Legal Affairs

Federal Judge Blocks Trump Administration From Asking the Citizenship Question from 2020 Census

I have written about this question before. See https://duckduckgo.com/?q=site%3Aeogn.com+%222020+census%22&t=h_&ia=web for my past articles about the 2020 U.S. Census.

Now a New York Judge has ruled that the 2020 US Census may not include the proposed citizenship question. The opinion from US District Court of Southern District of New York Judge Furman stated:

“Secretary Ross’s decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 census—even if it did not violate the Constitution itself—was unlawful for a multitude of independent reasons and must be set aside”.

The Impact of the U.S. Government Shutdown to Genealogists

The news media is full of reports about the impact of the U.S. government shutdown, both to government employees and to private citizens alike. I see no point in repeating those stories here. However, I will say that genealogists should be aware of the impact to their research efforts.

If you were planning a genealogy research trip in the near future, you need to be aware that:

Bill Filed in Texas to Place 125 Year Embargo Period on Birth Records

If passed, this will be a major obstacle to researching Texas ancestors. The following message was received from Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

A bill has been filed in the Texas State Legislature that would impose a 125 year embargo period on access to birth records. Death records are not changed from their current 25 year embargo. Existing law regarding indexes whether a general or summary index is not being proposed to be amended from current statute. To read the bill see: https://capitol.texas.gov/tlodocs/86R/billtext/pdf/HB00703I.pdf.

The bill was filed on January 9, 2019 and not yet assigned to a committee. https://capitol.texas.gov/BillLookup/History.aspx?LegSess=86R&Bill=HB703.

Thank you to Brooke Schreier Ganz, president and founder, Reclaim the Records for sharing the information on the bill filing with us.

Nevada Issues Almost 1,000 Marriage Certificates on the Ethereum Blockchain, But Government Acceptance Varies

This could be a game changer for future genealogists seeking information about marriage licenses. It should reduce paperwork and provide security for important government records. I don’t see it having much impact on genealogists for a few years. However, I do suspect we will all hear more and more about “the blockchain” any time we are discussing record keeping of legal documents.

So far, 950 digital marriage certificates, which use smart contracts on the Ethereum blockchain for security, have been issued to couples residing both within and outside Nevada since April 2018.

All Copyrighted Works First Published In the US In 1923 Will Enter Public Domain On January 1st

Most U.S. genealogists have been told that all books  and other documents published PRIOR to 1923 are in the public domain. In other words, those books are not under copyright. However, that rule is changing. Starting on New Year’s Day, published in 1923 are now in the public domain. The new rule will be: all books and other documents published PRIOR to 1924 are in the public domain.

That rule will add another year again every January 1st thereafter.

Details may be found an an article by Glenn Fleishman in the Smithsonian Magazine at http://bit.ly/2rLF58a.

Reclaim The Records Filed a New York State Freedom of Information Lawsuit and Won Access to the New York State Marriage Index, then Filed a New Lawsuit About It

Reclaim The Records continues to file legal actions against various government agencies that refuse to provide public access to public records that legally must be available to the public. The latest victory for genealogists concerns a Freedom of Information request to the New York State Department of Health (NYS DOH) back in September 2017. Reclaim The Records was notified they had won the request in mid-February 2018, and then received a portable hard drive with the records in mid-March 2018.

However, there was a problem. It seems that Reclaim The Records only received about 60% of what they had asked for. It seems that New York also withheld decades of data, and did it in a particularly dumb way that ignores several legal precedents. And that’s not good enough. The public deserves 100%!

Then the story becomes complicated. You can read the full story on the Reclaim The Records web site at http://bit.ly/2DOxSeD.

Reclaim The Records Files Freedom of Information Act Lawsuit–US Department of Veterans Affairs

The following announcement was written by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson of the IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee:

Reclaim the Records has previously filed suit in different state jurisdictions—their new Freedom of Information Act litigation is against a federal agency– the US Department of Veterans Affairs. The law suit, filed on September 17, 2018, asks the US Department of Veterans Affairs to provide a copy of the Beneficiary Identification Records Locator Subsystem (BIRLS) Death File. A letter from the Department of Veterans Affairs dated September 13, 2018 states they “remanded the request to their FOIA Officer for further consideration, appropriate processing and issuance of a subsequent IAD”. [IAD means Initial Agency Decision] The case is still pending.

This database contains basic information on about fourteen million deceased American veterans who served in the US military and then later received benefits from the VA, such as healthcare or the GI Bill, between approximately 1850-2017. Each record includes the veteran’s dates of birth and death, dates of enlistment and release, and branch of service. Some years have a little more information available than others, including the veteran’s basic cause of death (i.e. natural or combat-related), gender, and possibly other fields.

Supreme Court shields Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from Answering Questions in Census Controversy

The Supreme Court on Monday shielded Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross from answering lawyers’ questions in a lawsuit challenging his decision to add a citizenship question to the 2020 Census form.

