Monday, March 1, 2021

Tax Time (Yes, Again)

Last year, as the coronavirus pandemic ramped up in mid-March, the Internal Revenue Service announced an unprecedented across-the-board extension to federal tax filings. This year, alas, the IRS has already announced that they expect to retain the traditional April 15 deadline. Between the narrower filing window and the delivery delays that continue to plague the U.S. Postal Service, taxpayers will want to get their filings in order as quickly as possible, and consider electronic filing in order to expedite the processing of returns and refunds. (It's possible to request an Extension of Time to File Your Tax Return, but note that this does not grant an extension for time to pay estimated taxes owed.)

Taxpayers whose income was at or below $72,000 in 2020 may qualify for the IRS Free File service, which offers online tax preparation assistance and free e-filing for federal taxes. The Free File Online Lookup Tool helps taxpayers to identify available free online filing offers that are appropriate for their tax situation. If you do not qualify for Free File, the IRS also outlines additional e-File Options, including free fillable online forms for federal taxes.

Some important considerations for the 2020 tax filing season includes treatment of economic stimulus payments as well as unemployment compensation. The IRS's Coronavirus Tax Relief and Economic Impact Payments page includes information on tax treatment of these payments, as well as how to claim a Recovery Rebate Credit for stimulus payments that were owed but not received.

Don't forget your state tax filings, as well! The Federation of Tax Administrators provides quick access to State Tax Agencies. Should your federal and state taxes prove too complicated to complete on your own, the IRS also has tips for Choosing a Tax Professional and for handling any complaints that arise.

For more resources on federal tax law, including access to research databases like Thomson Reuters Checkpoint, visit the Goodson Law Library's research guide to Federal Tax or Ask a Librarian.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

Impeachment Trial Redux

This afternoon marks the start of the second Senate impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump, a first in U.S. history. Trump was previously impeached last year by the House but acquitted in the Senate for abuse of power and obstruction charges, in connection with the Robert Mueller investigation of Russian election interference. The 2021 articles of impeachment are focused on Trump's role in inciting the deadly events of January 6, in which supporters of the 45th President stormed the U.S. Capitol as Congress formalized the 2020 election results. If convicted by a two-thirds vote of the Senate, he could then be barred from holding federal office in the future (by a simple majority).

The House of Representatives voted to impeach on January 13, and delivered the article of impeachment to the Senate for trial on January 25. As NPR outlines, the first day of the trial will contain arguments on the constitutionality of holding an impeachment trial for a former president. (Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell had planned to hold the 2021 trial after Biden's inauguration, according to a memo circulated before the House vote.)

The Law School community can keep up with the impeachment trial proceedings with the Washington Post, available full-text to current Duke Law members through this proxy link. A helpful free source for impeachment information is Ballotpedia, which maintains a timeline of the 2021 trial, the legal issues, and links to relevant documents. It also includes brief descriptions of the other three presidents who have been impeached in history: Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon, and Bill Clinton.

You can learn more about the history of presidential impeachment in the United States with HeinOnline's U.S. Presidential Impeachment Library, which debuted during the first Trump impeachment and currently covers up to the conclusion of that trial. The library contains government documents and books from each trial, providing both primary and secondary source views of presidential impeachment. Hein's library will undoubtedly be updated for the second Trump impeachment at the conclusion of the Senate trial.

If you have questions about accessing these resources or on other sources for presidential or congressional information, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The First 100 Days

Today marked the inauguration of 46th President of the United States Joseph Robinette Biden Jr. and Vice President Kamala Harris. The new administration is already taking action on several campaign promises, including the signing of seventeen Executive Orders on a diverse array of topics. Some, such as the United States rejoining the Paris Agreement on climate change and reversing course on the Keystone XL pipeline project, are direct reversals of executive actions from the previous administration. Others are aimed at tackling the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

The first 100 days of a new administration are considered to be a critical benchmark in measuring a new president’s productivity. How can you keep up with the latest developments from the executive branch? We’re glad you asked!

Monday, December 28, 2020

Oxford Legal Research Library Now Available

The Goodson Law Library has subscribed to the Oxford Legal Research Library, a collection of Oxford University Press titles in four collection areas: International Commercial Arbitration, International Commercial Law, Financial and Banking Law, and Private International Law. Each collection can be browsed and searched separately, or across the broader ORLR interface.

