Monday, January 25, 2010

Constitutions, Everywhere

If you’ve ever had a cite-checking assignment which involved locating various constitutions, you probably have a few tricks up your sleeve already. The U.S. Constitution and its amendments are widely accessible: GPO Access offers the annotated Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation as well as unannotated “pocket editions” which are printed for each new Congress. The United States Code Annotated, the United States Code Service, and even Black’s Law Dictionary (to name just a few sources) reprint the text in every edition. You can even pore over a high-resolution scan of the original at the National Archives’ web site – in short, it’s probably harder to miss the U.S. Constitution than to find it.

Current state constitutions can be quickly accessed through the current state code (see the library’s State Codes collection on Level 3). Historical versions are available online to the Duke University community in Constitutions of the Countries of the World: National and State, and are frequently available as stand-alone volumes in the libraries’ collection. Try a subject keyword search of the catalog for “constitutions—[state]”; e.g. constitutions—North Carolina.

Constitutions of foreign countries can be more challenging to locate, but Duke University has access to the database Constitutions of the Countries and Territories of the World, which offers English translations of current and historical constitutions from around the world. The library’s research guide to Foreign & Comparative Law offers strategies for locating primary source materials from other countries (see the “Finding Foreign Law in Translation” section).

One source listed there, though, has proven to be useful not only for foreign constitutional law, but historical U.S. research as well. The Rise of Modern Constitutionalism, 1776-1849 is an international project dedicated to preserving all constitutions from this critical time period in world history. Although Duke does not subscribe to the full version of this database, much material is provided in the “Public Access” version, including page-image scans of the documents. (Unfortunately, researchers must view pages as individual images, and cannot easily download entire documents as PDFs.) Constitutions can be searched by keyword or browsed by country, sub-national unit (i.e. states, provinces, etc.) or date. Check out the listing for North Carolina, which includes the version available in Constitutions of the Countries of the World: National and State as well as a “Failed Constitution” from 1823. In addition, this website offers constitutions from foreign countries (and sub-national units) in their original languages.

Need additional help researching constitutions, no matter where they're from? Ask a Librarian!

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Lives in Law

Whether you’re a would-be law clerk investigating a potential boss’s background, or a history buff who loves to read about law practice in Dickens’s day, there will be times when you need to conduct some biographical research. Fortunately, the Goodson Blogson is here to help.

The library’s research guides to Directories of Courts and Judges and Directories of Lawyers point to many sources of information for currently-practicing judges and attorneys. The amount of information will vary in each source, but most will include basic biographical facts (particularly educational background) and often a summary of career experience and achievements.

Additional information may be available in the general Biography Databases available from the Duke University Libraries. Although these databases do not focus exclusively on law, many notable lawyers and judges (current and historical) are included. Try Biography Resource Center for full-text entries from sources like Who’s Who in American Law and other biographical encyclopedias, or World Biographical Information System (WBIS) to generate an index to biographical sketches in a variety of historical sources.

Did these online sources give you a reference for further reading? You’d be surprised what you can find in the libraries’ catalog. For example, searching WBIS for Duke Law School’s Braxton Craven turns up references to entries in three different print sources, such as Biographical History of North Carolina: from Colonial Times to the Present, an eight-volume set of biographical sketches from the early 1900s which is available in the Perkins library.

If you don’t already have a book title from one of the online sources, you can search the catalog for biographical material in a variety of ways. Particularly notable subjects (such as U.S. Supreme Court justices) will likely have entire books devoted to them-- first try a subject keyword search for the person’s name. Keep in mind, though, that lesser-known subjects might be included in large encyclopedic collections, which will likely not appear when searching the catalog for an individual person’s name (that is, the catalog record doesn’t include the work’s entire index or table of contents). To help find these types of collections, try a subject keyword search for "judges and biography" or "lawyers and biography"; you may also retrieve results with the subject keywords "judges—[state]" or "lawyers—[state]". For best results, try a variety of keyword searches, and also consult the online databases listed above for specific title references.

Newspapers are also valuable biographical research tools. For historical research, obituaries can provide incredible insight into the subject’s life and accomplishments; for living subjects, articles may describe key activities or interests. The New York Times Historical Archive (1851-3 years ago) offers PDFs of countless obituaries and articles; many more recent articles can be accessed right from the Times’ website.

