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.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 4/3/17: Good Samaritan Laws and Pets

Currently six states have ‘Good Samaritan hot car laws’, which protect people from liability for breaking into a locked car to rescue a pet that was left unattended. Typically these laws require a good faith belief that the animal was in danger, an attempt to locate the vehicle’s owner, notification of law enforcement or emergency services, and the use of no more force than is necessary to enter the vehicle. As of November 2016 MA is one of these states, as Mass. Gen. Laws ch. 140, § 174f grants civil and criminal immunity for entering a motor vehicle to remove an animal if certain requirements are met, such as making reasonable efforts to locate the vehicle owner and notifying law enforcement.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/27/17: Succession of the Vice-President

The Twenty-fifth Amendment was adopted in 1967 and establishes that the Vice President succeeds the President in the result of the President’s death, resignation or incapacity, and also establishes a process for filling a vacancy in the office of the Vice President. It was adopted in order to address the ambiguous language in Article II, Section 1, Clause 6 of the Constitution which did not make clear the role of the Vice President under such circumstances.

 

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/20/17: Gifts and Windfalls

In U.S. tax law there is a distinction between gifts and windfalls. A windfall — historically referring to fruit or trees blown down by the wind which then become public property — now refers to any sudden, unearned gain such finding money on the street or buried treasure. A gift, however, is a gain given by a donor and motivated by generosity, affection, respect or the like. A key distinction is that the recipient of a windfall is taxed, while the recipient of a gift is not.