February 23, 2009
New Forensic Science Report
A report on the state of forensic science in the U.S. was released February 18 by a National Academy of Science/National Research Council committee. Links to a briefing and press release are here. The report, entitled “Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward,” identifies several shortcomings in U.S. forensic science, including a lack of standards for professionals, facilities, and techniques; misleading court testimony by forensic scientists; and a dearth of research into the limitations of forensic scientific methods. The report’s recommendations include:
- creating a new, stand-alone federal agency, the National Institute of Forensic Science, to establish standards for forensic science practitioners, education, and facilities;
- establishing a standard terminology for forensic experts to use in court testimony;
- providing federal funds for research on the validity, reliability, and accuracy of forensic scientific techniques;
- cutting administrative and funding ties between government forensic laboratories and prosecutors’ offices;
- writing and enforcing a national ethics code for forensic scientists;
- establishing uniform standards for forensic death investigation;
- making fingerprint databases interoperable; and
- preparing forensic scientists for homeland security investigations.
February 18, 2009
Foreclosure Stats from Realty Trac
RealtyTrac has released its January 2009 U.S. Foreclosure Market Report, The Report shows a 10 percent decrease in forecloures from the previous month but still up 18 percent from January 2008. The report indicates that one in every 466 U.S. housing units received a foreclosure filing in January. The report is broken down by state and national level. Data is also available at the individual county level. [RJ]
February 07, 2009
The Tuition Bubble
After years and years and years of tuition increases, can students and parent still afford a college education? Check out Squeeze Play 2009, The Public’s Views on College Costs Today. [JH]
February 04, 2009
Information Errors in Wrongful Convictions
Information errors have contributed to a substantial number of wrongful criminal convictions in New York State, according to a new report, released January 30 by the New York State Bar Association’s Task Force on Wrongful Convictions. See the news release. Among the causes of wrongful convictions identified are prosecution’s failure to correct false testimony and to disclose material evidence to the defense, the loss or destruction of material evidence, the ignoring of material evidence due to the too-early narrowing of an investigation, and errors in eyewitness investigation. The report bases many of its recommendations on empirical scholarly research into these problems. Among the recommendations are that eyewitness identification procedures be reformed along the lines advocated by scholarly researchers, and that evidence be cataloged, barcoded, stored, and preserved using the most current technology. [Robert Richards].
February 03, 2009
Beckman Center Report on Protecting Minors Online
The Berkman Center for Internet & Society has released the final report of the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, Enhancing Child Safety and Online Technologies.The Report finds that "risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline, and that as they get older, minors themselves contribute to some of the problems." The Report recommends that Attorneys General should not "endorse any one technology or set of technologies to protect minors online. Instead, the Attorneys General should continue to work collaboratively with all stakeholders in pursuing a multifaceted approach to enhance safety for minors online. [JH]
January 24, 2009
Trends in College Spending Where Does the Money Come From? Where Does It Go?
A new report entitled "Trends in College Spending Where Does the Money Come From? Where Does It Go?", from the Delta Project, examines revenue spending for nearly 2,000 public and private non-profit colleges and universities (representing more than 75 percent of higher education enrollment). The report looks at recent trends, focusing on the period from 2002 to 2006, providing a comprehensive assessment of higher education finance in the nation. [RJ]
January 17, 2009
The Urban Institute Talks Recession
- Unemployment and Income in a Recession
- Unemployment Insurance during a Recession
- The Role of Welfare during a Recession
- SNAP and the Recession
- The Recession and the Earned Income Tax Credit
- Health Coverage in a Recession
January 08, 2009
Economic Challenges of Digital Preservation
As the amount of digital data continues to grow exponentially, there's a general consensus that we need a plan in place for preservation and dissemination. However, determining "who is responsible" and "who should pay for it" is another story. In Sustaining the Digital Investment: Issues and Challenges of Economically Sustainable Digital Preservation, the Blue Ribbon Task Force on Sustainable Digital Preservation and Access attempts to create a working and sustainable economic model for digital access and preservation. "Decision makers must make access and preservation a strategic and actionable priority, incorporating it into their planning, economic models, and interactions with constituent communities. Without their participation, it will be difficult to build on the critical foundation of digital information required for leadership and competitiveness in the information age." [RJ]
December 29, 2008
Report on the Privileges or Immunities Clause
The Constitutional Accountability Center has released The Gem of the Constitution: The Text and History of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment by David H. Gans and Douglas T. Kendall. The report, according to the announcement, "tells the sad story of the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, which was supposed to be the centerpiece of the Fourteenth Amendment and the critical constitutional language that guarantees the fundamental rights of all Americans. Instead, the Supreme Court wrote it out of the Constitution in 1873 and it has lain dormant ever since. The report argues for a reconsideration of the Clause and its critical role of protecting fundamental rights and liberties." Hat tip to Steven Schwinn (John Marshall, Chicago), Constitutional Law Prof Blog. [JH]
December 23, 2008
American Tort Reform Foundation Releases Judicial Hellholes 2008/2009 Report
Judicial Hellholes, according to the American Tort Reform Association are "places where judges systematically apply laws and court procedures in an inequitable manner, generally against defendants in civil lawsuits." In its seventh annual report, ATRF shines its brightest spotlight on seven areas of the country that have developed reputations for uneven justice. The worst is West Virginia, followed by South Florida, Cook County, Illinois, Atlantic County, New Jersey, Montgomery & Macon Counties in Alabama, Los Angeles County, California, Clark County, Nevada.
