The living, breathing Second Amendment
By Andrew Longstreth
Over the last few decades, gun rights activists have scored
major wins in legislatures and courts across the country.
Perhaps their most shining achievement came in 2008, when the
U.S. Supreme Court, in District of Columbia v. Heller, found
that the Second Amendment protects an individual's right to
possess a handgun for self-defense within the home.
But the political winds appear to be changing in the
aftermath of the school shooting in Newtown, Connecticut.
Lawmakers who have long supported gun rights are considering new
regulations, such as a federal ban on assault weapons like the
one used by gunman Adam Lanza.
Could the gun rights activists beat back such a ban in the
courts? Perhaps not.
After Heller, the Wall Street Journal's Law Blog, noted, the
U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit
upheld the existing ban on assault weapons in Washington.
Writing for a 2-1 majority in a decision last year, Judge
Douglas Ginsburg found that the ban was justified because the
weapons are "dangerous and unusual" and that a ban is "likely to
promote the Government's interest in crime control in the
densely populated urban area that is the District of Columbia."
Even before the Connecticut shooting, Erwin Chemerinsky,
dean of the University of California, Irvine, School of Law,
argued that a ban on assault weapons is not inconsistent with
Heller, which was about the right to handguns. "The court was
very clear that this is not an absolute right, and nothing in
the court's opinion implies that there is a right to have all
forms of weapons," he wrote in September.
Jeffrey Toobin of The New Yorker appears to agree that a
federal ban would be upheld, but not for legal reasons.
Political power was the basis for the Heller decision, and
politics would lead the court to uphold a ban on assault
weapons, according to Toobin. "In other words, the law of the
Second Amendment is not settled; no law, not even the
Constitution, ever is," he wrote.
By Dan Brillman
In the ongoing debate about the value in the marketplace of
a law degree comes the following from the Wall Street Journal
(registration required): news about unusual elective courses
that seem more in line with freewheeling undergraduate
exploration than with specialized legal education.
On the extreme end of the spectrum are courses featuring the
Chinese meditative practice of Qi Gong and the culture of
Icelandic blood feuds. The latter is offered at the University
of Michigan to teach negotiation skills, the law school's dean,
Evan Caminker, told the Journal.
Proponents argue that such courses are valuable for the
legal world that awaits them, but opponents, many of whom
maintain that the third year of law school is superfluous, say
that schools need to turn out lawyers who are ready to pass the
bar and start practicing.
Supreme Court justices have also weighed in, with Justice
Antonin Scalia telling an audience earlier this year that the
courses sometimes have less to do with educating the student
than catering to the interests of the teacher. "Professors like
certain subjects that they're writing a book on, so they teach a
course in that subject," he said at the University of Wyoming.
Death sentences decline
By Suhrith Parthasarathy
The number of death sentences handed down in 2012 by U.S.
courts is the second-lowest since the penalty was reinstated in
1976, according to a new study released by the Death Penalty
Information Center. Seventy-five people were sentenced to death
this year, a 75 percent decline from 1996, when there were 315
such sentences. The report by the Washington-based non-profit
organization also states that convicts on death row were
executed only 43 times in 2012, representing a 56 percent
decline from its peak in 1999.
Only nine states carried out executions last year, with four
(Texas, Oklahoma, Mississippi and Arizona) responsible for over
three-quarters of the total nationwide. This year also saw
Connecticut become the fifth state in five years to abolish the
death penalty. California came similarly close in a ballot
measure in November, with 48 percent of the electorate voting to
repeal capital punishment in the state, which hasn't carried out
an execution in nearly seven years.
The report also highlights a few cases where a death row
inmate was released after being found innocent, such as Damon
Thibodeaux, who, after extensive investigation that included DNA
testing, became the 141st person to be exonerated and freed from
death row since 1973.
When lawyers just say no
By Erin Geiger Smith
For every seemingly ridiculous lawsuit a plaintiff brings,
there are, one assumes, countless others for which potential
litigants couldn't retain a lawyer.
Walter Olson of Overlawyered has pointed out a thread on Reddit that asks lawyers to discuss the "stupidest case" a
potential client has asked them to take. One caveat when
perusing the list: Contributors may not be lawyers, and they
could be making up their tales. But it's still an amusing
Entries include a request for pro bono representation of a
clown who wanted to sue another clown for stealing his street
routine, as well as a neighbor angered by new landscaping at the
house next door that resulted in unwanted pebbles near her
property line. One contributor said a man wanted to sue the
library that had banned him for a single day, and another
mentioned a client who wanted to bring a patent infringement
case demanding damages amounting to "$20 quadrillion dollars
four times over."
Lawyers being lawyers, many of the comments include
discussions about whether the cases might actually be viable.
Alicia Keys sued over "Girl on Fire"
By Caitlin Tremblay
Alicia Keys' new single, "Girl on Fire," is the subject of a
new lawsuit, and no, it has nothing to do with Katniss Everdeen,
the girl on fire in the "Hunger Games."
The song, currently No. 12 on the Billboard Hot 100, caught
the attention of songwriter Earl Schuman, who claims it steals
from his 1962 song "Lonely Boy," according to The Hollywood Reporter.
Schuman's song, which was recorded by Eddie Holman and
released as "Hey There Lonely Girl," hit No. 2 on the Billboard
charts. He says that two seconds, yes seconds, of Keys' song is
identical to his. The lyrics in question? "She's a lonely girl."
There are similarities, but is it enough for a copyright
suit? Schuman was apparently alerted by a music critic, because
his complaint cites a large portion of an article by the critic
Decide for yourself: Find Keys' song here (with the lyrics
in question at 2:26) and Schuman's here.
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