Kurt X. Metzmeier's blog
Last year I took a class at the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft on creating shrines for el dia de los muertos, traditionally celebrated November 2 and 3 in Mexico and parts of the U.S. The class was taught by my friend Suzanne Martino, a gifted assemblage artist. I opted for whimsy over sentiment, celebrating the beloved White Castle on Bardstown Road whose closing in 1988 put a headstone on my and many of my friends' (extended) youth and slacker existence.
Suzanne has since returned to Colorado, but as a remembrance (and because assemblage is so fun), I decided to construct another shrine for 2009. This time I focused on an area of both professional and personal interest, the history of the U.S. Supreme Court. The Day of the Dead Shrine for Deceased Justices was first conceived to honor the nine dead men (the host of women justices—all three of them—are still living) who I would nominate to the Supreme Court of the Dead. However, as my plans germinated an image of Justice Roger Taney seated in ermine robes intruded into my thoughts, demanding that I create an Infernal Court to balance the eminent nine above it. An artist is only a subject of his creations, so I obliged, and constructed a diptych of two constrasting visions of Justice.
The Blessed Nine include John Marshall Harlan, Thurgood Marshall, William Brennan, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., Harry Blackmun, Benjamin Curtis, Robert Jackson, John Marshall, and is anchored (of course) by Louis D. Brandeis. The selection had some clear standouts (Brandeis, J. Marshall, Holmes, Jackson), but I acknowledge that some are quirky picks; Curtis, a Dred Scott dissenter, is there in order to keep an eye on the diabolical Taney.
The composition of the Lower Court is also somewhat personal, made up of Taney, author of the Dred Scott opinion that not only denied blacks their humanity, but also served as the intellectual first shot of the Civil War, as well as all of the Four Horsemen—James McReynolds, George Sutherland, Willis van Devanter, and Pierce Butler—whose conservative philosophy attempted to hold back workers rights, consumer regulation, and the New Deal. They may have been nice men (van Devanter likely was, McReynolds--a racist, anti-Semite and misanthrope--was certainly not), but their jurisprudence was not to my liberal liking and I’m the guy with the paintbrush, Alene’s Tacky glue and Exacto knife. The makeup of this court is only five justices--leaving it in the hell of a permanent minority in dissent.
A few of the photos are displayed here; for other more detailed shots see my Flickr site: http://www.flickr.com/photos/kentuckyhistory/sets/72157622554185727/
Beloved early Internet icon GeoCities died today at the age of 15, slowly smothered by its adoptive parent Yahoo. Web pioneers fondly remember its rich neighborhoods, from the geeky confines of SiliconValley and Area51 to the bohemian districts of Soho, SouthBeach and SunsetCity. There they learned the power and joy of personal publishing, even if it only concerned the question of whether Abe Vigoda was dead or alive, or the relative cuteness of their and their friend's cats. It was preceded in death by the HMTL 1.0 Stylesheet, the blink tag and the dancing baby animated gif (shown on the right). It is survived by hundreds of amateur webmasters, thousands of web-bloggers, Facebookers and Twitterers, and the enduring the idea of Internet freedom.
I myself never had a GeoCities page, having had access to a variety of university webspaces since I first learned to code HTML way back in 1995, but I fondly remember many pioneer sites hosted there. For typical tributes see: The End Of Geocities – A Farewell! and So long, GeoCities.
Marking one of the more dramatic reforms in the British legal system, the new Supreme Court was sworn in yesterday. Replacing the Law Lords on their ridiculously high benches, the new high court is more eye level but no less grand in gold trimmed robes and their £60 million new courtroom in the old Middlesex Guildhall. The establishment of the new court fulfilled a long delayed Labour Party promise, although critics claim it was "dreamed up over a glass of whisky" by Tony Blair to replace the old Lord Chancellor as high court judge with Lord Falconer, Blair's old roommate. Nonetheless, it establishes more independence in the court system in a nation with fewer formal checks-and-balances than any other common law nation.
Photo: Online Daily Mail
On September 22, the United States Postal Service will release a series of four new postage stamps commemmorating great United States Supreme Court Justices, including one featuring our namesake Louis D. Brandeis. The other honorees are William Brennan, Felix Frankfurter, and Joseph Story. A story in Legal Times discusses the offering and notes that Thurgood Marshall's son will be at the dedication, along with Chief Justice John Roberts. The selection is a bit odd (three 20th c. justices matched with the very 19th c. Joseph Story). The USPS website describes the collection, and gives bios documenting the prominence of each of the justices, but isn't completely clear on why why these four were picked.