December 13, 2008
Human Rights Center's Annual Report
- A Disaster Foretold: Cyclone Nargis and Relief Aid in Burma
- When the War Ends: Priorities for Peace and Justice in Northern Uganda
- DNA Reunification Project
- Examining the “War on Terror”
December 07, 2008
Guantanamo and Its Aftermath: U.S. Detention and Interrogation Practices and Their Impact on Former Detainees
"This sobering report by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley adds a new chapter to the chronicle of America’s dismal descent into the netherworld of prisoner abuse since the tragic events of September 11, 2001. Carefully researched and devoid of rhetoric, it traces the missteps that disfigured an internationally admired nation and tainted its self-proclaimed ideals of humane treatment and justice for all. Through the voices of detainees formerly held at U.S. detention facilities in Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the report provides new insights into the lingering consequences of unjust detention and the corrupted processes developed in the desperate months following 9/11." [RJ]
December 04, 2008
Federal Judicial Center Study on Effects of the Class Action Fairness Act
Just released: Impact of the Class Action Fairness Act on the Federal Courts: Preliminary Findings from Phase Two's Pre-CAFA Sample of Diversity Class Actions. Key findings include:
- Plaintiffs filed motions to certify a class in fewer than one in four class actions;
- Judges granted six motions, in five cases, to certify a litigation class, and all five cases resulted in a class settlement;
- Before a class settlement, plaintiffs typically had to overcome at least one challenge to the merits in the form of a dispositive motion;
- Parties proposed class settlements in twenty-one, or 9%, of the 231 class actions;
- Judges approved all twenty-one proposed class settlements; in three cases approval came only after modification of the settlement;
- Plaintiffs filed motions to remand in 75% of the removed cases and judges granted remand motions almost 70% of the time, resulting in the remand of more than half of the removed cases;
- Voluntary dismissal was the most frequent disposition of cases not remanded, occurring 38% of the time;
- Motions activity was relatively infrequent in the sample: 56% of the class actions had one or zero motions filed; and
- One in five cases was terminated by the court granting a dispositive motion.
November 30, 2008
A 21st Century Right-to-Know Agenda
The 21st Century Right to Know project, coordinated by OMB Watch, has issued some 70 recommendations to the Obama administration and Congress. The recommendations emphasize the need to move the federal government's information policies into the 21st century by adopting Web 2.0 thinking and strategies. They fall into three categories: National Security and Secrecy; Usability of Information; and Creating a Government Environment for Transparency.
The report, Moving Toward a 21st Century Right-To-Know Agenda, identifies the following Right-to-Know principles:
- An informed public is essential to democracy and can help create a more effective, accountable government;
- Government should commit to openness as a principle, complying not merely with the letter of openness laws but with the spirit of transparency;
- Information available to the public should be defined as broadly as possible, including multiple formats such as electronic communications, audio, photos, and video;
- Exemptions to disclosure should be as narrow and specific as possible – and the burden of proof should lie with the government when exemptions are used;
- Access to records or meetings should not require people to provide name, address, or purpose for seeking access except in specific and narrow circumstances;
- Government should make greater use of redaction to release partial documents when it cannot provide full disclosure, as opposed to withholding the entire record;
- Information should be made available in a timely manner and should be accurate, complete, and authentic;
- Interactive technologies can improve access and use of information while decreasing long-term costs; and
- To the extent government outsources functions, contractors should comply with openness requirements.
November 26, 2008
Money Wins Congressional Elections
Stating the obvious, the Center for Responsive Politics found that in 93 percent of House of Representatives races and 94 percent of Senate races the candidate who spent the most money ended up winning. Details. [JH]
November 25, 2008
Tort Costs Up Slightly in 2007
Tort costs in the United States rose by 2.1% in 2007, according to the 2008 Update on U.S. Tort Cost Trends from global professional services firm Towers Perrin. The $5.1 billion climb from 2006 costs marks the first cost escalation since 2005 and comes on the heels of a 5.6% decline in 2006. From a statistical standpoint, the U.S. tort system cost $252 billion in 2007, or $835 per person — $9 per person more than in 2006. The 2008 report analyzes U.S. tort costs from 1950 through 2007, with projections through 2010.
