NYC Congregation Owns Touro Synagogue

TouroA recent article in the NY Times, New York Congregation Owns Oldest Synagogue in the U.S., 180 Miles Away, Court Rules, reports that a federal appeals court has ruled that Shearith Israel in New York actually owns the Touro Synagogue building in Newport. Shearith Israel, founded in Manhattan in 1654, is the oldest congregation. Touro Synagogue, in Newport, R.I., built in 1763, is the oldest synagogue building. Justice David H. Souter, the retired associate justice of the Supreme Court, wrote the opinion in Congregation Jeshuat Israel v. Congregation Shearith Israel for the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston. In it, he overturned a district-court ruling that the congregation that has worshiped for more than 130 years in the Touro Synagogue building, Jeshuat Israel, had control over the building and its objects. Now, what may be the country’s most historic synagogue building is officially owned by a group 180 miles away.

Shearith Israel was founded in the Colonial period by 23 Spanish and Portuguese Jews in what is now Lower Manhattan. Since 1897, the Orthodox congregation has met in a Tiffany-designed neo-Classical building on 70th Street and Central Park West. When Newport’s Jews faced persecution during the American Revolution, they fled the town and the synagogue building, many for New York. Without a congregation in Newport, Shearith Israel took control of the synagogue. Shearith Israel was historically Sephardic, while Jeshuat Israel was mostly Ashkenazi. Justice Souter reversed the trial judge order that sided with Jeshuat Israel. See earlier BLS Library blog post here. The three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals relied on contract law and looked at the 1903 agreement and other contracts as it would in any other civil law case. Justice Souter put it delicately: “These are circumstances in which we think that the First Amendment calls for a more circumscribed consideration of evidence than the trial court’s plenary enquiry into centuries of the parties’ conduct by examining their internal documentation that had been generated without resort to the formalities of the civil law.”

Touro Synagogue holds an important place in the history of the nation’s commitment to religious liberty. In 1790, George Washington visited Touro and sent a letter to the congregation pledging America’s commitment to religious liberty. See the letter from Moses Seixas to President George Washington and the response from President Washington, both well worth the reading. Seixas was a first generation Jewish-American whose parents migrated from Lisbon, Portugal, to Newport. Seixas rose to prominence as warden of Newport’s Touro Synagogue of Congregation Jeshuat Israel.

Law Professors: An Overview from William Blackstone to Barack Obama

As students prepare to resume their legal studies and begin their scholarship for another semester under the tutelage of their BLS professors, I want to recommend a new book that discusses the contributions to the legal profession of a group of selected scholars and professors over three centuries.

The book is: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law by Stephen B. Presser, West Academic Publishing, St. Paul, MN, 2017.

The author says that he hopes this volume will serve as an “introduction to the law for prospective lawyers and beginning students in J.D. and LL.M. programs.”

The book is composed of short biographical essays covering a representative number of legal scholars who have also been law professors.  The work explores the nature of the American legal system, and how American law professors have had a profound effect on American law and life.

While the author covers law professors from William Blackstone to Barack Obama, here are a few of the giants of those that are included:

  • William Blackstone –  It has been written that the groundwork for U.S. jurisprudence can be found in the multi-volume work of Sir William Blackstone, a noted English judge, scholar and politician of the 18th century.  The work, entitled Commentaries on the Laws of England...in four books, provided a systematic analysis of English common law.  These commentaries were based on Blackstone’s lectures at Oxford University.
  • Christopher Columbus Langdell was Dean of Harvard Law School from 1870 to 1895 and is often called the “father of American legal education” because it was he who established the case method of instruction where students read and studied appellate court decisions while teaching at Harvard, incorporating it with the Socratic method where students were asked questions about the cases and they were to draw conclusions in order to engage in a dialogue between faculty and students.
  • Joseph Story served on the United States Supreme Court from 1811 to 1845, taught at Harvard Law School while serving on the Court, and wrote a comprehensive treatise on the U.S. Constitution entitled Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States
  • Karl Llewellyn was a distinguished legal scholar, who was called one of the most important legal thinkers of the early twentieth century and whose works have been cited many times. He was a proponent of legal realism who felt that legal opinions should be examined to see how judges were influenced by outside factors.  He wrote a book which served as an introduction to the study of law for first year students entitled:  The Bramble Bush; Some Lectures on Law and Its Study . 
  • John Henry Wigmore was an important legal scholar and professor, who while attending Harvard Law School, helped found the Harvard Law Review.  He taught for many years at Northwestern University Law School and his most important contribution to legal scholarship was his Treatise on the Anglo-American System of Evidence in Trials at Common Law.
  • Barack Obama, law professor at the University of Chicago, United States Senator from Illinois and President of the United States.

