Friday, June 29, 2018

Researching the SCOTUS Shortlist

When U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his intent to retire from the Court earlier this week, speculation immediately began as to the identity of the next Court nominee. Back in November 2017, the White House released a list of 25 potential U.S. Supreme Court nominees from the federal and state benches, and the President confirmed this week that the next nominee would be a member of that shortlist. Online oddsmakers have been busily tracking the most likely nominees, with Brett Kavanaugh of the D.C. Circuit and Amy Coney Barrett of the Seventh Circuit as the current front-runners.

The Washington Post has written brief summaries of the likeliest nominees, but there are additional resources available to conduct research on these or any other judges. Many are listed in the library's guide to Directories of Courts & Judges. Highlights include:
  • Almanac of the Federal Judiciary (online in Westlaw & Wolters Kluwer): A unique biographical directory for federal judges that includes information about noteworthy rulings, media coverage, publications, and "lawyers' evaluation" comments on the judge's behavior and demeanor.
  • Ravel Law, Judge Analytics. Provides biographical profiles of federal and state judges, linked to analysis of opinions and orders. Analytics include most-cited opinions, judges, and courts. Duke Law students and professors are eligible for free Ravel access through the "Request Educational Account" link. (Lexis Advance, which purchased Ravel Law last year, is in the process of incorporating Ravel visualizations into its search results, but the Judge Analytics have not yet been incorporated into Lexis's own Litigation Profiles for judges.)

The guide also links to various tools for tracking judicial vacancies and nominations. For help navigating resources about judges and nominations, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Friday, June 22, 2018

Bitcoin Reaches SCOTUS

With only a few days left in the U.S. Supreme Court's term, all eyes have been on SCOTUSblog and other sources for news and analysis. Yesterday, the Court released four opinions, including the much-discussed "Internet sales tax" case South Dakota v. Wayfair, and Pereira v. Sessions, which interpreted rules regarding immigration removal notice and procedure.

Compared to those higher-profile opinions, Wisconsin Central Ltd. v. United States received less attention in yesterday's news media. A case determining that stock options are not taxable compensation under the Railroad Retirement Tax Act, this opinion is likely of greatest interest to tax professionals (or, presumably, retired railroad employees). But something notable lurks in the dissenting opinion by Justice Breyer: the Court’s first-ever reference to the cryptocurrency Bitcoin in its opinions.

Moreover, what we view as money has changed over time. Cowrie shells once were such a medium but no longer are, see J. Weatherford, The History of Money 24 (1997); our currency originally included gold coins and bullion, but, after 1934, gold could not be used as a medium of exchange, see Gold Reserve Act of 1934, ch. 6, § 2, 48 Stat. 337; perhaps one day employees will be paid in Bitcoin or some other type of cryptocurrency, see F. Martin, Money: The Unauthorized Biography—From Coinage to Cryptocurrencies 275–278 (1st Vintage Books ed.2015). Nothing in the statute suggests the meaning of this provision should be trapped in a monetary time warp, forever limited to those forms of money commonly used in the 1930's. (Breyer, J., dissenting)

Bitcoin is no stranger to other U.S. courts. The search term appears in more than 100 opinions on Westlaw, including a 2016 order in the asset-forfeiture case United States v. 50.44 Bitcoins. But yesterday's opinion is the highest court's first reference to Bitcoin, and to cryptocurrency more generally, in an opinion's text. As Breyer acknowledges, the evolving nature of currency suggests that such references will become more commonplace.

Want to learn more about Bitcoin and cryptocurrency? You can find about 30 titles in the Duke University Libraries catalog with a subject search for Bitcoin. (You can also find the Felix Martin title referenced by Justice Breyer in a separate search by title, or by the subject "Money -- History.") A few days before the SCOTUS opinion's release, the Bank for International Settlements released an annual economic report that includes a brief chapter on cryptocurrencies, which describes their history and development and is highly critical of their potential flaws. Bloomberg's Securities Law Daily analyzed that report in more detail.

For help with researching U.S. Supreme Court opinions, cryptocurrency, or any other legal topic, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Legal Research Bar Association Benefits

Why do lawyers join the American Bar Association and state or local voluntary bar associations? These organizations provide attorneys with a professional networking community, access to continuing legal education (CLE), and discounts on products and services. In 49 states and the District of Columbia, bar association membership also comes with the benefit of free access to an online legal research service: either Fastcase or Casemaker. (California is the only state bar association that does not provide statewide legal research access, but many local bar associations in California offer members a similar benefit.) Law firms with access to premium research services like Westlaw and Lexis may require their attorneys to consult these low-cost alternatives first; for other attorneys, the state bar research benefit may be their primary source for online legal research.

Both of these legal research services provide attorneys with access to case law, statutes, and regulations. Fastcase also includes access to law reviews (through a partnership with HeinOnline, and its own Full Court Press), treatises (through its acquisition of Loislaw and independent publishers), and selected state ethics opinions, CLE materials, and jury instructions (including North Carolina). Casemaker's additional features include foreign case law and legislation through a partnership with vLex, and integration with the CosmoLex practice management service.

Currently, Fastcase claims the majority of state bar partnerships, with Mississippi becoming the 30th state-level bar association to adopt its service on June 1. Casemaker is available as a benefit of 21 state bar associations. (Texas offers access to both Fastcase and Casemaker.) The Duke Law Library map of Legal Research via State Bar Associations has been updated to reflect the latest changes to state bar benefits.

Want to learn more about the legal research benefit in the state where you plan to practice? Current members of the Duke community may access an educational version of Fastcase with their NetID and password. Current Law students and faculty may create an account on CasemakerX. For access to other legal research resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.