what time is it, legally?

From: Steve Allen <sla_at_UCOLICK.ORG>
Date: Mon, 11 Dec 2006 20:45:58 -0800

Longtime readers of LEAPSECS will remember that in the wake of the
Torino colloquium we started joking about legal implications of civil
time in the absence of leap seconds. This was before the Internet
Mail Archive started recording the content of the list, and due to
issues at USNO it was among the correspondence lost to the official
archive as well. I have had it online at

I ran across a rather lengthy article by Jenni Parrish of UC Hastings
College of Law in the Akron Law Review.
It is 47 pages of legal history regarding litigation in the US (and
also a seminal case in the UK) during the advent of standard time.
It is copiously footnoted with source references.

I have not counted whether the majority of cases were about
the time of liquor sales (an issue which had been resonating
throughout the US for all of the same interval of time) or
about contractual obligations of insurers.
The bottom line is that the discussion in LEAPSECS was no joke, for
people really did engage in court cases about the time on the clock.

This history is apparently not lost to folks at NIST, for the US
senate continues to consider legislation which would explicitly
rewrite US legal time to be based on UTC (as locally interpreted)
rather than Greenwich mean solar time. The most recent incarnation of
the bill appeared in September as S3936, and section 1406 contains the
text to make the change. See at
(and note the trailing colon in the URL).

The bill has a lot of cosponsors as seen in the links on Thomas.
Clearly the passage of this bill would short circuit a litigation
process which the Jenni Parrish document shows to have lasted for most
of a lifetime.

To end with some fun, here's a Flash clock application

Steve Allen                 <sla_at_ucolick.org>                WGS-84 (GPS)
UCO/Lick Observatory        Natural Sciences II, Room 165    Lat  +36.99858
University of California    Voice: +1 831 459 3046           Lng -122.06014
Santa Cruz, CA 95064        http://www.ucolick.org/~sla/     Hgt +250 m
Received on Mon Dec 11 2006 - 20:46:26 PST

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