Policing the Black Man

PolicingThe Brooklyn Law School Library’s August New Books List (24 print titles and 12 eBook titles) has among its titles an interesting one, Policing the Black Man: Arrest, Prosecution, and Imprisonment, (Call No. HV9950 .P64 2017). Edited by Angela J. Davis, professor of law at American University’s Washington College of Law, an expert in criminal law and procedure with a specific focus on prosecutorial power and racism in the criminal justice system, it is 352 pages. The book explores the many ways the criminal justice system impacts the lives of African American boys and men at every stage of the criminal process, from arrest through sentencing.  Essays range from an explication of the historical roots of racism in the criminal justice system to an examination of modern-day police killings of unarmed black men. The contributors discuss and explain racial profiling, the power and discretion of police and prosecutors, the role of implicit bias, the racial impact of police and prosecutorial decisions, the disproportionate imprisonment of black men, the collateral consequences of mass incarceration, and the Supreme Court’s failure to provide meaningful remedies for the injustices in the criminal justice system. This book is an enlightening must-read for anyone interested in the critical issues of race and justice in America.

The collection of eleven essays is from a variety of scholars and writers. Providing useful context, the editor points out that black males have never fared well when confronted by police and prosecutors across the U.S. For a couple of centuries, in fact, black men could rarely convince white authorities of the breadth and depth of the injustices. In recent decades, new technology, including smartphones and body cameras, combined with the sounding board of social media have removed doubt about the credibility of many victims. In the introduction, Davis invokes the names of numerous dead black males, placing special emphasis on the killing of Trayvon Martin five years ago by George Zimmerman. While soliciting the essays, Davis offered an expanded definition of the word “policing,” showing how much of the foundation of policing black males rests on racial profiling by law enforcement. In her powerful essay, law professor Renée McDonald Hutchins explains what the law does and does not say about racial profiling, how police agency policies are drafted in light of the law, and how the on-the-street practices of racial profiling sometimes violate both the letter and spirit of laws and policies. While many of the essays focus on the police, Davis focuses on her specialty, prosecutors, and how their untrammeled authority is a major part of the problems within the criminal justice system. While the essays lean toward narrating the problems rather than proposing comprehensive solutions, the final essay links multigenerational poverty of black males with violence and an absurd level of incarceration. Other contributors include Bryan Stevenson. His chapter, A Presumption of Guilt: The Legacy of America’s History of Racial Injustice, tells of an experience in Atlanta when a white police officer pulled a gun on him and threatened to “blow my head off.” He says “What threatened to kill me on the streets of Atlanta when I was a young attorney wasn’t just a misguided police officer with a gun, it was the force of America’s history of racial injustice and the presumption of guilt it created.”

Supreme Court 2017 October Term

Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!  The list of cases the U.S. Supreme Court will hear in its 2017 October Term 2017 is now posted on SCOTUSblog.  SCOTUSblog is a great resource if you are researching any aspect of the Supreme Court or the opinions it issues.  The blog analyzes each merits case pending before the Court and posts breaking news of Court decisions. In fact, SCOTUSblog often posts Court decisions before the high court puts them on its own website. During session, links to audio clips of oral arguments are posted on SCOTUSblog as they become available. When you visit the blog, make sure to check out the other resources freely available there, such as “plain english” analysis of cases, videos, live blogging of oral arguments, and more.

