28 November 2007

Using English Punctuation Correctly

Another gem from wikiHow, this time a quick refresher on using English punctuation properly. Knowing when to use a period (or as the British say "full stop") or question mark is easy. But how about using a semi-colon, colon, or dash? Or the dreaded and often overused comma? This short refresher should help you with some common usage problems; so common that most native speakers could use a refresher or two every-so-often.

27 November 2007

The Jury System in Japan

Japan is one of those mixed systems that uses a bit of common law, although it is modeled after the European civil system. Its criminal justice system is undergoing big changes that seek to introduce something that is uniquely common law: juries. Hailed as the "most significant change in its criminal justice system since the postwar American occupation," Japan will begin using juries in criminal trials sometime in 2009. But here's the catch. Traditionally, the Japanese are reluctant to express opinions in public, to argue with one another or to question authority. In short, many Japanese are dreading the idea of serving on a jury. The International Herald Tribune has more on this interesting experiment.

23 November 2007

Press Freedom Revisited

A few weeks ago, I posted a piece about press freedom in Germany and the rest of Europe. Obviously, press freedom is a universal issue that impacts every country in some manner or another. In the U.S., there has been an ongoing discussion about the limits of press freedom. Americans were recently reminded of this debate when a video blogger was put in prison for refusing to turn over video he used for a story he posted on his blog. This was on the heals of the case of Judith Miller, a New York Times reporter who was jailed for failing to reveal her source for a story a series of stories she wrote for the Times. In light of these recent high profile cases, academics in America are calling for the Courts to revisit the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Branzburg v. Hayes, holding that reporters cannot use the First Amendment's freedom of press right to refuse to cooperate with a criminal investigation.

21 November 2007

Court TV

Jurists in both America and Great Britain are struggling with whether to allow television cameras into its highest courts. In the U.S., each state has dealt with this question differently; some letting camera into their courtrooms others not. But the federal courts still are a bit camera shy. Questions such as fairness to the parties and whether allowing cameras in will turn the court process into a circus are part of this often heated debate. In Britain, where the court system is undergoing enormous changes, especially at the very highest level with the creation of a new Supreme Court, the question is whether viewers should be allowed to watch Supreme Court proceedings on TV. Obviously, these proceedings are open to the public, i.e. one can go to the courtroom and watch it. Furthermore, other political proceedings are already televised in both Britain and the United States. But some judges aren't buying it. Recently, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts expressed concern that the camera's in the courtroom would undermine the workings of the Court. However, in Britain it appears that many top judges have no trouble with having their work televised.

20 November 2007

Then v. Than

Knowing when to use "then" or "than" isn't one of the recurring problems I see in students' writing. Nevertheless, it's always helpful to receive a little refresher and the WikiHow How-to-Manual has a short little piece that may be of assistance.

13 November 2007

Policing Judges

As students of Common Law Legal System in Münster and Institutionen von Staat und Gesellschaft in Osnabrück learn, judges in common law countries, especially in the United States and England, are quite powerful. Many are appointed for life terms (in England, a life term means until the judge turns 70 years-old) and few ever face the threat of discipline, even for the most outrageous of acts. Every so often, however, one comes across a story about a judge who has gone too far. One such story surfaced this past week in Virginia, where a state court judge was removed from the bench for extreme behavior. In this particular case the judge had done things like decide a child custody case by flipping a coin (Münze werfen) and ask a female to take off her pants in court. It's rare that judges get disciplined. So rare that when they do, it's newsworthy.

07 November 2007

Judges for Sale

Many states in America select their judges through an open election process. Thus, judges run for the post of judge just as any other politician runs for office. The upside? Judges become accountable to voters. The downside, and there are many? Judges, like other politicians in America, become reliant on campaign contributions. There are two interesting pieces in yesterday's USA Today highlighting the importance of money in the process of electing judges. One piece, written by someone in support of trial lawyers giving campaign contributions to judges makes the argument that if big business interests are giving money to judges, trial lawyers have no choice but to match those contributions in the hope of being able to equally influence judges. A sad commentary on this method of choosing judges, really. The other piece, I think, nicely points out the flaws of this system. Both pieces provide a nice understanding of the problems with electing judges in America.

05 November 2007

Wallach: Waterboarding Used to Be a Crime

Students in Münster have the privilege of selecting from a wide range of elective courses during their final two semesters of the FFA. One class offered every winter semester is The Law of War, taught by U.S. Federal Judge Evan Wallach. I've sat in on this class before and I can tell you that it is both timely and fascinating. As a federal judge, Judge Wallach likely feels somewhat constrained as to what he can say about the current "war on terror" being conducted by the Bush Administration. That's what makes his opinion piece that appeared in yesterday's Washington Post extraordinary. As I wrote last week, the issue of whether an interrogation technique called waterboarding is torture has been the focus of the U.S. Attorney General nomination hearings currently taking place in Washington D.C.. Judge Wallach weighs in on this debate with an emphatic YES.

02 November 2007

Press Freedom at Risk . . . in Germany!

In American Constitutional Law we learn about the central role that freedom of the press has played in the development of the American constitutional democracy. It goes without saying that press freedom is essential to any democracy. Which is why some of the measures taken by governments after the September 11 attacks in America are troubling. Der Spiegel has an interesting article on how the German government is joining the ranks of countries who are jeopardizing press freedom as part of the "war on terror."