Titles in these collections include treatises, practice guides, and commentaries, such as Schlechtriem & Schwenzer's Commentary on the UN Convention on the International Sale of Goods (4th ed. 2016), Commentary on the UNIDROIT Principles of International Commercial Contracts (PICC) 2nd ed., Brexit and Financial Regulation (2020), and Sovereign Defaults Before Domestic Courts (2018). See the full title list.

For help with accessing the Oxford Legal Research Library or other research resources, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

Researching the Presidential Pardon Power

Yesterday, the White House announced the presidential pardons of 15 individuals and sentence commutations for 5 others. While several involved the more typical clemency for non-violent drug offenders, other recipients of a pardon have generated headlines and controversy: two were connected to the Robert Mueller investigation that resulted in the impeachment of President Trump, three more were former GOP congressmen convicted of financial wrongdoing, and four were former Blackwater contractors convicted of killing 14 civilians in Iraq.

These latest acts of clemency have not yet been posted to the Justice Department's Office of the Pardon Attorney website, which includes information about petitions granted and denied during this presidential administration. It seems likely that the list may continue to grow during President Trump's remaining four weeks in office, as news sources have reported the president is considering preemptive pardons for his adult children and for close associates like Rudolph Giuliani. There have also been questions about the likelihood or legality of President Trump attempting a preemptive self-pardon to avoid future federal charges, which has never been tested in U.S. history.

Controversial acts of clemency are more common in the final weeks of a presidential administration, as the Congressional Research Service noted last month in its report, Presidential Transitions: Executive Clemency. Table 1 of that CRS report indicates that "since 1945, every President who completed his term of office, except President Lyndon B. Johnson, increased the rate at which he granted clemency in the final four months of his Administration, when compared with his previous months in office."

CRS also explored common questions related to presidential pardon power in a January 2020 report, Presidential Pardons: Overview and Selected Legal Issues. In this longer report, the research office for Congress explained the process for clemency, describes the different types of clemency available, and reviews the unclear legal status of self-pardons. The CRS treatise Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation (CONAN) provides more detail in the subchapter ArtII.S2.C1.3 Pardon Power.

Additional works on the presidential pardon power include Harold J. Krent's Presidential Powers (available to the Duke community as an ebook) and Jeffrey Crouch's The Presidential Pardon Power (available in print when Library Takeout Service resumes in January). For help locating additional materials about the presidential pardon power, be sure to Ask a Librarian.

Friday, November 20, 2020

The Finals Countdown

The compressed fall semester schedule means that finals are just around the corner! Law school exams are stressful even in the best of times, so law school exams in 2020 may require some additional support. Fortunately, the Goodson Law Library provides access to some resources that can help ensure your success.

Online study aids can be invaluable ways to clarify difficult concepts from class or fill in gaps in your outlining. Current Duke Law students have online access to both the West Academic Study Aids Library and the Wolters Kluwer Study Aid Library. While both services offer online reading/searching and offline download, different study aid and outline series are available in each database. West includes the series Concepts and Insights, Hornbooks, Nutshells, Black Letter Outlines, Legalines, Sum and Substance, Law Stories, and many more. Wolters Kluwer provides access to the series Examples & Explanations, Glannon Guides, Emanuel Law Outlines, and more.

If law school exams are a new format for you this semester, you might also like to review some study aids specifically aimed at writing law school examination answers. Some recommended titles include:

Duke Law students can also access the resources at CALI: The Center for Computer-Assisted Legal Instruction. CALI provides members with access to more than 1,000 interactive tutorials (known as Lessons) on legal topics, including a subsection of offerings on Law School Success that features several lessons on exam strategies. Students from CALI member schools can register an account using an authorization code (access Duke's code at the bottom of the Software list with your NetID, or Ask a Librarian).

Finally, be sure to make time during the study crunch for self-care. While it's important to have a good handle on the substance of the test, it's even more important to get adequate sleep the night before, and to ensure that you are maintaining healthy habits with diet and exercise. In the April 2020 issue of the Georgia Bar Journal, attorney Dani Berry shares tips for "Mindfulness Meditation to Combat Stress and Promote Civility in the Law". The Lifehacker blog has a Relaxation section filled with various tips and recommendations for personal wellness. Numerous meditation and relaxation apps are available for download to your mobile device; Vault recommended five for lawyers and law students in June.