Sexual Orientation and Title VII

There has been considerable commentary on the Justice Department’s filing of an amicus brief saying that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 does not cover employment “discrimination based on sexual orientation.” The DOJ filed the brief in the case of Donald Zarda, who filed suit against his former employer Altitude Express in a case that questions whether sexual orientation is included in Title VII’s protections. Title VII prohibits employment discrimination based on race, color, religion, sex and national origin. Zarda was a skydiving instructor who said he was fired after disclosing his sexual orientation to a customer. He died in a skydiving accident before the case went to trial, and executors of his estate have continued the lawsuit on his behalf. The DOJ’s brief states “the sole question here is whether, as a matter of law, Title VII reaches sexual orientation discrimination. It does not, as has been settled for decades. Any efforts to amend Title VII’s scope should be directed to Congress rather than the courts”. It concludes “Title VII does not prohibit discrimination because of sexual orientation.”

The question is, of course, not that simple and has been the subject of commentary for some time. See, for example, Sex and Sexual Orientation: Title VII after Macy v. Holder by Cody Perkins, 65 Administrative Law Review 427 (Spring 2013). This article examines the EEOC’s treatment of sexual orientation as somewhat convoluted. While there is binding precedent from the Commission that “Title VII’s prohibition of discrimination based on sex does not include sexual preference or sexual orientation”, it cites two decisions issued through the Office of Federal Operations indicating that discrimination based on sexual orientation is discrimination based on sex for Title VII purposes under a Hopkins sex stereotyping theory. See Veretto v. Donahoe, where the Office of Federal Operations found that discrimination against a man for marrying another man was a valid sex stereotyping claim, because it was discrimination based on the stereotype that “marrying a woman is an essential part of being a man,” and Castello v. Donahoe, where the Office of Federal Operations found that discrimination against a woman for being attracted to other women was a valid sex stereotyping claim under Title VII, because it was discrimination based on the stereotype that women should only be attracted to and have relationships with men. These decisions, while not binding on federal agencies, indicate that the EEOC intends to allow claims based on sexual orientation under a sex stereotyping theory under Title VII. While there may be no binding precedent from the EEOC stating that sexual orientation is covered under Tide VII, there is binding precedent regarding transgender people. In Macy v. Holder, the plaintiff, a police detective from Phoenix who was still presenting as a man had applied for and been given assurances that she would be hired for a position with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF). After going through steps in the hiring process and being told repeatedly that she would be hired, Ms. Macy disclosed to ATF that she was in the process of transitioning from male to female and was informed that the position she had applied for was no longer available due to budget constraints. Upon further investigation, Ms. Macy learned that the position had in fact been offered to someone else and filed a formal Equal Employment Opportunity complaint with ATF, alleging discrimination in hiring based on sex. When the agency failed to identify her claim as sex discrimination, instead creating a separate claim of “discrimination based on gender identity,” Ms. Macy appealed her case to the EEOC. In a reversal of its previous position, the full Commission held that “discrimination based on gender identity, change of sex, and/or transgender status” is discrimination “because of sex” under Title VII. In making this determination, the EEOC utilized two important theories: a traditional “sex stereotyping” theory and a new “per se because of sex” theory, both based on the Supreme Court’s decision in Hopkins.

hivelyMore recently, In April 2017, the en banc Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals overruled its own precedent and became the first Circuit to hold that discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation can constitute unlawful sex discrimination under Title VII. See Hively v. Ivy Tech. Cmty. College of Indiana, II, 853 F.3d 339, 351 (7th Cir. 2017) (overruling Hively v. Ivy Tech. Cmty. College of Indiana, I 830 F.3d 698, 709 (7th Cir. July 28, 2016).). All other Circuits that have addressed the issue have held sexual orientation is not protected under Title VII. The EEOC previously adopted the Controversiesposition in 2015 now taken by the Seventh Circuit. The Supreme Court and the Circuit Courts have held that Title VII protects employees who are discriminated against because they do not conform to the stereotype for their gender and this often may overlap with sexual orientation. For more on the subject, see Brooklyn Law School Library’s copy of Controversies in Equal Protection Cases in America: Race, Gender and Sexual Orientation (Controversies in American Constitutional Law) by Anne Richardson Oakes (Call No. KF4755 .C664 2015).

