Civility in Politics

Legislators are supposed to argue points of law, but they are supposed to do it in a way that is organized and respectful. However, partisan contention in the federal and state legislatures does seem to have caused increasing rudeness and hostility in our lawmaking process. Minnesota, or at least the Senate in Minnesota, is trying to change that.                                                        200_s

Minnesota Senate Rule 36.8 says “All remarks during debate shall be addressed to the President.”  It’s a common rule found in most state legislatures and in Congress, but two years ago Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk specifically interpreted the rule to mean that senators may not look at each other when speaking. If they do, they are immediately reprimanded. It’s an attempt to bring more decorum back to the Minnesota Senate and force more listening instead of theatrics – no more grandstanding, no angry stare-downs, no shouting matches. You can’t even turn around and treat your colleagues as an audience. Your words have to live on their own merit without visual clues or help.

The basic rule is found in British law as far back as the 1500’s as well as rules discouraging bringing swords to the House of Commons.


“The Constitutional History of England in Its Origin and Development,” Vol. 3 by William Stubbs

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Disaster Relief in Nepal

One of my favorite books is Pico Iyer’s Video Night in Kathmandu. I have thought of that book often over the past week, as the world has watched as Nepal tries to recover from the 7.8 magnitude earthquake that hit the country just before Noon on April 25. A week later, the death toll in NMap of Nepal showing Apr 25 earthquake zoneepal has reached over 6,000 and there are additional fatalities in India, China and Bangladesh. Over 14,000 people have been injured and an estimated 2.8 million people have been displaced. The destruction is unimaginable. It is estimated that 8 million people have been effected.

As with other disasters of this scale, the the world is not only watching but is contributing the massive relief efforts. Within the first couple days, India, China, Pakistan, Australia and the UK had all announced humanitarian relief efforts. Many other countries have now joined the effort. To date, foreign governments have donated over $65 million. On April 29, the UN launched a $415 million flash funding appeal; $7.5 million has been raised to date.

Largely through USAID, the US government has donated $12.5 million to relief efforts and has sent disaster relief teams Los Angeles and Fairfax County, Virginia. Congress established USAID in the Foreign Assistance Act of 1961, Pub. L. No. 87-195, 75 Stat. 424.  to bring US disaster relief and foreign development efforts under one umbrella. The current statutes regarding international disaster relief are found at 22 U.S.C. §§ 2292-2292b.

§2292. General provisions

(a) Congressional policy

The Congress, recognizing that prompt United States assistance to alleviate human suffering caused by natural and manmade disasters is an important expression of the humanitarian concern and tradition of the people of the United States, affirms the willingness of the United States to provide assistance for the relief and rehabilitation of people and countries affected by such disasters.

(b) General authority

Subject to limitations in section 2292a of this title, and notwithstanding any other provision of this chapter or any other Act, the President is authorized to furnish assistance to any foreign country, international organization, or private voluntary organization, on such terms and conditions as he may determine, for international disaster relief and rehabilitation, including assistance relating to disaster preparedness, and to the prediction of, and contingency planning for, natural disasters abroad.

(c) Specific direction

In carrying out the provisions of this section the President shall insure that the assistance provided by the United States shall, to the greatest extent possible, reach those most in need of relief and rehabilitation as a result of natural and manmade disasters.

The current Congress can, of course, pass additional relief. On April 27, HR 2033, To designate Nepal under section 244 if the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit nationals of Nepal to be eligible for temporary protected status, was introduced and referred to the Judiciary Committee.  The bill will grant 18-month temporary protected status (TPS) to Nepalese citizens who have been continuously and lawfully present in the US since April 25. In situations where conditions such as war and natural disaster prevent people from safely returning to their home countries, TPS allows them to temporarily stay in the US, and obtain employment and travel authorization during that time.

When he introduced the bill, Rep. Al Green (TX) said:

“The people of Nepal have suffered a calamitous tragedy, and I think providing TPS is necessary to help them attain a sense of stability in the United States while their country recovers. A great nation does not force people to return to conditions that are unsafe and detrimental to their well-being. A great nation extends the hand of friendship to all during times of challenge and crisis.”

