Research & Litigation
Today, September 18, is the birthday of Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Joseph Story, one of the most important figures in 19th-century American law. For Justice Story’s birthday, we would like to present a select list of Story’s publications in Library of Congress collections. Born in Marblehead, Massachusetts in 1779, Story read law with Samuel Sewall, who later became the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court; he practiced law in Salem, served in the the United States House of Representatives and the Massachusetts state legislature before becoming in 1812, at the age of 32, the youngest person in the history of the nation to be appointed to the United States Supreme Court. In 1829, he became Dane Professor of Law at Harvard University’s Law School.
Story’s stature in his time depended partly on his association with the Supreme Court, and also partly on his association with Harvard University’s Law School. But it was his books - the reputation of which certainly benefited from the prestige of Story’s places of employment – that brought his vision of the law to scholars and practitioners across the nation (Newmyer, p. 822).Nathan Dane, an important Massachusetts attorney, proposed to fund a new professorship for the law school. In addition to having a successful legal career, Dane had served in the Continental Congress, where he had a hand in drafting the Northwest Ordinance; he served in the Massachusetts House of Representatives and the state’s Senate. He had also composed what was at that time the most important treatise on American law at the national level: A General Abridgement and Digest of American Law. Dane’s work was a major financial success, and it was largely from the proceeds of its sales that he was able to endow the professorship that he proposed (Powell, p. 1288-1289). Dane conditioned his donation to Harvard on the hiring of Joseph Story for the professorship. His idea, which he developed with Story and Josiah Quincy (who later became president of Harvard), was that Story should both instruct students and publish works in the spirit of his General Abridgement and Digest. The university and Story agreed to the plan. Story’s teaching duties were to be scheduled so that they would not conflict with his duties at the Court. Meantime, Story was also to compose concise commentaries on the major areas of American law (Newmyer, p. 816). The commentaries were scaled to be no larger than a couple of volumes on each topic so that practitioners could afford to acquire only those books that were relevant to their field. But they were also designed to be a collection of related works that could supply, in their aggregate, a reference set broad enough to be comprehensive.
Story published the first of these commentaries, a work on bailments, in 1832, and he continued to publish at a rate of about one title every year or two until his death in 1845. First editions of these works – nine total – are available at the Law Library of Congress:
Commentaries on the conflict of laws, foreign and domestic, in regard to contracts, rights, and remedies, and especially in regard to marriages, divorces, wills, successions, and judgments. Boston, Hilliard, Gray, and Company, 1834.
Commentaries on the law of bills of exchange, foreign and inland, as administered in England and America; with occasional illustrations from the commercial law of the nations of continental Europe. Boston, C.C. Little & J. Brown; [etc., etc.] 1843.
Commentaries on the law of promissory notes, and guaranties of notes, and checks on banks and bankers. With occasional illustrations from the commercial law of the nations of continental Europe. Boston, C. C. Little & J. Brown; [etc., etc.] 1845.
Story’s Commentaries on the United States Constitution was the most widely discussed antebellum treatise on the Constitution (Powell, p. 1285). It presented a nationalist and pro-business vision of the Constitution that stood in opposition to then-influential theories of the Constitution that emphasized states’ rights and agrarian interests (Powell, p. 1287). The Library has copies of the 1833 Boston edition, the 1833 Cambridge edition, the 1833 edition printed in Philadelphia, and editions printed in 1851, 1858, 1873 and 1891, as well as several editions from the 20th century.
The Law Library has copies of three editions of the Spanish translation of Story’s Commentaries on the United States Constitution by Nicolas Antonio Calvo, 1860, 1881, 1888, the first of which is a presentation copy, signed by the author and with an inscription to the president of Argentina, Julio Argentina Roca.
The Spanish translations are based on a French translation by Paul Odent, first published in in Paris in 1843 – the Library’s copy is from the 1845 edition – to which were added notes from the writings of Thomas Jefferson and Alexis de Tocqueville. Joseph Story met with Tocqueville when Tocqueville came to America, and later felt that Tocqueville never acknowledged he owed Story for his contribution to the Frenchman’s understanding of the Constitution (Powell, p. 1285m n. 2).
Story also published in 1840 an accessible single volume book on the Constitution called A Familiar Exposition of the Constitution of the United States. Boston, Marsh, Capen, Lyon and Webb, 1840 which enjoyed a great deal of commercial success and was printed many times throughout the 19th century. In addition to the 1840 edition, the Law Library owns editions from 1842, 1869 and 1884.Martin v. Hunter’s Lessee, and the United States v. the Amistad. The Amistad case was dramatized in Steven Spielberg’s 1997 film Amistad, in which Justice Story was portrayed by retired Associate Justice of the United States Supreme Court Harry Blackmun. Resources at the Library of Congress related to the Amistad case include:
Trial of the prisoners of the Amistad on the writ of habeas corpus, before the Circuit Court of the United States, for the district of Connecticut, at Hartford, Judges Thompson and Judson, September term, 1839. New York: Published and for sale at 143 Nassau Street, 1839.
Argument of John Quincy Adams, before the Supreme Court of the United States: in the case of the United States, appellants, vs. Cinque, and others, Africans, captured in the schooner Amistad, by Lieut. Gedney, delivered on the 24th of February and 1st of March, 1841: with a review of the case of the Antelope, reported in the 10th, 11th, and 12th volumes of Wheaton’s Reports. New York: S.W. Benedict, 1841.
Argument of Roger S. Baldwin, of New Haven, before the Supreme Court of the United States, in the case of the United States, appellants, vs. Cinque, and others, Africans of the Amistad. New York: S.W. Benedict, 1841.
Story’s son, William Wetmore Story, a successful sculptor, published two volumes of his papers:
Story, William Wetmore, 1819-1895, ed. Life and letters of Joseph Story, associate justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, and Dane professor of law at Harvard University. Ed. by his son, William W. Story … Boston, C.C. Little and J. Brown, 1851.
Newmyer, R. Kent. Harvard Law School, New England Legal Culture, and the Antebellum Origins of American Jurisprudence. The Journal of American History Vol. 74, No. 3, The Constitution and American Life: A Special Issue (Dec., 1987), pp. 814-835.
Presser, Stephen B. Resurrecting the Conservative Tradition in American Legal History. Reviews in American History Vol. 13, No. 4 (Dec., 1985), pp. 526-533. (reviewing R. Kent Newmyer, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic (1985)).
Powell, H. Jefferson. Joseph Story’s Commentaries on the Constitution: A Belated Review. The Yale Law Journal Vol. 94, No. 5 (Apr., 1985), pp. 1285-1314 (book review).
