A stopgap measure for eliminating Supreme Court Link Rot

 

Link Rot is a pervasive problem in the legal community – so much so that Supreme Court opinions are sometimes riddled with cites to websites that no longer exist, which undermines the entire concept of a citation.

Many in the legal academic world are aware of Perma.CC, which is a long-term solution to link rot. Perma.CC allows authors and judges and anyone to preserve the websites they are citing by archiving the page, therefore preserving it as they were citing it.

However, Perma.CC is still in the process of being adopted, and some cites may fall through the cracks. So in the meantime, the University of California Berkeley Law School Library has created a citation program that catches the websites that are cited in Supreme Court opinions and archives them as soon as possible. With this program serving as a stop-gap and the growing adoption of Perma.CC and other web archiving programs, link rot will become extinct, or at least endangered!

Kudos to the UC Berkeley School of Law Library for a great tool.  Be sure to check out their site and review the data from cases and citations!

CourtListener Frees the Law

The following blog post was written by Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian at the University of Wisconsin Law School Library

CourtListener is a powerful new free legal research website sponsored by the non-profit Free Law Project.  The Court Listener platform is composed of four searchable databases containing judicial opinions, an audio collection of oral arguments, judge profiles, and documents from the Federal PACER system.  The repository’s numbers are impressive and growing daily.

  • Almost 4 million legal opinions from federal and state courts.
  • Real-time coverage of oral arguments from SCOTUS and 11 of the 13 Federal Judicial Circuits.
  • A database of over 8500 judge profiles.
  • 2.4 million plus PACER documents.

The search engine is easy to use and offers an “Advanced Search” option to refine searches in a number of ways including citation, judge, and docket number.  Case law searches are powered by their CiteGeist Relevancy Engine to provide the most relevant and important cases at the top of the results.  CourtListener downloads opinions from many jurisdictions on an ongoing basis thereby allowing users to set up alerts using customized search and citation feeds.  RSS feeds may also be set up by jurisdiction.

The oral arguments database is also continually updated, making it the biggest such collection on the Internet.  At present, CourtListener provides oral arguments to over 1500 cases originating from the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit.  A count of available oral arguments from SCOTUS and 11 of the 13 Federal Judicial Circuits totals over 19,000.  The judge profile search now also links up to the oral arguments database meaning when you look up the profile page for a judge, you may see a list of oral argument recordings for cases that judge has heard.

What really makes CourtListener special is the free access to PACER documents it provides through the RECAP Archive.  Users of the PACER system can contribute to the building of the archive by downloading the RECAP Extensions for Firefox and Chrome.  As you browse PACER, the RECAP extension automatically uploads docket files and PACER-downloaded PDFs to the Internet Archive for others to download later.  The net effect is kind of like paying it forward, allowing the documents (and legal benefits) to flow to everyone.  This newfound access to PACER documents is truly groundbreaking.

CourtListener joins a growing list of other free legal research sites as Google Scholar, FindLaw, Justia, Ravel Law, and Casetext.  You owe it to yourself to take the newest of these for a test drive.  CourtListener rightly joins the UW Law Library’s list of free legal resources available on our Databases and Electronic Resources page.

SEC Adopts Final Rules to Require Hyperlinks to Exhibits in Filings

This post was authored by Jenny Zook, Reference and Instructional Services Librarian at the UW Law School Library.

SEC has adopted a final rule requiring public companies to include hyperlinks in their exhibit index, making it easier for investors to locate previously filed exhibits. According to the SEC, there was overwhelming support for this final rule. Previous to the new rule, to locate a filing, investors had to find the exhibit index to a registrants SEC filings, which, more often than not, was incorporated by reference. Embedding a link directly to the filing is a common sense amendment to the disclosure rules that will speed up the process for investors.

For more information on the SEC ruling see Reuters: SEC adopts rules requiring hyperlinks for corporate exhibits.

For other resources and more information, also see Practical Law: SEC Adopts Final Rules to Require Hyperlinks to Exhibit in Filings

Making case law accessible to all

There have been some very exciting advances in the fight to make court documents more freely accessible to everyone. As many legal researchers and law librarians are aware, many legal materials can be relatively rare or sheltered behind a paywall. Movements are afoot to change this, at least in part, and there has been progress over the past several months.

Harvard’s Case Law Access Project, which involves scanning scanning in Harvard’s entire collection of case law books, recently scanned it’s last volume. That may sound blase, but that means that nearly 44,000 volumes with roughly 40 million pages of case law have been digitized. This case law will be made freely available to anyone who needs to review it.

In addition to finishing their scanning, Harvard also recommended providing bulk digital data of future case law to make it easier to add to the currently scanned collection.  The director of Cornell’s LII and a Professor of Law from Indiana University also testified on behalf of the continued digitally accessible case law.

Lastly, and potentially most exciting, was the announcement by the Internet Archive of their desire to store PACER records from Federal Courts and make them freely available.  While it remains to be seen if this proposal will come to fruition, it is another indication of legal material becoming more easily available to anybody. For now, many PACER documents can be found via RECAP, a free website that is co-run by the Internet Archive and Princeton’s Center for Information Technology Policy.