On April 30, the Senate passed S. Res. 163, which

(1) expresses profound sympathy to, and unwavering support for, the people of Nepal, India, Bangladesh, and the Tibetan Autonomous Region of China, who have always shown resilience and now face catastrophic conditions in the aftermath of the April 25, 2015, earthquake, and sympathy for the families of the citizens of the United States who perished in the disaster;

(2) applauds the rapid and concerted mobilization by President Barack Obama to provide immediate emergency humanitarian assistance to Nepal, and the hard work and dedication of the people at the Department of State, the United States Agency for International Development, and the Department of Defense in quickly marshaling United States Government resources to address both the short- and long-term needs in Nepal;

(3) urges that all appropriate efforts be made to secure the safety of orphans in Nepal;

(4) urges that all appropriate efforts be made to sustain recovery assistance to Nepal beyond the immediate humanitarian crisis to support the people of Nepal with appropriate humanitarian, developmental, and infrastructure assistance needed to overcome the effects of the earthquake;

(5) expresses appreciation for the ongoing and renewed commitment of the international community to the recovery and development of Nepal;

(6) urges all countries to commit to assisting the people of Nepal with their long-term needs;

(7) calls on the Government of Nepal to take all necessary actions to enable a faster and more sustainable recovery; and

(8) expresses support for the United States Embassy team in Kathmandu, DART members, other Federal agencies, and the non governmental organization community in the United States, who are valiantly working to assist thousands of people in Nepal under extremely adverse conditions.

The House of Representatives is considering a similar resolution, H. Res. 235.

Kopan Monastary monks delivering supplies after Nepal earthquake

Kopan Monastery monks delivering relief supplies in Kathmandu.

In addition to the official US government response, individuals in the US continue to donate to relief efforts. USAID has provided a list of organizations that are helping in Nepal. No doubt this is not a complete list. USAID does not endorse any specific charity and encourages donors to learn about the organizations they donate to. The Federal Trade Commission has good advice for vetting charities. Their page includes links to the main charity evaluators, Better Business Bureau’s (BBB) Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch, and GuideStar. The IRS offers Exempt Organization Select Check that allows donors to search for and find some information about exempt organizations.

Just one week after the earthquake, the situation in Nepal is desperate. Relief efforts will continue for many years into the future, though much of the world’s attention will focus somewhere else in a little while. If you stumble upon this blog several months, or even years, from now, please check on Nepal

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Happy Birthday Library of Congress

The Library of Congress celebrates its 215th birthday today. Though not the oldest library in the United States (this honor belongs to the Darby Free Library in Darby Pennsylvania which has operated continuously since 1743), the Library of Congress (LC) is certainly the largest library in the United States. The Library of Congress is only slightly smaller than the British Library which claims the world title.

Just like many libraries today, the fledgling Library of Congress struggled to survive in its early years. Created on April 24th, 1800 (U.S. Statutes at Large v.2, chapter 37, section 5), the Library of Congress grew slowly until it was ransacked and burned by the British in 1814. Later that same year ex-president Thomas Jefferson sold his personal collection of some 6500 books to congress in order to restart the library. Jefferson’s vision of what the Library of Congress should be would have a permanent influence on the development of the library.

Parts of the Library of Congress burned again in 1851 and much of Jefferson’s original collection was lost. It was not until 1897, almost 100 years after it was created, that the Library of Congress moved into its current home in the Thomas Jefferson Building (originally called the Library of Congress building). Now LC employs over 3000 people, has an annual operating budget of about $618 million and houses 160,775,469 physical items in its various collections.

Thomas Jefferson building

The Library of Congress contains an incredible variety of resources including the world’s largest law library, vast photographic, audiovisual, and music collections, telephone books, comics, maps, non-English materials, and much more. You can take the online tour here.

The Library of Congress also contains a number of curiosities.

How about the world’s smallest book?

Old King Cole with penny copy (Gleniffer Press)

Or the world’s largest published book?


The Library of Congress has been and remains a major influence on the library development in the United States providing technical support and leadership to the library community. I encourage you to visit the LC website and spend some time browsing their pages. The creation and maintenance of the Library of Congress is a fantastic accomplishment. Happy Birthday Library of Congress!

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Internet Access as a Right


It’s the modern world, so as soon as you wake up in the morning it’s grab your smartphone before you get out of bed, check your Facebook and Twitter, and weather. When you drag yourself out of bed, you probably take the laptop to the breakfast table to read the news, check the bank account, read e-mail, do some more Facebook and Twitter, play a quick game, etc. Personal and family communication, shopping and business transactions, and information and entertainment… our lives are increasingly conducted online, and increasingly we are mobile always connected 24 hours a day never turned off virtual creatures. It’s so normal now that we take it for granted and can’t imagine how we would survive otherwise.