This is a guest post by Jeanne Dennis, Acting Assistant Director of the American Law Division of the Congressional Research Service.
Last Constitution Day, September 17, 2019, the Library launched constitution.congress.gov, a new website for Congress’s official record of the Constitution: The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation. For over 100 years, this Senate document—better known as the Constitution Annotated— has provided to Congress and the public an explanation of every provision of the Constitution and how the Supreme Court’s interpretations of those provisions have evolved over the course of the nation’s history. Since its launch a year ago, the Constitution Annotated website has had over a million visits and millions of page views, educating people across the nation and around the world on the Constitution.
Recognizing the importance of a reliable source of information on the Constitution, one free from political bias, Congress mandated that the Librarian of Congress prepare the Constitution Annotated. The Librarian, in turn, delegated this task to the Congressional Research Service (CRS). Written in plain English by attorneys of CRS’s American Law Division, the Constitution Annotated conforms to CRS’s standards of objective, authoritative, timely, and non-partisan analysis that inform all CRS advice to Congress. To make the Constitution readily accessible to those without legal training, the Constitution Annotated details the historical contexts surrounding Supreme Court precedents and elucidates the various approaches that Supreme Court justices have employed when ruling on constitutional questions. Continually updated, the Constitution Annotated provides an analysis of the Constitution to assist Congress and the public in understanding America’s legal foundation.
While the Constitution Annotated was first conceived in the 19th century, the new website, constitution.congress.gov, brings this essential resource fully into the 21st century. Featuring advanced search tools and a modern user-friendly interface, the website makes the 3,000 pages of the Constitution Annotated fully searchable and accessible to online audiences. Since its launch, the Library has further honed the website, adding new features such as a homepage carousel that highlights key issues, an Updates page to announce recent changes to the content, improved search functionality, and streamlined Browse navigation. The Constitution Annotated also features discussions of emerging constitutional law issues, Library of Congress resources for researching the Constitution, and supplemental resources, such as the table of Supreme Court justices, the table of Supreme Court decisions overruled by subsequent decisions, and the table of laws the Supreme Court has held unconstitutional in whole or in part.
Please celebrate Constitution Day by exploring the Constitution Annotated and sharing it with your friends and colleagues.
The Law Library of Congress is proud to present the report, Regulation of Wild Animals Wet Markets.
This report examines the regulation of “wet markets,” where wild animals or the meat of such animals can be purchased for human consumption. It covers 28 jurisdictions around the world, with a particular focus on sanitary requirements for such markets and the legality of trading in wild animals or wild meat. Wet markets and other types of local or traditional food markets exist in countries around the world and are an important source of food and livelihood for many people. However, they have also been identified as potential or likely sources of outbreaks of diseases or infections that are transmissible from animals to humans, including most recently COVID-19.
This report is one of many prepared by the Law Library of Congress. Visit the Comprehensive Index of Legal Reports page for a complete listing of reports and the Current Legal Topics page for our highlighted and newer reports.
The 2020 Library of Congress National Book Festival will be held online this year on September 25th-27th, giving us the opportunity to interact with patrons across the world who may not otherwise be able to attend an in-person Book Festival. So, while we may not be able to see you in person this year, you can stop by the Law Library’s virtual booth, where we will host a variety of videos on U.S. and foreign and comparative law, as well as some highlights from our Rare Book Collection. We will also be giving away “Library of Congress Law Library: An Illustrated Guide” as a PDF. This book explores the Rare Book Collection of the Law Library, from medieval manuscripts to items with a special connection to founders of the United States.
You can also chat with us via Ask A Librarian Live. On September 26th and 27th, from 9am-5pm, Ann Hemmens and Emily Carr will be available to answer your legal reference questions and any other questions you have about the Law Library’s collections and services. We hope to see you there!
New Report Examines the Regulation of the Sale of Wild Animals and Their Meat in Markets Around the World
When a novel coronavirus was first reported as having been contracted by people in Wuhan, China, in December 2019, there was a lot of discussion about the potential source of the virus. On January 12, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) released a statement saying that “[t]he evidence is highly suggestive that the outbreak is associated with exposures in one seafood market in Wuhan.” Subsequent reporting and studies involved detailed discussions of the sanitary conditions and types of animals sold at the particular market in Wuhan and in similar markets elsewhere, and people became familiar with what may have been a new term for many: “wet market.” This is a broad term that captures many different types of markets, but generally refers to markets, or parts of larger markets, where fresh food, including meat and possibly live animals, are sold and the floor is wet from the water or ice used for cleaning and for keeping produce cool.
Of particular concern in the context of the novel coronavirus and other zoonoses (diseases that can spread from animals to humans) has been the sale of “wild” or “exotic” animals, either alive or the meat of such animals (sometimes called “bushmeat” or “game meat”), at wet markets or other types of traditional markets in different countries. A new report by research staff at the Law Library of Congress, Regulation of Wild Animal Wet Markets, examines aspects of the regulation of such trade, including wildlife protection laws, hunting laws, food safety laws, and market management and sanitation laws. It covers 28 jurisdictions around the world, including countries in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South and Central America, and Europe.
The report demonstrates that there are the different cultural practices and regulatory approaches related to the trading and consumption of wild animal meat. In many of the jurisdictions surveyed, permit systems apply in the context of hunting and selling unprotected wildlife, with some countries also regulating the breeding and raising of wild animals for commercial purposes. There have also been bans on the sale and/or consumption of wild meat, at least on a temporary basis, in several countries in response to certain disease outbreaks.
Governments at the national and/or local level have set up regulatory and inspection systems for establishments that sell fresh food. Three countries covered in the report – China, Indonesia, and Thailand – have specific regulations that apply to wet markets. These include various requirements related to hygiene and sanitation. In some countries, including China and Egypt, certain markets were shut down for a period of time in response to the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak, while other countries, such as India and Pakistan, issued new guidance on health and preventative measures for markets.
Market sanitation, and particularly the regulation of the types of animals or meat that can be sold at such markets, as well as the enforcement of relevant requirements and restrictions, is likely to be an issue of ongoing discussion and concern. The Law Library’s report provides a snapshot of the situation in jurisdictions around the world as they continue to grapple with the current COVID-19 pandemic. The Law Library has published multiple other resources regarding legal aspects of countries’ responses to the pandemic, including on this blog and in the Global Legal Monitor. You can sign up to receive alerts when new blog posts, articles, and reports are published by clicking the “Subscribe” button at the top of this page or on our website at law.gov.
