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The Serial Set, Part 3: Supreme Court Nominations

Serial Set SCtOur first two Serial Set Posts discussed HeinOnline’s new database content of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, and the differences in the online offerings of Hein and Lexis. Now, for the last installment of our series, we dive into the documents themselves, since none of this would be worth the bother at all if the Serial Set didn’t offer the most vivid view of the history of the nation.

With the sting of Supreme Court nominations so recently in mind, the Year-End Report, 1st session of 97th Congress (1981) [Report of Senate Comm on the Judiciary, Nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor. Executive Report No. 97-22.], regarding the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor, reminds us that consensus was once easier to achieve. Speaking about the recommendation to the full Senate (17 aye, one present), Senator Thurmond, then Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, summarized those hearings [at p. 147]:

…The Committee recommended the approval of the first woman to be nominated to the United States Supreme Court. In providing the background and recommendation on which the Senate could fulfill its Constitutional duties, the Committee held three days of hearings and considered the views of a wide range of witnesses. On the recommendation of the Committee, the Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Twelve years later, in 1993, the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sent to the Senate Floor with a unanimous recommendation to confirm, with a final Senate vote of  93-3. [Nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Supreme Court, Report from Senate Comm on the Judiciary, Aug 5, 1993]

Serial set 3

And in-between, in 1991, was the highly charged hearing on the nomination of Clarence Thomas as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, with testimony given by Anita Hill of a pattern of sexual harassment by the nominee. With contemporary articles pointing out the all-but-too-close parallels to the conduct of the Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the Serial Set refreshes history, and our memory, with the report of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which ultimately made no recommendation on the nominee, and with the Committee vote tied at 7 to 7. [Nomination of Clarence Thomas, Report of Comm of Judiciary, no recommendation 7-7. Sept 19, 1991]

Serial set 3a

Among the many speeches by Senators who rose to explain their vote, Senator Robert Byrd took to the floor with a singular and powerful eloquence, explaining why, in the end, he could not vote to confirm Clarence Thomas — ultimately rejecting the nomination in favor of the grace of the Court itself. [Senator Robert C. Byrd on the nomination of Clarence Thomas]

Even after the final vote, 52-48, the narrative continued, with a potent shift to the another part of the story.  A Temporary Independent Counsel was immediately appointed to investigate the leak of the confidential Anita Hill information, the disclosure of which triggered the public airing of the sexual harassment she detailed, and the hyper-charged televised hearings that followed.

Serial set 3b

The subsequent Report of the Temporary Independent Counsel summarized all the key players, and yet in the end concluded that it was unable to identify the source of the disclosures. [Independent Counsel after Clarence Thomas hearings, part 1]

This report of the Temporary Independent Counsel was accompanied by a 172-page collection of exhibits. Among other materials, it included the Anita Hill statement, photographs of Anita Hill arriving at the Senate hearings, deposition testimony from the NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, editorial cartoons, and press reports and newspaper articles on colleagues of Anita Hill supporting her veracity. [Exhibits to Report by Temporary Independent Counsel.May 1992]

The Serial Set has all this and more.

As the 116th Congress, convened on January 3, 2019, begins its work, all the records of whatever comes across Congressional sightlines will be also eventually be added and indexed and become a part of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.


Databases at the San Francisco Law Library, including HeinOnline and the Lexis are open to the public for free access at the San Francisco Law Library.

For more questions about research in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set or about the scope of other San Francisco Law Library resources, please contact the Reference Team at sfll.reference@sfgov.org   or 415:554-1772.

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May Book of the Month: Closing the Courthouse Door

51o5FtK+zsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Closing the Courthouse Door: How Your Constitutional Rights Became Unenforceable
By Erwin Chemerinsky
Reviewed by Andrea Woods, Reference Librarian

Esteemed constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky wrote Closing the Courthouse Door: How Your Constitutional Rights Became Unenforceable after decades of mounting frustration over how Supreme Court jurisprudence has chipped away at the ability of the federal courts to perform their most important and basic task—to enforce the Constitution. He examines how the Court has limited the ability of a plaintiff to sue state and local governments for constitutional violations, expanded immunity protection for government officers, narrowed the instances where the court will find standing for injured parties, restricted access to habeas corpus, thwarted plaintiffs from suing in class actions, and increased abstention by finding more and more cases are nonjusticiable political questions. The result of the Court’s expansion of these procedural doctrines is that many citizens are left with no remedy when their constitutional rights are violated. Chemerinsky eloquently and passionately argues that the role of the Constitution is to hold the government and its officers accountable to those whose constitutional rights have been infringed upon, and if the federal courts are not able to enforce the Constitution, then it is as if those rights did not exist at all.

