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December Book of the Month: Corporations Are Not People

Corporations Are Not PeopleCorporations Are Not People: Reclaiming Democracy from Big Money and Global Corporations
By Jeffrey D. Clements
Reviewed by Aaron Parsons, Reference Librarian

In Corporations Are Not People, author and San Francisco Law Library MCLE speaker Jeffrey Clements argues for and enlists readers’ help in passing a Constitutional Amendment to overturn Citizens United. This 2010 Supreme Court decision invalidated or weakened campaign finance laws like McCain-Feingold, and has allowed billions of dollars in corporate funded influence and “attack ads” to drown out average citizens’ voices, ideas, and opinions, in favor of narrow and powerful moneyed interests. This corporate influence, Clements argues, produces an anathema to the democratic protections that were written into our Constitution “of the people, for the people, and by the people.”

Clements discusses similar historical upswings of organized corporatism and traces the current tide as the long-term effect of a push back against environmentalists beginning with the first Earth Day in 1970. The corporate response was an organized attempt to curtail environmental and other regulation, and was led by Lewis Powell—a corporate lawyer and tobacco corporation executive, who would take a new wave of corporate activism onto the U.S. Supreme Court where he wrote corporation-favoring precursor cases to Citizens United, such as First National Bank of Boston v. Bellotti. Under Powell’s influence, corporations “gained vastly increased political power at the expense of average citizens.”

But what is a corporation, and what are corporate rights, asks Clements? He says that, strangely, the definition of a corporation is left vague and described in “word clouds” in Citizens United and other decisions that Justice John Paul Stevens called “glittering generalities.” These generalities allow corporations, as government created entities, to wear sheep’s clothing at the same table that people enjoy, where they are protected by laws, including the Bill of Rights. Clements provides statistics showing the billions spent on lobbying and on saturation advertising in elections by a handful of corporations. He argues that those efforts promote the interests of a few giant corporations at the expense of both conservative and liberal points of view.

Clements offers many resources and avenues to get involved in changing government to work more effectively for the people instead of for a few massive corporations, including his organization, American Promise, that seeks to enact a 28th Amendment to the Constitution and is backed by an increasing number of states, politicians, and Americans from across the political spectrum.

Corporations Are Not People was generously donated to the Library by Mr. Clements.

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Book Review: The Case of Rose Bird

Rose BirdThe Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts
By Kathleen A. Cairns
Reviewed by Richard Schulke, Reference Librarian

The Case of Rose Bird: Gender, Politics, and the California Courts is a timely look at political activism aimed at members of the Judiciary. It recounts the circumstances that led to the removal of Rose Bird as Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court.

This book begins by looking at Rose Bird’s early triumphs during high school and law school, followed by her milestone achievements as the first female law clerk for the Nevada Supreme Court, the first female deputy public defender in Santa Clara County, and the first woman to hold a cabinet position in California.

The book follows Bird’s appointment to the position of Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court in 1977 by a then forty-year-old Governor Jerry Brown—she was both the Court’s first female justice and its first female Chief Justice—and then a series of three attempts to recall her. The attempts ultimately succeeded, and in November of 1986 she was the first Chief Justice of California to be recalled by the voters.

The author examines the then-current politics that made Bird a lightning rod—her liberalism, gender, and the perception that she was soft on crime. The author also takes an in-depth look at Bird’s political opponents and the take-no-prisoner attitude that ultimately resulted in her downfall through political machinations. It is as chilling now as it was then.

The description of Bird’s final years as a broken person battling unsuccessfully against medical issues and early death is a sad ending to her story.

Current events make clear that the issue of “Judicial Politics” is still a hot potato. We recently witnessed both the removal of Judge Aaron Persky following his controversial decision to impose a sentence of only six months for a Stanford student convicted of rape, and the political maneuvering during the confirmation of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. This fascinating exploration of Rose Bird and the turbulent beginning of judicial politics in California is still just as relevant today.

The Case of Rose Bird was generously donated to the Library by John Kelly.


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November Book of the Month: Tax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the Elderly

Tax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the ElderlyTax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the Elderly
By John J. Regan, Rebecca C. Morgan, David M. English & H. Amos Goodall, Jr.
Reviewed by Ruth Geos, Reference Librarian

In June of this year, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg announced that she doesn’t plan to retire for at least another five years, when she will be 90. She is one not defined by her age, but by the force of her being, good health, and personal strength.

