I read an interesting article from the Scientific American blog this morning, The Secrets of Storytelling: Why We Love a Good Yarn. As the article states, “Psychologists and neuroscientists have recently become fascinated by the human predilection for storytelling. Why does our brain seem to be wired to enjoy stories? And how do the emotional and cognitive effects of a narrative influence our beliefs and real-world decisions?”
As a legal writing professor, the most interesting part of this research is the way it is confirming, with good evidence, what good litigators have long recognized: “stories have a unique power to persuade and motivate, because they appeal to our emotions and capacity for empathy.” I try to teach my students to think about the role of narrative in their legal analysis from the beginning of their work with a legal problem. Of course, legal arguments must be based upon the law, but the best legal arguments are the ones that find a legal backbone for an appealing story. (We are fortunate to have on the faculty at Marquette a leading scholar who has written extensively about narrative in legal discourse, David Papke.)
If you are interested in reading more specifically what the science shows, you could start with the “Happily Ever After” section of the article I am discussing, which discusses a few recent findings. Some law professors are studying this stuff, too. Kathryn Stanchi from Temple University (who had a long and strong litigation practice before going into teaching) has written two good articles on the subject: The Science of Persuasion: An Initial Exploration and Playing with Fire: The Science of Confronting Adverse Material in Legal Advocacy.
Over the course of the six years I have taught here, the Law School’s technological resources have gotten better and better. For instance, every classroom in which I teach now has equipment that allows me to project documents onto a screen at the front of the classroom, working on edits as we discuss them in the classroom. I can project from the web as I discuss legal research tools, such as the law library’s helpful start page. I can play audio or video files for the class, such as tapes of oral arguments from oyez.org or from the Wisconsin Supreme Court site for my appellate writing and advocacy class.
Most recently, with the help of our IT department I have been using digital recording technology (a headset microphone and audacity software) to record some of my instruction and make it available for students to work through at their convenience. The podcasts are especially effective for material that some students need more help with than others, such as citation, grammar and punctuation, or editing for conciseness. Last semester, my students’ responses to the podcasts was overwhelmingly positive.
The pioneer podcaster among the legal writing faculty was Alison Julien, who, I understand, has moved on to “webcasting,” i.e., digital videorecordings of her instruction.
The Open Door Church has sued the Sun Prairie (Wis.) Area School District in federal court in Madison. The complaint alleges that the district has adopted a broad policy permitting community groups to use the district’s facilities. However, the district seems to have adopted a policy of permitting waiver of rental charges for all potential users, except religious groups. As a result, the church has paid a fee for using a school classroom for weekly meetings of a club for children, while a variety of other groups, allegedly engaging in similar but nonreligious uses, were not charged.
Although the district has now changed its policy to require that all groups be charged, it has grandfathered those users for whom fees have already been waived, thus perpetuating any unconstitutional distinction between religious and nonreligious users. Continue reading “The Door’s Open, But the Ride It Ain’t Free”
The Sixth Circuit decided an important ERISA preemption case yesterday, Associated Builders & Contractors, Saginaw Valley Area Chapter v. Michigan Dep’t of Labor & Economic Growth, No. 07-1639 (6th Cir. Sept. 16, 08) ,concerning the continuing validity of state apprenticeship laws in light of ERISA.
From the Daily Labor Report today (subscription required for full article):
The Employee Retirement Income Security Act does not preempt a Michigan law that sets ratio and equivalency requirements for apprentice electricians, the Sixth Circuit rules in lifting an injunction issued in 1992 that barred the state from enforcing the apprenticeship laws.
In ruling that the Michigan Department of Labor and Economic Growth can now enforce the ratio and equivalency requirements set out in the state’s electrician apprenticeship law, the three-judge appellate panel finds that the state law imposed mandates on apprenticeship training programs, but those mandates did not affect ERISA-regulated concerns.
Continue reading “ERISA Preemption and State Apprenticeship Laws”
My colleague Kali Murray has a new working paper on SSRN, First Things, First: A Principled Approach to Patent Administrative Law. Kali analyzes a controversial recent decision from the Eastern District of Virginia in Tafas v. Dudas. In the Tafas decision, currently on appeal in the Federal Circuit, the lower court rejected new rules adopted by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office that limit the ability of patent applicants to file continuation applications. As Kali demonstrates, Tafas opens up deep questions about the extent to which the PTO is subject to normal principles of administrative law. Kali thinks it is indeed time to engage in a fundamental reconsideration of the relationship between patent law and administrative law. Her paper concludes with some helpful suggested principles to guide such a reconsideration.
It is now beyond question that the use of automotive safety belts goes a long way to reducing the number of injuries and deaths occasioned by auto accidents. When those belts are combined with the air bags in newer models of motor vehicles, the survivability of motor accidents increases greatly.
It is somewhat of an historical anomaly that while auto manufacturers were required by law to install safety belts in new vehicles starting about the middle of the last century, the same laws did not mandate the use of those belts by vehicle occupants. A strong case can and has been made that regardless of statutory mandate, a reasonable person of ordinary prudence would make use of available automotive belts. Since most states now require safety belt use, e.g., Wis. Stat. § 347.48(2m), that argument is no longer necessary. Thus the legislatures have established a standard of care.
