Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Constitution at 230

Sunday, September 17 marks the 230th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution. "Constitution Day" was established in 2004, piggybacking on the existing federal recognition of September 17 as "Citizenship Day." See 36 U.S.C. § 106 (2012). Celebrate Constitution Day at the Goodson Law Library by picking up a free pocket Constitution at the library service desk, courtesy of the U.S. Government Publishing Office. (GPO also sent us some government information notecards with QR codes to key federal resources, as well as bookmarks promoting Ben's Guide to the U.S. Government, its educational site for children. These are also available at the service desk giveaway rack, while supplies last.) Throughout the year, the service desk also has free pocket Constitutions courtesy of LexisNexis.

You can also read the text of the Constitution 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." GPO also provides free access to the Constitution of the United States: Analysis and Interpretation (CONAN), a treatise providing historical context and analytical discussion of U.S. Supreme Court interpretations of each article, clause, and amendment of the Constitution. CONAN begins with a "Historical Note on the Formation of the Constitution," which describes briefly the events of September 17:
The Convention met on Monday, September 17, for its final session. Several of the delegates were disappointed in the result. A few deemed the new Constitution a mere makeshift, a series of unfortunate compromises. The advocates of the Constitution, realizing the impending difficulty of obtaining the consent of the States to the new instrument of Government, were anxious to obtain the unanimous support of the delegations from each State. It was feared that many of the delegates would refuse to give their individual assent to the Constitution. Therefore, in order that the action of the Convention would appear to be unanimous, Gouverneur Morris devised the formula "Done in Convention, by the unanimous consent of the States present the 17th of September . . . In witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names." Thirty-nine of the forty-two delegates present thereupon "subscribed" to the document.
To learn more about the history of the United States Constitution, try a search of the Duke Libraries Caalog for the subject heading "Constitutional history – United States." You'll find titles like The Framers’ Coup: The Making of the United States Constitution (KF4541 .K53 2016) and Blessings of Liberty: A Concise History of the Constitution of the United States (KF4541.Z9 B463 2016). To find more works about constitutional law or constitutional history, in our print collection or online, just Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, September 5, 2017

U.S. Code on the Move

Like primary law from the other two branches of government, federal legislation is a living entity, subject to frequent changes. Every legal researcher knows that sections of the U.S. Code can be later amended, repealed, invalidated by a court, or rendered indirectly obsolete by subsequent changes in the law. However, there is another potential fate for federal statutes, less dramatic but no less important: the ability of editors to pick up an existing statute section and relocate it elsewhere in the Code, as part of an editorial reclassification.

Effective September 1, that's what happened inside Title 34 of the U.S. Code, which sat empty for decades after its former subject area (The Navy) was repealed in 1956. Title 34 has finally been repurposed into a new subject area, Crime Control and Law Enforcement, by the Office of the Law Revision Counsel. This editorial reclassification simply moves existing Code sections in force from their previous locations in Title 18 (Crimes and Criminal Procedure), Title 28 (The Judiciary), and Title 42 (Public Health and Welfare). The OLRC announcement of the change includes an outline of the new Title 34 sections as well as a table of which specific Code sections have moved there.

Title 34's text is already updated to reflect these changes at the OLRC's free U.S. Code website, and in the annotated versions of the U.S. Code on Westlaw and Lexis Advance. (Bloomberg Law's U.S. Code text has not yet updated, but likely will soon – a good reminder to always note the currency of your online statute sources.) If you attempt to retrieve an outdated citation to a Code section which has been transferred (such as through a link in case law), the updated U.S.C. or annotated codes online will note the transfer of the old citation to its new home in Title 34.

Should you find yourself researching historical Navy law materials, note that the "new" Title 34 has a completely different numbering scheme than the old, repealed one from before 1956 – so there are no worries about confusion due to overlapping section numbers. However, the "old" Title 34 sections' text is not available in most online research services, as they link readers of case law and secondary sources to only the current version of the U.S. Code. If you need to see the pre-1956 text of Title 34 (Navy), you can access historical versions of the U.S. Code through HeinOnline's U.S. Code Library or free through the Law Library of Congress.

Editorial reclassifications within the U.S. Code are common – in fact, internal reorganizations of Title 7 (Agriculture) and Title 43 (Public Lands) happened on July 1 of this year. The Office of the Law Revision Counsel maintains information pages on these Editorial Reclassification projects.

Editorial reclassification should not be confused with the more complex process of positive law codification, which requires Congress to enact an entire U.S. Code title as a single federal statute, thus rendering it legal evidence of the law's text. (Non-positive law Code titles, assembled by editors, are considered to be only prima facie evidence of the law, and the text of the individual session laws in the U.S. Statutes at Large would be the controlling wording of the law in the event of a discrepancy.) About half of the U.S. Code's 54 titles have been enacted into positive law, including Title 10 (Armed Forces) – which resulted in the repeal of the original Title 34 (Navy) when Title 10 was enacted into positive law in 1956. Information about completed and pending positive law codification projects can be found at the Office of the Law Revision Counsel – if all pending projects are ultimately enacted, the U.S. Code would eventually expand to 57 titles.

For help with using the U.S. Code in its current or historical versions, visit our research guide to Federal Legislative History or Ask a Librarian.