For the rest of those who are looking ahead to retirement or facing changes in their way of life, finances, health, and control as they age, no book would be a better start than this one volume. It has no fancy cover, no pictures, and no forms. But it does contain a wealth of information aimed at both individuals looking for answers within the maze of legal and financial issues that arise, and attorneys developing the highly specialized practice of Elder Law with practical techniques and insight into the intertwining of issues and family context. Indeed, the very organization of the book keeps both parts of the practice clearly in sight. Each chapter begins with a short synopsis of the topic, with the kind of basic questions everyone wants to know (such as, how does a ROTH IRA differ from a traditional IRA? See § 2.06), and then expands into a full analysis of the type of asset protection, governmental or private benefit program, along with legal and psychological issues, and citations to statutes, regulations, cases, and other authority for additional research. It is an impressive source for both attorney and client.

Individual chapters address the major areas of law and top areas of concern: Social Security Benefits; Veterans’ Benefits; Private Pensions; Income Tax; Housing Concerns; Property Management during Incapacity; Health Care Rights and Decisions; Nursing Homes; Guardians and Conservators, Estate Planning, and Elder Abuse. Each topic includes a thorough summary of rights, a clear organization and analysis of the distinctions within a complex benefits program, such as Social Security, SSI, or Medicaid, which provides a clarity that is hard to find—not too simplified to be useful, and not just litigation-based to limit the kind of information that a full counseling requires. Tax issues are folded in as an intrinsic aspect of each topic, and a separate chapter on Financial Planning includes an extensive checklist to both assist clients and to aid the attorney in being comprehensive in making suggestions and building a strategy together.

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The authors consistently emphasize the role of communication and counseling. This defined approach is infused with a depth of empathy and psychological awareness of the fact that the primary goal of most clients is to maintain personal autonomy over their lives, and that the financial and legal issues that come up should be approached with that goal of empowerment. The publication is bookended by a first chapter on counseling the client and an introduction to the special focus required for elder law issues—including the need to create a productive atmosphere in the office to best exchange information—and ends with a last chapter on ethical issues and representation. Throughout, the authors describe building a relationship between attorney and client where the attorney provides information not only on the specific issue brought to the meeting, but also includes other useful information and resources, such as how to organize documents, disaster planning, and information on local community and agency services, senior centers, and other supportive organizations. It sets a high standard for the type and level of competence needed for an elder law practice, including a deep and wide knowledge about private and governmental benefit programs, legal and tax issues, financial planning—all connected to a wider social context, for the fullest representation possible.

For individuals bravely looking ahead on their own, this is also a source to light the way.

Tax, Estate, and Financial Planning for the Elderly is available in print at the San Francisco Law Library. A wide range of other elder law materials, including CA-specific treatises and various model forms can be found on the San Francisco Law Library’s LibGuide to elder law—or ask a Reference Librarian.


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October Book of the Month: To End a Presidency

End PresidencyTo End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment
By Laurence A. Tribe and Joshua Matz
Reviewed by Tony Pelczynski, Reference Assistant

In a recent New York Times book review of an entirely different book, law professor Josh Chafetz identified a nascent literary strain of Constitution-focused popular books that has proliferated since the 2016 presidential election: the “this-book-is-about-timeless-constitutional-truths-not-about-Trump-wink-wink subgenre.” To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment, by Laurence A. Tribe and Joshua Matz, is no such book. Its first line reads: “Impeachment haunts Trumpland,” and from there, pedal is firmly put to metal. There is no winking in To End a Presidency—it is crystal clear whose presidency the book’s title is contemplating.

While the topic of presidential impeachment is almost always politically polarizing, if not politically motivated (at least in contemporary times), Tribe and Matz deftly and skillfully run through impeachment’s Constitutional framework and history with a minimum of partisan fireworks. While impeachment is enshrined in the Constitution, a removal option reserved for “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors” committed by high-ranking officials, the Framers left the process largely undefined. As the authors point out, this may be chalked up to the usual series of legislative compromises and accommodations that underlie any such attempt to hammer out a foundational legal document. But in large part, this was also by design, as the Framers understood that as the United States grew and evolved, actions that might constitute impeachable offenses in 1789 might not look the same in, say, 2018 (and vice versa).

