US Supreme Court Landmark Cases – C-SPAN’s Fall Television Series

C-SPAN’s Fall Television Series

C-SPAN’ s new television series Landmark Cases  – explores the human stories and constitutional dramas behind some of the most significant and frequentlyLogo_cspan_landmarkcases cited decisions in the United States Supreme Court’s history.  This 12-part series delves into cases that represent some of the tipping points in our nation’s story and in our evolving understanding of rights in America.

Produced in cooperation with the National Constitution Center, each 90 minute program will air live on C-SPAN and C-SPAN3 on Monday nights at 9pm ET, the series started on October 5, 2015 and will continue through December 21, 2015.

 FredKorematsu_sTonight’s showing (November 9, 2015) will be on the case, Korematsu v. United States (1944) in which the Supreme Court, in a 6-3 vote, upheld the government’s forceful removal of 120,000 people of Japanese descent, 70,000 of them U.S. citizens, from their homes on the West Coast to internment camps in remote areas of western and midwestern states during World War II.

Quick Links and Sources to US Court Opinions

logo_librarians_washingtondc_fed_courtsLooking for a site that guides you to Internet access to US federal court opinions?  You might want to bookmark –

Quick Links and Sources to U.S. Court Opinions

Compiled by the Federal Law Librarians Special Interest Section of the Law Librarians’ Society of Washington DC, the new website presents quick links to all major sources for US court opinions including sites for recent years, sites for recent and historical years, and subscription sites.  It also presents direct links to court opinion sites of specific US courts such as the US Courts of Appeals, as well as, links to opinion sites to those courts before the 1990’s.

Each specific’s court’s abbreviation and city location can also be found.  There is also an example of how new slip opinions can be cited.

The site is compiled and maintained by Rick McKinney, Assistant Law Librarian, Federal Reserve Board.

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Now a Class Action – Uber Technologies Inc – Certification – 09/01/15

The New Economy has a new class action.

On September 1, 2015, U.S. District Judge Edward Chen of the Northern District of California certified a class of Uber Technologies Inc. drivers seeking employee status and reimbursement for withheld tips.  (Douglas O’Connor, et. al. v. UBER Technologies, Inc. (N.D. Cal. Sept. 1, 2015, C-13-3826.)uber_logo

Below is a pdf of Judge Chin’s order involving the class certification. (Docket No. 276, Amended order granting in part and denying in part Plaintiffs’ motion for class certification.)

Also below is a Word document that is a copy of the case docket as of 09/02/2015.  Both documents were copied from PACER.




“What Happened to the Information Removed From PACER?”


This is a copy of a blog post from the University of North Carolina Law Library. This timely information about Pacer should be widely distributed. Please follow the link at the end of the paragraph below:

“The University of North Carolina Law Library has published a blog post to help people seeking information formerly available on PACER, but now removed, to understand the process for obtaining removed information. Thanks to the hard work of Law Library Graduate Assistant, Kate Dickson, and Reference Librarian, Jonathan Rountree, the blog post details procedures for requesting removed information we obtained from the various clerks of court for the courts affected by the removal as well as information about material still available on commercial databases like Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg. The blog post is available at “

Despite criticism, Americans not ready to kill death penalty

Yesterday on September 28, a week to the day after Georgia executed Troy Davis, the United States Supreme Court denied an application to stay Manuel Valle’s death sentence.  Later the same day, Florida executed Valle after he had spent 33 years on death row.  In his dissent from the denial of the stay, Justice Breyer argued that Valle’s execution would be excessively cruel (“I have little doubt about the cruelty of so long a period of incarceration under sentence of death”) and lacks utilitarian purpose (“It is difficult to imagine how an execution following so long a period of incarceration could add significantly to that punishment’s deterrent value”).  He also critiqued a society that would demand his execution on retributivist grounds:

I would focus upon the ‘moral sensibility’ of a community that finds in the death sentence an appropriate public reaction to a terrible crime.  And, I would ask how often that community’s sense of retribution would forcefully insist upon a death that comes only several decades after the crime was committed.

Justice Breyer is not the only jurist on the High Court to voice his opposition to capital punishment recently.  On September 15, Justice Ginsburg spoke in San Francisco at University of California Hastings College of the Law.  In her talk, Justice Ginsburg stated “I would probably go back to the day when the Supreme Court said the death penalty could not be administered with an even hand, but that’s not likely to be an opportunity for me.”  She was alluding to Furman v. Georgia (1972) 408 U.S. 238, the case that temporarily halted capital punishment in America. 

Despite criticism by these justices, Field Poll results released today demonstrate that a solid majority of Californian voters favor capital punishment.  The poll shows that 68% of Californians are in favor of keeping the death penalty.  These are, in fact, higher than the national average.  According to Gallup polls, 64% of Americans are in favor of the death penalty.  While support for the death penalty is gradually waning, it appears that neither Californians nor Americans in general are ready to end the practice. 

California Penal Code section 15 permits death as a punishment for a crime.  Several resources at the Alameda County Law Library discuss California’s death penalty law such as chapter 54 of CEB’s California Criminal Law: Procedure and Practice and volume 3, section XVI of Witkin’s California Criminal Law, 3d.  In addition, the Library has numerous titles that discuss the capital punishment policy.  These resources are shelved on the second floor in the KF 9227 call number area.

