30 May 2011

Senate Vote Thresholds

Students in my U.S. Constitutional Law course were recently perplexed by the number of different vote thresholds the Senate needs to accomplish various tasks. One student bravely asked if I would put together a list of the various thresholds. Sure, why not.

Votes need to conduct business (quorum) - a majority of seats currently filled by elected, living members.

Votes to pass a bill - a majority of members present for the vote.

Votes needed to end a filibuster (Cloture Vote) - 3/5 of the full Senate, i.e. of seats not vacant. Remember, the filibuster only exists in the Senate.

Votes needed to confirm a Presidential Appointee - majority of members present for the vote. Remember, only the Senate as confirmation power.

Votes needed to ratify a treaty - 2/3 of Senators present. Remember, only the Senate has ratification power.

Votes needed to convict and remove - 2/3 of Senators present. Remember, the House, by a simple majority, begins this process by impeaching the person.

Votes needed to override a veto - 2/3 of Senators present (House of Representatives are also needed).

Votes needed to propose an Amendment to the Constitution - 2/3 of member present. (House must also vote).

18 May 2011

How Important Are Oral Arguments

Students in my Conversation and Presentation Skills for Lawyers course just finished a moot court exercise. For those of you not familiar with mooting, the exercise is essentially modeled on an appellate court proceeding. As I point out to students, these oral arguments in real life give appellate judges the opportunity to ask questions they may have on points of law, but more specifically it gives judges the opportunity to think about how their decision might impact future cases. As I like to point out to students, many of the questions asked by Supreme Court Justices during oral arguments are hypothetical in nature for the very reason that they are struggling with trying to determine how a particular rule they develop could be used in the future. But how important are these oral arguments? After all, both parties submit detailed legal briefs outlining their legal arguments. One sitting Supreme Court Justice, Clarence Thomas, has famously not asked a question during oral arguments for several years now. His position, apparently, is that these oral arguments aren't worth very much. Now it appears that at least one other Justice feels the same way.

17 May 2011

Our Aging Judiciary

Is giving judges lifetime appointments a good idea? Not really according to this recent piece in Slate Magazine.

09 May 2011

Under the U.S. Supreme Court: The president makes war in Libya

After pressure from England and France, President Barack Obama finally agreed to send U.S. war planes into Libya. But did he have the power to do so without permission from Congress? Back in March, shortly after the first U.S. planes were seen over Libya, United Press International ran an informative piece on this question. Students in my U.S. Constitutional Law course may want to check this short piece out.

08 May 2011

Jury Selection

The Orlando Sentinel has a great article and video about the jury selection in a Florida case that has received nation-wide attention. The piece begins by stating basically what I have been telling students about jury selection in America, at least in high profile cases:
Experts say trials are won and lost in jury selection.

This is why an entire jury-consulting industry is devoted to reading the body language of would-be jurors, profiling them based on personal characteristics and learning as much as possible about these individuals to sift out the "dangerous jurors."

The rest of the story and the video are worth your time if you are interested in getting a better look at jury selection in high profile cases.