Most disturbing in this snowballing trend is that the procedural doctrines the Court has expanded are entirely the Court’s own creation—they are not based on the Constitution, and they are not founded on federal statutes. For example, the defense of immunity for government officers is not found in the language of section 1983, which creates a private right of action against government officials who deprive a person of a constitutional right. Not only did the Court create this defense, but it found that some tasks warrant absolute immunity, even for the most egregious violations of a constitutional right, and even when officials act in a way that clearly exceeded their authority. Chemerinsky maintains that there is no need for absolute immunity at all because all officials have qualified immunity, but even here, the Court has made it increasingly difficult for plaintiffs to recover for their injuries by continually expanding the scope and availability of the defense.

Throughout Closing the Courthouse Door, Chemerinsky cites example after heartbreaking example where a person was left with no recourse after their constitutional rights were trampled. Because of one procedural doctrine or another, the federal courts were left unable to enforce the Constitution. Chemerinsky notes that this should be a bipartisan issue, and in fact, he surmises that many conservatives should theoretically welcome the idea of holding the government accountable for its actions. He optimistically concludes each chapter with a suggested path forward, where either the Court itself or Congress could act to rectify these erroneous doctrines. In many cases, the changes he presses for would only restore the law to what it was several years ago, before more restrictive holdings were announced. Chemerinsky posits that the federal courts have been diminished as a co-equal branch of government as a result of abstaining from hearing many types of cases, and that we as a nation should want our courts to be able to ensure that constitutional wrongs can be righted.


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May Book Drive

Book Drive

Each month we will seek donors to purchase a new title for the Law Library. Here is our Wish List for the month of May. Growing our collection is about so much more than a single book—it is a living demonstration of how the Library expands the public’s access to justice and provides legal practitioners with the tools they need to represent members of our local community. Please see our Donation Guide for more ways to support the Law Library.

Strategic NetworkingStrategic Networking for Introverts, Extroverts, and Everyone in Between
Written by Carol Schiro Greenwald
$65.95, Paperback, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-64105-377-8

Untangling Fear in Lawyering

Donated!
Untangling Fear in Lawyering: A Four-Step Journey Toward Powerful Advocacy
Written by Heidi K. Brown

Sharia LawSharia (Islamic Law) in the Contemporary World: A Legal Research Guide
Written by Christopher Anglim
$79, Paperback, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-83774-005-8 


Thank you to James Michel for generously donating John Lennon vs. The USA: The Inside Story of the Most Bitterly Contested and Influential Deportation Case in United States History, part of our August 2018 Book Drive.

Thank you to Althea Kippes for generously donating both books from our February Book Drive — California Animal Laws Handbook, 2019 and The Art of Fact Investigation.

Thank you to Brenna Moorhead for generously donating Dred Scott v. Sandford: Opinions and Contemporary Commentary, from our May 2018 Book Drive.

Please take a look at our Book Drive page to see Wish List items from prior months. We are still wishing for these books!


To donate, please contact sflawlibrary@sfgov.org or call (415) 554-1791. We appreciate your contribution!


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The Serial Set, Part 2: HeinOnline v. Lexis

Serial Set 2

HeinOnline is not the only player in the game when it comes to the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. Lexis also includes U.S. Congressional Documents 1777-present (U.S. Serial Set), with its own advanced search functions. You may be thinking this is overkill (isn’t one of these enough?), but for any researcher who has something specific in mind and cannot easily fish it out, it is a boon to be able to have all sources at hand and algorithmic search variables to multiply the means to compare and locate possibilities.

As valuable as a specific Serial Set Identification Number may be, the problem with a very special number is that even a small anomaly in the citation may mean a blank wall within one or the other databases. As one example: the Senate Committee on Judiciary Report on the Nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor is available on both Lexis and HeinOnline.  The Serial Set citation given on HeinOnline is 13406 S.rp. 22 and on Lexis the report is designated as 13406 Exec. Rpt. 22. Neither will bring up the other solely on the assigned number.

Serial set 2 cite

Fortunately, both Serial Set databases also offer keyword and title searches, with advanced filters. The true charm of having this content both within HeinOnline and on Lexis is the power to search across the entire Serial Set based on whatever level of information is already known to the researcher.

