stim, Getting Permission: How to License & Clear Copyrighted Materials Online & Off, 6th ed. (Ref. KF3002 .S75 2016). Answers common questions about determining fair use of copyrighted materials, and obtaining permission or "clearance" for other use (such as for commercial purposes).
Online sources are also listed in the guide, including free law-related websites as well as electronic versions of the listed books. Many of the electronic versions are restricted to current Duke University or Duke Law students, faculty, and staff, such as the North Carolina Bar Foundation publication The ABCs of Traffic Law: Do's and Don'ts of Traffic Court – which is available in print in the library's North Carolina Alcove, but also electronically to the Law School community via Lexis Advance. Organized alphabetically by topic (e.g., Buses, Speeding, and Texting While Driving), this is an accessible handbook for attorneys on common NC traffic court issues, but is helpful for non-lawyers as well.

For help with using these or other legal guides for the layperson, be sure to Ask a Librarian.