Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 10/16/17: Chief Justice as Chancellor of the Smithsonian

In 1846 Congress established the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., eleven years after receiving a bequest from Englishman James Smithson. The charter established a seventeen-member board with representatives from all three branches (the Chief Justice, the Vice President, and six members of Congress) as well as nine citizens. By tradition, the board elects the Chief Justice as Chancellor of the Smithsonian, a position that current Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has held since 2005.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 10/10/17: Constitutional Amendments

Since 1789 there have been more than 11,600 proposed amendments introduced to Congress. Of those, 33 were approved and sent to the states for ratification, resulting in the 27 amendments to the Constitution. The 27th Amendment was added in 1992 although originally submitted for ratification in 1789.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 10/2/17: Delinquent Jurors

MA claims to have the most comprehensive anti-juror delinquency program in the U.S., having established the Delinquent Juror Prosecution Program (DJPP) in 1996 to address issues with non-representative juries. Jurors who fail to appear are sent a Failure to Appear mailing; if not resolved they are sent a Notice of Delinquency. Further failure to resolve the delinquency leads to an Application for Criminal Complaint, under which the juror is summoned for a show cause hearing. Thereafter, a bench warrant will be issued. Jurors may be fined up to $2000 and sentenced to community service. The program has reduced juror delinquency rates by more than half since it was instituted. Nationally there is approximately a 20% juror delinquency rate, although the figure ranges widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 9/25/17: First Country to Recognize the U.S.

The first country to formally recognize the United States was Morocco in 1777. The treaty between these two countries, known as the Moroccan-American Treaty of Friendship, was signed in 1786 and ratified in 1787 by the Confederation Congress. It remains the longest unbroken treaty relationship in U.S. history.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 9/18/17: English-Only Laws

The 1923 landmark case of Meyer v. Nebraska applied the 14th Amendment’s Due Process Clause to a law passed in Nebraska that prohibited foreign-language instruction in any school up to eighth grade. In a 7-2 decision, the Court struck down the legislation as an unconstitutional violation of individual liberties under a substantive due process analysis. Some commentators, such as Justice Kennedy, have noted that if this case was heard today it would likely be decided on 1st Amendment grounds instead.

Acts of the “Most Sanguinary Rage”: Spousal Murder in Montreal, 1825-1850

This study examines the 11 cases of wife murder (uxoricide) and 3 cases of husband murder (mariticide) identified in the judicial district of Montreal between 1825-1850, a period of considerable social flux.Through examination of judicial archives and primary sources, supplemented by comprehensive review of period newspapers, these cases allow us to examine the dynamics and causes that motivated spousal murders and offer insight into the motivations, means, and mechanics of investigation and prosecution of these crimes as well as the role of mercy and executive clemency. In so doing, it contributes to our understanding of family violence and the administration of criminal justice for an under-examined period in Canadian history. These gendered crimes reflect “traditional” male attempts to exert and maintain power dynamics and privilege through the use of ongoing violence, rather than the influence of romantic ideals and sexual jealousy reflected in other jurisdictions of the period, and rarely involved premeditated murder. Wives, in contrast, had motives that were altogether murkier, but their actions suggested they acted opportunistically to achieve their desired ends. Whatever the reasons that motivated them, these cases were set against a deeply-gendered backdrop of juridical processes and media coverage that reinforced traditional notions of gender and social mores, and in which the identity of female offenders and victims receded almost to the point of invisibility.

Article available at: https://academic.oup.com/ajlh/article/57/3/316/4037441/Acts-of-the-Most-Sanguinary-Rage-Spousal-Murder-in?guestAccessKey=7264273c-1235-48d1-9385-df95e935527c

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 9/11/17: Can Members of Congress Be Impeached?

Under Article II Section 4 of the Constitution, “The President, Vice President, and all civil Officers of the United States shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors.” The question of whether members of Congress are considered “civil Officers” has not been conclusively decided; Senator William Blount was impeached by the House in 1798 but the Senate voted to dismiss on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction and he was instead expelled. As of 2017, 5 members of the House and 15 members of the Senate have been expelled, most of whom were expelled in 1861-62 for joining the Confederate States of America.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 9/5/17: The End of Miscegenation

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not address marriage equality; as such, laws against miscegenation (interracial marriage) remained on the books until struck down by the Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia (1967). The Court ruled that anti-miscegenation laws violated the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses of the 14th Amendment. The unofficial holiday known as “Loving Day” is celebrated on June 12th, the anniversary of the Court’s decision.

Ian’s Random Summer Legal Fact 7/10/17: The Massachusetts Constitution

The Massachusetts Constitution is the world’s oldest continuously-operative constitution, having been approved in 1780 (9 years before the U.S. Constitution). Its principal author was John Adams, who insisted the state be referred to as a ‘commonwealth’. It was also the first to be created through constitutional convention rather than by a legislature, after an earlier draft constitution was rejected by voters in 1778. It has been amended 120 times, most recently in 2000.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/24/17: The Twenty-Third Amendment

Ratified in 1961, the Twenty-Third Amendment grants the District of Columbia electors in the Electoral College, so that residents of D.C. may vote in the presidential and vice-presidential elections. The Amendment grants D.C. the equivalent number of electors it would have were it a state, but no more than that of the least populous state (currently Wyoming, with 3 electoral college votes). The presidential election of 1964 was the first in which residents of D.C. could vote, and the District has cast its three electoral votes for the Democratic candidate in every election since then — including the 1984 reelection of Ronald Reagan, in which only D.C. and Minnesota voted for his Democratic opponent.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/18/17: Lawyer’s Day

Distressingly, there is no official “Lawyer’s Day” in the U.S.–despite the fact that nearly half of the members of Congress are lawyers.The second Tuesday in April is, however, informally known as “International Be Kind to Lawyers Day” and has its own website. It was designed to fall in the week between April Fool’s Day and U.S. Tax Day.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/10/17: Slow-Motion Video and Juror Bias

A recent study has shown that jurors who are shown surveillance video, in slow motion, of criminal acts committed by defendants often suffer from ‘intentionality bias’. Even when reminded that the footage was artificially slowed down, unanimous juries were four times more likely to convict when they viewed slowed-down video than juries who did not. The study shows that jurors ascribed greater premeditation and intent to these defendants, despite the reminders, resulting in higher conviction rates as well as more severe sentences.