Monday, June 14, 2004

Flag Day

In JURIST'S Paper Chase today you can read about judicial decisions regarding flag saluting ceremonies. It is entirely appropriate that the US Supreme Court ruling regarding compelling anyone to salute the US flag should be made on June 14th.
June 14th is Flag Day, a holiday that commemorates the date in 1777 when the Continental Congress approved a resolution establishing the official flag of the United States: "Resolved, That the flag of the thirteen United States be thirteen stripes, alternate red and white: that the union be thirteen stars, white in a blue field, representing a new constellation."
Flag Day began to be unofficially celebrated in the late 19th century; then in 1916 President Woodrow Wilson issued a presidential proclamation declaring June 14 Flag Day. While Flag Day was celebrated in various communities for years after Wilson's proclamation, it was not until August 3rd, 1949, that President Truman signed an Act of Congress designating June 14th of each year as National Flag Day.
You can read more about Flag Day at the American Memory Project, a digital project of the Library of Congress. The page about Flag Day includes a digital image of the letter Billy Gobitas of Minersville PA wrote refusing to salute the flag for religious reasons, a letter that touched off one of several constitutional battles over the authority of the state to require respect for national symbols and the right of individuals to freedom of speech.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Venezuela's President Chavez

It was reported in JURIST's Paper Chase yesterday that opponents of President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela have collected enough signatures to force a recall referendum. Some background history on Venezuela and President Chavez may be of interest.

Modern Venezuela emerged in the 1950's after a century and a half of instability following Simon Bolivar’s revolution which won its independence from Spain. The last military dictatorship was overthrown in 1958, and two political parties that had organized against successive dictatorships reached an agreement to create a democracy styled after those of Western Europe. A new constitution was approved in 1961 (Spanish) and amended in 1966.
Venezuela was considered South America’s most stable democracy, with an economy based on its vast oil reserves. However, when oil prices fell in 1983, the economy stumbled. By 1989, the number of Venezuelans in poverty had more than doubled, to 60 percent. Economic and political instability followed. In 1992 Hugo Chavez, a lieutenant colonel in the military, led rebel troops in staging a coup against then President Perez. The coup failed, and Chavez was imprisoned, but he emerged from prison in 1994 as a populist figure. He ran for president in 1998 and was elected with 56 percent of the vote.
At the beginning of his presidency, Chavez didn't run an openly authoritarian government, but he did embark on an intense campaign to control the country's institutions. He abolished the Congress and the supreme court in the first year of his government. He proposed a new constitution (Spanish), which won 71 percent approval. The new constitution had a number of effects on the government: it increased the powers of the president and changed the official name of the country to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela.
Chavez has also been engaged in an effort to take control of the Venezuelan media.
His government has proposed a Bill on the Social Responsibility of Radio and Television,; aspects of the bill concern human rights groups such as the InterAmerican Commission of Human Rights of the Organization of American States. In it, they see a threat to the right of freedom of expression. His popularity has declined in part because his actions have been seen as movement towards a dictatorship like Fidel Castro's.

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Monday, June 07, 2004

Turkey and the EU

Today's JURIST Paper Chase reports that a Turkish appeals court has overturned the convictions of four former Kurdish lawmakers and that the convictions had been seen as a setback for Turkey's European Union membership.Turkey wishes to become a member of the European Union, but the EU has concerns about Turkey’s human rights record. Human Rights Watch reports that people in Turkey face prosecution and prison for using forbidden minority languages or expressing opinions on certain taboo subjects. Turkey’s Constitution originally denied the existence of any ethnic sub-groups, which effectively denied the Kurdish minority the right to speak their own language. However, the Constitution has been amended several times and the most recent amendments (2001) to Turkey's Constitution affirm freedom and privacy for the individual. The court's overturning of the convictions of the four former Kurdish lawmakers (Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Selim Sadak and Orhan Dogan) for belonging to an illegal political party may signal that the reforms necessary for admission to the EU are being taken seriously.