Congress has dealt with issues of voter disenfranchisement on the basis of race throughout history. The question of suffrage for District of Columbia residents in 1844 demonstrated how the enfranchisement of D.C. residents and Black American men was interconnected. In that year, the Senate Committee for the District of Columbia, which held jurisdiction over D.C. from 1816 until 1977, debated a bill (H. R. 437) to extend voting rights – recognized as the “highest political privilege” – to “all free white male citizens of the United States, whether native-born or naturalized, who have attained the age of twenty-one years” living in D.C. (H. Rpt. No. 24, 28th Cong., 2d Sess., at 1 (1844) reprinted in Serial Set Vol. 468.)
The elections to which this bill refers are specific to the District of Columbia: “boards of aldermen and common council, and for all other officers that now are, ore hereafter may be, elective by the people under the charter of said city of Washington.” (A Bill to extend the right of suffrage in the city of Washington, H.R. 437, 28th Cong., 2d Sess. (1844).) “The principle so long struggled for, “no taxation without representation,” may have had a large influence in establishing, for a time, the reverse – “no representation without taxation,”” asserting that granting suffrage to inhabitants of D.C. “will rather be that of surprise that it has been so long delayed.” (H. Rpt. No. 24, 28th Cong., 2d Sess., at 2 (1844) reprinted in Serial Set Vol. 468.)
“A bill extending the right of suffrage in the District of Columbia (H. R. 1)” was introduced by William D. Kelley to the 39th Congress, 1st Session, in 1865, aiming to protect the voting rights of all persons “voting at any election held in the said District on account of color.” Similar to H. R. 437 in 1844, this bill refers to internal District elections. This bill was submitted several years before the ratification of the 14th Amendment (1868) and the 15th Amendment (1870), showing that race was a major factor in suffrage debates in D.C. and throughout the nation. (39th Cong., 1st Sess., H. Report. No. 2 at 1-2 (1865) reprinted in Serial Set Vol. No. 1272.)
In the late 1860s, state legislatures submitted concurrent resolutions in support of this bill. (H. Misc. Doc. 42, 39th Cong., 2d Sess., at 1 (1867) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 1302.) Below is the joint resolution of the Michigan state legislature, submitted in 1867, commending the passage of the bill.
In 1866, the legislature of Vermont referred to the then-Committee on Reconstruction a resolution that there “ought to be in force [laws] in all of the United States guaranteeing equal impartial suffrage, without respect to color.” (H. Misc. Doc. No. 4, 39th Cong., 2d Sess., at 1 (1866) reprinted in Serial Set Vol. 1302.) This document then inspired a joint resolution, meaning that it contributed to the amending of the nation’s legal framework.
Thus, “An Act to regulate the elective Franchise in the District of Columbia” was passed on January 8th, 1867. This Act extended the right of suffrage to “each and every male person…without any distinction on account of color or race.”
The “President’s veto” mentioned in the Resolutions of the Legislature of New York refers to then-President Andrew Johnson’s veto of the bill. President Johnson’s opinion follows:
“Yesterday, as it were, four millions of persons were held in a condition of slavery that had existed for generations; to day they are freemen, and are assumed by law to be citizens. It cannot be presumed, from their previous condition of servitude, that, as a class, they are as well informed as to the nature of our Government as the intelligent foreigner who makes our land the home of his choice.” (S. Misc. Doc. 53, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., at 326 (1886) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 2451)
Johnson also vetoed the 1866 Civil Rights Act, stating:
“Every individual of [non-white] races born in the United States is by the bill made a citizen of the United States. It does not purport to declare or confer any other right of citizenship other than Federal…[i]t does not purport to give these classes of persons any status as citizens of States…[t]he power to confer the right of State citizenship is just as exclusively with the several States as the power to confer the right of Federal citizenship is with Congress.” (S. Misc. Doc. 53, 49th Cong., 2d Sess., at 297 (1886) reprinted in Serial Set vol. 2451)
Johnson’s statement is reflective of the rationale that would perpetrate disenfranchisement practices operated on a state level, as well as the connection between citizenship and voting rights for D.C. residents and Black Americans.
The “Act to protect all Persons in the United States in their Civil Rights, and furnish the Means of their Vindication” passed in 1866, despite Johnson’s veto, and granted citizenship privileges to Black men in the United States. The text both clarified the rights of citizens and prohibited the denial of any citizen these rights on the basis of race: “[S]uch citizens, of every race and color, without regard to any previous condition of slavery or involuntary servitude…shall have the same right….to full and equal benefit of all laws and proceedings for the security of person and property, that is enjoyed by white citizens.” (14 Stat. 27, ch. 31, 39th Cong., 1st Sess., at 27 (1866).) Ratified in 1870, the 15th Amendment guaranteed constitutional protection of voting rights to citizens regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” thereby enfranchising Black men.
Residents of the District of Columbia were granted voting rights in presidential elections in 1961, with the ratification of the 23rd Amendment. More about D.C.’s history of governance and suffrage can be found here.
During the 1st Session of the 89th Congress, Representative Richard W. Bolling of Missouri introduced H. Res. 440, which would become the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The goal of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was “to enforce the fifteenth amendment to the Constitution of the United States” by prohibiting racial discrimination and disenfranchisement in elections. This legislation was monumental in protecting the voting rights of Black Americans on state and local levels. (House Journal. 89th Cong., 1st Sess., 4 January, 1965, 738. reprinted in Serial Set Vol. 12662.)
“For almost a century we have had the 15th amendment, which forbids any State to discriminate in voting on the basis of race or color. That amendment has been allowed to go into desuetude. It must be brought back. That is exactly what the voting rights bill will do-it will put flesh and muscle and sinew on the buried skeleton of this amendment and breathe new life into it.” Emanuel Cellar (NY). “Voting Rights Act of 1965 (H. R. 440).” Congressional Record 111 (1965) p. 15637. (Text from: Digitized Bound Congressional Record 1961-1970).
Tracking both this suffrage story and that of women’s suffrage through the Serial Set brought me a deeper understanding of how bills, laws, and amendments show how histories are interconnected. Stay tuned for the last installment on how the Serial Set pieces together yet another suffrage story!
We want to hear from you! Your feedback is critical to the development of new features on Congress.gov. We hope you will join us for the Congress.gov Virtual Public Forum today at 10 a.m. EDT. Also, please take a moment to fill out this feedback form to let us know how we can better meet your legislative information needs.