Among the report's key findings:
- Overall economic growth in 2007 was 4.8%. As such, the ratio of tort costs to gross domestic product (GDP) shrank in 2007, marking four consecutive years of a decline in the ratio. Since 1950, growth in tort costs has exceeded growth in GDP by an average of approximately two percentage points.
- The total tort costs from commercial lines in 2007 increased 1.0% over 2006. However, the 2007 costs were below the levels seen in each of 2003 through 2005. The reduction from those prior years appears to be attributable to a reduction in the number of claims.
- The smaller increase in commercial tort costs can be attributed in part to asbestos. Insured asbestos losses increased approximately $1.2 billion in 2007. This was lower than the comparable increases in 2004, 2005 and 2006 ($7.3 billion, $7.0 billion and $1.8 billion, respectively).
November 20, 2008
NAWL Releases 2008 Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms
The National Association of Women Lawyers's 2008 Survey on Retention and Promotion of Women in Law Firms finds that women are still underrepresented at top levels of large law firms, paid less at every stage of practice than male lawyers, and promoted to equity partner less often than men As the Report puts it:
[I]f a client were to enter a conference room of 50 first year associates in the average large firm, about 23 (almost half) of the associates would be women. In contrast, if that same client were to enter a conference room of 50 equity partners in the average large firm, only eight equity partners would be women.
- Compensation. Male equity partners earn on average over $87,000 a year more than female equity partners.
- Partnership Track: Women constitute 48% of first and second year associates, a percentage that approximates the law school population. There is a small fall off at higher levels of the associate ranks, with women constituting 45% of mid"level associates and 44% of 7th year associates but women constitute only 34% of of-counsels, 27% of non-equity partners, and fewer than 16% of equity partners.
- Firm Governance. The average firm’s highest governing committee counts women as only 15% of its members – and 15% of the nation’s largest firms have no women at all on their governing committees. Only about 6% of law firm managing partners are women.
November 16, 2008
New Report Warns of Dangers of Escalation in the U.S.-Iran Confrontation
"In it s waning months of power, the Bush administration has advanced a variety of escalating pressures against Iran that could trigger an unintended confrontation and tie the next president’s hands, argues retired Air Force Colonel Sam Gardiner in a new paper for The Century Foundation. Among them, he writes, are covert operations through proxy groups inside Iran.
In Dangerous and Getting More Dangerous: The Delicate Situation between the United States and Iran, Gardiner suggests that the U.S. policy on Iran is “in conflict with itself.” He writes that on the public side, the United States is working to change Iranian behavior by insisting that the Islamic Republic stop nuclear enrichment, stop involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, and stop support of groups such as Hezbollah." [RJ]
November 04, 2008
How Might a President McCain or Obama Affect the Composition of the US Court of Appeals?
In The Brookings Institution report, What Will the Presidential Election Mean for the U. S. Courts of Appeals?, Russell Wheeler predicts that federal appellate judges by Republican presidents could rise to 74% if Senator John McCain wins the presidency, or give Democrats a 56% majority in appointments if Senator Barack Obama prevails. According to the report, an Obama presidency could shift Republican dominance on 10 of 11 circuits, to give Democrat appointees a majority in seven circuit courts. Currently only the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has a slight majority of Democrat-appointed judges.
See also LLB's earlier post, Bush Leaves His Stamp on the Federal Appeals Court Bench. [JH]
Project Makes Transparency Recommendations for Next President
"More than 100 groups and individuals from across the country have been working collaboratively to develop recommendations for the next president on how best to improve federal government transparency. The effort, the 21st Century Right to Know project, was organized by OMB Watch, and it involves organizations and individuals from across the political spectrum. A draft set of recommendations is now available for review and endorsement."
The draft report currently consists of five chapters:
- Chapter A — Introduction: describes a brief history of government openness tracing back to the Continental Congress and the current status of government transparency, which has seen many threats but also some improvements.
- Chapter B — First 100 Days: depicts the need for major reforms in light of the current state of excessive secrecy and restricted public access and provides five recommendations for the president to immediately undertake.
- Chapter C — National Security and Secrecy: provides specific recommendations to addresses the increase in government secrecy that has occurred under the excuse of national and homeland security concerns.
- Chapter D — Usability of Government Information: focuses on recommendations for how interactive technologies can make information more easily accessed and used by the public, including protecting the integrity of information and use of best formats and tools.
- Chapter E — Creating a Government Environment for Transparency: addresses recommendations for incentives and other shifts in government policies and mechanisms to encourage transparency.