Despite the existence of stamps issued for truckloads of presidents--even such nonentities as Millard Fillmore & John Tyler, both honored, perhaps ironically, in 1938--few Supreme Court justices have had the distinction of being memorialized on small, lickable pieces of gummed paper. John Marshall (1894) was the first to travel the mails, followed many years later by Harlan Fiske Stone (1948), John Jay (1958), Charles Evans Hughes (1962) and Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. (1968). Hugo L. Black's mug (1986) graced packages of New Wave UK imports in the 1980s and the visage of Earl Warren (1992) was affixed to love letters traveling to wannabe brides in the former Soviet republics. Thurgood Marshall (2003) was likely the first self-adhesively stamped justice. Together, they numbered only eight Supreme Court related stamps for the first 200 years of the republic.* (And this counts John Jay, who is more known as a diplomat than for his brief time on the Court).
Let's hope this SCOTUS stamp trend continues until the third branch (including even its lesser lights) is as well represented as the more dangerous branches, and to the day that I can put a Sherman Minton on my outgoing eBay package alongside a Warren G. Harding. That would, indeed, be a good Constitution Day present.
* This accounting, for what it is worth, based on Wikipedia, "List of people on stamps of the United States," viewed Sept. 17, 2009.
I’ve been so busy lately with dealing with the law library flood, prepping for my legal research class, and winding up some writing projects, I’ve been a little blank on blog topics. However, a discussion of the federal court system in my LR class today recalled a really cool (to law geeks at least) blog I discovered this summer, Circuit Splits <splitcircuits.blogspot.com>. Maintained by Professor A. Benjamin Spencer of the Washington & Lee University Law School, it is a great resource for generating ideas for law review pieces, law review student notes, and bar association magazine articles. I've also mined it for examples to use in the classroom. I can also imagine SCOTUS watchers seeking to handicap the Supreme Court's selection for cert based on its data.
Spencer, a Civil Procedure specialist, also authors the Federal Civil Practice Bulletin <http://federalcivilpracticebulletin.blogspot.com>.
Photo from Professor Spencer's Official W&L bio.
Hearings of the Senate Judiciary Committee begin today. The committee will decide whether to recommend that the full Senate confirm President Obama's nomination of U.S. Circuit Court Judge Sonia Sotomayor to fill the vacant seat that David Souter held prior to his retirement at the end of the Court's business in June. They will be televised in their entirety on C-SPAN.
C-Span also has an interesting poll on its website that covers the American public's general knowledge of the Court [Link to PDF]. A recent CBS Poll finds that 62% of Americans are undecided on the Sotomayor nomination; the C-Span poll gives some reasons why that might be the case. C-SPAN found that 49% of American cannot name single Supreme Court justice. Only half know that the court has nine justices and 59% couldn't name the first woman to the high court. Regarding Sotomayor, 57% could not even name who Obama nominated.
The Founders tried to insulate the Supreme Court from the whims of the mob. They have succeeded--the mob couldn't pick a justice out of a line-up if he or she was wearing robes and carrying a gavel!
Yesterday's touching memorial service ends one chapter in the story of Michael Jackson, but the story is by no means over. The stage is likely to shift from the Staples Center and Forest Grove to the courts of California. There may be dozens of actions arising in coming months, but for the fan of celebrity law, I think four areas are worth watching:
Case 1: X. v. Estate of Michael Joseph Jackson.
Although the 2002 will currently before the court seems well-drafted and clear as to Jackson's intentions, there appears to be some tension between the Jackson family and the two men that the will names as executors, John Branca, Jackson's lawyer, and John McClain, a music executive. It is possible that other wills may surface and that the family may challenge many of the tough decisions that need to be made over the coming months. The estate has a lot of creditors, and must figure out what to do with obligations over Jackson's planned tour. Nonetheless, there is huge value inherent in the Michael Jackson brand; one need only look at the example of the Elvis Presley estate and its postmortem success to see the potential. Executors will need to balance the need to pay up the estate's debts while preserving the potential for huge future income for the estate (and its beneficiary, the Michael Jackson Trust). At all costs, they need to preserve Jackson's intellectual property rights and regain control over Neverland. If the executors appear to be selling core assets essential to the future earnings of the Jackson Trust, the family will likely try to intervene. Branca, the lawyer that engineered Jackson's purchase of a stake in the Sony/ATV Music Catalog, an asset reportedly worth $2 billion, is well placed to pull off the delicate balancing act, but there are lots of pitfalls.
Of course, the family is only the most likely of several routine suits by creditors against the estate for debts, real and imagined, and perhaps a few from persons purporting to have familial ties. Of course, the arrangement Jackson chose, a narrowly drafted will that rolls estate assets into a trust, is the best defense against the out-of-the woodwork wife and lost-lost child.
