Friday, May 29, 2009

Trial Transcripts, Both Gruesome and Educational

Researchers might consult the transcript of a trial for many reasons-- perhaps even entertainment. Although it might be hard to believe if you've ever slogged through the volumes of a modern trial transcript, the proceedings of high-profile cases were popular reading material in the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries. (Of course, the retellings were often a bit more sensationalized than your modern court reporter might like...resulting in a "transcript" that was more akin to today's true-crime genre.)

The Goodson Law Library collection includes many historic accounts of notorious trials. Today, we've added even more with the new database The Making of Modern Law: Trials 1600-1926 ( The database includes searchable page-image versions of more than 10,000 published trial proceedings from all over the world. The publications offer unique historical perspective into legal systems and the lives of those involved in the cases.

For example, did Lizzie Borden really give her mother "forty whacks" and her father forty-one, as the popular jump-rope rhyme would have us believe? Not according to Edwin H. Porter's 1893 book The Fall River Tragedy: A History of the Borden Murders, which tells us on page 13 that "Medical Examiner Dolan and a corps of physicians held an autopsy on the bodies in the afternoon and found that thirteen blows had rained upon the head of the unsuspecting Mr. Borden, and that no less than eighteen had descended upon the skull of Mrs. Borden. The cuts were deep and long and any one of them would have produced instant death." (If you're already logged in to the database with your NetID and password, see for yourself.)

The Trials database is fully searchable, including the full text of publications. Titles may be internally browsed by an electronic table of contents, which includes separate entries for any illustrations (The non-squeamish--and logged-in-- can test this feature with a crime scene photo of Mr. Borden's body). Pages can be printed in batches of 50 at a time (although for this particular title, you can also pick up a 2006 reprint in the Law Library at the call number KF223.B6 P67 2006).

For additional sources and strategies for locating historic trial transcripts, visit the Goodson Law Library's research guide to Court Records and Briefs (, which has been updated to include the new database.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Nominations and Confirmations: The Next Supreme Court Justice

Today, President Obama announced 2d Circuit Judge Sonia Sotomayor as his pick to replace Supreme Court Justice David Souter, who plans to retire later this year. [NY Times] As you may recall from the recent appointments of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito, Sotomayor’s nomination will have to be confirmed first by the Senate Judiciary Committee and then by a majority of the Senate.

For updated discussion and analysis of the Supreme Court nomination and confirmation process, check out SCOTUSblog ( and the National Journal’s new blog Ninth Justice (

For general background on the nomination process, the 2008 Congressional Research Service report Supreme Court Appointment Process: Roles of the President,
Judiciary Committee, and Senate ( provides useful commentary. A companion report, Supreme Court Nominations
Not Confirmed, 1789-2007 ( discusses the 36 of 158 nominations which were not confirmed by the Senate (remember Harriet Miers?). Numerous works on the Supreme Court’s history and procedures can also be found in our own U.S. Supreme Court Research Guide ( .

Want to learn more about Judge Sotomayor, potentially the first Hispanic-American to serve on the nation's highest court? Check out the biographical directories listed in our research guide to Directories of Courts and Judges ( for detailed information. The New York Times recently published a profile of her career (, highlighting her role in ending the 1995 Major League Baseball strike. You can also download the webcast of her 2005 appearance at Duke Law School’s Judicial Clerkship Information Panel (, which has already caused controversy in the blogosphere for Sotomayor’s response to a question about the relative merits of circuit court clerkships over district court clerkships:

“[T]hey're looking for people with court of appeals experience, because it is -- court of appeals is where policy is made. And I know -- and I know this is on tape and I should never say that because we don't make law, I know. [laughter] OK, I know. I'm not promoting it, and I'm not advocating it, I'm -- you know. OK. Having said that, the court of appeals is where, before the Supreme Court makes the final decision, the law is percolating -- its interpretation, its application.”

Will this comment be questioned at Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings? You can all but count on it.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Online Bill Tracking Resources

Since convening on January 6, the 111th Congress has already generated nearly 2,500 bills in the House and another 1,000 in the Senate. How many have become public law so far? About 25.

With odds like those, how can you possibly stay on top of all the proposed legislation which could affect your client’s case, your law review article, or even your country’s official language? The Goodson Blogson investigated some popular free and fee-based online sources for tracking legislation at both the federal and state levels.

  • THOMAS (
    This free service from the Library of Congress remains a favorite source for finding information about federal legislation. Bill summary and status information is available back to the 93rd Congress; as well as the full text of bills from 1989-present. Search by keywords, bill numbers, or a variety of other options (e.g. sponsors and actions taken); bills can also be browsed. Bill summary and status reports provide links to the text of related committee reports and debates in the Congressional Record.

