Just the Facts

By Victoria Szymczak, Director of the Law Library

During the past year, a lot has been made of “fake news.”  Even if the news isn’t exactly “fake,” writers present facts in a way that may garner approval or outrage from their readers.  Newsworthy facts are accompanied by a narrative to provide context, and it is the narrative that creates the spin.  The curious reader may be left wanting to know just the facts.  Fortunately, there are some outlets that will satisfy those cats.

USAFacts.org is the brainchild of former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer.  Content consists of freely available information organized into a single platform.  To start off, the landing page for USAFacts.org presents a graphic showing you how much money the U.S. government took in (5.2 trillion) and how much it spent (5.4 trillion) in 2014.   You can browse the broad categories and then narrows down to smaller sets.  For example, if you follow the trail for revenue collected from payroll taxes, we learn that the U.S. government collected $228.2 billion for Medicare in payroll taxes.  On the other side – money spent – we can follow the trail in Wealth and Savings to see that we spent $511.6 billion (net of premiums) on Medicare.  You can also search for facts.  Searching for Presidential Campaign Contributions will yield results for 2014 ($924,000,000) and 2012 ($1,008,000,000).  This is a growing, and incomplete resource but it is easy to use and gets to the point quickly.

The Law Library subscribes to a database of statistics called Data Planet which is significantly larger than USAFacts (for the moment).  Data-Planet Statistical Ready Reference is designed to allow users to quickly navigate the billions of points of data contained in the repository, representing ~5,000 datasets covering thousands of geographic entities. With Data-Planet users can quickly search and view charts, maps, and rankings of time series among other filters.  Data Planet’s advanced search feature that allow you to tailor your search by category, state, and country.  For example, a search for solar energy consumption yields data from 1960 to 2014.  Using the advanced search feature, we can limit the results to Hawaii which tells us that we consumed 10,277,000,000,000 BTUs of solar energy in 2014 compared to 1,347,000,000,000 BTUs in 2000.

If you are savvy enough, you might be able to tap into government sources directly.  The gateway to government stored statistics is at https://www.usa.gov/statistics.  In addition to the federal sources, you can find links to local and state statistical gateways.  For example, if you select Hawaii from the state resources and follow the link to the Corrections Department, you will learn that 1,620 incarcerated men are being held at the Saguaro, AZ Correctional Facility and 2,954 incarcerated men are being held at jails and prisons in Hawaii.  Many of the larger, federal databases are more difficult to pinpoint and decipher, which makes the above two resources more friendly in some instances.

It does not take much to check the facts yourself.  So, don’t be lazy!

Expanded Assistance to Justice Portal Available to Hawaii Public

Legal service providers continue to find creative ways to use technology to expand assistance to justice efforts. Starting March 2017 the Hawaii Consortium of Legal Service Providers launched an online comprehensive legal services portal that guides people in need of civil legal help to the most appropriate organizations and resources. It has been designed to be a great first place for those seeking help in civil matters (non-criminal).

From the portal users will find brochures, videos, do-it-yourself online court forms, virtual learn-the-law courses, and other online legal resources. This portal is ideal for public librarians, social workers, the courts, and other state agencies.

You can find links to this portal and many other resources on the library website at http://library.law.hawaii.edu/public-patron-services/#resources.

For more informaton about the Portal see http://www.legalaidhawaii.org/hawaii-legal-services-portal.html.

Celebrate the 14th Amendment on May 1st – Law Day

By Roberta Woods, Reference and Instructional Services Librarian

Law Day 2017 The 14th Amendment Transforming American DemocracyRepresentative John Bingham of Ohio, who Justice Hugo Black called “the Madison … of the Fourteenth Amendment,” wrote the text of Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment. This section includes the due process, equal protection, and citizenship clauses, which, today, are at the heart of many of the most important U.S. constitutional protections. Bingham’s use of “privileges or immunities” is explicitly drawn from the language of Dred Scott (Scott v. Sandford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857)) and is intended to fundamentally reject the case.

Ratified on July 9, 1868, the Fourteenth Amendment is one of three Reconstruction Amendments. The Thirteenth Amendment, abolishing slavery, was ratified in 1865; the Fifteenth Amendment, prohibiting the federal and state governments from denying citizens the right to vote based on that citizen’s race, color, or previous condition of servitude, was ratified in 1870.

The 14th Amendment covers a number of important topics in its different clauses, including:

  • U.S. citizenship (providing for birthright citizenship)
  • The privileges and immunities of citizens
  • Due process (including both substantive and procedural)
  • Equal protection under the law
  • Enforcement of laws

The Fourteenth Amendment greatly expanded the protection of civil rights to all Americans and is cited in more litigation than any other amendment. Through a doctrine known as incorporation, it is the reason that many of the protections of the Bill of Rights have been applied to shield us against state action. Previously, those rights were only enforced against the federal government. Given that most of the law enforcement in this country is done at the state and local level, the importance of having constitutional protections applicable to those proceedings cannot be overstated. Without incorporation, Miranda warnings would not have to be administered by local police, the First Amendment would not stop states from restricting free speech, and an individual would have no Sixth Amendment right to counsel in a state proceeding.

The Fourteenth Amendment has also been the basis for the recognition of certain fundamental rights, including the right to privacy and the right to marry. Many of the laws that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s found their support and inspiration in this amendment. It has also served as the basis for such key Supreme Court cases as Brown v. Board of Education (barring racial segregation in education) and Loving v. Virginia (striking down laws against interracial marriage), just to name a couple. Rarely, if ever, does a Supreme Court term go by without some major decision grounded in Fourteenth Amendment principles.

The information for this blog entry came entirely from the ABA website.  More information is available on the ABA website: http://www.lawday.org.