Tribe and Matz hold lucid opinions regarding the topic of Donald Trump’s impeachability, and they are not hesitant to express them. However, while the book’s pace is quick and the tone urgent, the authors repeatedly remind the reader that even though the threat of impeachment has, in recent decades, been treated as a political tool, no president has ever been directly removed by the impeachment process, and so we simply do not know what the implications of such a removal might be (of course, Richard Nixon likely came the closest to removal, but resigned before the impeachment process could actually run its course). Whatever one thinks of Trump, the authors seem to be saying, and because impeachment is such a grave option, we ought to think long and hard before invoking the process in a fit of partisan pique. As they note, there are other ways of obstructing the President’s agenda (including Congressional action/inaction), short of the “nuclear” option of impeachment.

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Of course, in the modern era, the gravity of the impeachment process has never slowed down Congressional calls for its implementation. Prior to Nixon, presidential impeachment attempts were relatively rare. Post-Nixon, the specter of impeachment has been invoked against every subsequent president, with varying degrees of seriousness and plausibility. From calls to remove Gerald Ford for his pardon of Nixon, to attempts to strip Barack Obama of his presidency for the supposed “birth certificate issue” (Blake Farenholtz) and what the authors term claims of “unspecified ‘thuggery’” (hello, Michele Bachmann!), Tribe and Matz spotlight the seemingly never-ending parade of modern-day partisan calls for impeachment. While such demands have most often functioned as a form of political grandstanding, the impeachment process became truly weaponized during the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, a weaponization that has taken root in American politics, and from which, the authors fear, the American political process may never fully recover.

With impeachment talk currently permeating any discussion of Trump’s presidency, apparently within even Trump’s own administration (see the New York Times’ recent “I Am Part of the Resistance” anonymous op-ed; or reports of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s attempted recruitment of Trump cabinet members willing to invoke the 25th Amendment), those advocating for, or considering, Trump’s impeachment would be wise to peruse To End a Presidency, before the United States heads down a road from which it may never be able to turn back. If, at some point in the near future, impeachment proceedings become inevitable, due to either partisan tribalism or a genuine presidential threat to the nation and its rule of law, one hopes that the authors’ calls for caution and contemplation will have been heeded. In a time of inflamed political passions, Tribe and Matz have written a sober and well-researched discussion of the history surrounding, and the pitfalls of blithely invoking, a wrenching political process with which the nation has had little actual experience.

To End a Presidency was generously donated to the Library by Suzanne P. Marria.


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Book Review: The Clean Water Act Handbook

Clean Water Act 4thThe Clean Water Act Handbook, 4th
Edited by Mark A. Ryan
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian

With current attacks on clean water protections for rivers, lakes, streams, and other waters still making headlines, the Clean Water Act (CWA) is as relevant today as ever. Learn more about one of our most important environmental law statutes in The Clean Water Act Handbook (4th), edited by Mark A. Ryan. The contributors reflect a thoughtful balance of public and private sector attorneys, all experts in the CWA, and topics range from the broad (enforcement) to the narrow (calculating Total Maximum Daily Loads in accordance with section 303(d)). The handbook begins with the historical background of the CWA, tracing its origins from the Rivers and Harbors Appropriation Act of 1899 (the first federal statute governing water pollutions control) to the 1972 act itself, which was passed in response to a flood of litigation concerning sources discharging pollutants, as well as growing public awareness. Once grounded in the historical context of the act, the book then moves on to tackle the essentials of the various collaborative federal and state programs which have risen up to regulate water pollution.

nature water blue abstract

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The purported goals of the CWA are eliminating pollutant discharges and providing fishable and swimmable waters, and the handbook addresses each item and related issues in turn, including explanations on implementing regulations and guidelines. The threshold (and still contentious) question of what constitutes “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) which the act protects gets its own chapter, as do the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES), Publicly Owned Treatment Works (POTWs), Section 311 Oil and Hazardous Substances Spills, the types of activities considered “discharges of dredged or fill material,” enforcement, whether civil judicial, civil administrative, criminal, or citizen suits, and how the CWA applies to federal facilities. In the absence of congressional amendments, the scope of the CWA is still being discussed by the courts, and later chapters discuss the powers and limitations of judicial review, as well as the influence exerted by successive administrations in Washington.

Even if you live in an arid, landlocked part of the country, the CWA still matters since the act affects the economy, industry, politics, technology, and much more. This handbook serves as both a practical tool for practitioners as well as a good introduction for the interested citizen to this ever-evolving statute. Though the CWA hasn’t been amended since 1990, the act is still heavily litigated, debated, and reinterpreted, so staying on top of changes is crucial. Come read this and other environmental law titles (such as The Clean Air Act Handbook) at the Library today!


