06 December 2013

Another English Judge Questions Legitimacy of ECHR Rulings

Last week I linked to an article where a senior English judge questioned whether English courts should have to follow rulings issued by the European Court of Human Rights. A few days ago the former head of the English judiciary made a similar remark:

Declaring that Strasbourg "is not superior to our supreme court" in London, Lord Judge, who retired in October, said parliamentary sovereignty should not be exported to "a foreign court".
He is the third senior judicial figure in recent weeks to warn about the dangers of an emerging "democratic deficit" if the ECHR continues to evolve into in effect a law-making body and forces the UK government to give prisoners the vote against parliament's expressed will.

03 December 2013

U.S. Federal Appeals Process

I recently came across an article headlined "Appeals court upholds law banning political ads on public broadcasting." When I read deeper into the article, I came across this passage:
Previously, a three-judge panel of the appeals court struck down the ban on political advertising but upheld the ban on for-profit advertising. But the federal government sought a rehearing in front of the full panel of judges.
This is an excellent example of an en banc hearing before a federal court of appeals, although the phrase "en banc" appears no where in the article. Remember, when one loses in the appeals court, one has two further options for appeal, either file a request with the Supreme Court (the normal route) or ask the full bench of the appeals court to review the ruling made by the three judge appellate panel. That is what happened here.

As an aside, being granted either form of appeal is extremely rare.

02 December 2013

What is the D.C. Circuit?

Students learning about the structure of the U.S. federal court system probably focus more on the geographical divisions of the appeals court more than any other aspect of the system, primarily because that is something upon which I put particular emphasis in our lecture about the system.

While I do mention that there are two other Courts of Appeal in addition to the 11 regional appeals courts, I really do a disservice to the D.C. Court of Appeals by not talking more about it. This court is arguably the second most important court in the federal court system for the reasons set forth in an excellent Q&A put together by The Blog of the Legal Times. Students interested in obtaining a deeper knowledge of the U.S. federal court system should give this a read.

29 November 2013

English Judge Questions Supremacy of Human Rights Court

The UK's longest serving Court of Appeal judge is causing a bit of stir in English legal circles. As part of a series of lectures, Sir John Laws (high courts judges automatically obtain a title upon appointment to the court) said, "I have, in common with others, come to think that this approach [treating Strasbourg decisions as authoritative] represents an important wrong turning in our law." Coverage by the Guardian also notes:
Laws, the longest-serving lord justice of appeal, questioned an important principle laid down nearly 10 years ago by Lord Bingham, who was then senior law lord.
In a case called Ullah, Bingham had said that the correct interpretation of the convention could be authoritatively expounded only by the human rights court in Strasbourg. "The meaning of the convention should be uniform throughout the states [that are] party to it," Bingham added.
But Laws disagreed. "There may perfectly properly be different answers to some human rights issues in different states on different facts. I think the Strasbourg court should recognise this."
 The remainder of the article is worth the read.

25 November 2013

Salon.com has an incredible take down of the American legal education system:
Since at least 1985, the American Bar Association’s Section on Legal Education has published annual statistics about the rates of enrollment at American law schools, the costs of attendance, and the eventual employment of law graduates. Looking at how these numbers have changed since the financial crisis of 2008, one thing is clear: Law schools are doing quite well for themselves. Tuition at private law schools has steadily increased, climbing from a mean of $34,298 in 2008 to a mean of $40,634 today – an increase that, by my calculations, outpaces inflation by about $3,000.
The remainder of the articles goes on to describe American law schools as being " toxic and hyper-capitalist," and in the long run a bad investment. It is a long read, but perhaps the contrast between the author's view of U.S. law schools and your own experience here in Germany might be of interest to you.

20 November 2013

When You Don't Want the Supreme Court Take Your Case

We sometimes forget that one of the two parties whose case is being petitioned to the U.S. Supreme Court actually would rather the Court not take their case. Of course this is because one of the parties won in the Court of Appeals. The Washington Post has some recent examples of this desire to have your case rejected.

18 November 2013

Taking A Case to the U.S. Supreme Court

It isn't easy. At least that is what these young Iowa attorneys say in this very well done short article about their journey to the U.S. Supreme Court.

14 November 2013

German Asylum Case Headed to Supreme Court?

A recent press release from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) gives us the details of this unique case that might be headed to the United States Supreme Court:
In April 2013, a three-judge panel of the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals sustained the Obama administration’s revocation of asylum granted to the family in 2010.