However, an example of the lobbying power of the plaintiffs’ personal injury bar may be seen in the fact that many state belt use statutes contain provisions limiting reduction of an auto accident victim’s damages if he or she did not use an available safety belt. For example, Wis. Stat. § 347.48(2m)(g) provides that damages may not be reduced by more than fifteen percent. Continue reading “Legislative Usurpation of Jury Deliberations”
With the closing of Bill Patry’s Copyright Blog, there’s a distinct absence of copyright wonkery on the web. So I will occasionally do my best to chip in. Today’s case raises the following possibility: Suppose you run a business heavily dependent on a certain software program. And suppose the owner of that program keeps writing you cease and desist letters, saying that your copy is infringing and that each passing day accumulates more actual damages, as well as your profits attributable to the infringement. You want to clear this cloud from your business, and heaven forfend, if you are found to be infringing, put a cap on the damages. But let’s suppose the owner hasn’t gotten around to actually registering the copyright yet. Can you sue for a declaratory judgement action?
In Weitzman v. Microcomputer Resources, the Eleventh Circuit said no. That intolerable situation can persist until the owner finally decides to sue you instead.
Continue reading “Copyright Catch-22”
Following on the heels of yesterday’s post on United States v. Smith, the Seventh Circuit issued another opinion considering the use of prior convictions to enhance a sentence. In United States v. Jennings, the court held that an Indiana conviction for resisting a law enforcement officer could be considered a “crime of violence” for purposes of a career offender enhancement under the federal sentencing guidelines. As I explained yesterday, the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Begay v. United States has altered the framework courts must use in determining whether a prior conviction counts as a crime of violence. In Smith, the Seventh Circuit interpreted Begay such that a crime of negligence and recklessness, even though it may result in serious injury, can no longer be considered a “violent felony” for purposes of the Armed Career Criminal Act. Although Begay (like Smith) involved an ACCA sentence enhancement, Jennings makes clear that the Begay standards also govern sentence enhancements under the career offender guideline. At the same time, Jennings seems to conduct the Begay analysis in a considerably less rigorous manner than Smith. Continue reading “More From the Seventh Circuit on the Scope of “Crime of Violence””
From mlive.com, comes this First Amendment retaliation case that reminds me of the old days of public employee free speech rights before the Garcetti decision of the U.S. Supreme Court eviscerated free speech protection for these employees in 2006.
Hughes v. Region VII Area Agency on Aging, 07-1570 (6th Cir. Sept. 8, 2008) considered the claims of a former public employee who alleged that she was fired for her conversations with a local newspaper reporter. Because defendants did not claim that she spoke in accordance with her official duties, Garcetti v. Ceballos, was found inapplicable.
Instead, the court concluded that the trial court was in error and the plaintiff spoke on a matter of public concern protected by the First Amendment when she discussed with a newspaper reporter issues concerning a number of incidents relating to the former executive director of the agency, including alleged sexual harassment, a lawsuit settlement, and other turmoil surrounding the agency. Continue reading “Public Employee Enjoys Rare First Amendment Retaliation Success”
On Friday, in United States v. Smith, the Seventh Circuit held that a conviction in Indiana for criminal recklessness could not be used as a predicate offense for a fifteen-year mandatory minimum sentence under the Armed Career Criminal Act. Ordinarily, felons found in possession of a firearm face a maximum sentence of ten years. However, the ACCA raises the minimum to fifteen years for felons who have at least three prior convictions for “a violent felony or a serious drug offense.” The Seventh Circuit’s decision to vacate Smith’s ACCA sentence last week illustrates the importance of Begay v. United States, in which the Supreme Court held that DUI does not count as a “violent felony” for ACCA purposes. Prior to April, when Begay was decided, Seventh Circuit precedent indicated that a felony conviction for criminal recklessness counted; now, in light of Begay, the Seventh Circuit has adopted a new approach. Continue reading “Seventh Circuit Narrows Reach of Armed Career Criminal Act”
On Friday, the Virginia Supreme Court handed down its revised decision in Jaynes v. Commonwealth, an appeal of a criminal conviction under Virginia’s anti-spam statute. The defendant, Jeremy Jaynes, was at the time of his arrest one of the most prolific spammers in the world, sending at least 10 million e-mails a day using 16 high-speed data lines, according to prosecutors. He used his e-mails to sell dubious software products, raking in $400,000 to $750,000 per month.
Jaynes argued that Virginia’s anti-spam statute violated the First Amendment. The statute prohibits sending “unsolicited bulk electronic mail” after having intentionally falsified the e-mail header information, i.e., the information indicating the source of the e-mail. That’s a little different than your average spam statute, which typically prohibits only “unsolicited commercial e-mail.” According to the unanimous Virginia Supreme Court (four members of which switched their votes on rehearing), prohibiting non-commercial bulk e-mailers from forging the header information violates the First Amendment right to speak anonymously.
Continue reading “Court Finds First Amendment Right to Forge E-Mail Headers”
In a fascinating case decided this week, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals affirmed the suppression of a video recording apparently showing a husband having sexual intercourse with his wife, a stroke victim who was unconscious and lived in a nursing home. See State v. Johnson (Appeal No. 2007AP1485-CR, 9/11/2008). The husband was charged with second degree sexual assault, a class C felony, which can result in imprisonment up to 40 years. The offense occurs when a defendant “has sexual contact or sexual intercourse with a person who the defendant knows is unconscious.” Wis. Stat. § 940.225(2)(d). The statute further provides that “A defendant shall not be presumed to be incapable of violating this section because of marriage to the complainant.” Wis. Stat. § 940.225(6). Continue reading “Privacy Interests in Extremis”