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.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 3/13/17: The Twenty-Fourth Amendment

The Twenty-Fourth Amendment restricts the federal government and the states from requiring a poll or other tax in order to vote in federal elections. It was approved by Congress in August of 1962, and ratified by the states in January 1964. At that time, five states — Virginia, Alabama, Texas, Arkansas, and Mississippi — still had poll taxes used to disenfranchise African-American and poor white voters. In 1966, the Supreme Court ruled that any poll taxes, for any level of state or federal elections, was unconstitutional as per Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966).

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/27/17: ‘On the Lam’

The expression ‘on the lam’meaning to be a fugitive from the law, has a murky past. It is often thought to be urban slang from the 1920s used by members of the criminal underworld. The Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang traces it back to the mid-19th century, while noting it appears related to the Old Norse word lemja, meaning ‘to depart hastily’.  Another theory traces its origins to Elizabethan England, where it meant the same thing as ‘beat it’, an idiom still in use and immortalized in a song by the late Michael Jackson.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/20/17: Presidents who have served on the Supreme Court

In honor of the President’s Day holiday: William Howard Taft, the 27th President of the United States (1909-1913), remains the only president to also serve on the Supreme Court. He lectured in legal ethics at BU Law from 1918-1921, and then served as the tenth Chief Justice from 1921-1930.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 2/6/17: Husband Killing as Petty Treason

Until 1828 in the U.K., a wife killing her husband committed ‘petty’ or ‘petit’ treason, not murder, as the law deemed this a crime against the social order. The penalty was burning at the stake, until replaced by hanging in 1790.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 1/30/17: The First American Gun Law

The first gun law passed in the United States was in Kentucky in 1813, which banned people from carrying concealed weapons. Kentucky currently requires a permit for concealed carry, although a gun permit is not required for owning a firearm.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 1/23/17: The Stupid Motorist Law

Arizona has a law popularly referred to as the “Stupid Motorist Law“, which renders motorists liable for the cost of their rescue. A response to the flash floods common in the Southwestern U.S., the law states that if a motorist ignores barricades blocking a flooded roadway and later need to be rescued by public emergency services, the motorist can be held responsible for the costs of rescue.  Motorists can also find themselves criminally liable under other statutory provisions for offences such as reckless driving and endangerment.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 1/17/17: Presidential Oath of Office

The Presidential Oath of Office is specified in Article II, Section One, Clause 8: “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”  The Constitution does not specify who is to administer the oath, although by convention it is usually the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. There have been several exceptions to this, including the swearing-in of George Washington in 1789 by the Chancellor of NY and Calvin Coolidge’s swearing in by his father, a notary public, in 1923. Originally the oath was administered in the form of a question, but now the President-elect repeats the words as stated by the Chief Justice. In 2009 Chief Justice Roberts administered the oath a second time to Barack Obama, privately in the White House the day following his inauguration, because Roberts inadvertently omitted the word “faithfully” from the oath.  By convention the President-elect commonly raises his right hand and place his left hand on a Bible, although not every president has done so — exceptions include John Quincy Adams and Franklin Pierce who both swore their oaths on a law book.

 

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 12/5/16: The Original Proposed 13th Amendment

While the Thirteenth Amendment outlawed slavery, the original proposed Thirteenth Amendment was altogether different. Approved by Congress in 1810, the Titles of Nobility Amendment was designed to strip U.S. citizenship from any citizen who accepted an aristocratic title from a foreign country. Ratified by twelve states (the last in 1812) the proposed amendment is technically still pending but would require ratification by an additional twenty-six states. It was erroneously included as the Thirteenth Amendment in some early-nineteenth-century Constitutional publications despite never having been ratified. ‘Thirteenthers’ is a term sometimes used to refer to people who maintain it was in fact ratified, or those who support its ratification now. An interesting article from 2010 on attempts to ‘restore’ this proposed amendment in Iowa may be found here.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 11/28/16: The Third Amendment

The Third Amendment states that “No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.”  The British practice of quartering troops among (and in buildings owned by) colonists was one of the  grievances enumerated in the Declaration of Independence. While never the subject of a Supreme Court case, the Third Amendment was cited in Griswold v. Connecticut in 1965 as one of the sources of the implied right to privacy.

Ian’s Legal Fact of the Week 11/21/16: Thanksgiving as a Federal Holiday

A proclamation by President George Washington and a congressional resolution established the first national Thanksgiving Day on November 26, 1789. The holiday was intended to give thanks for the new government formed under the Constitution. It became an official federal holiday under President Lincoln in 1863, and in 1941 was set as the fourth Thursday in November.