In August, we added the Bound Congressional Record for 1983-1994 to Congress.gov. This month we are excited to begin adding committee hearing transcripts to Congress.gov. The first batch includes transcripts for hearings from the 115th and 116th Congresses. The Senate Communications search form now displays historical committee names in the selection list when previous Congresses are selected. In the footer, you will find a link to our revamped Ask A Librarian service, where you can seek assistance with your Congress.gov research and legal reference questions. We have also added a link to the Congressional Web Archive in the footer, an archive that consists of congressional websites dating back to the 107th Congress (2001). You can now use ReadSpeaker to listen to the text of a committee report, and you can also download the audio file of that report. We have also made it easier to link to Congressional Budget Office reports of cost estimates and some committee profile pages now contain historical notes about that committee. You can read the full list of enhancements below.
New – Committee Meetings – Hearing Transcripts
- Committee meetings include full text of hearing transcripts when available.
- Transcripts are available initially for hearings from the 115th and 116th Congresses. Transcripts for older Congresses will be added over time.
- Search results indicate when a committee meeting includes a hearing transcript.
Enhancement – Senate Communications – Search Form
- Senate Communications search form displays historical committee names in the selection list when previous Congresses are selected.
Enhancement – Congress.gov – Footer Links
- Ask a Law Librarian in the footer and on the Contact Us page links to a revamped help service.
- Congressional Web Archive, a new link under Resources, takes you to archived member and committee websites from the 107th Congress forward.
Enhancement – Committee Reports – ReadSpeaker
- Download an audio file to listen to the text of a committee report at your convenience.
Enhancement – CBO Cost Estimates – Improved Display
- Style improvements make it easier to link to each Congressional Budget Office cost estimate.
Enhancement – Committee Profiles – Historical Notes
- Notes may be displayed on a committee profile to provide information about the committee’s history.
Enhancement – Account Management
- We’d hate to see you go, but if you must you can easily close your account from your account settings page.
Constitution Day is coming up on September 17th! We hope you can join us for our Constitution Day event, where Michael J. Murphy, a historical publications specialist from the Office of the Historian for the U.S. House of Representatives, will discuss the lives of the first African American congressmen. Constitution Day is also a great time to explore the Constitution Annotated. This site, created by the Congressional Research Service, provides articles on U.S. constitutional provisions and the leading U.S. Supreme Court decisions that interpret them.
These are the most-viewed bills for the week of August 30th, 2020. All of these bills are from the 116th Congress.1. S.311 Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act 2. H.R.5717 Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act of 2020 3. H.R.6800 The Heroes Act 4. H.R.5383 New Way Forward Act 5. H.R.748 CARES Act 6. H.R.6666 COVID-19 Testing, Reaching, And Contacting Everyone (TRACE) Act 7. H.R.8015 Delivering for America Act 8. H.R.7120 George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020 9. S.3548 CARES Act 10. H.R.8089 Emergency Stopgap USCIS Stabilization Act
This report surveys the models of civic education employed by the education systems of 22 selected jurisdictions around the globe. Most of the surveyed jurisdictions have included in their curricula for Grades 1 through 12 at least one course that features civic education components. Some jurisdictions have introduced special assessment models for testing students’ civics-related skills. The surveyed jurisdictions have varying standards on the training that teachers of civic education courses must receive.
This report is one of many prepared by the Law Library of Congress. Visit the Comprehensive Index of Legal Reports page for a complete listing of reports and the Current Legal Topics page for our highlighted and newer reports.
Join Us on September 24 for a Foreign and Comparative Law Webinar on “Worlds Apart: Legal Responses to COVID-19 in New Zealand and Sweden”
Beginning in early 2020, governments around the world have grappled with how to best respond to the COVID-19 pandemic. New Zealand and Sweden are located worlds apart, one in the northern hemisphere near the Arctic Circle, the other near the bottom of the southern hemisphere. Still, the countries share some similar characteristics: both are relatively small countries (with around five and ten million residents, respectively), with relatively high GDP per capita, and have long-established public health care systems. Their responses to COVID-19, however, are frequently noted in contrast to each other. New Zealand has taken an “elimination” approach, whereas Sweden has become internationally known for possibly pursuing “herd immunity.” As of September 8, 2020, New Zealand had 1,431 confirmed cases, while Sweden had 85,707 confirmed cases. Schools are currently open in both countries, and masks are generally not mandated (apart from on public transport in New Zealand). New Zealand adjusts its response level and, therefore, degree of restrictions, based on the current situation; Sweden states that its limited restrictions and recommendations have longevity and consistency, arguing that the measures imposed can thus be endured for a longer period of time.
To learn more about these nations’ respective responses to the coronavirus pandemic, please join us for the Law Library’s upcoming webinar, “Worlds Apart: Legal Responses to COVID-19 in New Zealand and Sweden,” at 2 p.m. EDT on Thursday, September 24, 2020. This webinar is the latest installment in the Law Library’s series of webinars focused on foreign and comparative law. In this webinar, the discussion will compare the two countries’ overarching policies and approaches, outline the relevant laws, and look at how the two governments have communicated with the public about the pandemic and the approaches taken.
The webinar will be presented by foreign law specialists Kelly Buchanan and Elin Hofverberg. Kelly holds a Bachelor of Laws with Honours and a B.A. in social policy from Victoria University of Wellington. She is qualified to practice law in New Zealand. Elin holds a Master of Laws in International and Comparative Law from The George Washington University Law School and a Juris Doctor equivalent (Jur. kand.) from Uppsala University. She is a member of the New York State Bar and is also qualified to practice law in Sweden.
You can register for the webinar here.
We hope you can join us!
This is a guest post by Kayahan Cantekin, a foreign law specialist in the Global Legal Research Directorate of the Law Library of Congress.
In many countries around the world, discussions on whether and how to reopen schools continue to preoccupy people, especially in light of the unpredictable nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. Here in the United States, these discussions take place against a backdrop of long-continuing efforts to advance civics education reform.
In the meantime, the Law Library’s foreign law specialists and analysts have been doing extensive research on the models of civic education that are employed in national and subnational curricula around the world. The resulting Civic Education Models report is now available on law.gov. The report includes surveys of 22 jurisdictions detailing the format and content of civic education courses or course topics that are offered in national or regional curricula. The jurisdictions surveyed are: Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, England, France, Georgia, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates. The report includes jurisdictions with widely varying approaches to civic education, thus offering interesting possibilities for comparative research.
