The latest on open access to legal opinions from Peter Martin: Better Never than So Very Late? « Citing Legally

In today’s environment, reducing the time involved in bringing the Court’s decisions to print, whether preliminary or final, is no longer an important goal. Making them promptly available to the public, the legal profession, and the nation’s other courts in final citable form is and that requires a serious program of electronic publication.

Source: Better Never than So Very Late? « Citing Legally

As always insightful analysis from Cornell’s Peter Martin. I think we should all just listen to Prof. Martin and do what he says.

Library Innovation Lab leader talks ‘unbinding the law’ with the Caselaw Access Project – Harvard Law Today | Harvard Law Today

Historically, libraries have been collections — books, multimedia materials and artwork. But increasingly they’re about connections, linking digital data in new and different ways, but Harvard Law’s Caselaw Access Project is a state-of-the-art example of that shift.

Source: Library Innovation Lab leader talks ‘unbinding the law’ with the Caselaw Access Project – Harvard Law Today | Harvard Law Today

An idea that would make GitHub really interesting for Open Law

Successfully architected solutions do two things: First, they rely on existing open standards rather than reinventing the wheel. They rely on some of the internet’s greatest hits, things like OAuth and REST, and store data in formats born in the internet age, formats like GeoJSON and markdown. No licenses, no SDKs, just data. Second, they’re built as a dumb core with a smart edge. Upgrading a standard is a monumental task. Upgrading a tool is trivial. But more importantly, there’s room at the edge for experimentation, and with readily available libraries, amazing vehicles of empowerment like, something that nobody knew could exist six months ago, suddenly start appearing over night.

Ben Balter :: That’s not how the internet works

First, go read the article, it’s really good and packed full of interesting points. I’ll wait.
Welcome back!
Now imagine the CFR stored as data on GitHub. A GitCFR repository would be open to all and exposed to the APIs of GitHub. Besides using GeoJSON to locate fire hydrants in your neighborhood you could use GitCFR to find regulations relevant to the manufacture of those fire hydrants. Any API call would return just a specific piece of the regs that could be displayed as the app builder desires.

Of course any of this would require that the GPO set up a system for loading the CFR to GitHub so we don’t have to worry about issues of authenticity. While anyone can grab the bulk XML of the CFR from the GPO’s FDsys website and load it into GitHub, it really needs to the be done by the GPO so that developers can rely on the authenticity of the data.


I know, your first question is “What format?”, but that doesn’t really matter. It could be be JSON, Asciidoc, Markdown, XML, anything so long as it’s regular and structured.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5
That said it would certainly make for an interesting weekend project to throw some section of the CFR into GitHub and see what can be done with existing API calls.Powered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5

What Free and Open Access To The Law Looks Like

I spend a lot of time working on and thinking about free and open access to the law, mostly court opinions. Today the Supreme Court of the United States handed down a decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The opinion strikes down a section of the Voting Rights Act and will certainly trigger much discussion, debate, and possibly legislation going forward.

I’ll leave analysis of the decision to others and instead point out a graphic demonstration of the power of free and open access to the law. I think we can all agree that Shelby is going to have an impact on voting in America. Now this decision is the law of the land. Everyone needs to know about it. Access to the decision needs to be free and open. As soon as the opinion was issued it began cropping up on the web. Links were being posted to Twitter:

Following the links in these tweets provided interesting results that provide a graphic highlight of what free and open access to the law looks like. Clicking on the link in the Westlaw tweet gives the user this:

Shelby on WLNOn the other hand clicking on the link in the LII tweet gets us to a better place:

Shelby on LII


I understand that WestlawNext is a commercial service owned and operated by Thomson Reuters, but this document is law that applies to everyone in the United States. If you are going to link to it in a public space at least put the text of the opinion in from of the paywall so everyone seeing your link can read the opinion. Save the login for all of the extra value your products bring to the analysis of the decision.

I also understand that all too frequently our access to the law that governs our country is restricted by commercial interests who have little or no incentive to freely and openly distribute the law. Our law protects our freedom and our law needs to be free and open for all to readily access.



Here I do mean free as in freedom and free in the economic sensePowered by Hackadelic Sliding Notes 1.6.5

OpenPublic Drupal – A Solution for U.S. Courts?

OpenPublic is an open source content management system based on Drupal and tailored for building websites for government

via By the people, for the people | OpenPublic.

From the same folks who brought us Open Atrium, OpenPublic is a Drupal distribution that has been tailored to meet the security, accessibility, and transparency needs of the Federal government. So, is it a solution for U.S. courts? Certainly using a platform like Drupal would provide courts with the ability to create custom websites while maintaining a standard backend that could be used to provide greater access to court decisions, rules and forms. Does anyone know if any courts are using Drupal for their main website?

So far it seems like most courts are using PDF, at least the opinions are available.

So, I decided to take a look at state court websites to see what opinions are available and in what format. I’m as far as Kentucky and the only real surprise so far is that Alabama wants me to buy a $200 subscription to search what appears to be a home-brewed legal info system. I have no idea what’s up with that. Beyond that everything else is all about the PDFs. The older sections of archives, if they exist, may include HTML and word processor files, but any sort of FTP or other bulk download mechanism is not to be found.

I’ll be pushing forward with this over the next couple of evenings. If you want to follow along, follow this delicious tag:


State of Delaware Offers Authenticated Regulations Online

The Office of the Registrar of Regulations, publishes various documents which conform to accepted standards regarding authenticated digital content. The Office certifes the authenticated documents published on this website and assures the authenticity of the author, source and origin of the authenticated documents when such document bears the following emblem:

DE certification image

via State of Delaware – Delaware Regulations – Home Page.

This is important stuff. By adding this digital signature to the electronic copy of the Delaware Regulations viewers of the the documents can rely on them as accurate and authentic. That means that there is no need to refer to any other copy of the regulations. This pronouncement of authenticity of the digital copy is something that is key to the success of the open access to law movement. Until the bodies that generate the law authenticate the digital copies that are available using them is risky.

For example, look at this disclaimer from the Delaware Code website:

DISCLAIMER: Please Note: With respect to the Delaware Code documents available from this site or server, neither the State of Delaware nor any of its employees, makes any warranty, express or implied, including the warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of any information, apparatus, product, or process disclosed, or represents that its use would not infringe privately-owned rights. This information is provided for informational purposes only. Please seek legal counsel for help on interpretation of individual statutes.

In a nutshell it disclaims authenticity in the online version of the code making it effectively useless without reference to the authenticated (presumably) print version. You cannot legally rely on the electronic copy of the Delaware Code.

It is worth noting that starting with the 2009 – 2010 session, volume 77, Laws of Delaware are also authenticated with digital signatures. These are the session laws of the Delaware General Assembly.

I’m not sure if any other states are making authenticated copies of regulations or codes available or if any courts are offering authenticated opinions but it is something that needs to be done. In order for the open access and movement to really work there needs to be open access to authenticated copies of the law. Simply having access to the raw data, or to unauthenticated copies is a fine first step, but is really only useful for research and information. After all, the law belongs to all of us, we have a right to open access to authenticated copies of the law.

HT to Law Librarian Blog for the pointer to the beSpecific link to Delaware Regulations.