The government had asked the Supreme Court to block questioning of Ross as part of a lawsuit filed by several states, including New York, and civil rights groups. The groups are seeking to stop the administration from adding a citizenship question to the decennial count.

Details may be found in an article by Robert Barnes and Tara Bahrampour in The Washington Post at: https://wapo.st/2R7qbE4.

For background information on this controversy involving the questions to be asked on the 2020 U.S. Census, look at the previous articles in this newsletter by starting at: https://duckduckgo.com/?q=site%3Aeogn.com+2020+census&t=h_&ia=web.

More on the 2020 Census Citizenship Question and Litigation

The following announcement was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen:

As previously reported on the IAJGS Records Access Alert, the addition to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 US Census by the Commerce Department has resulted in at least six lawsuits. The largest lawsuit, which includes more than two dozen states and cities is before US Federal District Court Southern District of New York, Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan (New York City, NY) who ruled in late July that the case may move forward. Judge Furman also agreed to have Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Acting Assistant Attorney General John Grove for the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice be deposed as to why Secretary Ross added the question. There is some question whether Secretary Ross did it at the request of the Department of Justice, as he testified before Congress, or he had wanted to do this all along based on comments he made almost a year before the request to add the citizenship question. Then in late September the Justice Department representing the White House filed a motion to stay discovery pending Supreme Court Review.

Cemetery Case Puts Property Rights Issue before the U.S. Supreme Court

When is a cemetery not a cemetery?

According to Rose Mary Knick, a piece of property is not a cemetery when almost no one believes there are bodies buried in the land.

Knick makes no bones about it. She doesn’t buy the idea that there are bodies buried on her eastern Pennsylvania farmland, and she doesn’t want people strolling onto her property to visit what her town says is a small cemetery. Knick, 69, says her town’s ordinance wouldn’t protect her if people injure themselves on her land and sue. And she says if the town is going to take her private property and open it up to the public, they should pay her. She says she believes that the town was trying to make an example out of her for questioning lawmakers’ decisions.

White House Escalates Fight Over US 2020 Census Question on Citizenship to Supreme Court

The following announcement is from the IAJGS Mailing List:

As previously reported on the IAJGS Records Access Alert, the addition to add a question about citizenship to the 2020 US Census by the Commerce Department has resulted in at least six lawsuits. The largest lawsuit, which includes more than two dozen states and cities is before US Federal District Court Southern District of New York, Judge Jesse Furman in Manhattan (New York City, NY) who ruled in late July that the case may move forward.  Judge Furman also agreed to have Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, and Acting Assistant Attorney General  John Grove for the Civil Rights Division of the US Department of Justice be deposed as to why Secretary Ross added the question. There is some question whether Secretary Ross did it at the request of the Department of Justice or he had wanted to do this all along based on comments he made almost a year before the request to add the citizenship question.

On Friday, September 28, the Justice Department, representing the White House filed a motion to stay discovery pending Supreme Court Review. The motion may be read at: https://apps.npr.org/documents/document.html?id=4951932-Sept-28-2018-Letter-Motion-to-Stay-Discovery.

No, Find-A-Grave Wasn’t Exactly “Hacked”

There are dozens of messages floating around the Internet claiming that the FindAGrave.com web site (a product owned by Ancestry.com) has been hacked and that all the information from the FindAGrave.com site appears on another web site, https://peoplelegacy.com.

It appears that the site at https://peoplelegacy.com republished all the information in violation of copyright laws. In fact, the second web site claims THEY own all the copyrights on all the images contributed by genealogists to Find-A-Grave, including some pictures that I uploaded to Find-A-Grave some time ago. Even worse, my pictures now have a “PeopleLegacy.com” watermark on every one of the images! That strikes me as a rather brazen claim. Those are pictures I took and I don’t recall signing a copyright release to PeopleLegacy.com.

Another claim on PeopleLegacy states “All data offered through PeopleLegacy.com is derived from public sources” which seems questionable.

Let’s set the record straight:

European Parliament Votes in Favor of Controversial Copyright Laws

At this time, the new, restrictive copyright law passed yesterday by the European Parliament will only affect countries in the European Union. However, elements of many European Parliament legislation often show up within a few years in the laws of other countries around the world. The latest law should be a warning to genealogists.

The 438 to 226 vote, described as “the worst possible outcome” by some quarters, could have significant repercussions on the way we use the internet.

Quoting from an article on Slashdot:

Fort Wayne City Council Votes 6-3 against Business Tax Proposal, Saving the Allen County Public Library and Other County-funded Agencies

About two weeks ago, I published A Fort Wayne, Indiana, City Councilman Proposes Eliminating the Annual Budget for the Allen County Public Library at http://bit.ly/2N1DdUX. In the article, I described a proposal by Fort Wayne City Councilman Jason Arp to cut the budget of the Allen County Public Library to the point that it will no longer be able to sustain itself. Arp proposed elimination of Allen County’s business personal property tax. Because the funding of the largest genealogy collection of any publicly-owned library would be reduced or possibly be eliminated, Arp suggested that Amazon should and could replace libraries, thus saving taxpayers money.