If you still need to dig up more dirt after attempting these strategies, Ask a Librarian!

Monday, January 11, 2010

Congressional Staff: Your Key to Congress

Calling all policy wonks! In 2009, we blogged about online sources for tracking legislation, where to find your members of Congress on Facebook, Twitter, and other social-networking havens, and how to access campaign finance and lobbying data. Today we suggest sources for locating the unsung heroes of Capitol Hill – congressional staffers and legislative aides. Whether you’re angling for a job in your favorite representative’s office, or you’re hoping to meet with your senator to make an impassioned appeal for your pet issue, cultivating a personal relationship with a congressional staffer can make the difference between getting face time with the legislator…or getting no response at all.

The Duke University community has access to two major sources for congressional staff data: CQ’s Congressional Staff Directory (current year available also at Law Library Reference JK1012 .C62) and the Congressional Yellow Book (available to Duke University students, faculty and staff through the Leadership Library on the Internet, with password from the Law Library’s reference desk). Both sources list names and contact information (phone numbers and email) for congressional staff, in D.C. as well as at any local offices. CQ’s Congressional Staff Directory includes only data about the staffer’s current position, while the Yellow Book also offers a useful “career history” backgrounder listing previous positions of congressional staff. Each online source is searchable by name of the legislator or name of the staff member; there are also options to browse biographies by state or search by issue/keyword.

Do any free Internet sources stack up to CQ and the Yellow Book? The Government Printing Office’s official Congressional Directory includes contact information for “key staff” (chief of staff, press secretary, legislative director), but is not updated as regularly as CQ or the Yellow Book. Legistorm is another free Internet source which may provide staff names, but no contact information (it is designed to provide transparent information about congressional staff salaries).

Need a crash course in the terminology of congressional staff before you reach out to the wrong person? Check out’s Advocacy 101 outline of common congressional staff positions and duties. Now you’re ready to make contact!

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year, New Laws

Traditionally, the new year brings much reflection on the previous 365 days— last week’s media focused heavily on the top events, people, and films of 2009. But some folks are looking forward—at the new laws which took effect at the stroke of midnight on January 1.

From the nearly 41,000 new state laws passed in 2009, CNN rounded up a selection of notable legislation which took effect after Jan. 1. Unsurprisingly, North Carolina’s smoking ban is featured on this list. On January 2, the country’s leading tobacco producer became the 29th state to prohibit smoking in most establishments, including restaurants and bars. (Tobacco shops, cigar bars, and country clubs are among the exempted entities in the Tar Heel State.)

Not everyone is breathing easy about the new smoking regulations, particularly the owner of a hookah bar in Chapel Hill. The Independent Weekly details the owner’s plan to ignore the ban in order to trigger a legal challenge in the courts. This story should prove an interesting case study in civil procedure, and will undoubtedly be watched by the local media. Will a legal challenge successfully overturn the ban? Or, perhaps, will the defiance of citizens make enforcement nearly impossible, as detailed in this recent New York Times story of New York City’s post-prohibition night life?

What other legal developments might you notice in 2010? The North Carolina General Assembly’s Legislative Library has compiled a helpful list of 2009 session laws, organized by “effective date”. The 2010 effective dates begin on page 21 of the 27-page PDF, and links to each session law’s bill tracking page, which provides more information on sponsorship, vote tallies, and amendment history. For example, here’s session law 2009-27, the smoking ban.

Other notable NC laws which took effect after the 1st of January include measures to prevent abuse of handicapped parking placards and an amendment to the probate laws which invalidates most bequests made to the drafting attorney. There’s also a potentially lifesaving 2008 session law which finally became effective on January 1—requiring landlords of all rental properties to install at least one carbon monoxide detector per floor of the unit.

North Carolina isn't the only place making news with its latest laws. Check out the new legislation in other areas:
  • Texas, where teenagers who want to use a tanning salon must have a parent or guardian's permission (those under 16.5 years old may not use tanning beds at all).
  • California, where the LA Times provides an A to Z list of interesting new laws, including tougher penalties for harassment by paparazzi and a ban on trans fats in restaurants.
  • Ireland, where atheist groups have organized an online protest against a new blasphemy law and its $35,000 penalties.
Have you heard about other interesting new laws? Point them out in our comments section.