The original immigration judge, Lawrence O. Burman, granted the Romeike family asylum on January 26, 2010, under the Federal Immigration and Naturalization Act (INA) because Germany’s national policy of suppressing homeschooling violated their religious faith and because German authorities were improperly motivated to suppress homeschoolers as a social group.

In its ruling against the Romeikes, the Sixth Circuit rejected the judge’s findings, stating that Germany’s harsh treatment of homeschoolers did not amount to persecution, and that the German authorities were not motivated by an improper purpose.
After losing the Court of Appeals, the normal route is to request a hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court. As students will recall, a hearing before the highest court is not a matter of right. Instead, the Court grants permission to only those cases it wishes to hear. It takes four of the nine Justices to agree to hear the case in order for it to reach the Court, and of the thousands of requests that the Court receives each year, usually only around 75 are heard.

11 November 2013

Court TV Revisted

I have written on a few occasions about the debate over whether court hearings should be televised (see here and here). While the debate rages on, more and more courts are opting to open up their courtrooms to television: the latest high profile court being the UK Court of Appeal! The BBC has more with a video!

The Origin of Judical Lifetime Appointments in the United States

A quick reading of the U.S. Constitution might leave one puzzled as to how long federal court judges are allowed to serve. No where in the document does it specifically say that federal judges are lifetime appointments. Instead, the Constitution mysteriously says that judges shall serve "during good behavior." Lyle Denniston, veteran Supreme Court watcher, explains how this phrase came to mean lifetime appointment.

07 November 2013

Reigning in lower court judges

Judges in the federal courts system of the United States must abide by a judicial code of conduct, and when they deviate from that code, they can be removed from a case, as one U.S. District Court Judge recently found out.

04 November 2013

Time for a Change?

It is now a time honored tradition for American academics to every now and then call for a new constitution in the United States. The 224 year-old document that has changed little since its ratification has served the country relatively well, many argue, but in light of today's extreme political partisanship, it's time for a change. A recent piece in The Atlantic makes this argument, and also suggests that perhaps there is a model for what works in a modern democracy. The model? Germany's Basic Law!

29 October 2013

The Infamous McDonalds Coffee Case

Perhaps one of the most misunderstand stories of the American legal system and American legal culture.

28 October 2013

Quid Pro Quo?

A report recently released by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism finds that judges in Wisconsin tend to rule in favor of attorneys who gave them campaign donations. Wisconsin, as you might have already gathered, is one of those states that elect their judges. And as you also might know, campaign donations play an enormously important role in the modern American electoral system.

19 October 2013

The Impact of European Law on England

The impact of European law, in this case a ruling from the ECHR, EU law, and English law was on full display last week as the UK Supreme Court ruled that a right to vote for prisoners does not exist. An earlier ruling by ECHR said that a blanket ban on voting rights for prisoners, like the one that exists in England, violates European human rights law, but the UK Supreme Court refused to enforce this right in the United Kingdom. The BBC, Guardian, and Euro News have more.

15 October 2013

Getting Before the Supreme Court

Having your case heard before the United States Supreme Court is no easy task. In fact, as this USA Today article points out, its down right almost impossible.

02 July 2013

New Rule: You Must Be a Lawyer to Argue a Case in the Supreme Court

This seems like stating the obvious, but up until recently, there was nothing prohibiting non-lawyers from arguing cases before the U.S. Supreme Court. While this hasn't happened in over 30 years, technically non-lawyers could argue cases brought on their own behalf before the Court. Until now. The AP has more.

12 June 2013

Why Electing Judges is a Bad Idea

Nothing shocking here. According to a recent study, judges are more likely to give friendly rulings to those individuals and corporations that donate to their election campaign. As students in my courses will recall, many states elect their judges! More on the study can be found here.

11 June 2013

The Supreme Court's troubling past

The Washington Post's George Will recently devoted one of his columns to the
Korematsu case. Students in my Constitutional Law course might want to take a look at this piece as it relates to what we will be discussing on Thursday.

21 May 2013

Original Jurisdiction

The Desert News had a recent article that began by saying "The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear arguments Tuesday in a case that could have implications for states that rely on interstate water compacts." The case in question concerns a water rights dispute between six western states, and is an excellent example of case that begins and ends in the U.S. Supreme Court, as the Court has original jurisdiction to hear disputes between the states.

