Ian’s Random Legal Fact for Christmas 2017: Santa Claus

Courtesy of the History Office of the Federal Judicial Center: “The first mention of Santa Claus in a reported federal case came in a maritime case involving a ship of that name in 1846. The Santa Claus, 21 F. Cas. 406 (S.D.N.Y. 1846)”. Fans of maritime law and esoteric legal facts rejoice!

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 12/4/17: Refusing to Plead

Under the common law, a defendant who refused to enter a plea was considered to be contesting the court’s jurisdiction and was subjected to ‘peine fort et dure’ — pressing under heavy weights — until the defendant either consented to plead or died by suffocation.  In the U.S., the only recorded use was against Giley Corey in 1692, who was pressed to death during the Salem Witch Trials. The procedure was abolished in the U.K. in 1772, when standing mute was made equivalent to a guilty plea.  Refusing to plead was changed to a ‘not guilty’ plea in the U.K. in 1827, as is the law now in all common law countries.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 11/27/17: Marriage Age in the U.S.

Despite what is popularly believed, the U.S. does not offer robust protection against child marriage. Twenty-five states do not have a legal minimum age for marriage, while 8 others set the age at under 16. New Hampshire, for example, sets the age at 13 for girls and 14 for boys. In these states, judges must grant approval to marry, but a report from the Tahirih Justice Center shows that this often provides marginal protection at best — most states do not require the child be given counsel, nor do most require that the ruling judge serve on a family, juvenile or domestic relations court.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 11/20/17: The 25th Amendment and Presidential Succession

The 25th Amendment was ratified in 1965, prompted by ambiguity of Article II, s.1, clause 6 regarding Presidential incapacity and succession. This was an issue following the assassination of President Kennedy, as the office of Vice President remained vacant until a new term began in January 1965. This Amendment provides that the Vice President shall assume office in the event of the removal, death or disability of the President; and that the President shall fill a vacancy in the office of Vice President through nomination of a candidate who is then approved by a simple majority of both houses. In the event of presidential disability, he may be removed upon assent of the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet once the House and Senate speakers are notified; if the President contests the disability, removal requires assent by two-thirds of both houses of Congress.



Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 11/13/17: Ride-Share Violence

Among the many legal issues raised by ride-share services such as Uber and Lyft is personal violence: online tracker Who’s Driving You (which, it should be disclosed, is run by the Taxicab, Limousine & Paratransit Association),  recorded more than 330 alleged sexual assaults and incidents of harassment, nearly 80 assaults, and 40 deaths caused by ride-share drivers worldwide since 2014. Additionally, there have been numerous incidents of violence between passengers who have carpooled using UberPOOL and Lyft Line ride-sharing services.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 11/6/17: Susan B. Anthony Votes

On November 6, 1872, prominent social activist Susan B. Anthony cast a vote for president. She was later found guilty of illegal voting and fined $100. At the time of her conviction in federal court, she stated “I shall never pay a penny of your unjust penalty”, and the presiding judge chose not to have her held in custody likely so as to prevent her from appealing to the Supreme Court. She and Elizabeth Cady Stanton drafted a proposed 16th Amendment granting women the right to vote, often known as the “Anthony Amendment“, in 1878. It was not submitted to the states for ratification until 1919, and was ultimately ratified as the 19th Amendment in 1920, fourteen years after her death.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 10/30/17: Ban on Questions about Salary History

In August 2016, MA became the first state to pass a law banning employers from requiring information on an applicant’s previous salary history. Designed to prevent pay discrimination based on gender, the law, An Act to Establish Pay Equity, requires ‘equal pay for equal work’, permits employees to discuss their salaries with coworkers, and prohibits employers from requesting salary history on an application before a job offer is made.  Applicants are still allowed to volunteer salary information as part of the negotiation process, however.  The law takes effect July 1, 2018. California  became the latest state to pass a similar law as of October 12, 2017.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 10/23/17: Banning Atheists from Office

Eight states still possess constitutional prohibitions against atheists from holding public office: Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Texas. While these provisions still exist, they cannot be enforced under the 1961 decision of Torcaso v. Watkins, in which an unanimous Supreme Court ruled that the requirement of a religious test for public state or federal office violates the First and Fourteenth Amendments. Interestingly, Tennessee’s constitution unenforceably bars both atheists as well as ministers from public office, the latter as they “ought not to be diverted from the great duties of their functions.”


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.