Wednesday, September 28, 2016

100 Years of First Monday

Still missing a ninth justice after the death of Antonin Scalia in February, the eight remaining members of the U.S. Supreme Court will begin hearing oral arguments on Tuesday, October 4. But it is Monday, October 3, which marks the official beginning of the Court's October Term 2016 – for the last century, the "first Monday in October" has been the start date of the U.S. Supreme Court's annual term, thanks to Public Law No. 64-258.

The treatise Supreme Court Practice (10th ed. 2013), section 1.2(f) (KF9057 .S8 2013 & on Bloomberg Law) describes the long history behind the Supreme Court's now-famous start date:
In the First Judiciary Act of 1789, 1 Stat. 73, Congress mandated that the Court hold two sessions a year, "the one commencing the first Monday of February, and the other the first Monday of August." The provision for two sessions was apparently inspired in large part by a desire to allow the Justices to perform their time-consuming circuit-riding functions in the temperate spring and autumn weather. Subsequent term changes were made as the Court's business increased and the circuit-riding duties began a slow decline. During the nineteenth century, Congress reduced the number of sessions to one, while changing the opening day first to the second Monday in January, then to the first Monday in December, and then to the second Monday in October. Finally, in 1916, Congress fixed the opening day as the "first Monday in October." And the "first Monday in October" has remained to this day as the opening session of the Court's annual term.
The 1916 law came just a few days too late to be applicable in October 1916; the statute passed on September 6 with an effective date of 30 days. So the Court commenced for one last time on the second Monday in October 1916. The first "First Monday" term took place in October 1917.

In The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (Ref KF8742.A35 O93 2005 & in Oxford Reference Online), Duke Professor Emeritus of Political Science and Law Peter G. Fish noted that the earliest First Mondays were typically ceremonial in nature, featuring new admissions to the Supreme Court Bar, tributes to deceased justices and court officers, and (until the start of World War II) "adjournment for a White House visit." Oral arguments did not occur on First Monday until 1964, and have been scheduled regularly since 1975. This year, though, the Court will begin with a non-argument day.

What's in store for the Court in this new term? SCOTUSblog is a helpful resource for keeping up with the latest petition grants, oral arguments, and (eventually) opinions. The American Bar Association Supreme Court Preview includes briefs and other materials from upcoming cases.

With Justice Scalia's seat still vacant, pending congressional action on the March nomination of Merrick Garland, the Court continues to face the possibility of a 4-4 tie in controversial cases. As the nation was reminded last spring, a 4-4 Supreme Court results in a per curiam opinion which upholds the lower court's ruling "by an equally divided Court." (For more on the subject, see a 2002 article from the William & Mary Law Review, "Ties in the Supreme Court of the United States.")

For more information about the history and operations of the nation's highest court, visit the Goodson Law Library research guide to the U.S. Supreme Court  or Ask a Librarian.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Constitution Day 2016

How well do you know the U.S. Constitution? Today is the official observance of Constitution Day, a national holiday commemorating the signing of the United States Constitution on September 17, 1787. If it's been a while since you last reviewed the Constitution's seven articles and 27 amendments, take a moment to re-read this founding document. Considering its monumental importance to the American government and its legal system, it is a surprisingly short and simple read.

You can pick up a pocket-sized Constitution at the Goodson Law Library service desk, courtesy of either LexisNexis or Westlaw. You can also print your own mini-Constitution from House Document 112-129 -- be sure to choose the "booklet" option when printing! Alternatively, the text of the Constitution is available online through the U.S. Senate, the National Archives, and at the start of every print or online version of the United States Code, as part of the "Organic Laws."

Think you know the Constitution pretty well? Test your mettle with the Constitution IQ Quiz, the ABA's 2015 Constitution trivia and the Washington Post's 2015 Constitution Day quiz.

To delve into more detailed constitutional history tidbits and trivia, search the Duke Libraries Catalog for the subject heading "Constitutional history – United states." The Goodson Law Library owns more than 1000 titles with this subject heading, and more than 2400 with the subject "Constitutional law – United States." For help navigating our large constitutional law collection, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Directories of Governments and Non-Governmental Organizations

Pop quiz: which book in the library contains an organization chart for the U.S. Coast Guard, lists of current congressional committees and their membership, and contact information for the National Pasta Association? You'll probably never need all three of those things at once, but you should know that you can find them all in the Washington Information Directory, whose 2016-2017 edition has just landed in the Reference Collection on level 3.

Published since 1975, the Washington Information Directory compiles contact information and descriptive summaries about governmental and non-governmental organizations in and around the nation's capital. Organized by topics (such as Law and Justice) and subtopics (such as Criminal Law, or Constitutional Law and Civil Liberties), each subsection includes lists of government agencies and non-governmental organizations, along with a brief description of their missions and public contact information. The directory is an interesting way to discover relevant governmental, professional, and non-governmental organizations in a particular area of interest. The Goodson Law Library keeps only the current year of this directory, although historical editions are available elsewhere on campus.

Duke University provides access to other directories of government agencies and non-governmental organizations. For federal government agencies, some excellent sources to review are:
  • The United States Government Manual (Ref Docs. AE 2.108/2: or online)
  • Federal Regulatory Directory (Ref. JK610 .F29).
  • State governments often publish directories of their agencies and offices as well. Although not always the official title, these are often nicknamed "Blue Books" (not to be confused with the legal citation manual). The American Library Association's Government Documents Round Table has compiled a helpful list of State Government Blue Books and Encyclopedias, which can be invaluable sources of information about state government offices.

Another helpful source for locating contact information about organizations is the Leadership Library on the Internet, available to current members of the Duke University community with NetID and password. The online Leadership Library contains updated versions of the popular "Yellow Book" print directory series (e.g., Federal Yellow Book, Judicial Yellow Book). Leadership Library provides more detail about members of an organization than other general directories, including personal email addresses and direct telephone extensions.

For non-governmental organizations, another great starting place is the Encyclopedia of Associations, available online in the Gale Directory Library. This set is published in three volumes: National Organizations of the U.S., International Organizations, and Regional, State and Local Organizations. A search of all three for "pasta" would return the same National Pasta Association in the Washington Information Directory, as well as four additional organizations in the United Kingdom, Spain, and – where else? – Italy.

Need help finding information about a government agency or a non-governmental organization? Be sure to Ask a Librarian.