Case 2: In RE Michael
The Michael Jackson Trust (MJT) (a revocable living trust ) is the named recipient of the will and while the details are secret, press reports indicate that Jackson's children will receive a 40% share, his mother, Katherine (not his father) also receives 40%, and charities take 20%. Reportedly, the charities are not listed in the trust document, but are to be selected by the trustee(s). Who the trustees are is likely to determine if there are future conflicts; if it is Branca and McClain, as at least some reports have speculated, there might be trouble. In particular, the trustees need to make sure that the charities chosen conform to Jackson's vision, not the interest of the trustee(s).
Case 3: In the Matter of P.M., K.M. and P.M..
Debbie Rowe, presumptive mother of Jackson's first two children, never terminated her parental rights under California law and could challenge the court's grant of temporary custody to Katherine Jackson, Michael's mother. Regarding Jackson's third child, it is possible that a surrogate mother might appear and claim rights. Reports indicate that Rowe is at least considering such a course and California law gives her strong legal rights, as a presumed mother, towards a a grant of some form of custody. Nonetheless, there are hurdles; she has not had contact with the children for many years and she reportedly has signed documents abjuring her rights. There is also the possibility that she is not the biological mother; if so the Jackson lawyers likely have signed surrogacy agreements in their files. Even greater obstacles exist for the unnamed surrogate mother. Nonetheless, the financial and life style that goes with managing the inherited wealth of these wealthy minors may be irresistible.
Case 4: State
of California v. Doctor ... [for
the murder of Michael Joseph Jackson]
Was Jackson's death a case of [dramatic pause] murder?! Without a cause of death and tox reports still in the lab, the facts are murky, but what is (and, frankly, has long been) clear is that Michael Jackson has been ill-served by shadier elements of the medical community, one of whom might have killed him. Currently, California authorities are looking into the activities of five doctors. If Jackson died while a doctor or medical technician was administering anesthesia for the medically unsound purpose of treating a sleep disorder, that person's actions may be considered to be murder under California law. There is a very interesting ALR Annotation relating to this topic. (Yes, that is probably a sentence that could only be uttered by a law librarian). The annotation, Homicide: criminal liability for death resulting from unlawfully furnishing intoxicating liquor or drugs to another, 32 A.L.R.3d 589, focuses mainly cases involving the provision of illegal drugs from a dealer, but I think the case for homicide is even greater if, as appears possible here, the drug is provided by a physician who administers the drug. Most of the cases involve the felony-murder doctrine, because the drugs like heroin are per se illegal, an issue that may or may not be involved in the Jackson death (depending whether the doctor properly prescribed them). However, a resort to the felony-murder doctrine is not necessary if the doctor is at the scene and shows the requisite malicious itent (which in California can be inferred from evidence of wanton disregard for life). The annotation shows that many courts have upheld murder convictions for situations at least similar to what has been posited here.
Of course, these scenarios may not play out, or other legal issues will be raised. Nonetheless, I think it will be a long time before legal commentators on CNN, Fox and TruTV stop talking about Michael Jackson and his legal affairs.
I'm somewhat embarassed to jump on the MJ media blitz, but as a librarian I like primary documents:
The documents of the Michael Jackson Family Trust referenced in the will are not (yet) public, but the beneficiaries are reported to be Jackson's three children and his mother.
In a per curiam decision*, the Minnesota Supreme Court found that Coleman attorneys "did not establish that, by requiring proof that statutory absentee voting standards were satisfied before counting a rejected absentee ballot, the trial court's decision constituted a post-election change in standards that violates substantive due process." Moreover, the Coleman "did not prove that either the trial court or local election officials violated the constitutional guarantee of equal protection." The court also found that no statutory requirements were violated in the process and that the trial court had not abused its discretion in its exclusion of evidence and its use of election day figures in one precinct in which ballots were later lost.
Thus the court found that "Al Franken received the highest number of votes legally cast and is entitled under Minn. Stat. § 204C.40 (2008) to receive the certificate of election as United States Senator from the State of Minnesota."
Link to decision: http://www.mncourts.gov/opinions/sc/current/OPA090697-6030.pdf
UPDATE: Coleman has conceded.
*That is an unanimous, unsigned 5-0 opinion. Of the seven judge panel, two judges had previously recused themeselves.
Today is the the last day of the 2009-09 Supreme Court term and a decision is expected in the New Haven firefighters case (Ricci v. DeStephano), a case appealed from Judge Sotomayor's Second Circuit and one that may figure in her nomination hearings. (Two other cases are still unresolved).
It is also the last day for Justice David Souter, who is retiring to his quiet home in New Hampshire. Expect to seea more comprohensive and analyticl surveys of his time on the court in coming months.
SCOTUS Blog <http://www.scotusblog.com/wp/> will be live blogging the session, starting at 10:00 a.m.