Monday, October 23, 2017

Legal Holiday Gift Guide

Get the drop on your holiday shopping this year with the Goodson Blogson's 2017 roundup of legal-themed gifts for the lawyers and law students in your life. (Be on the lookout for other lawyer gift recommendations from attorney Reid Trautz's Reid My Blog, whose annual gift guide has been providing great suggestions for more than a decade.)

Many legal thinkers on your holiday list would appreciate a gift subscription to The Green Bag: An Entertaining Journal of Law. This quarterly periodical is well-known for its tongue-in-cheek humor, and for its popular U.S. Supreme Court Justice bobbleheads. The limited-edition bobbleheads are hot commodities at PILF Auctions and an online secondary market – but lucky random subscribers might receive a redemption certificate along with an issue. The "Extravagant" subscription option (only $20/year more than the Basic subscription) promises four other (non-bobblehead) "surprises" per year (see past examples). Both Basic and Extravagant subscribers will receive a copy of the annual Green Bag Almanac and Reader along with their four issues.

For the future lawyers (and/or expectant parents) on your gift list, check out Etsy artist dirtsastudio's baby bibs inspired by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's famous jabots. These bibs are available in RBG's favorite white lace or gold "dissent" collars, and can be purchased as a two-pack set. The artist notes that due to overwhelming demand, orders currently take at least one week to process (a backlog that is likely to increase closer to the holidays), so be sure to plan ahead for your would-be "Ruth Baby Ginsburg."

Is there a foodie on your giving list? Consider a law-themed cookbook! We've previously covered the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society's Chef Supreme: Martin Ginsburg, filled with sophisticated recipes by (and loving personal memories of) the late Martin Ginsburg, renowned tax law professor and husband of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg. But a litigator might prefer The Vespers' Trial Cookbook: Italiano Cucina Rustica with Trial Tips for Lawyers, by "the Cookin’ Cousins" Thomas and Dominic Vesper. This unique title is equal parts trial practice handbook and Italian family cookbook, as the cousins (Tom a trial attorney; Dom a retired accountant with a passion for home cooking) share tried-and-true “recipes for success” in both the kitchen and the courtroom. (For non-legal cookbook recommendations, J. Kenji López-Alt of Serious Eats presents one favorite cookbook each day during the month of October on his personal blog. López-Alt’s own cookbook, The Food Lab: Better Home Cooking Through Science, is another great choice.)

If your law student or lawyer is too busy to cook as much as they’d like, consider a gift subscription to meal services like HelloFresh or Blue Apron. If your recipient lives in a Peapod grocery delivery service area, gift cards are available. You could also enhance your loved one's cooking with a gift box subscription to Try the World, which curates an assortment of gourmet goodies from a different country every month. (A smaller international "snack box" monthly assortment, perfect for hungry law students, is also available.)

You can also easily stock someone's kitchen with law-themed housewares. Uncommon Goods offers a "Disappearing Civil Liberties" coffee mug, whose Bill of Rights reprint partially disappears when hot liquid is poured into it. Uncommon Goods also includes a set of four marble Democracy Coasters, reproducing the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the Civil Rights Act. Perhaps those coasters could protect a table from the set of four old-fashioned glasses etched with the U.S. Supreme Court’s seal?

As finals approach, the law students you know might welcome a set of noise-canceling headphones. This summer, Consumer Reports reviewed several of the biggest name brands. Its rating guide is behind a paywall, but Duke University community members can access it on LexisNexis Academic. (Subscribers to Lexis Advance can also view the rating chart here.) White noise machines might also make a thoughtful gift for law students or attorneys who are disturbed by too much ambient noise. See a March 2017 comparison of six white noise machine brands by The Sweethome.

Federal museum and monument gift shops are a perennial favorite for locating other law-themed gifts. The U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society Gift Shop continues to stock an assortment of Court- and law-themed household items, books, and office accessories. Likewise, the U.S. Capitol Historical Society catalog offers legislative-themed accessories, including stationery and desk accessories for your favorite lawyer’s office. Most presidential libraries and federal monuments also feature a gift shop.

Shopping for a fashionista? The Capitol Historical Society catalog provides a well-stocked section of Scarves, Totes, and Umbrellas – including a lovely wearable reproduction of the Apotheosis in the Capitol rotunda, or a wraparound scarf of the Constitution's text, available in two colors. Creative jewelry is also available at the U.S. Supreme Court Historical Society Gift Shop and in the National Archives' authentic government red tape collection.

Finally, don't forget the many locally-owned and operated businesses in your area, or in your recipient's. Most restaurants and shops will offer gift certificates or cards; many boutiques and shops will offer unique gifts. The map for Small Business Saturday, a post-Thanksgiving local shopping promotion created by American Express, can be a good starting place for identifying local retailers to support during the holiday shopping season.