According to, an organization that promotes internet access as a basic human right, 68% of the world does not have internet access. The “digital divide” is the idea of an inequality that prevents those without internet access from being able to fully participate in global society.

not quite the world wide web1

The United Nations has officially recognized the idea of internet access as a human right in conjunction with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“4. We reaffirm, as an essential foundation of the Information Society, and as outlined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; that this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. Communication is a fundamental social process, a basic human need and the foundation of all social organization. It is central to the Information Society. Everyone, everywhere should have the opportunity to participate and no one should be excluded from the benefits the Information Society offers.”[3]

Costa Rica, Estonia, Finland, France, Greece, and Spain have already adopted the idea into their legal systems and have mandated access for anyone who desires internet access, and have had court cases that upheld the opinion that you cannot cut off internet service for non-payment or even in cases of copyright infringement. In South Korea, the most wired country in the world with 98.6 % of the population online and a government supported national broadband system, it is literally impossible to function without internet access.

Basic CMYK

Supporting internet access as a right raises some interesting questions, and it’s important to remember that the model of internet usage here is not the same model as elsewhere. We started with the idea of the home PC, then the laptop, and then on to smartphones, and it’s not unusual for an American household to have a number of these devices all going at the same time. In other places, the model has always been public usage in internet cafes with no connectivity at home, which can also make it easier for governments to control and limit information. In many countries in Africa and Southeast Asia, widespread usage is just beginning by going directly to smartphones and usage is almost entirely by phone.

Ghana_satellite                                                               satellite internet link in Ghana

It’s a complicated issue with lots of questions of best implementation, government involvement and regulation, openness and censorship, criminal activity, security, and business practices, but it seems clear that this is the direction the world is moving in and we need to think of the issues and legal questions now.

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Tracking Legislative Activity

Finding out what’s going on in Montana state legislative sessions has never been easier. Since 1999  both current and past legislative activity can be tracked on the internet. This blog is going to provide some tips on the easiest way to learn how to track Montana legislative activity.

The best place to start is at the legislative webpage 

Montana Legislature_Page_1

This first page is very intuitive and you can explore it without  extra instruction. I want to focus on the heart of legislative activity – the bills. Montana Legislative Services has put together a very useful website called LAWS (Legal Automated Workflow System) that tracks all kinds of bill information and is updated nearly every day  during legislative sessions. LAWS is also retrospective, retaining bill information back to 1999.

From the legislative homepage you can get to LAWS by selecting BILLS on the left side of the screen and then selecting the most current LAWS offering – in this case 2015 LAWS.

LAWS Look Up Bill Information Page_Page_1

For those of you who read the Legislative Intent blog from January 2015, this page should look familiar. We used it to track past session bill information when learning about legislative intent. Today I will put this page to a different use. When you scroll down to the bottom of the page, you will find the following link:

LAWS Instructional Video Library (How-to video demos!)

This link takes you to a series of videos instructing the user how to navigate the LAWS system. The videos are all fairly short, well-illustrated , clear, concise, informative, and show you the LAWS system much more efficiently than I could here with textual descriptions and screen shots.   The longest video of the first two batches is a mere 5 minutes and 11 seconds and many of them are much shorter than that. You can pick and choose which you need to see or just watch them all if you have about 40 minutes.

LAWS Instructional Videos_Page_1

The videos in the first two sections cover basics and search options. You can watch the videos from the legislative website or you can find them on You Tube by going to You Tube and searching for “Montana Legislature LAWS – Basics”, and “Montana legislature LAWS – Search Options”. If the legislative website hangs up, I recommend going directly to You Tube and watching the videos from there. Also, if you elect to watch the videos from the legislative website but find the screen too small, you can go to full screen mode by clicking on the full screen icon in the lower right portion of the embedded You Tube screen.

There is a second set of videos that show demonstrates how to set up a personal account that allows you to focus on particular bills, drafts and hearings, complete with notifications of schedule changes. Depending on how closely you want to monitor legislative activity, you may want to learn how to set up and customize your own account.

The people at Montana Legislative Services, and in particular Jim Gordon, have done a great job presenting this information in video format.

Spring Break is here. Look for the next blog entry on April 10, 2015

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The Courts of Bovine Justice

In my opinion, the strangest trials to take place in the U.S. were conducted under the auspices of the Department of Agriculture. These were the scrub-sire trials held in the Courts of Bovine Justice beginning in the 1920’s.

