Saturday, March 08, 2008

Another book

I've been reading Lightning Man: The Accursed Life of Samuel F. B. Morse, which is full of interesting stuff.

Morse was a flighty, depressed and most often broke artist, deeply affected by religion, patriotism, and anti-European and anti-Catholic sentiment, who had little to do with his children. That's from the first third of the book.

He went to Naples, Italy, and complained about some disgusting cake the natives ate there, with tomatoes and little fishes and black pepper on top, which the author observes may have been the first American account in writing of anchovy pizza.

The idea of the electric telegraph occurred to him while crossing the Atlantic in 1832 with, among others, the American ambassador to France, Virginia's own William C. Rives, the brother of Alexander Rives, who (39 years later) became the judge of the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Virginia.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Trying to channel the spirit of an old Big Stone Gap lawyer

I've got a case where the dude I need to call is Joshua Fry Bullitt, Jr.

Unfortunately, he died in 1933.

I thought his story was pretty interesting, but as you can see, some others disagreed and tried to whack that article about him.

If you didn't know it, counting Bullitt there are 13 past presidents of The Virginia Bar Association on Wikipedia, including 9 former Virginia Supreme Court justices, 5 former members of the House of Delegates, 4 former members of the Senate of Virginia, 3 former members of the U.S. House of Representatives, 2 former members of the Confederate Congress, 1 former U.S. Senator, 1 former U.S. Attorney - and Bullitt.

The Larry Sabato of Pennsylvania

Up in Lancaster County, where I went to high school and worked one summer in a law firm, there is Franklin & Marshall College, which has its own Center for Politics and Public Affairs, headed by this guy. Instead of being called Larry, he is Terry - Terry Madonna, can that be his name, really?

I'd say he will be busy for the next two months until people get bored of talking about the primary in that particular Commonwealth, set for April 22.

More books read in 2008

1. The Colonel: The Life and Legend of Robert R. McCormick, 1880-1955, by Richard Norton Smith.

2. Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt, by David McCullough.

These are both interesting and fun reads, in this election year. McCormick was the oddball publisher of the Chicago Tribune, who never quite overcame his peculiar family life, while Roosevelt was just about as odd and equally affected by his family.

Also, I read from cover to cover (but for the poetry, AND including the sideways cartoons) the latest edition of Waldo's Own Virginia Quarterly Review, some 200 pages or more. Does that count on the 50-book challenge, I wonder?

I also read Victory Square, by Olen Steinhauer, which was a bit of a mistake, since it was the fifth in a series of five, not having read 1, 2, 3, and 4.

Monday, March 03, 2008

On the need for weaker medicine

I've been mulling over the 53 pages of the Virginia Supreme Court's decision in Jaynes v. Com.

There were two opinions. The majority opinion written by Justice Agee concluded that the spammer's conviction should be affirmed, for reasons including his lack of standing to complain about the potential overbreadth of the criminal statute. The dissent by Senior Justice Lacy concluded not only that the spammer could assert the First Amendment rights of others, but also that the statute was overbroad and unconstitutional as applied to those rights of others.

I think that the dissent makes some good points about standing, and that the majority's commercial/non-commercial distinction seems somewhat poorly-reasoned. Even so, the taboo against representational standing is much stronger across the board in Virginia jurisprudence than in federal court, and the majority's conclusion strikes me as consistent with that approach.

Moreover, the merits of the case strike me as indistinguishable from the Hicks case, where the U.S. Supreme Court held that "the Virginia Supreme Court should not have used the 'strong medicine' of overbreadth to invalidate the entire RRHA trespass policy." The dissent in the spam case would overprescribe the strong medicine once again.

Justice Lacy tries to wrap the flag around her First Amendment argument, pointing out that the Internet needs to be wide open because people use it for the classic kinds of political speech. Yeah, but spam strangles that speech. Half the unsolicited political e-mails I get are trapped by the spam filters, with the Viagra ads and the Nigerian investment offers.