2017 AALL Annual Conference: A few thoughts from a first-time attendee

Last week, I attended the American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) annual conference, which was held July 15-18 in Austin, Texas. The biggest takeaway for me, as a first time conference attendee, was how legal technology continues to shape the legal profession, and how the role of law librarians must continually evolve to meet technological challenges. 

Susan Nevelow Mart, Univ of Colorado Law School Library, “Understanding the Human Element in Search Algorithms”

Legal technology was the focus of many of the programs at the conference:

Understanding the Human Element in Search Algorithms

Teaching and Implementing Emerging Technologies in Legal Practice 

Case Law as Data: Making It, Sharing It, Using It

The Law Library as Technology Laboratory  and

Deep Dive: How Artificial Intelligence will Transform the Delivery of Legal Services

were just some of the programs addressing the subject.  In the exhibit hall, established and new tech vendors lured attendees to their booths with cute stuffed toy bats and other swag so they could sell you on their products.

Caselaw as Data, Harvard Law School Library Innovation Lab

Legal tech was also a constant subject offsite: vendors might gently push their services over a friendly game of shuffleboard at an evening social event; meanwhile in the Fastcase house, legal tech blogger Bob Ambrogi would be chatting in one room while Itai Gurari demonstrated Judicata’s new features in another.  In a recent blog post about the conference, Ambrogi described how legal information professionals increasingly wear the hat of “legal technologist,” stating that the AALL conference should be considered one of the top legal tech conferences.  

What does this mean for academic law librarians?  For me, attending AALL reinforced issues discussed by my BLS colleague Harold O’Grady in his entry in this blog about the new class, Tech Tools for Law Practice, that he taught this summer. If we are to ensure that our students graduate from law school with technology competency, legal tech classes should be integrated into the curriculum. We can learn from the digital initiatives and legal technology curricula at other law schools, and from our own initial experiences in teaching technology courses designed for law students. BLS Library has some legal tech resources in our collection, such as the ABA Solo and Small Firm Legal Technology Guide, and can continue to build on them. 

While there is much to consider going forward, meeting and learning from the many talented and inspiring legal information professionals at the conference was a great experience.  One highlight: learning about the random limerick generator at Harvard’s Caselaw Access Project, where each line of the limerick is derived from a case — just one small illustration of the potential use of caselaw data.

Janet honored at reception for winning Law Library Journal Article of the Year Award

Finally, I should mention that at the AALL conference, BLS Library Director Janet Sinder received the Law Library Journal Article of the Year Award for her article, The Effects of Demand-Driven Acquisitions on Law Library Collection Development, 108 Law Library Journal 155 (2016). Kudos to Janet!

Tips for Bar Exam Stress

An interesting article, The Lawyer, the Addict, in last weekend’s New York Times was written by the ex-wife of a lawyer who died of an overdose. In investigating her husband’s drug use and death, the author found a legal profession with high rates of substance abuse. The article contained good news for law students showing that before they start law school, law students are healthier than the general population, both physically and mentally. Andy Benjamin, a psychologist and lawyer who teaches law and psychology at the University of Washington, says that “They drink less than other young people, use less substances, have less depression and are less hostile.” In addition, he said, law students generally start school with their sense of self and their values intact.