    Unfortunately, THOMAS lacks an email or RSS alert feature for tracking updates to individual bill status reports. GovTrackUS ( is a free site (registration required) which provides such a service at the individual bill level. OpenCongress (, a project from the Sunlight Foundation, also offers free RSS feeds for tracking federal legislation.

  • LexisNexis (
    Federal bill tracking reports are available on Lexis through the path Legal > Legislation & Politics - U.S. & U.K. > U.S. Congress > Bill Tracking Report - Current Congress. Bill reports are updated by noon the next business day following any action in Congress.

  • Westlaw (
    Last week, Westlaw announced the debut of Graphical Bills. Like Westlaw’s popular Graphical KeyCite feature for cases and statutes, Graphical Bills presents a visual depiction of a bill’s progress through Congress. You can access the graphical view for bills introduced after January 2009 by clicking the “Links” tab in a result list. (Check out the example of HR 1913 Graphical by clicking any of the four bill versions, then choosing the "Graphical Bills" link.)

    Other federal bill tracking databases on Westlaw are available from the Directory > U.S. Federal Materials > Bill Tracking.

Although most have already adjourned for the summer, it’s worth noting here that many state legislatures offer bill tracking services like THOMAS. Quality and coverage will vary widely by state—the North Carolina General Assembly is certainly near the top of the list with its multiple bill search features and options to track session activity as well as individual bills with RSS (

Access the legislature websites of all 50 states through the National Conference of State Legislatures lookup page ( (Select the desired states from the left-hand column and choose “Bills” from the right-hand column to retrieve the links.)

Lexis offers state bill tracking through the path Legal > Legislation & Politics - U.S. & U.K. > U.S. States > Individual State Bill Tracking (Current). There is also a combined database (State Net Bill Tracking - Current Session) which compiles bill text and status information for the current legislative sessions of all 50 states.

Westlaw also offers a variety of individual-state and combined-state legislative tracking databases from the Directory > U.S. State Materials > Legislative Tracking Materials.

Did we overlook your favorite source for bill tracking? Let us know in the comments.

Monday, May 11, 2009

All About the Unified Agenda

Today, the federal government released its spring 2009 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions (also known as the "Semiannual Regulatory Agenda"). The “Unified Agenda” fulfills a requirement set forth in the U.S. Code that federal agencies must provide updates each spring and fall of new rules which the agency expects to propose or finalize, along with reasons for issuing such rules and the agency’s expected timetable. 5 U.S.C. § 602.

From 1983-2007, the entire Unified Agenda was published in April and October issues of the Federal Register. Historic issues of the Agenda are available in HeinOnline’s Federal Register Library (from 1983), Lexis and Westlaw (from 1985); GPO Access (from 1994); and (from 1995).

Beginning in fall 2007, the Unified Agenda became a primarily web-based publication, available at the Regulatory Information Service Center ( The Federal Register version of the Unified Agenda now contains only “rules which are likely to have a significant economic impact on a substantial number of small entities” as well as rules which are required for inclusion under the Regulatory Flexibility Act. The fall Agenda in the Federal Register also includes the entire Regulatory Plan.

Browse the spring 2009 Agenda highlights in today's Federal Register at, or access the entire Unified Agenda at

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Who Makes Government Information?

The federal government generates a huge amount of information every year: budgets, statutes, regulations, brochures, pamphlets, speeches, press releases…the list goes on and on. Who is responsible for keeping track of these millions of pages? Established by Congress in 1861, the Government Printing Office is charged with "gathering, cataloging, producing, providing and preserving published information in all its forms." Today this daunting task is tackled by more than 2,000 employees, who print thousands of government documents each year and disseminate many more via websites such as GPO Access (soon to become FDSys).

In recent years, the government has reduced its print publications in favor of more cost-efficient electronic access, but many federal documents are still published in paper (and distributed free of charge to depository libraries, including the Goodson Law Library). As this fascinating video from today’s Washington Post illustrates, some of GPO's paper documents are still made much as they were in 1861—watch as employee Peter James demonstrates how to "marble" the edges of a book.

The full story is available at GPO’s newly-redesigned website ( provides additional information about its history and mission at About GPO.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Class of 2009: Summer Access & Services

Congratulations to the Class of 2009! If you are a recent graduate who plans to remain in the Triangle area this summer for bar exam study, please note the following information about Duke Law building access and library resources/services.
Good luck to all of our graduates on the bar exam and beyond.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Summer Service Hours Now in Effect

Effective today, the Goodson Law Library service desk will be staffed under summer operating hours, Monday-Friday, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Current Law School students, faculty and staff will retain 24-hour building access over the summer. The building and library entrance doors will lock automatically at 5:00 p.m.; please remember to bring your Law School DukeCard if you plan to access the library during evenings and weekends!

For more information about visiting the Goodson Law Library, please see Hours & Directions.