In the current Phase I of the HeinOnline Serial Set, search results indicate whether the material is downloadable as full text content, or preliminarily indexed as part of Phase I, with the Serial Set citation and other information given.

Serial Set Part 2

In Lexis, searches facilitated by its own advanced search functions bring up detailed summaries of results, with the option of downloading the original text as “Replica of Original Proceedings.”

If you can’t make it to the library to use HeinOnline and Lexis, there is yet another congressional resource collection: the ProQuest Congressional database offers coverage from 1970 for some congressional reports, and later dates for other document types. Online access is available for free to any CA resident with a library card issued from the San Francisco Public Library.

Next up: an in depth look at available Supreme Court nomination materials

 


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New Database Content: The Serial Set

Serial Set

Every Congress accumulates a veritable ocean of words: in resolutions made, hearings held, and legislation introduced and sometimes passed. From when the very first Congress opened on March 4, 1789, then in Federal Hall in New York City, to the current Congressional session opened on January 3, 2019, documents and records have been piling up. Now that content is data — virtual and weightless — it is hard to imagine the vast and unruly mass accumulated over 230 years’ worth (and counting) of Congressional matters under consideration: bills, reports, records of hearings, maps of boundaries and territories, drafts, and treaties, select executive and agency documents, odd-ball records (such as reports on rivers and harbors 1817-1982), and some interspersed annual reports of various non-governmental organizations, such the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, DAR, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Smithsonian.

The Serial Set was ordered by Congress in 1813, and has by now been modified and codified in Title 44 of the US Code §§ 701, 719, 738:

“Ordered, That, henceforward, all Messages and communications from the President of the United States; all letters and reports from the several departments of the Government; all motions and resolutions offered for the consideration of the House; all reports of committees of the House; and all other papers which, in the usual course of proceeding, or by special order of the House shall be printed in octavo fold, and separately from the Journals – shall have their pages numbered in one continued series of numbers, commencing and terminating with each session.”

(v. 9 Journal of the House of Representatives, pages 166-167, December 8, 1813)

For an excellent further discussion of the history and evolution of the Serial Set, see: https://www.fdlp.gov/about-fdlp/mission-history/u-s-congressional-serial-set-what-it-is-and-its-history.

Its name — Serial Set — is a nod to the process of organizing congressional history as it unfurls, through a serial identification system that consecutively numbers every document from each congressional session. Even with this numbered identification system, the sheer quantity and mix of types of materials can daunt or delight any researcher. While legal researchers may be intent in building out a legislative history (see Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction §§48:31-48:3 for an extensive discussion of use of legislative history as an extrinsic aid to interpretation of a statute), other researchers may turn to the Serial Set for other explorations, such as genealogical research, research into environment change, or assessments of social and political history through the details of the records collected over this entire historical period. Due to the enormity of the task, full digitization with advanced search functions has been a wish more than a promise.

Open source sites, such as committee reports collected on Congress.gov (93rd Congress, 1973-1974 forward) or other core congressional materials on www.govinfo.gov  (104th Congress, 1995-1996 forward), offer a first bite, with excellent collections of relatively recent materials, but thin out quickly as time spools backwards. Microfiche, for anyone who has arduously wound through the pages one by one, is hardly the answer any researcher wants to hear.

The full print Serial Set is said to take up more than 15,000 thick bound volumes with an ever-growing density, Congress to Congress. On HeinOnline, the entire framework fits on one screen, containing these subsets:

• American State Papers: 1st-25th Congress (1789-1838)
• Congressional Serial Set: 15th-113th Congress (1817-2014)
• Congressional Documents: 114th-115th Congress (2015-2019)
• Congressional Reports 114th-115th Congress (2015-2019)

The HeinOnline Serial Set database, launched at the end of 2018, is better considered an archive under construction. Phase I provides a complete index of all congressional documents across the full date range of the Serial Set (1789-2018), along with full-text content of the most recent 40 years, 1978-2018.  The indexing element is a useful research stepping stone, since the Serial Set identification number can be one key in helping to locate a document in the morass. Ongoing development of a complete archive of full-text content is in the works, with a projected addition of a million pages a year until the full congressional date range of materials are entirely available and searchable. The Serial Set database fits well with other HeinOnline libraries of gnarly federal materials archives, such as earlier editions of the U.S. Code (from 1925 forward), and archives of the Federal Register (1936 – forward) and CFR (1938 – forward), expanding the ways and means of accessing these materials.