As you search for case law and other legal materials, imagine how that process may become easier as it all migrates to the open web!

Position Annoucement: Reference and Technology Services Librarian

The University of Wisconsin Law School Library invites applications for the position of Reference and Technology Librarian. The Reference and Technology Librarian will be responsible for promoting and implementing technology that will support faculty, students and staff at the University of Wisconsin Law School in their research and scholarship as well as thorough legal research and reference assistance.

The full position description and questions about the application process can be found at: http://jobs.hr.wisc.edu/cw/en-us/job/494295/reference-and-technology-law-librarian

To ensure consideration, applications must be received by March 12, 2017. Contact Kris Turner with any questions about the position.

WI Historical Society Preserves Text from Scrubbed DNR & other Government Websites

Last month the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that “the state Department of Natural Resources recently scrubbed language from an agency web page on the Great Lakes that said humans and greenhouse gases are the main cause of climate change. The DNR now says the subject is a matter of scientific debate.”

The web page in question is http://dnr.wi.gov/topic/greatlakes/climatechange.html.  The article gives links to both the current and old text as archived by the Internet Archive’s Wayback Machine, a digital archive of web contact back to 1996.

What the Journal Sentinel article didn’t mention is that the archived site is also available through an archive of websites curated by Wisconsin Historical SocietyThe archive contains sites from “state agencies and local governments, political campaigns for gubernatorial or U.S. Senate races and related social media, topical issues such as mining and organic agriculture and selected online publications.”

According to the Historical Society,

This effort aims to provide permanent access to websites and other digital materials for researchers and the general public. By harvesting the content of these websites through the “Archive-It” subscription service, the Wisconsin Historical Society collects, preserves, and makes accessible these electronic publications and records for public use.

What’s the difference between the Wayback Machine and sites collected by the Historical Society you might ask?  Thoughtful curation and searchability.  From the Historical Society FAQ:

The primary difference between the general Wayback Machine web portal and Archive-It websites collected by institutions such as the WHS (which are also viewed through the Wayback portal) is that Archive-It collections are full-text searchable. WHS staff selects websites to preserve in various collections and can capture websites at strategic times, while the general Wayback Machine may or may not have an archived version of the website for which a user is searching.

So – if you’re looking for an archived version for a particular URL, stick with the Wayback machine which will include any sites archived by the Historical Society.  However, if you want to determine if particular text ever appeared on those sites, then give the Historical Society web archives a try.

Study Suggests that Law Clerks Influence Voting on the Supreme Court

A new study on SSRN examines whether law clerks exert any influence on voting by Supreme Court justices.  According to authors Adam Bonica, Adam Chilton, Jacob Goldin, Kyle Rozema, & Maya Sen, there is indeed “strong evidence that clerk ideology does affect judicial voting behavior.”

The authors examined political donations made by Supreme Court clerks and found that:

on average, a justice would cast approximately 4% more conservative votes in a term when employing his or her most conservative clerks, as compared to a term in which the justice employs his or her most liberal clerks.

We find larger effects in cases that are higher profile (17%), cases that are legally significant (22%), and cases in which the justices are more evenly divided (12%). We interpret these findings to provide suggestive evidence that clerk influence operates through clerks persuading their justice to follow the clerk’s preferred outcome, rather than through justices delegating decision-making to clerks.

Very interesting study.  See the full text on SSRN.  Hat tip to beSpacific.

Study Examines How Academic Law Libraries Use Blogs to Engage with Users

A new study in the latest edition of The Reference Librarian explores the use of blogs by academic law librarians.  In “An Exploratory Examination and Critique of Academic Law Librarian Blogs: A Look into an Evolving Reference Communication Practice,” author Grace Jackson-Brown of Missouri State University “demonstrates how academic law librarians use blogs as a communication tool and become proactive in their Reference/Research roles.”

Jackson-Brown identified 227 law library blogs (using the list maintained by CS-SIS).  Of these, 67 were academic blogs.  A small random sample of seven blogs was selected.  WisBlawg was one of the blogs included in the study.  A full list appears below:

Jackson-Brown examined posts from the 2014-15 academic year and placed them into categories based on the primary content of the post.  The largest category (30+%) was “Reference/Research.”  These were further subdivided into the following:

  • Texts about reference and/or research resources or services
  • Embedded media about reference and/or research
  • Links to or attachments of Research Guides (LibGuides or other bibliographies)
  • Promotions about instructional workshops, research forums, or other reference/research formal instruction

Jackson-Brown found that the blogs in the study were mainly targeted toward internal audiences (primarily law students) but that the blogs also had wider appeal to general audiences.  WisBlawg is an outlier among the group as our primarily target audience is external as noted in the study.

In her conclusion, Jackson-Brown states that

The study shows how a sample group of law librarians through the social media of blogs engage with their libraries’ users and wider audiences or communities. The law librarian bloggers “push out” important information content based on what they anticipate will be of interest or need to their users and audiences in an effort to connect and interact with communities of researchers and library users.