If you are reading the words "original jurisdiction" and asking yourself what that means, it is time to go back and review your class notes.

14 May 2013

Jury Nullification in Action

For those students interested in reading about a case where jury nullification was used to find a defendant not guilty, take look at this post.

13 May 2013

More on the UK Supreme Court

I just came across this nice little introductory video about the UK Supreme Court. According to its website:
This introductory film is primarily aimed at GSCE/Standard Grade students and explores the role and the workings of the Supreme Court, the only court with UK-wide jurisdiction and the highest court in the land. It explains its relationship to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, the highest court for British Overseas Territories and a number of Commonwealth countries.

08 May 2013

The Right Jury Size

More on juries, this time related to the size of juries in the United States. Slate Magazine recently ran an interesting article on jury size noting that all but two states require juries that contain 12 people to give unanimous verdicts. The article runs down nicely how the Supreme Court has ruled in the past regarding jury size:
Isn’t a verdict in a criminal trial supposed to be unanimous? The answer is yes in 48 states and yes if the case is tried in a federal court. But two states, Oregon and Louisiana, allow convictions by a non-unanimous vote. In both states, the threshold in non-capital cases is 10 to 2.* Arguably, Herrera had to go to jail for the crime of living in Oregon.

The Supreme Court has allowed this conflict between federal and state law (as well as between state law and conventional wisdom) to persist for more than 40 years, during which time it has come up with a mishmash of seemingly arbitrary rules about what constitutes a legal trial. A jury of six, the Supreme Court has decided, is constitutional (Williams v. Florida, 1970). A jury of five, however, is not constitutional (Ballew v. Georgia, 1978). In a jury of six, conviction must be unanimous (Burch v. Louisiana, 1979). But in a jury of 12, conviction does not have to be unanimous (Johnson v. Louisiana and Apodaca v. Oregon, 1972). (At the time of these decisions, Louisiana required a 9-to-3 vote to convict in non.capital cases, which the court upheld as constitutional. The state has since changed its threshold to 10 to 2.)

06 May 2013

Learing to love Jury Duty

Students in all of my courses have at some time or another been exposed to the common law jury system. Some argue that a strength of this system is the ability for everyday people to take part in the administration of justice. Yet, many Americans dread being called for jury duty. In a recent Atlantic post, Andrew Guthrie Ferguson argues that Americans need to embrace, not dread jury duty. He writes:
A jury summons is an invitation to participation. Jurors are asked to involve themselves in some of the most personal, sensational, and terrifying events in a community. It is real life, usually real tragedy, played out in court. Jurors confront disturbing facts, bloody images, or heart-wrenching testimony. A jury may have to decide whether a man lives or dies, or whether a multimillion-dollar company goes bankrupt. A jury will have to pass judgment in a way that will have real-world effects on both parties before the court. This active role was not accidental. Participation in jury service teaches the skills required for democratic self-government. Being a juror lets you develop the habits and skills of citizenship.

29 April 2013

The "Informal" UK Supreme Court

The Financial Times recently ran an interesting piece on the UK Supreme Court subtitle: "The most striking fact about this place is its informality. Grandeur and remoteness have been swept away." Students in my "Juristische Technik und Methodik des Common Law" course in Münster my find it interesting.

28 April 2013

Listening to the Supreme Court

Ever wonder what oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court sound like? Wonder no longer. NPR reports, fittingly via a podcast of a segment from one of its radio programs, that the Oyez Project now has digitized oral arguments heard before the Court dating all the way back to 1955! The manner in which arguments are conducted before the Court have changed dramatically over the past several decades. As a point of reference, take a quick listen to an argument from the early 1960s and then compare that to a recent argument. Today's Justices are much more active with their questioning. That is except for one. Justice Clarence Thomas has famously not asked a question during oral argument for several years now.

20 April 2013

Agency Alphabet Soup

Early on in the massive manhunt for the suspects involved in the Boston Marathon bombing, the Atlantic ran an interesting piece entitled "The Alphabet Soup of Agencies Hunting in Boston." Students in my American Administrative Law course last week heard me say that the structure of agencies in the United States amounted to a web of various agencies with overlapping responsibilities. This manhunt and the agencies involved in it provides an excellent example of what I was talking about:

10 April 2013

A Lawyer Shortage in America?