The report found that a majority of the jurisdictions surveyed have included in their curricula for grades 1 through 12 at least one course that features civic education components. In some jurisdictions, civic education is offered in a stand-alone civics or citizenship course. In others, civic education content is included in a variety of different courses such as social studies, life skills, history, or geography. Jurisdictions that have stand-alone civics courses have mostly placed them in lower and/or upper secondary education.
The report also shows the variety found among jurisdictions with regards to the content of civic education components. In most countries, civics basics such as the governmental system, the organization of the state, political rights, and active citizenship are included in civic education components. These are complemented in some countries with a focus on themes such as peaceful coexistence and democratic tolerance, or national allegiance and integration – variations that might be reflective of differences among countries’ preferred social policies in the governance of pluralism, immigration, minorities, or indigenous peoples. In some jurisdictions, civics components also include topics related to moral education and traditional values. Most jurisdictions have included some topics related to digital literacy in civic education modules.
We invite you to review the information provided in our report. You can also browse the Current Legal Topics or Comprehensive Index of Legal Reports pages for additional reports from the Law Library. To receive alerts when new reports are published, you can subscribe to email updates and the RSS feed for Law Library Reports (click the “subscribe” button on the Law Library’s website).
Eritrea is one of the most difficult African jurisdictions for which to conduct legal research. This is primarily because the country’s laws are not easily accessible. While a few proclamations and notices have been uploaded to various websites piecemeal, there is not a central location where researchers can access the laws of the country for free.
On August 28, 2020, the Library of Congress released a digital collection of the Gazette of Eritrean Laws. This is the first of many legal gazettes moving into the Foreign Legal Gazettes collection on the Library of Congress website. There are 300 individual items in the Gazette of Eritrean Laws collection, consisting of all the proclamations and legal notices Eritrea published since its de facto independence in 1991 through 2017. Metadata has been added to make it easier for researchers to navigate the collection, locate amendments, and find related documents.
The publication of the collection builds on the Law Library’s ongoing collection development efforts. In 2016, the Law Library acquired print versions of the first ever Eritrean Civil Code, Civil Procedure Code, Penal Code, and Criminal Procedure Code. The release also comes at a time in which the global COVID-19 pandemic has made remote research the only available option for our patrons.
This is only the beginning. Additional proclamations and notices will be included in the collection as they become available. Historical items, including laws published during the time Eritrea was under Italian colonial rule, will also be eventually added to the collection to give a comprehensive picture of the evolution of the country’s legal system over time.
Finally, it is important to note that making the collection available would have been impossible without the team in the Library of Congress’s Nairobi Field Office, who worked tirelessly to coordinate the acquisition of the items, as well as the Law Library’s Digital Resources Division and the Library of Congress Digital Collections Management & Services Division who completed all the work to make the documents accessible online.
If you need help researching Eritrean laws, feel free to contact us.
The following is a guest post by Elina Lee, a library technician (metadata) in the Digital Resources Division of the Law Library of Congress.
In honor of Labor Day, we decided to explore the early history of the federal minimum wage as shown through the United States Congressional Serial Set. According to Serial Set Vol. No. 6857 (H. Doc. No. 1676, 63rd Cong., 3rd Sess., at 5 (1915), reprinted in Serial Set Vol. No. 6857), the world’s first minimum wage law was enacted in New Zealand with the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1894.
At that time, New Zealand shipping workers staged a massive strike protesting poor working conditions and low wages. In response, the government created the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act and implemented a minimum wage system on August 31, 1894. The Act settled trade disputes involving strikes, hours of labor, and rates of wages or conditions of work. (Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, No. 229 (1917), in Labor Laws of the United States Series: No. 12, at 35 (1918).)
The second minimum wage law enacted was the Factories and Shops Act in Victoria, Australia on July 28, 1896. The law established wage boards, comprised of equal numbers of representatives of employers and employees, managed by an impartial chairman, who had a deciding vote. These wage boards were set up for each trade or industry and were required to discuss conditions and to determine by agreement the minimum wages to be paid in the various processes and occupations in their own industry. These minimum rates, when fixed and published, were binding on all employers in the industry within the area for which the board was appointed. This procedure was introduced in South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, and became a model for minimum wage legislation in Great Britain and the United States. (H. Doc. No. 1676, 63rd Cong., 3rd Sess., at 104 (1915), reprinted in Serial Set Vol. No. 6857.)
The third minimum wage law was enacted in South Australia on December 5, 1900, and the fourth was enacted in New South Wales, Australia on December 10, 1901. This type of legislation has also been copied by several of the Australian States such as South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania.
The movement for a legal minimum wage in New Zealand, Australia, and Great Britain was a progressive development, and the results of this experiment were referenced in the creation of the United States minimum wage law. The dates of the first enactments are shown in Serial Set Vol. No. 6857 (H. Doc. No. 1676, 63rd Cong., 3rd Sess., at 5-6 (1915), reprinted in Serial Set Vol. No. 6857).
As shown, the minimum wage system movement in the U.S. spread rapidly, resulting in the enactment of minimum wage laws in nine states in 1912 and 1913. Massachusetts passed the first minimum wage legislation in the United States on June 4, 1912, which was affected by the Lawrence textile strike (1912).
In Serial Set Vol. 6170, the Lawrence textile strike report provides the following details:
The immediate cause of the strike was a reduction in earnings, growing out of the State law which became effective January 1, 1912, and which reduced the hours of employment for women and for children under 18 years of age from 56 to 54 hours per week. In January, 1910, through an enactment of the legislature, the hours of this class of employees had been reduced from 58 to 56 hours a week, and at that time the rates of pay for both time workers and pieceworkers were readjusted so that the earnings under the 56-hour week remained the same as under the 58-hour week. (S. Doc. No. 870, 62nd Cong., 2nd Sess., at 9 (1912), reprinted in Serial Set Vol. No. 6170)
The strike in Massachusetts brought national attention to labor legislation elsewhere. Legislation in Massachusetts was followed by similar legislation in eight other states over two years. In California, Oregon, and Washington, the commissions were given authority to fix labor conditions as well as minimum wage rates, and in California and Oregon, to fix maximum hours. In Wisconsin the industrial commission under an earlier enactment fixed maximum hours and labor conditions. In all the other states except Utah the powers granted under these laws were constrained to fixing minimum wages. In Utah only the minimum wage rates were fixed in the act (H. Doc. No. 1676, 63rd Cong., 3rd Sess., at 12 (1915), reprinted in Serial Set Vol. No. 6857):
For minors under 18, not less than 75 cents a day.
For adult learners and apprentices, not less than 90 cents a day, with the learning or apprenticeship period limited to one year.
