The Secret Circuit: The Little-Known Court Where the Rules of the Information Age Unfold

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
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Imagine a high impact, low profile, nonpartisan government institution located across the street from the White House. Imagine that it plays a central role in shaping our technology industries, in overseeing globalization, and in holding the federal government responsible for its commercial activities. Imagine that only Congress and the Supreme Court can correct its mistakes. Such an institution exists. The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit was born in the early 1980s as part of the drive to liberalize and reinvigorate the American economy. Over the past twenty-five years, it has earned its nickname as the 'patent court' by revolutionizing American patent law, but it also oversees international trade law and government business law. Taken together, its docket covers the rules guiding innovation, globalization, and much of government. Are these rules impelling the economy forward or holding it back? Are the policies we have the policies we want? How are we faring, as the economy transitions from the industrial age to the information age? What responsibility does the Federal Circuit bear in shaping America's current economic policies in these three critical areas? The Secret Circuit demystifies this Court's work and answers these questions.
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About the author

Bruce D. Abramson received his Ph.D. from Columbia and his J.D. from Georgetown. He is the President of Informationism, Inc., a San Francisco-based consultancy that helps an international clientele understand the law, the policies, the economics, and the strategic uses of intellectual property. He has served as a member of the Computer Science faculty at the University of Southern California and as a law clerk at the Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit. He is the author of Digital Phoenix: Why the Information Economy Collapsed and How It Will Rise Again (MIT Press, 2005). His blog, The Informationist, (, contains his musings on IP, tech policy, and numerous other issues.
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Additional Information

Rowman & Littlefield Publishers
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Published on
Aug 10, 2007
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Law / Antitrust
Law / Commercial / International Trade
Law / Computer & Internet
Law / Courts
Law / General
Law / Government / Federal
Law / Intellectual Property / General
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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Many thought the election of our first African American president put an end to the conversation about race in this country, and that America had moved into a post-racial era of equality and opportunity. Then, on the night of February 26, 2012, a black seventeen-year-old boy walking to a friend’s home carrying only his cell phone, candy, and a fruit drink, was shot and killed by a neighborhood watch coordinator.

And in July 2013, the trial of Zimmerman for murder captivated the public, as did his eventual acquittal.

In her provocative and landmark book, Suspicion Nation, Lisa Bloom, who covered the trial from gavel to gavel, posits that none of this was a surprise: Our laws, culture, and blind spots created the conditions that led to Trayvon Martin’s death, and made George Zimmerman’s acquittal by far the most likely outcome.

America today holds an unhealthy preoccupation with firearms that has led to the expansion of gun rights to surreal extremes. America now has not only the highest per capita gun ownership rate in the world (almost one gun per American), but the highest rate of gun deaths. Despite the strides America has made, fighting a bloody Civil War to end slavery, eradicating Jim Crow laws, teaching tolerance, and electing an African American president, racial inequality persists throughout our country, in employment, housing, education, the media, and most institutions. And perhaps most destructively of all, racial biases run deep in every level of our criminal justice system. Suspicion Nation captures a court system and a country conflicted and divided over issues of race, violence, and gun legislation.
In this original, far-reaching, and timely book, Justice Stephen Breyer examines the work of the Supreme Court of the United States in an increasingly interconnected world, a world in which all sorts of activity, both public and private—from the conduct of national security policy to the conduct of international trade—obliges the Court to understand and consider circumstances beyond America’s borders.

It is a world of instant communications, lightning-fast commerce, and shared problems (like public health threats and environmental degradation), and it is one in which the lives of Americans are routinely linked ever more pervasively to those of people in foreign lands. Indeed, at a moment when anyone may engage in direct transactions internationally for services previously bought and sold only locally (lodging, for instance, through online sites), it has become clear that, even in ordinary matters, judicial awareness can no longer stop at the water’s edge.   
To trace how foreign considerations have come to inform the thinking of the Court, Justice Breyer begins with that area of the law in which they have always figured prominently: national security in its constitutional dimension—how should the Court balance this imperative with others, chiefly the protection of basic liberties, in its review of presidential and congressional actions? He goes on to show that as the world has grown steadily “smaller,” the Court’s horizons have inevitably expanded: it has been obliged to consider a great many more matters that now cross borders. What is the geographical reach of an American statute concerning, say, securities fraud, antitrust violations, or copyright protections? And in deciding such matters, can the Court interpret American laws so that they might work more efficiently with similar laws in other nations?

While Americans must necessarily determine their own laws through democratic process, increasingly, the smooth operation of American law—and, by extension, the advancement of American interests and values—depends on its working in harmony with that of other jurisdictions. Justice Breyer describes how the aim of cultivating such harmony, as well as the expansion of the rule of law overall, with its attendant benefits, has drawn American jurists into the relatively new role of “constitutional diplomats,” a little remarked but increasingly important job for them in this fast-changing world.

Written with unique authority and perspective, The Court and the World reveals an emergent reality few Americans observe directly but one that affects the life of every one of us. Here is an invaluable understanding for lawyers and non-lawyers alike.

From the Hardcover edition.
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