The Fort Wayne City Council voted 6-3 last night against the business tax proposal that would have had tremendous impact on the Allen County Public Library and other city entities’ budgets. Three council members voted in favor of the proposal: Arp, Ensley, and Jehl, while the remaining members of the council, both Democrat and Republican, voted against the proposal.

Details may be found in an article by Dave Gong in the (Fort Wayne) Journal-Gazette at http://bit.ly/2onYYjP.

My thanks to the several newsletter readers who wrote to tell me of this victory for genealogists.

Colorado Enacts Consumer Privacy Law Effective September 1, 2018; Federal Action on Privacy Issues

The following is an email message posted to the IAJGS Public Records Access Alert mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen, Chairperson, IAJGS Public Records Access Monitoring Committee. It is republished here with the permission of the author:

Colorado joins the states taking on consumer privacy protections by enacting House Bill 18-1128, signed by Governor Hickenlooper on May 29, 2018 and which becomes effective September 1, 2018. To read the summary see: http://leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb18-1128, and for full text see: http://leg.colorado.gov/sites/default/files/documents/2018A/bills/2018a_1128_signed.pdf. The bill requires entities to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures, proper disposal of documents that contain confidential information, ensure that confidential information is protected when transferred to third parties, and notify affected individuals of data breaches in the shortest time frame in the country.

Covered entities are those that “maintain, own or license personal identifying information (PII) of a Colorado resident”. PII is defined to include: a social security number; personal identification number; password; passcode; official state or government-issued driver’s license or identification card number; government passport number; biometric data; employer, student, or military identification number; or financial transaction device.

Ancestry.com Says 23andMe’s DNA Patent is Invalid

Several months ago, genealogy company 23andMe Inc. filed a lawsuit against rival Ancestry.com claiming false advertising and patent infringement. 23andMe asked the courts to invalidate the “Ancestry” trademark. The lawsuit claimed Ancestry sells a DNA-based ancestry test that infringes 23andMe’s patent. See my earlier article at http://bit.ly/2L9ewBC for the details.

In court yesterday, Ancestry told a California federal judge that the patent is invalid under the U.S. Supreme Court’s Alice standard because it’s not inventive and relies on natural phenomenon.

A decision by the court is expected within a few weeks.

A Fort Wayne, Indiana, City Councilman Proposes Eliminating the Annual Budget for the Allen County Public Library

The Allen County Public Library in Fort Wayne, Indiana, contains the largest genealogy collection of any publicly-owned genealogy in the U.S. It is also one of the largest research collections available anywhere, incorporating records from around the world. Thousands of genealogists travel to Fort Wayne every year to take advantage of the resources available in this unique collection. While in the city, these same genealogists obviously spend millions of dollars at local businesses, including hotels, restaurants, and more. The money spent by genealogists are an immense help for local business people.

Now Fort Wayne City Councilman Jason Arp has proposed cutting the budget of the Allen County Public Library to the point that it will no longer be able to sustain itself. Arp recently proposed to eliminate Allen County’s business personal property tax. Arp suggests that Amazon should and could replace libraries, thus saving taxpayers money.

A European Union Court Rules that Online Photos Can’t Simply be Republished without Permission

A few weeks ago, I reported a Virginia federal court decision that finding a photo on the Internet and then using it without permission on a commercial website can be considered fair use. The decision is controversial, is not a landmark ruling that needs to be enforced by other courts, and may be overturned by a higher court before long. You can read more about that ruling in my earlier article at: http://bit.ly/2MxLsEU.

Now a European Court has ruled almost the opposite: internet users must ask for a photographer’s permission before posting their images online, even if the photos were already freely accessible on other websites. The court stated, “The posting on a website of a photograph that was freely accessible on another website with the consent of the author requires a new authorization by that author.”

U.S. Census Bureau Takes Hits from Lawsuits, GAO Review, and Cancelled Contract

Just 21 months before the next decennial count, the Census Bureau—under acting leadership—faces challenges in the courts, from auditors, and from a mishandled printing contract for key forms.

According to a report by Charles S. Clark in the RouteFifty web site:

“Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross continues to confront legal challenges to the reasoning behind the decision to go against agency researchers’ advice and add a politically sensitive citizenship question to the 2020 questionnaire.

(US) Senators Harris and Carper Introduce Legislation to Ensure Gender Identity Sexual Orientation to 2030 Census

The following announcement was posted to the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS) mailing list by Jan Meisels Allen and is republished here with her permission:

Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) and Senator Bob Casey (D-PA) introduced legislation that would require the 2030 US census to add questions about gender identity an sexual orientation. The focuses is to expand data collection so that the LGBTQ community is fully accounted for in government resources.

In addition, the bill entitled, Census Equality Act, would require the American Community Survey to added questions on these topics to the 2020 version. Every year 3.5 million households talk this in-depth questionnaire.