For experienced adults, not less than $1.25 per day.
The federal minimum wage was introduced in 1938 when Congress passed the Fair Labor Standards Act (Pub.L. 75-718). When the act became effective on October 24, 1938, the minimum hourly wage was $0.25/hour. The federal minimum wage in the United States was set at the current rate of $7.25 per hour on July 24, 2009 and many states and territories have their own minimum wage laws.
In addition to setting a minimum wage, other federal laws have been enacted to prohibit wage discrimination on account of sex or age, such as the Equal Pay Act of 1963 (Pub.L. 88-38), the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (Pub.L. 90-202), and the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 (Pub.L. 111-2).
This Labor Day, we recognize the history of these laws across the globe. The Serial Set contains valuable information about many other topics, both domestic and international. The Digital Resources Division is looking forward to discovering more about them.
On this day in 1945, the most destructive war in human history came to an end when representatives of the Japanese government signed the instrument of surrender on board the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Overseeing the event was General of the Army and Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers Douglas MacArthur. Representatives of the other major powers allied against Japan were also on hand to witness the surrender and sign the instrument.
The war against Japan ended much more suddenly than had been foreseen by allied planners. Extensive Japanese military forces remained deployed outside of the home islands, particularly in China, large parts of which had been occupied by Japanese forces for over a decade. The American campaigns to conquer Iwo Jima and Okinawa had been bitter and costly and caused planners to anticipate significant allied and Japanese casualties in any invasion of Japan. It was thought that the war would not end until 1946, sometime after the invasion of the Japanese home islands and the subsequent intervention of the Soviet Union.
However, the events of the summer of 1945 quickly changed the timetable for the conclusion of the war. In mid-July, the Big Three, President Truman, Marshal Stalin, and Prime Minister Churchill met in Potsdam, Germany to discuss matters concerning Europe, and also the conclusion of the war against Japan. Churchill was replaced mid-conference, after the conclusion of the parliamentary elections by the new prime minister Clement Attlee. On July 26, the conference issued a declaration calling on the Japanese government for the unconditional surrender of its armed forces or face “prompt and utter destruction.”
The events of early August provided a preview as to what prompt and utter destruction would look like. On August 9, as a second atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki resulting in over 35,000 deaths, the Soviet Union also declared war on Japan and began offensive operations in east Asia. What had been an impasse between the Japanese civilian leaders and some of the military leadership over conditions offered to the Allies led to an unusual conference held late that day in the presence of the Emperor. The Emperor expressed his wish for the war to end, agreeing that the only condition should be the preservation of the status of the throne. This condition was immediately ratified by the cabinet and communicated to the Allies. In Washington, D.C., Secretary of State James Byrnes was tasked with writing the response to the note. The response accepted the Japanese note and finessed the question of the ultimate status of the throne by stating “[t]he ultimate form of government of Japan shall, in accordance with the Potsdam Declaration, be established by the freely expressed will of the Japanese people.”
On August 14, the Emperor met again with senior military commanders to discuss the war. A decision was reached to surrender on the basis of the Byrnes note; this decision was immediately ratified by the cabinet and communicated to the Allies. Junior military commanders failed to prevent a prerecorded message by the Emperor announcing the surrender from being aired. The broadcast aired shortly after noon, Tokyo time on August 15. The occupation of Japan began with the arrival of the first U.S. forces on August 28.
The ceremony on September 2, marked the conclusion of the war on all fronts and the beginning of the process of local Japanese military forces in other parts of Asia surrendering to British, Soviet and Chinese forces. It would also lead to the decolonization of the rest of Asia over the next 10 years.
Today’s interview is with Suneewan Creech. Suneewan is a legislative data specialist in the Congressional Research Service (CRS) of the Library of Congress. Before working in CRS, Suneewan worked in the Law Library of Congress. Read her original interview.
Describe your background.
I started my Library of Congress career as a contractor in the Law Library. I worked as a library technician while continuing my education by completing a paralegal degree. I enjoyed my job, which involved processing and preserving foreign legal materials and legislation collected from all over the world. I was exposed to many languages and also the complexity of legal publishing for each type of material. I had a great time in this position. I was able to utilize my background in Russian to process many Cyrillic materials, especially rare materials from the Imperial collection and Yudin library that we are fortunate to have.
Later I became a project manager overseeing the Acquisitions and Processing team. My work there was more challenging and I was involved in training quality technicians to understand how to maintain and update legal collections. In my last five years at the Law Library, I was a library staffer and worked directly for the Processing Section. I was a lead tech for legal workflow problem resolution and oversaw the inspection, or quality control, team and my former processing contract, as well as being a subject matter expert (SME) for acquisitions and related topics. I truly enjoyed working with law materials in such a diverse environment. I had a great working relationship with many colleagues and supervisors over the years.
How would you describe your job to other people?
As a legislative data specialist, my core responsibility is Data QC (quality control). I perform a quality control check over new data for Congress.gov early each morning. I make sure that new legislation and data that arrives from our partners (House, Senate, and Government Publishing Office) arrived complete and in a timely manner. When there is missing data or a discrepancy, I work with the operational team and developers in the Office of the Chief Information Officer to get the data corrected and displayed on Congress.gov. I am also on the front line answering questions and troubleshooting the data issues that are reported by our partners and from our site users. I am a primary editor for Data Anomalies in the Help center. I organize and maintain the known instances of unusual circumstances or metadata for users on this page. I participate in development testing and various team projects as needed.
What is your role in the development of Congress.gov?
I feel very lucky and proud to be part of the team and to see firsthand how each update, improvement, and new collection gets into production and presented on the website. Before the enhancements and new features are released, as an SME, I am involved in user acceptance testing. I create test cases and check the collection to make sure it is working the way it should be before the new release goes live. During the development stage of new releases, I contribute to testing in detail and make sure all parts are complete and correct, and communicate back to developers if mitigation is needed before they move on to production.
What is your favorite feature of Congress.gov?
There are several cool features that I like. I would say that my favorites are deep linking and share link from the bill texts, saved searches, member profile pages that now display the district map, and finding your member by address.
What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the legislative process while working on Congress.gov?
It is really fascinating how much work that everyone, including Library of Congress staff, interns, and staff in congressional offices, put together to process the legislation. I am learning a lot about how bills become law and how to keep up with the pre-law materials in the database. The most interesting fact is that it requires so much work behind the scenes from the developers and operational team who have to build and maintain an information system for users to be able to search and retrieve correct and timely data.
What’s something most of your co-workers do not know about you?