Good luck on your finals, and have a safe and happy break!

Monday, November 2, 2020

Legal Holiday Gift Guide, Pandemic Edition

Back in mid-March, it seemed unthinkable that the coronavirus pandemic could possibly stretch into the winter holidays, even as many experts cautioned about the long road ahead. Today, states are reopening slowly, albeit with limitations on public gatherings in order to prevent new spikes in infection rates. With more folks likely to be completing their holiday shopping -- and shipping -- online, it would be prudent to get a head start on planning in order to ensure that your carefully-selected gifts arrive in time. The first (and hopefully last) pandemic edition of the Goodson Blogson's long-running guide to holiday gift ideas for lawyers and law students is here to help.

Remote work (and school) is here to stay for at least a while longer, so maybe the lawyer or law student in your life could use an upgrade to their home office setup. Accessories like webcams, microphones, headsets, ring lights, and portable green screens have been in high demand since spring, and backorders are a common sight. Savvy shoppers will want to start early and also to search beyond the usual big-box stores, including sites like Newegg and B&H. Check out reviews and recommendations before you buy at sites like Engadget and Wirecutter.

Face mask mandates are also a likely sticking around for the future, meaning everyone should have several masks in their rotation. Build up your recipient's collection with some law-themed face masks from Etsy sellers. Stock changes quickly, but some current favorites include The Scales of Justice and The Supremes: Women of SCOTUS.

The internet-famous "This is Fine" dog (also known as Question Hound) is featured on all kinds of official swag suitable for 2020, including a thought bubble face mask, a plush toy in two sizes (full size out of stock until November), a coffee mug that can come bundled with the miniature plush pup, and a dry-erase board.

We're all eating at home a lot more these days. Whether your recipient loves to cook or is still just learning, the Food & Drink section at Uncommon Goods offers dozens of fun DIY kits, including several home brewing/distilling options as well as an introduction to molecular gastronomy techniques.

However, it’s important to support local businesses, including restaurants. How about a gift card to your recipient’s favorite eatery? Gift cards for future visits will help keep restaurants afloat as they make ends meet with limited capacities and takeout sales. (Gift cards to restaurant delivery services like DoorDash or UberEats are another option, but note that an individual restaurant will derive more benefit from direct gift card sales.) One local example is Durham's own Cocoa Cinnamon, which has kept its three area cafes afloat by pivoting to online sales of its coffee and merchandise. Some favorite dining destinations may also offer at-home meal kits or long-distance delivery via Goldbelly, including NYC delis, Los Angeles food trucks, and Michelin-starred chefs. Goldbelly allows you to select a specified future delivery date, meaning that you can shop now and set the deliveries to arrive during the holiday season.

Another good gift idea for foodies could be a cookbook by a favorite chef, or about a favorite style of cuisine. With many independent bookstores struggling during the pandemic, consider making holiday book purchases through your local bookstore, or through the network of independent bookstores at Bookshop.org. Bookshop.org allows you to designate a specific independent bookstore to receive profits from your order, or to contribute to an earnings pool that is distributed to independent bookstores around the country.

Games are another great pandemic gift idea, whether they are video game consoles or tabletop games. The U.S. Capitol Historical Society Gift Shop offers several law-themed jigsaw puzzles, including the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence, and the Capitol rotunda's Apotheosis. Brush up on the Constitution with Constitution Quest, a board game available at the National Archives store. Want to find other, not necessarily law-themed, board game ideas? Check out the rankings and ratings at Board Game Geek.

Gift subscriptions to cultural institutions are also a great idea. Even as many live performance venues remain unable to open their doors just yet, some organizations have pivoted to subscription-based streaming performances, including the North Carolina Symphony. An annual gift subscription to MasterClass is another option for a safe, socially-distanced cultural gift. Many museums have begun to open on a limited basis, making museum memberships another potential gift idea for 2021.

Should you find yourself short on time or ideas this year, remember that most law students (or recent law school graduates) would just as likely welcome a cash infusion (or gift card equivalent) at this time of year. Whether it's spent on spring semester textbooks, post-bar exam expenses, or even some of the recommended items above is entirely your recipient's call. Have a safe, happy, and healthy holiday season!