But, in his research, he said, he has found that the formal structure of law school starts to change that. Unfortunately, there is a culture of drinking in the profession that starts in law school. Addicted law students become addicted lawyers. Depressed law students turn into depressed lawyers, unless you get help. Rather than hew to their internal self, students begin to focus on external values, he said, like status, comparative worth and competition. This is where stress over taking the bar exam comes into play.

bar examBy now, students taking bar exams have done the hard work studying. Now it is time to perform. At this point, it is going to be difficult to memorize much more, so now is the time to focus on practice tests and the art of taking the test, the actual process, and your pace. Spend your time wisely – not cramming in more random facts you probably won’t recall anyway. Don’t forget to breathe! Take the time to meditate, so you can clear your head which will allow your thoughts to become better organized. This will serve you well in the week leading up to the bar exam. Start each morning meditating, allowing your brain to be calmed and soothed. Not only will this help in the week before the bar, studies show that people who meditate make better complex decisions. Just what you need to answer the complex bar exam questions!  So, when you take the exam, and you read that question that seems to be a trusts and estates question, or wait, is it a dissolution question? Stop, breathe, and think!  Allow yourself just a minute to breathe in deep, clear your mind, and breathe out. Re-read the question, and do what you are well trained to do at this point – apply the law! Do this anytime you hit a panic-point during the exam.

zenOn the day before the exam, relax. It is not the time to hit the other bar. Relax and do something enjoyable. Check out from the Brooklyn Law Library collection the e-book titled The Zen of Passing the Bar Exam by Chad Noreuil, the best supplemental bar exam mindset book written. See a movie, eat a good meal, and understand that a few more hours of study are not going to change much. You are as ready as you are right here, right now. And finally, if you don’t pass the exam, remember that it is not the end of your world. Lots have taken, lots have not passed, and lots have re-taken. They have become amazing lawyers and judges and had fantastic careers. Your test score will not matter forever. The great news is that you can take it again. If the stress is overwhelming and you feel you are at the end of your rope, call the Lawyer Assistance Program in your state. They are trained to meet with you and will try to help you through the rough patch. If more professional help is needed, they will guide you. If during your exam preparation you find yourself becoming overwhelmed, take a minute (HALT) and think about whether you are also experiencing hunger, anger, loneliness, or tiredness. If so, you have permission to attend to your self-care and try to remediate the negative feelings. Taking a break, accepting your feelings and needs, and attending to self-care will likely make you more productive overall.

Researching Legislative History?

Whether you are tracing a statute’s history for your summer internship or for a paper you are writing, you will want to use a new tool the library recently acquired, Proquest’s Legislative Insight.  Often researching legislative histories can be cumbersome and time consuming.   Legislative Insight promises to streamline the process by digitizing and by publishing online the majority of full text publications associated with a legislative history.  These documents include all versions of enacted and related bills, Congressional Record excerpts, and committee hearings, reports, and documents.  Legislative Insight also includes other related material such as committee prints, CRS reports and Presidential signing statements. Furthermore, Legislative Insight offers a research citation page that not only links to the full text of the associated primary source publications, but allows the user to do a Search Within from that very page that searches the full text of all the associated publications with one-click.

To access Legislative Insight from off-campus, you first need to implement the proxy instructions.

July New Books List and Impeachment

Brooklyn Law School Library’s New Books List for July 1, 2017 has 59 print titles and 30 eBook titles. Many of the titles deal with racial discrimination in the criminal justice administration and elsewhere, for example, He Calls Me By Lightning: The Life of Caliph Washington and the forgotten Saga of Jim Crow, Southern Justice, and the Death Penalty by S Jonathan Bass (Call No. E185.93. A3 B37 2017); Caught: The Prison State and the Lockdown of American Politics by Marie Gottschalk (Call No. HV9471. G667 2016); Homicide Justified: The Legality of Killing Slaves in the United States and the Atlantic World by Andrew T. Fede (E-Book); Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction, and the Meaning of Liberty by Dorothy Roberts (Call No. HV6533.L8 M37 2017); and Unequal: How America’s Courts Undermine Discrimination Law by Sandra F. Sperino and Suja A. Thomas (Call No. KF4755 .S965 2017).