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Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Right to Die

The Schiavo case is yet another in which the courts have wrestled with the difficult issue of a person’s “right to die”. The first widely publicized American “right to die” case involved Karen Ann Quinlan, whose father Joseph waged a legal battle to remove her life support system because she was in a persistent vegetative state. His lawyer argued that the decision to remove life support was in Karen's best interest and furthermore was protected by the right to privacy. The Supreme Court of New Jersey unanimously decided in favor of Joseph Quinlan.
The U. S. Supreme Court first addressed the issue of the right to die in the 1990 case of Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health. Nancy Cruzan was in a comatose state and her family wished to remove her feeding tube. In this case the Court concluded that the right to die was a liberty protected by the Due Process Clause.
University of Pittsburgh School of Law professor Alan Meisel is the author of a comprehensive book examining the right to die from a legal and ethical perspective:
The right to die John Wiley, New York, 1995.
ISBN: 0471046728

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Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Geneva Conventions

Since the revelations about Abu Ghraib prison, there has been a lot in the news about the Geneva Conventions, a series of treaties creating international law which sets humanitarian standards during times of war.
It all began with Henri Dunant (1828-1910), a banker from Geneva Switzerland. He wanted to develop a large tract of land in Algeria, but needed to secure the water rights on the property. To secure these water rights, he decided to go right to the top – Louis-Napoleon aka the Emperor Napoleon III of France. However, the Emperor was in Italy fighting the Franco-Austrian War. Dunant decided to go to Italy to ask for the water rights, and arrived just in time to witness the grueling Battle of Solferino. Horrified by the suffering of wounded soldiers left on the battlefield, he penned "A Memory of Solferino" ( in which he recounted the battle and proposed a plan of action. He initiated relief efforts that led to the Geneva Convention. In 1901 he was the winner of the first Nobel Peace Prize.
On August 22, 1864, twelve nations signed an international treaty, commonly known as the Geneva Convention, agreeing to guarantee neutrality to sanitary personnel, to expedite supplies for their use, and to adopt a special identifying emblem - a red cross on a field of white. The Convention mandated the formation of the International Red Cross.
The United States was not among the original signers. The campaign to get the US to sign the convention was led by Clara Barton (, who had nursed wounded soldiers during the U. S. Civil War. Due to her lobbying, President James Garfield agreed that the 1864 Geneva Convention Treaty should be signed. However, he was assassinated before he could sign the document. Finally, on March 1, 1882, President Chester A. Arthur signed the treaty. The Senate ratified it on March 16, 1882. The United States was the 32nd nation to sign the document, establishing the American Red Cross ( ) and agreeing to protect the wounded during wartime.
Later Geneva Conventions bolstered and expanded the humanitarian mission of the first.
The conventions and their agreements are as follows:
• First Geneva Convention (1864): Treatment of battlefield casualties.
• Second Geneva Convention (1906): Extended the principles from the first convention to apply also to war at sea.
• Third Geneva Convention (1929): Treatment of prisoners of war.
• Fourth Geneva Convention (1949): Treatment of civilians during wartime.
The first three conventions were revised, a fourth was added, and the entire set was ratified in 1949; the whole is referred to as the "Geneva Conventions of 1949" or simply the "Geneva Conventions". Later conferences have added provisions prohibiting certain methods of warfare and addressing issues of civil wars. Nearly 200 countries are "signatory" nations, in that they have ratified these conventions.

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Tuesday, May 25, 2004

Brigadier General Janis Karpinski

What is a Brigadier General? The U.S. Army provides a diagram of its organization at A Brigadier General is a one-star general just above a colonel.
If you click on the small box that says "Addtional Unit Types" and then click on "Military Police Brigade" you can read about the mission of B.G. Karpinski's brigade.
Her brigade was from the Army Reserve. The Army, as one of the three military departments is composed of two distinct and equally important components: the active component and the reserve components. The reserve components are the United States Army Reserve and the Army National Guard. You can read more about the US Army Reserve at

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This is the first post for JURIST's Research Blog (title to be tweaked...), starring the reference staff of the Barco Law Library providing legal news-related research reports in real time as a complementary service to JURIST's Paper Chase.

The weblog template is generic for now, but it should suffice for folks to get used to the editing interface, and for us to develop an appropriate style. Here is a link to the Library! Note that this link is bolded.

Have fun!

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