I don’t think I ever told anyone at work that I was a law school drop-out. I still have a passion for it, but I never wanted to be in a law office. Being around law books at the Law Library and the CRS Congress.gov team is very rewarding and compensates for my not having completed my degree.
As we did in our July 2020 post, we will continue to list all upcoming U.S. law webinars for each month in one post, thus providing you with one-stop shopping! We will continue to post information separately about our foreign law webinars, such as the September webinar, Worlds Apart: Legal Responses to COVID-19 in New Zealand and Sweden’s Response , the Kellogg Lecture and our Constitution Day event. You can also find information about our classes through our Legal Research Institute. We hope you will join us next month to learn about U.S. statutory law and legislative research, and discover the Law Library’s services and resources.
Orientation to Legal Research: U.S. Statutory Law
Date: Thursday, September 10, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Registration: Please register online by clicking here.
Orientation to Law Library Collections
Date: Tuesday, September 25, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
Content: Introduces participants to information about the Law Library’s wide range of online resources, as well as our print collections.
Registration: Please register online by clicking here.
Both webinars in September will be taught by Anna Price, a legal reference specialist at the Law Library. Anna holds a BS in communications from Ithaca College, a JD from the University of Washington School of Law, and an MLIS from the University of Washington iSchool.
An Interview with Robert Brammer, Chief of the Office of External Relations of the Law Library of Congress
Today’s follow-up interview is with Robert Brammer. Robert was first interviewed in 2012 when he started at the Law Library of Congress as a legal reference librarian. He is also a blogger for In Custodia Legis, authoring various posts, including: Constitution Day 2020 – “The Bulwark of Freedom”: African-American Members of Congress and the Constitution During Reconstruction and Explore the Bound Congressional Record on Congress.gov.
I am the chief of the Office of External Relations. We manage the Law Library’s blog, plan Law Library events, and promote the Law Library’s products and services through social media and direct mailing. I also serve as a subject matter expert for the development of Congress.gov.
What project are you most proud of that you have worked on at the Law Library of Congress?
When I first started at the Law Library of Congress, I worked on writing the legal content for the 1964 Civil Rights Act exhibit. I learned a lot about how much work goes into creating exhibits, and I met activists from the 1960s civil rights movement. It was interesting to see how that act resumed the project of Reconstruction that had been abandoned almost a century before.
What is the most interesting thing you have discovered from working with the Law Library’s print and electronic collections?
I always enjoy the items that Nathan curates in the Rare Book Collection. Nathan and I made some rare book videos to share these items with the patrons who cannot visit us in person. I’ve seen George Washington’s First Acts of Congress, the Trial of Aaron Burr for Treason, a legal writ signed by Abraham Lincoln when he was a traveling lawyer, a book that was used as a manual to try persons accused of witchcraft, a signature on the Articles of Confederation by a founding father who was later imprisoned in the Tower of London, and that’s not to mention all of the medieval manuscripts that the Law Library has.
What is your favorite Law Library of Congress website and why?
I would say Congress.gov. Though the site is the product of work by the Congressional Research Service, the Office of the Chief Information Officer, the House and Senate, as well as the Government Publishing Office, the Law Library of Congress is the public face of Congress.gov, answering questions from the public and recommending enhancements based on feedback that we have received from the public. We also host a bi-monthly Congress.gov webinar for the public. I am also enthusiastic about our new Legal Research Institute, which organizes our domestic and foreign law webinar offerings, and hosts recordings of previous webinars.
What is the most interesting fact you have learned about the Library of Congress?
The Library has the contents of Abraham Lincoln’s pockets from the night he was assassinated at Ford’s Theater. Interestingly enough, the boardinghouse where an abduction of Lincoln was plotted (a scheme that preceded the conspiracy to assassinate him) is now a Chinese restaurant, with karaoke booths upstairs.
What is your favorite legal novel and/or movie?
Ice Harvest, an obscure John Cusack movie about a mob lawyer who steals from his employer, and who then desperately tries to escape Wichita during an ice storm before anyone catches up with him.
Are you looking for a legitimate reason to browse adorable dog pictures at work? Well, this blog post might just be what you were looking for! In December 2019, the Golden Retriever “Watson” started his work as a “justice dog” in the German state of Baden-Württemberg as part of a pilot project. Justice dogs are trained therapy dogs that help victims of crime and their relatives deal with stressful situations in the courtroom. In July 2020, Watson was joined by German Shepherd “Al Capone,” who will primarily help with the rehabilitation of criminals, but will also be trained as a victim support dog. Currently, there are four justice dogs in Baden-Württemberg that participate in the pilot project. Courts in the United States have also started allowing “facility dogs” to assist victims of crime.
Since January 2017, victims of crime in Germany have a legal right to professional victim support services for criminal proceedings (psychosocial support). “Victim” is understood in a broad sense to encompass close relatives of the actual victim. (Code of Criminal Procedure, §395, para. 2.) Psychosocial support is “a special type of non-legal support for particularly vulnerable victims before, during, and after the main criminal trial. It includes information and qualified counseling and support for the whole criminal proceedings with the goal to reduce the individual burden of the victim and to avoid secondary victimization.” (PsychPbG, §2.) The psychosocial support persons (victim advocates) must remain neutral and are not allowed to provide legal advice, appraise the facts, or influence the witness or the witness testimony. Victim advocates must be professionally, personally, and interdisciplinarily qualified, meaning they must have a relevant degree and training in psychosocial support; work experience in social pedagogy, social work, pedagogy, or psychology; communication, cooperation, and conflict management abilities; resilience; and basic knowledge in medicine, psychology, victimology, criminology, and law. (PsychPbG, §3.) A victim must request the appointment of a victim advocate from the court and support will be provided free of charge. (Code of Criminal Procedure, §406g, para. 3.)
The justice dogs in Baden-Württemberg that act as victim advocates are part of a unique pilot project. However, victims do not have a legal right to have a justice dog and must petition the court to allow it as an exception. According to the State Ministry of Justice, justice dogs have been requested in 12 cases, mostly involving children and young adults aged between four and 15 years who had to act as witnesses in cases involving violence, abuse, or manslaughter.
The Minister of Justice Guido Wolf stated:
The current demand for “Watson” as a witness support dog in trials in Baden-Württemberg is high. Experiences have been positive. Watson provides noticeable support for child and adolescent victim witnesses as well as people with mental disabilities in a very difficult situation.