Normally when one thinks of lawyers in America, one thinks of a glut of lawyers. With good reason. America has more lawyers per person (1 lawyer for every 265 people) then any other country in the world. For comparison sake, Germany has 1 lawyer for 593 people.

But there appears to be a lawyer shortage in some parts of America. The New York recently ran an interesting article about a remote parts of Nebraska and South Dakota where no lawyer can be found for more then a 100 mile radius. The situation is so desperate that the State of South Dakota recently passed a law offering subsidies to those lawyers willing to move these remote parts of the state.

Shakespare famously wrote "the first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers." But in South Dakota they are looking to kill, rather they are looking subsidize their existence! 

01 February 2013

Law School Applications Drop in U.S.

The Atlantic has a fascinating piece on how law school applications in the United States have dropped to a thirty-year low. A few bullet points from the article:
  • applications have dropped 38% from where they were in 2010.
  • the average public law school graduate left school with over $75,000 in debt from tuition costs.
  • the law profession is bloated and there are no jobs to be had.
Those interested in getting an idea of what American law students face upon completion of their studies should give this article a glance. 

17 January 2013

Floating Home or Residential Boat?

Students attending my courses this semester surely remember the floating hotel v. floating train analogy I used during our discussion about divergent lines of precedent. To drive home the point, I then moved on to a real case involving a recreational vehicle (RV) and lines of precedent involving exceptions to the search warrant requirement, one line dealing with cars, the other dealing with homes.

Just this week the U.S. Supreme Court had a similar issue before it involving a house boat. The question was whether the vessel should be considered a residence or a boat. The characterization of the vessel obviously would lead the Court in two different directions (otherwise the case would not have made this far in the system), and it was up to the Court to determine whether this was a boat or a home.

The Washington Post has more on this case.

14 January 2013

Political Judges

Are judges in America actually politicians? This is a question posed by former Obama Administration official and renowned law professor Cass Sunstein in a recent essay published by Bloomberg News. What Sunstein is really asking here deals more with the role ideology plays in judicial decision making, but the point is well taken and worth consideration. The essay is highly recommended.

10 January 2013

Precedent at Work

In all of my courses this semester we have spent at least a portion of our time discussing how precedent operates in the common law system. One of the concepts I have tried to make clear is the role that reasoning by analogy plays in the development of case law. The California Supreme Court, in the case of Nawal v. Cedar Fair, L.P. (the ruling can be found here), recently gave us a nice example of how reasoning by analogy can be used to extend a common law principle.

The L.A. Times nicely sums the case up so:
The ruling came in a lawsuit by Smriti Nalwa, who fractured her wrist in 2005 while riding in a bumper car with her 9-year-old son and being involved in a head-on collision. Rosenberg said Great America had told ride operators not to allow head-on collisions, but failed to ask patrons to avoid them.

The court said Nalwa's injury was caused by a collision with another bumper car, a normal part of the ride. To reduce all risk of injury, the ride would have to be scrapped or completely reconfigured, the court said.

"A small degree of risk inevitably accompanies the thrill of speeding through curves and loops, defying gravity or, in bumper cars, engaging in the mock violence of low-speed collisions," Justice Kathryn Mickle Werdegar wrote for the majority. "Those who voluntarily join in these activities also voluntarily take on their minor inherent risks."

Monday's decision extended a legal doctrine that has limited liability for risky sports, such as football, to now include recreational activities.
The legal doctrine at issue is the common law (i.e. judge made) principle of assumption of risk, whereby someone who undertakes an activity knowing of the risks involved cannot later sue the person who organized or oversaw the activity. Up to this point, California courts had apparently limited the use of the doctrine to risky sports, but in this case they drew an analogy between risky sports and risky amusement park rides and found them to be sufficiently similar to allow for an extension of the doctrine.

08 January 2013

The Right to Bear Arms

In the wake of the tragic events that unfolded last month in a Connecticut elementary school, the German press has highlighted the gun culture in America and how the U.S. Constitution seemly makes it quite difficult to put limitations on this culture. At issue, of course, is the Second Amendment to the U..S. Constitution, which states:
A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.
The meaning of this awkwardly written sentence has been argued from the halls of academia to the chambers of the U.S. Supreme Court. And the arguments appear to be more about grammar and punctuation then anything else, as a recent post at the University of Pennsylvania's "Language Log" reminds us.

This post is a must read for anyone who is interested in the debate about how the Second Amendment can be interpreted and the role that language plays in this debate.