Have fun finding the perfect law-themed gift for everyone on your holiday giving list!

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Truthiness in Numbers

In 1953, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson famously said of his place of work: "We are not final because we are infallible, but we are infallible only because we are final." Brown v. Allen, 344 U.S. 443 (1953) (Jackson, J., concurring). This week, ProPublica released the results of a study which examined Supreme Court opinions for factual errors. While the sampling of eighty-four cases from 2011-2015 is too small to draw sweeping statistical conclusions, the researchers did uncover factual errors, both large and small, in seven of the twenty-four sampled SCOTUS cases which contained "legislative facts." (The report also highlights five earlier opinions containing additional factual mistakes.)

ProPublica notes that the sources of the mistakes varied: some apparently originated with a justice's extrajudicial research, while other errors had been repeated from faulty filings and amicus briefs. The impact of the errors also varied – some were minor errors with insignificant effects, while other mistakes seemed to carry more weight on the Court's ultimate ruling. The report analyzes errors within six of the seven opinions in the sampling period; a seventh will be described in a separate article.

A sobering error within the sampling period involved Shelby County v. Holder, 133 S. Ct. 2612 (2013), which invalidated section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act based on its outdated "coverage formula" for federal oversight of state voting laws. In support of the majority opinion, Chief Justice John Roberts included a chart on page 2626, comparing voter registration breakdowns by race in the six states which fell under the oversight coverage; the chart was intended to show that voter registration gaps between white and black citizens of those states had narrowed dramatically between 1965 and 2004. As ProPublica notes, Roberts's charts were skewed by a misinterpretation of Census Bureau race categories, using a category for the "White" column which included white voters of Hispanic ethnicity as well as non-Hispanic white voters.

Statistical data was on the Chief Justice's mind again earlier this month, in oral arguments concerning partisan gerrymandering. During questioning in Gill v. Whitford, the Chief Justice expressed concerns about using political science "efficiency gap" (EG) measures as a determining factor in the Court's opinion: "It is just not, it seems, a palatable answer to say the ruling was based on the fact that EG was greater than 7 percent. That doesn't sound like language in the Constitution […] [Y]ou're taking these issues away from democracy and you're throwing them into the courts pursuant to, and it may be simply my educational background, but I can only describe as sociological gobbledygook."

In response, the American Sociological Association released an open letter, defending the use of social science data and describing its benefits to society. The ASA also pointed out that, while "your alma mater would be disappointed to learn that you attributed your lack of understanding of social science to your Harvard education," the ASA would be willing to send representatives to meet with the Court and its staff.

While we don't all have the luxury of renowned social scientists providing in-person overviews of statistical basics, there are many resources available to improve statistical literacy. An accessible introduction to spotting common data misuse in the media can be found in Joel Best's Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers from the Media, Politicians, and Activists (HM535 .B47 2001 & online) and More Damned Lies and Statistics: How Numbers Confuse Public Issues (HM535 .B474 2004 & online). Shorter guides to spotting erroneous statistics can be found at the UK's Guardian newspaper and at the website Statistics How To. Although not every example contains numbers, you can test your ability to spot misleading statistics and news reports with the Factitious online game developed at American University.

For more academic overviews of statistical methods, the Empirical Collection on Level 3 of the library includes more than 150 titles on statistical methods, including An Introduction to Empirical Legal Research and Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals. Purdue University's Online Writing Lab also offers many tips on accurately Writing with Statistics.

For help with locating information about Supreme Court opinions or statistical methods, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Monday, October 9, 2017

Updated Guide to North Carolina Materials

The Goodson Law Library research guide to North Carolina Practice was updated recently. One of the most important changes? This year's move of the Clarence W. Walker North Carolina Alcove itself – from its former home on Level 2 to its current place on Level 3! (Materials from the former Federal Alcove are located nearby on Level 3, in the William F. Stevens Federal Area.) The North Carolina Alcove, which contains important primary and secondary state law materials, moved to the main floor of the library in order to provide alcove users with convenient access to state materials, as well as to assistance from the library service desk.

What else is new in the N.C. Practice research guide? Here are a few highlights:
  • Updated editions of print treatises like Arrest, Search and Investigation in North Carolina, the North Carolina Personal Injury Liens Manual, and North Carolina Manual of Complaints.
  • Pattern Jury Instructions for North Carolina civil, criminal and motor vehicle cases are now available online in Westlaw, as well as in print in the NC Alcove and online from the University of North Carolina School of Government.
  • A new Style Manual for the North Carolina Rules of Appellate Procedure (April 2017) is now available online.
For help with using North Carolina legal materials in print or online, be sure to Ask a Librarian.