This was a time when the science of genetics was becoming better understood and the concept of eugenics gained great popularity in the U.S. and Europe. Eugenics is the idea that the human race can be improved by selective breeding and repression of undesirable traits.


The idea fell out of favor after the Nazis carried the philosophy to it’s logical end with horrible results. Before that, from the late 1800’s, when the idea was first proposed by Francis Galton (cousin of Charles Darwin) through the beginning of WWII, eugenics could boast such proponents as Winston Churchill, Margaret Sanger, Linus Pauling, H.G. Wells, Theodore Roosevelt, Herbert Hoover, John Maynard Keynes, George Bernard Shaw, and (of course) Adolf Hitler. The term encompassed everything from prenatal care to forced sterilizations and euthanasia.

America at the time was still primarily an agricultural society and the Department of Agriculture embraced the idea of selective breeding to improve the quality of farm animals. In particular, they were interested in improving the quality of production in the dairy industry. In 1924, the Department of Agriculture produced a pamphlet titled Outline for Conducting a Scrub-Sire Trial. Scrub-sire was a term coined to indicate a “runty” bull with inferior qualities that should not be allowed to breed, like the “runty bull” below.


The pamphlet outlined the procedure for setting up a court of bovine justice to conduct a scrub-sire trial, including instructions for appointing a judge, lawyers, a jury, and a sheriff who would carry out the sentence.


The trial proceeded with witnesses giving testimony, the prosecution and defense lawyers presenting arguments, and the accused was even allowed to take the witness stand to speak in his own defense. Of course, the verdict was always the same….. guilty!


Bndhyk_IQAAmeYi (1)

With the rendering of the guilty verdict, the sheriff was to immediately shoot the offender and detailed instructions were included for conducting the ensuing barbecue or turning the offender into bologna, sausages, and hot dogs. In a variation in a 1928 scrub-sire trial in Weimar, Texas, the accused was sentenced to be fed for 30 days and then used to supply the Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

Apparently, these trials were widespread and common across the country. The Department of Agriculture received 500 requests for the pamphlet in the first month after printing, and it was reprinted in 1934. An Owenton, Kentucky newspaper article boasts of 12 scrub-sire trials conducted in a single day. These trials also could bring the participation of real judges and lawyers, as indicated in this excerpt from an article in the July 1928 Meat and Livestock Digest:

“Before a live audience of 400 stock owners, three purebred bulls from                                      register of merit dams, together with a good cow and her heifer, led a parade                          followed by a scrub bull, a scrub cow, and a scrub heifer. The culmination of the                      event was the execution of the bull found guilty at the public trial after the court                    had reviewed the evidence.

This means of directing public attention to the value of good breeding stock has                       been surprisingly successful in attracting the talents and support of local judges,                     county attorneys, other public officials, and business men.”

Over 30 years of numerous scrub-sire trials, The Department of Agriculture achieved their goal of boosting dairy production and provided a lot of questionable entertainment along the way.


an accredited dairy herd

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The 25 Greatest Legal Movies

Popcorn and movie ticket

Courtesy of digitalart and

It’s the weekend– time to take a hike, go shopping, study, curl up with a bowl of popcorn and watch a good movie. Taking time away from law school is a good thing, but if you fear taking too much time away, why not select a good legal movie? ABA Journal has a list of the 25 best legal movies (or at least the best made before 2008).

ABA Journal selected the films by asking prominent lawyers who also taught film or had a connection to the film industry to nominate their favorite movies ever made about movies or the law. The 25 films selected collectively won 31 Oscars and gathered an additional 85 nominations. It’s a pretty impressive list. My favorites from the list include 12 Angry Men, Philadelphia, A Few Good Men, Paper Chase, and A Civil Action but I have some movie watching to do– there are more on the list that I haven’t seen than there are that I have seen. Lucky for me– and for you– the Jameson Law Library has just purchased the entire collection. Videos circulate for 3 days– perfect for the weekend.

In addition to the top 25, ABA Journal also published its list of honorable mentions. My favorites from that list include JFK, Legally Blonde, Music Box, and North Country. The library does not have all the films on this list, but we do have several and Mansfield Library also has some– check the catalog.

What are your favorite movies on the list? The list is getting a bit old now– what would you add? Comment to this post to nominate your favorites. I would nominate one that didn’t make the list– Snow Falling on Cedars– and one that is newer than the list– The Judge.

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