When the Law Speaks Plainly

Oh, that Scalia.  The originalist has once again coined an original term.  You may recall that this past January, while at a speaking engagement at the University of California, Hastings College of the Law, Justice Scalia quipped that Chicago deep dish pizza is not truly pizza, but “tomato pie or something.”  This time, however, the erudite justice offered his neologism in a more formal setting, in his dissent to yesterday’s ruling in Montana v. Wyoming (2011) __ U.S. __, __.  Scalia refers to the people of Wyoming as “Wyomans.”  In a footnote, he explains: “The dictionary-approved term is ‘Wyomingite,’ which is also the name of a type of lava, see Webster’s New International Dictionary 2961 (2d ed. 1957). I believe the people of Wyoming deserve better.”

Unlike Scalia, the rest of us are best advised not to offer novel words in court.  In fact, determining the meaning of existing words presents a challenge in itself.  It’s not uncommon for patrons at the Alameda County Law Library to scour the codes for a statutory definition or read case after case to find a judicial interpretation.  In addition to the primary authorities, two useful tools for finding the legal meaning of a word are Black’s Law Dictionary and Words and Phrases.  If the secondary sources fail also, it may simply be that no legal definition is available.  In such cases, it’s often acceptable to look to non-legal resources for guidance. 

The California Courts sometimes refer to standard dictionaries for help with statutory construction: “When construing the meaning of words in a statute, courts should first look to the plain dictionary meaning of the word unless it has a specific legal definition.”  Ceja v. J.R. Wood, Inc. (1987) 196 Cal.App.3d 1372, 1375.  Similarly, the Supreme Court of the United States has also found plain meanings of words acceptable where legal definitions are unavailable: “In the absence of a statutory definition, we construe a statutory term in accordance with its ordinary or natural meaning.”  FDIC v. Meyer, 510 U.S. 471, 476 (1994).  In fact, in some instances, a plain language meaning may even be preferable to a legal definition.  The California Legislature enacted such a law that governs the interpretation of contractual terms:

The words of a contract are to be understood in their ordinary and popular sense, rather than according to their strict legal meaning; unless used by the parties in a technical sense, or unless a special meaning is given to them by usage, in which case the latter must be followed (Code Civ. Proc. § 1644).

So if your search for the legal definition for a statutory or contractual term fails, it could be because the drafters intended no legal meaning.  

If you are searching for a legal definition, the Alameda County Law Library has Black’s Law Dictionary (9th ed. 2009).  Words and Phrases will be found at the end of Federal Practice Digest or the California Digest.  And if all else fails, the library has Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, the more current edition of the dictionary cited by Justice Scalia in Montana v. Wyoming.   

On Continuances and Professionalism

Pro pers and young attorneys are often surprised to learn that there are no California Judicial Council forms available to request a continuance for a trial or hearing.  The reasoning behind this stems in part from a statutory admonishment to discourage continuances in the Trial Court Delay Reduction Act (Gov. Code, § 68600, et seq.).  Pursuant to Government Code section 68607, subdivision (g), judges are required to “[a]dopt and utilize a firm, consistent policy against continuances, to the maximum extent possible and reasonable, in all stages of the litigation.”  Accordingly, a party seeking a continuance will have to draft a motion on pleading paper and comply with the rules promulgated by the California Supreme Court and Judicial Council under California Rules of Court, rule 3.1332

California Rules of Court, rule 3.1332(d)(9) lists among the factors the courts consider in granting such a motion is if all parties have stipulated to the continuance.  Given the adversarial nature of judicial proceedings and acrimony that frequently arises, there might be a temptation to spite one’s opponent by refusing to consent to his or her request for a continuance.  Consider the following example from the United States District Court for the District of Kansas.  Here attorney for the defense, Bryan Erman, requested a continuance because he was expecting his first child shortly before the commencement of the trial.  Despite the plaintiff’s counsel’s “lengthy and spirited” opposition to the motion, the judge granted the continuance.   In doing so, Judge Eric Melgren congratulated the expectant father and offered this admonishment to the attorneys:

Certainly this judge is convinced of the importance of federal court, but he has always tried not to confuse what he does with who he is, nor to distort the priorities of his day job with his life’s role.  Counsel are encouraged to order their priorities similarly.

Another federal judge, William S. Duffey, Jr., suggests that being civil toward one’s opponent can be rewarding in itself: “The incivility and hostility of litigation today not only makes this work more unpleasant, less satisfying, and less fulfilling, but it also serves as a barrier to what we are charged to do—to represent clients in the resolution of disputes by seeking just results.”  (On Encouraging Civility in A Life in the Law: Advice for young Lawyers (Duffey & Schneider, edits 2009) p. 59)  So before you go to the mattresses over your opponent’s request for a continuance, you might want to consider whether it’s really worth the effort—and make sure that you or your client will not need to request any favors from the other side. 

For Alameda County Law Library patrons who are seeking continuances, the library has a number of practice guides that may be useful for pro pers and attorneys.  For example, chapter 42 of CEB’s California Civil Procedure Before Trial, 4th ed., discusses the requirements and procedures and includes a sample notice and declaration.  And for newer attorneys, the library also has a display of titles offering practical advice for those beginning their careers.