Rehabilitation of criminals is another area where the calming influence of dogs can be helpful. Sabine Kubinski from PräventSozial, the non-profit training the therapy dogs and working as victim advocates, explained in an email to me that “dogs act as “door openers”, meaning people who have trust issues open up when dogs are around and do not feel judged. Furthermore, they help with building social skills, among other things.” Al Capone might support other psychosocial training projects in correctional facilities, which have used animal-facilitated interventions before to teach emotional and social competencies.
If the pilot project in Baden-Württemberg is successful, it might be expanded and more victims will be able to cuddle with cute dogs like Watson and Al Capone.
Constitution Day 2020 – “The Bulwark of Freedom”: African-American Members of Congress and the Constitution During Reconstruction
The Law Library of Congress and the Library of Congress Center for Learning, Literacy and Engagement are excited to announce our annual Constitution and Citizenship Day lecture on September 17th at 3 p.m. EDT. This year’s lecture will be an online event and will be given by Michael J. Murphy, a historical publications specialist in the Office of the Historian for the U.S. House of Representatives. He earned his Ph.D. in U.S. history from Stony Brook University in New York. To register for this lecture, please visit our Eventbrite page.
Constitution Day, officially known as “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day,” is a federal commemoration observed each year to mark the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787, and to “recognize all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become citizens.” This year’s lecture is titled “The Bulwark of Freedom”: African-American Members of Congress and the Constitution During Reconstruction.
Mr. Murphy explains that in 1870, Joseph Rainey of South Carolina became the first of 14 African Americans elected to the U.S. House of Representatives before the end of Reconstruction in 1877. Following the Civil War, Congress amended the Constitution to outlaw slavery, extend civil and political rights to African Americans, and expand the power of the federal government. Rainey and the small cohort of Black Representatives who served alongside him were all elected from southern states and many were formerly enslaved. They saw the Constitution as a battleground in the debate over Reconstruction and the future of the country, arguing for an expansive vision of citizenship and legal equality. For Rainey, the Constitution was “the bulwark of freedom,” designed to provide “protection to the humblest citizen, without regard to rank, creed, or color.” During the 1870s, Black Members embraced the Constitution—the founding document which had long denied them their very personhood—as a tool to redefine American democracy and fully realize the promise of representative government.
We hope you can join us for this event to learn about the lives of the first African Americans in Congress. Please click here to register.
The following is a guest post by Louis Myers, the Law Library’s current Librarian-in-Residence.
The guide begins by explaining that local laws can go by many names—ordinance, bylaw, measure, codes, etc.—and can refer to the laws of a county, city, village, township, borough, or any other local government. While the Law Library of Congress may be best known for its resources on federal law, researchers and librarians often come across issues that require sources at the local level. I find myself recommending this guide frequently. While it is described as a beginner’s guide, many of its resources are useful for the experienced researcher, too.
The guide is set up to help readers search for both current and historic municipal laws. Current local codes are generally easily accessible, and the guide provides several websites that compile different bodies of municipal law in one place. Finding historic, or superseded, laws can be a bit trickier, but the guide offers strategies on researching historic codes. For example, while older laws are sometimes available online, superseded laws are often found in local libraries, with local government agencies (such as a county clerk’s office), or even the state archive.
Finally, the guide offers resources for those seeking more general information on municipal laws, through both the websites of organizations focused on local governance and published secondary sources. The linked organizations focus on current trends in municipal laws, while the section on secondary sources lists resources that provide commentaries to help interpret and understand how local laws are incorporated into our communities.
We hope you find this guide helpful in your research. As always, we encourage you to contact us through Ask a Librarian to help you with your research.
The following is a guest post from Nicolas Boring, the foreign law specialist covering French- speaking jurisdictions at the Law Library of Congress. Nicolas has previously blogged about “Bastille Day” Is About More Than the Bastille, among others.
In 2016, the French government adopted a labor law that, among other provisions, included a right to disconnect. This right, which took effect on January 1, 2017, refers to employers’ obligation to stop encroaching on their employees’ personal and family lives with calls and emails. Under the right to disconnect, employees do not have to take calls or read emails related to work during their time off. While it was confirmed by the 2016 law, the concept of a “right to disconnect” was actually born several years earlier, with a judgment of the Cour de cassation, France’s highest court. In a decision of February 17, 2004, the court found that an employee’s failure to answer his work phone outside of his regular hours of employment was not a valid reason to fire him.
The right to disconnect is now codified into article L2242-17 of the Code du travail (Labor Code). The Code does not define exactly how the right to disconnect is to be implemented, leaving employees and employers to determine the arrangements that best suits their needs and line of work. Indeed, article L2242-17 simply requires annual negotiations between employers and employees to determine the limits between the latter’s work and personal lives. However, the right to disconnect is taken seriously, as illustrated by a 2018 decision of the Cour de cassation which ruled that an employee is entitled to extra pay whenever he/she is asked to be available to take work-related phone calls outside of his/her regular work hours.
While implementing the right to disconnect seems relatively straightforward when employees work in a location that is distinct from their home, it can be a little trickier when they telework. This issue has become even more salient in recent months, as a huge number of people – in France like elsewhere – have been forced to work from home because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The section of the Code du travail that governs telework (articles L1222-9 to L1222-11) does not explicitly mention the right to disconnect, but refers to it implicitly. Indeed, article L1222-9 requires that telework arrangements specify how the employer may monitor the employee’s work hours or, if work is arranged on a per-task basis rather than an hourly schedule, how the workload is to be managed. More importantly, the telework arrangement must specify when the employer can expect to be able to reach the employee.
Given the sharp and sudden rise of telework due to the coronavirus lockdown that began in March, the French Ministry of Labor published an FAQ on telework on its website. This FAQ confirms that “employees’ right to rest and all rules regarding work time remain applicable” to telework, and that “the distinction between work time and leisure time must be clear and guarantee the employees’ right to disconnect.”
Therefore, even when teleworking, employers and employees must do their best to keep distinct work hours, and employees have a “right to disconnect” during their personal time. This is not always easy as a practical matter, however, especially for employees with children, and especially when those children are at home because of school closures. The Ministry of Labor acknowledges this in its FAQ, which recognizes that “productivity cannot be the same when the employee simultaneously cares for his/her children,” and requests that “employers be understanding and take that into account in their relationship with their employees.” Nevertheless, if childcare or other circumstances make full-time telework impossible, employees may apply for a partial unemployment scheme payment to help make up for lost income when they go from full-time to part-time employment. This scheme, which is governed by articles L5122-1 to L5122-5 of the Code du travail, was expanded in March as part of the government’s response to the coronavirus crisis.