23 December 2010

The House Over Time

Just to follow-up on yesterday's post. The Washington Post has a really interesting interactive map showing how the composition of the House of Representatives has changed over the past 100 years. Choose a year. Then move your cursor over a given state. It will show you how many representatives that state had during the period you have chosen. It will also show you how many people each member of the House represented in a given period. Looks like the average number of people per member of Congress was about 290,000 in 1910. Today it is over 700,000 people per representative!

22 December 2010

Census Numbers Are In

In each of my courses, at some point or another, we touch upon how the membership of House of Representative is apportioned, and reapportioned every ten years. As students in my courses this semester have heard me say a number of times, this year reapportionment will once again take place because the United States just completed its census. Well, the numbers are in. Politico has more about which states were the winners and which the losers when it comes to membership in the House.

21 December 2010

Tweeting from the Jury Box

Reuters recently had an interesting article on the impact social media is having on juries. The article begins:
The explosion of blogging, tweeting and other online diversions has reached into U.S. jury boxes, raising serious questions about juror impartiality and the ability of judges to control courtrooms.
The article not only explains how this new media is threatening fairness in jury trials, but also provides numerous examples of instances where a judge ordered a NEW TRIAL because of a juror's online conduct during the trial.

18 December 2010

Advise and Obstruct

The New York Times recently ran an editorial with the same caption as my post here, which is clearly a play on the "advise and consent" language in the U.S. Constitution. As students will recall, while the President has the power to nominate federal judges, he must also obtain the consent of the U.S. Senate. As I mentioned in class, this process has become increasingly political to the point where the federal judiciary's ability to efficiently function is being threatened. Or at least so argues the New York Times.

28 November 2010


How one should interpret the U.S. Constitution is a hotly debated topic in the United States. At the heart of this debate is whether the Constitution should be interpreted in a manner consistent with how the founders back in the 1780s would have interpreted it, or whether the Constitution should be interpreted to reflect changes in modern society. This idea of looking back 230 years to find the proper interpretation of the Constitution is called originalism. Prof. Lawrence Solum has an excellent primer on what originalism is and what all the hubbub is about.

27 November 2010

Cameras in Courtrooms

Should hearings before a high court be televised? American academics, jurists and members of the media have been discussing this for several years now. The Brits have actually said yes to this question, and have allowed their new Supreme Court to hold hearings before the camera since last year. And now the head of the German Constitutional Court has entered the fray (see Spiegel's "Voßkuhle will Fernsehkameras im Gericht zulassen").

04 November 2010


A few days ago I wrote about the effort in Iowa to remove three judges through the retention process because they voted to recognize gay marriage. My point was that usually judges are not removed through this process of retention . . . unless they make a controversial decision. Iowa provides us with yet another example. All three Iowa Supreme Court Justices who were up for retention and voted in favor of gay marriage were removed by voters on Tuesday. My question is, does this prove that supporters of judicial elections are right? Shouldn't judges reflect the majority view of society, and when they don't, they should be removed? Or do we want a system where judges can make rulings that do not reflect the so-called "will of the people?" Does an election like this actually help us truly determine what the will of the people is?

03 November 2010

The Passive Voice

For my American Studies students, although my law students could benefit from this as well:

I came across a short, concise description of how the passive voice is used, and not used, in English. I have to admit that I found it while trying to understand how the passive voice is used in German, something with which I am still struggling.

01 November 2010

More on Electing Judges

Advocates of judicial elections claim that electing judges make them accountable to the people. Even in those states where judges do not run against opponents, but instead stand for retention, advocates claim that while the people cannot select a new judge, at least they can throw the bums out when warranted. The modern reality is, though, that judges usually do not get removed by retention vote unless they have handed down a controversial decision that angers groups with the financial resources to run an ad campaign seeking their ouster. There is no better example of this than the retention vote taking place this year in the State of Iowa where the Iowa Supreme Court recently held that prohibiting gays and lesbians from marrying violated the Iowa State Constitution. Outraged, groups on the religious right have poured all kinds of money into removing these judges from office. The Associated Press has more.