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September Book of the Month: The Clean Air Act Handbook

Clean Air Act 4th

The Clean Air Act Handbook (4th)
Edited by Julie R. Domike and Alec C. Zacaroli
Reviewed by Courtney Nguyen, Reference Librarian

The air we breathe may be free, but that doesn’t mean it still isn’t regulated. Nearly five decades old, the Clean Air Act (CAA) remains one of the most significant pieces of environmental legislation in the United States, and it is still the only available tool for regulating greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change. To help practitioners and concerned citizens alike understand this complex statute, the Library has The Clean Air Act Handbook (4th), edited by Julie R. Domike and Alec C. Zacaroli. The contributing authors bring their collective years of public and private sector experience and knowledge of the CAA, and many were even involved in the development of the very statutes and regulations discussed in the book. From the beginning of modern air pollution control laws in the postwar era, to the minutiae of current permitting processes, this book covers the entire act in twenty comprehensive chapters. Some of the topics discussed include National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), the Visibility Protection Program designed to protect scenic vistas in our state parks and wilderness areas, State Implementation Programs (SIPs), Hazardous Air Pollutants (HAPs), and civil and criminal enforcement. Perhaps of particular interest to Californians are the chapters about global climate change/greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and the regulation of motor vehicles, including the seminal 2007 Supreme Court case Massachusetts v. EPA. The authors also point you towards related documents, such as the legislative history of the CAA or the EPA’s administrative records, which can be found for free online or maybe even at your local law library.

photo of blue sky

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The authors believe that practitioners who master the basic CAA policies and tools available, as laid out in the book, will find solutions to most CAA problems. Though intended as a reference resource and tool for CAA practitioners and the more general environmental practitioner in need of a quick CAA tutorial, the handbook is clear and straightforward enough to appeal to any interested citizen as well. You will gain a solid foundation for understanding environmental current events (of which there seem to be many), and will learn to tell your HAPs from your SIPs.

The Clean Air Act is the intersection of law, politics, science, technology, economics, and everyday life, and changes can happen very quickly or possibly not at all. The act affects both the regulated/corporate community and the public, and anyone with computer access can participate in rulemakings, monitor workshops, apply for a permit, watch webcasts, and send emails to EPA and state agency staff. The editors stress that this book is merely a snapshot of the act in time since the EPA regularly issues new regulations and guidance, and the courts continue to shape the law in the absence of congressional action. So use this book as a starting point. It could give you something to think about the next time you take a breath.


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August Book of the Month: Litigation in Practice

Litigation in PracticeLitigation in Practice
by Curtis E. A. Karnow
Reviewed by Michael Stoler, Reference Assistant


The Honorable Curtis E.A. Karnow has been a judge on the San Francisco Superior Court since 2005, after 28 years as an assistant U.S. attorney, a clerk, and a lawyer in private practice. He has authored the Rutter Group Guide Civil Procedure Before Trial, for which all California litigators owe him a debt of gratitude, and has spoken here at the San Francisco Law Library. Litigation in Practice, published in 2017, is a compilation of articles he had previously published in law journals, with some additional material. He starts with the premise that “while judges remember what it is to practice law, most lawyers have little idea of what it is to be a judge.” So he wants to “bridge that gap,” and give guidance to attorneys from his judicial perspective.

The book is a mix of the practical and the theoretical. Having asserted in his introduction that “law is what happens in the courtroom,” he devotes his first chapter to rules for conduct before the bench. Be polite. Be prepared. Don’t waste the judge’s time or otherwise show disrespect. He discusses how to submit and argue motions, select and treat jurors, and present evidence.

blur close up focus gavel

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The next chapter, on the use of statistics and probability, is fascinating and requires careful reading. Karnow cites examples of claims made in courts about the chances of some event occurring, and then dissects them to show why they don’t hold up mathematically. The next few chapters discuss legal epistemology, based on philosophy and logic: the one on settlement conferences refers to game theory, and one on legal analysis uses theories of categories to argue that really, any case has something in common with every other. The last chapter discusses legal education, how in this country it went from teaching practical skills to emphasizing academic, theoretical ones.

Karnow is a keen observer of the legal system. Attorneys will benefit from reading through this book. And litigators in general might find it will change their thinking about their profession and its processes, and hence, how they practice them.