Lexis.com retiring from Law Schools on December 31

It’s the end of an era as Lexis.com, the long-running and highly regarded database says its final goodbyes to the Law School community.

With 100% of Lexis content now migrated to Lexis Advance, the small amount of loyal Lexis.com users will have to prepare for the switch to Lexis Advance, which has slowly been becoming the primary Lexis database over the past several years.

Both Lexis and Westlaw have transitioned to their new platforms and retired their flagship databases in recent years.

Book Review: My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg

My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg
Law Library Stacks: KF8745 .G56 A3 2016
Book Review by Eric Taylor, Evening Reference Librarian

My Own Words is a delightful read.  The words and stories are hers.  A woman ahead of her time.  Lucky in love to have met life partner, Marty, who was her champion in all things.  The strong work ethic and independent streak she got from her mom.  A mother herself juggling work-life balance.  An avid reader from early on who also happens to love opera.  These are some of the pictures her stories paint.

Arranged in five Parts, the book includes editorials, speeches, tributes, remarks on some of the major cases of our era, and essays on the work of a Justice on the Supreme Court of the United States.  Each Part, and their attending chapters are set up with short introductions by Justice Ginsburg’s official biographers, Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams.

The collection begins with an editorial she wrote for her school newspaper in 8th grade.  The year is 1946, just after WWII, and she writes: “Since the beginning of time, the world has known four great documents, great because of all the benefits to humanity which came about as a result of their fine ideals and principles.”  She is speaking about the Ten Commandments, Magna Carta, Bill of Rights, and Declaration of Independence.  “And now we have a fifth great document, the Charter of the United Nations.”

One piece not written by Ruth, but rather her husband, Marty, comes in the form of remarks he made as he introduced the Honorable Ruth Ginsburg on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellowship Program at Georgetown University Law Center in 2003.  A man full of wit and good humor, and as you can tell by his comments, lots of love and admiration for his wife.

The legal profession was not populated by many women when she graduated from Columbia Law School in 1959.  She was a trailblazer, but by no means alone.  In Part Two, she offers tribute to other women who have led the way.  These include historical figures such as Belva Ann Lockwood, the first woman to argue a case before the nine Justices, and the brave Anne Frank, as well as, contemporaries like Sandra Day O’Connor, and Gloria Steinem.  Ginsburg writes of Justice O’Connor’s approach to all things: “Waste no time on anger, regret or resentment, just get the job done.”

The 1970s saw Ruth Bader Ginsburg use her legal skills to advocate and advance the cause of women as equals before the law.  The decade was very productive for her, and many other women, as gains were made legally and socially.  The chapters in Part Three speak to her role in this movement, one of which, “The Frontiero Reply Brief” marked her first oral argument before the Supreme Court in 1973.  That same year she wrote in the ABA Journal “The Need for the Equal Rights Amendment.”  Despite the ERA’s failure in 1982 three states short of ratification, the cause of gender equality had moved forward.

President Jimmy Carter appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit in 1980.  President Bill Clinton then appointed her to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1993.  The selections in Part Four include her Rose Garden Nomination Acceptance Speech, and Opening Statement before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Part Five – The Justice on Judging and Justice – is by far the longest in the book and begins with “Workways of the Supreme Court” in which Justice Ginsburg describes the “procedures at my workplace.”  She explains “one cannot get a firm grasp on the substance of our decisions without some grounding in the rules, practices, and traditions that frame our decisionmaking.”  The next two chapters speak to “Judicial Independence” and the work of the Chief Justice in her “Tribute to Chief Justice Rehnquist.”

The chapters that follow return to two themes so very central to this book: human rights and the administration of justice.  In “Human Dignity and Equal Justice Under Law,” Justice Ginsburg speaks about Brown v. Board, and Loving v. Virginia to reflect on the pivotal role these decisions have had in advancing the cause of freedom and equal protection under law for all.  Loving was decided by unanimous decision, but many others are not.  Part Five also includes a section on the role of dissenting opinions, and the bench dissent.  In her own words, you can read seven of her recent bench dissents in cases such as Ledbetter, Sebelius, and Hobby Lobby.

No review would be complete without a story about Ruth’s love for the opera.  It is well known she and Justice Antonin Scalia shared this passion.  Composer Derrick Wang penned “Scalia/Ginsburg: A (Gentle) Parody of Operatic Proportions” a comedy in one act inspired by the two Justices’ opinions and the operatic precedent of Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Bizet, Sullivan, Puccini, Strauss, et al. (see 38 Columbia Journal of Law and Arts 237 (2015)).  She writes in preface “If I could choose the talent I would most like to have, it would be a glorious voice.”

This collection of short stories shine a light on the arc of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s life and career.  Each one is unique, special, and enjoyable to read in their place.  Together they form a much fuller picture of one of the most intelligent, worldwise, and thought-provoking jurists of our time.  Readers can delight in the fact there is a full-length biography underway to be published when the time is ripe.