29 October 2010

Electing Judges

With elections just around the corner in the United States, some commentators are once again lamenting the increasing politicization of selecting judges in some states. While electing judges is nothing new in America (many states have been selecting their judges in this manner for decades), the money that has been poured into these judicial campaigns as well as the harshness of the negatives ads put out by candidates has increased substantially in the past decade.

Richard Hansen and Dalia Lithwick over at Slate write:
If you're a fan of The Exorcist and Carrie, if you like sex and violence and ominous music, you've come to the right place. Because we have gathered some of the most spine-chilling Halloween footage you will ever see—all produced in an effort to influence state judicial elections.
Be sure to take quick look at some of these campaign ads for judges.

28 October 2010

Would Make You Think Twice

As my students in both my introduction to law courses (in Osnabrück and Münster) are or will be finding out, law school in America is an entirely different proposition than what students here are faced with. For starters, law school in America is a graduate degree. One cannot begin studying law without first having a bachelors degree. Then there is the cost. While students here in Germany take to the streets as a result of having to pay €1000 per year in tuition, law students in America are faced with five, sometimes even six, digit loans upon completion of their legal education. Slate Magazine has an interesting piece on the American lawyer market (supply has outstripped demand) and the trials and tribulations of new lawyers just starting out.

17 May 2010

He Means Business

Television ads and American politics go hand-in-hand. Some ads are better then others. And then some . . . well, some just are in a class of their own.

23 April 2010

Nine Old Men

With one of the nine current Supreme Court Justices announcing his retirement, the American press is once again interested in the Court. Good timing for us as we begin to learn about how the Court functions and impacts American society. The Christian Science Monitor has an excellent piece on the composition of the Court, which begins:
Like a starting lineup in baseball, the US Supreme Court has nine members. The number seems immutable, as if it’s always been that way. Didn’t they used to call the court “The Nine Old Men”? Isn’t nine justices a requirement written in the Constitution, or the Bill of Rights, or the Declaration of Independence?
read the rest of the article here.

19 April 2010

Still An Issue

Students in several of my courses will study the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case. While forcing school districts to desegregate their schools via a court order seems like something from America's past, it turns out that such orders are still needed and handed down by courts in the United States. The law blog Jurist reports:
A judge in the US District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi [official website] on Tuesday ordered [DOJ press release] a southern Mississippi school district to end its practice of allowing students to transfer from their assigned schools and classroom groupings, resulting in a segregated school system.
You can read more about this case here.

24 January 2010

Is Obamacare Unconstitutional

Obamacare, the derogatory word used by critics to refer to Pres. Obama's attempt at reforming America's health care system, has been in the news quite a bit lately, even here in Germany. But part of the story that is somewhat under-reported is an attempt by opponents of Obama's plan to convince legislators, the public and ultimately the courts that the President's plan is unconstitutional. Unconstitutional? How so? Glad you asked. Yale law professor has a very short and well-written piece in the Los Angeles Times on this very topic. His verdict: Obama's proposal is perfectly constitutional. Students in my Introduction to American Law class should read through Prof. Amar's piece as it discusses some constitutional issues that will form the basis of much of next semester's American Constitutional Law course.

05 January 2010

Original Jurisdiction

So the Attorney General of the State of Michigan is filing a lawsuit in the U.S. Supreme Court in order to protect the Great Lakes from Asian carp. Students in at least one of my classes (you know who you are, students in Introduction to American Law) should immediately be asking themselves a few questions here, and it has nothing to do with fish. This lawsuit is BEGINNING in the U.S. Supreme Court. Wait, didn't we learn that the Court is the highest appeals court in the U.S.? Remember our discussion about something called "original jurisdiction"? Article III of the Constitution specifically gives the Court "original jurisdiction" to hear a variety (albeit limited variety) of cases. One such case is when a state sues another state, which is what we have here: the State of Michigan v. the State of Illinois. In short, such a case begins in the Supreme Court, which is what we mean by "original jurisdiction." Of course, the case ends there too.