ImpeachmentMore controversial is The Case for Impeachment by Allan J. Lichtman (Call No. KF5076.T78 L53 2017). Lichtman made headlines when he predicted that Donald J. Trump would defeat the heavily favored Democrat, Hillary Clinton, to win the presidential election. His latest book lays out the reasons Congress could remove Trump from the Oval Office: his ties to Russia before and after the election, the complicated financial conflicts of interest at home and abroad, and his abuse of executive authority. The book offers a fascinating look at presidential impeachments throughout American history, including the often-overlooked story of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment, details about Richard Nixon’s resignation, and Bill Clinton’s hearings. Lichtman shows how Trump exhibits many of the flaws (and more) that have doomed past presidents. As the Nixon Administration dismissed the reporting of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein as “character assassination” and “a vicious abuse of the journalistic process,” Trump has attacked the “dishonest media,” claiming, “the press should be ashamed of themselves.” Historians, legal scholars, and politicians alike agree: we are in politically uncharted waters—the durability of our institutions is being undermined and the public’s confidence in them is eroding, threatening American democracy itself. Most citizens—politics aside—want to know where the country is headed. Lichtman argues, with clarity and power, that for Donald Trump’s presidency, smoke has become fire.

Teaching Legal Technology in Law School

techBrooklyn Law School, during the Summer 2017 semester, has taken a first step with its Externship Seminar – Tech Tools For Law Practice, in teaching technology to law students. As more and more states take note of ABA Standard RPC 1.1 Comment [8] and add state level rules which require that lawyers have basic technology competency, more law schools are responding and adding technology courses to their course offerings.

A session at CALI Con 2017, Teaching Law Practice Tech to Law Students – State of the Art, discussed three major themes aimed at teaching a new technology course. Michael Robak offered a walkthrough of the approval process for proposing a new technology course and provided tips for getting faculty and administrative officials onboard. A recent comment, Winning the Battle to Teach Legal Technology and Innovation at Law Schools by Christy Burke, states that many law schools are not yet convinced that this kind of practical non-theoretical education is their responsibility. However, she notes several examples, such as Stanford Law School’s Legal Design Lab, Vanderbilt Law School’s Technology in Legal Practice and Oklahoma University Law’s Digital Initiative, that offer a counterweight to that resistance.

Nichelle “Nikki” Perry discussed methods and options for choosing course content. Knowing where and how your students will practice can make a difference in class coverage. Stacey Rowland gave an overview of a recently taught course at the University of North Carolina discussing technology for new lawyers. This course covered topics such as Advanced Legal Research through Ravel and Bloomberg Law Litigation Analytics, using Word Styles as a foundation for document automation, asking students to construct a mock law firm website, litigation support services as well as hands on experience with CLIO and kCura’s Relativity.

In Brooklyn Law School’s Tech Tools for Law Practice seminar, the first assignment was to have the students complete a Legal Technology Assessment to determine how fluent they were with the basic technology tools of their trade: Word, Excel, and PDF. The website Procertas helped us to answer the question of what are the tech skills we should be teaching law students to better prepare them for working in the “real world?” See Tech Comes Naturally to ‘Digital Native’ Millennials? That’s A Myth by Darth Vaughn and Casey Flaherty which relates that testing of hundreds of law school students resulted in scores as low as 33 percent when asked to complete some simple Word tasks such as:

  • Accept/Turn-off track changes
  • Cut & Paste
  • Replace text
  • Format font and paragraph
  • Fix footers
  • Insert hyperlink
  • Apply/Modify style
  • Insert/Update cross-references
  • Insert page break
  • Insert non-breaking space
  • Clean document properties
  • Create comparison document (i.e., a redline)

Hopefully, as more law schools incorporate teaching law technology into the curriculum, those scores will improve.