Stay tuned for more posts on the Serial Set and congressional records in the coming weeks.

 


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April Book Drive

Book Drive

Each month we will seek donors to purchase a new title for the Law Library. Here is our Wish List for the month of April. Growing our collection is about so much more than a single book—it is a living demonstration of how the Library expands the public’s access to justice and provides legal practitioners with the tools they need to represent members of our local community. Please see our Donation Guide for more ways to support the Law Library.

The Trial Lawyer
The Trial Lawyer: What It Takes to Win, 2nd ed.
Written by David Berg
$99.95, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64105-110-1

The ABA is offering 25% off with promo code REVIEW19

Representing People with Mental Disabilities
Representing People with Mental Disabilities: A Practical Guide for Criminal Defense Lawyers
Edited by Elizabeth Kelley
$49.95, Paperback, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-64105-176-7

The ABA is offering 25% off with promo code REVIEW19

Internet of ThingsInternet of Things (IoT): Legal Issues, Policy, & Practical Strategies
Edited by Cynthia H. Cwik, Christopher A. Suarez, and Lucy L. Thomson
$89.95, Paperback, 2019
ISBN: 978-1-64105-364-8


Thank you to James Michel for generously donating John Lennon vs. The USA: The Inside Story of the Most Bitterly Contested and Influential Deportation Case in United States History, part of our August 2018 Book Drive.

Thank you to Althea Kippes for generously donating both books from our February Book Drive — California Animal Laws Handbook, 2019 and The Art of Fact Investigation.

Thank you to Brenna Moorhead for generously donating Dred Scott v. Sandford: Opinions and Contemporary Commentary, from our May 2018 Book Drive.

Please take a look at our Book Drive page to see Wish List items from prior months. We are still wishing for these books!


To donate, please contact sflawlibrary@sfgov.org or call (415) 554-1791. We appreciate your contribution!


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April Book of the Month: The Library Book

library-book-medThe Library Book
By Susan Orlean
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian

Fire. Stolen books. Lawsuits. Threats of eviction. Lack of funding.

Susan Orlean writes about nearly everything that a library fears in The Library Book, her fascinating and deeply researched account of the 1986 fire that destroyed the Central Public Library of Los Angeles. Like the best modern public libraries, Orlean’s extraordinary book is difficult to define: The Library Book is a true crime story of an unsolved arson case from the 1980s; a chronicle of the Los Angeles Public Library and her colorful directors, librarians, and patrons; a study of the evolving role of the library in American society; and a memoir of a lifelong reader and library patron. The sprawling cast of characters includes an aspiring actor with a penchant for lying (and perhaps fire); an eighteen-year-old female library director whose father had to walk her home from work because of her age; and a librarian who sneakily read “dangerous” books kept locked in a metal cage in the basement during her lunch break. All of these elements and more come together to form a sweeping panorama of the public library’s unique place in the community and people’s lives.

Just as a library contains different subjects and genres to appeal to a wide audience, so too does Orlean offer something for everyone by looking at the fire and the institution of libraries from various and oftentimes surprising angles. The chapter devoted to the actual April 29, 1986 blaze rivals the intensity of any action film, while her sobering examination of the practice of book burning frames the fire in a new devastating light. Orlean’s search for the possible arsonist is as riveting as any true crime serial, and her journalism background moves to the forefront as she follows suspects, detectives, firemen, city attorneys, and those charged with dealing with the aftermath of the destruction. Library enthusiasts can delight in the (often cheeky) card catalog headings that open each chapter before reading about the inner workings of a modern public library and what librarians actually do all day. Orlean’s book also serves as a history of the library and Los Angeles from the 1800s to the present-day, for a history of a public library will inevitably also be a history of a city and a community.

Orlean writes that “[A] library is as much a portal as it is a place—it is a transit point, a passage.” The same could be said of her book, which serves as both a record of fires and eccentric librarians as well as a portal to thinking about the importance and future of libraries. The book makes a strong case for the idea that libraries are embedded in a city physically and mentally—physically in the form of the actual buildings as well as through the constant transportation of library materials to the different branches, running like veins through the city; and mentally in the knowledge they guard and the memories they hold for both lifelong and casual patrons. Perhaps we are biased, but The Library Book is essential reading for everyone in any community. Find this book in its natural habitat at a public library today, including ours.