Politics, open government, and safe streets. And the constant incursion of cycling.

Finding the Law That Governs Us

From an email to a listserv I’m on:

[E]arlier this week, we extended Google Scholar to allow anyone anywhere to find and read full text legal opinions from U.S. federal and state district, appellate and supreme courts. We hope that this addition to Google Scholar will empower the average citizen by helping everyone learn more about the laws that govern us all. As we worked to build this feature, we were struck by how readable and accessible these opinions are. Court opinions don’t just describe a decision but also present the reasons that support the decision. In doing so, they explain the intricacies of law in the context of real-life situations. And they often do it in language that is surprisingly straightforward, even for those of us outside the legal profession. In many cases, judges have gone quite a bit out of their way to make complex legal issues easy to follow. For example, in Korematsu v. United States, the Supreme Court justices present a fascinating and easy-to-follow debate on the legality of internment of natural born citizens based on their ancestry. And in United States v. Ramirez-Lopez, Judge Kozinski, in his dissent, illustrates the key issue of the case using an imagined good-news/bad-news dialogue between the defendant and his attorney.

The original announcement is here.  It’s a bit of an optimistic sheen, but not ridiculously so, I think.  Take advantage of it.


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  1. This will not replace Westlaw for me but it is already saving me a fortune — every time I have to go out of plan to get a federal case, it costs me at least $150. So I am using this a lot.

  2. Genevieve

    But Westlaw comes with a rep who hole-punches and staples me research for me!

    On a serious note, one thing I’ve found in my tenure as EIC of my Journal is that Westlaw and Lexis don’t always do that great a job reproducing cases and law reviews. There are rarely problems with text, although I have found misspellings, inappropriate italics/quote marks, etc, but the page numbers get screwed up a lot. In addition, when my authors copy and paste things from Westlaw directly to quote in their articles, a lot of metadata transfers over, meaning that I have to edit pieces for, e.g., straight quotes instead of curly ones.

    I wonder if this problem will exist in the Google Scholar legal materials, and to what extent. Then again, a judge once told my appellate ad class that citations were really not that important in briefs (judge to be unnamed, let’s just say he sits on a Circuit Court). I’m also pretty sure that the only people who care about the mistakes I pointed out above are EICs or academics.

    I think this will be especially good for pro se people-I imagine it could have been really great when Waldo was dealing with that subpoena last year-ish.

  3. MB

    But Westlaw comes with a rep who hole-punches and staples me research for me!

    In the end, Genevieve, it’s cheaper to go to Delilah’s Den.


    In the long run, I’d hope Westlaw and Lexis end up as second line sources for Federal caselaw. No way should the public have to pay for that a second time. There’s plenty of added value that Westlaw and Lexis can contribute*, but as to the opinions themselves? Should all be posted by the courts themselves.

    *Tho’ the added value is questionable. I learned, early on, that Keycites and whatnot were less than reliable . . .

  4. Genevieve

    “In the long run, I’d hope Westlaw and Lexis end up as second line sources for Federal caselaw.”

    I make my staff, as has every EIC before me, pull books off the shelves for all their cite checks. I agree though, the opinions should be posted by the courts–by someone who understands the internet (go take a look at the Tax Court’s website at some point. Oh, and PACER? I hate you too. Surprisingly enough, the DoD’s security clearance litigation component does a semi-decent job of posting opinions–they’re not well organized, but they are actual accurate copies and are posted as soon as the opinion is handed down.).

  5. Genevieve

    Oh! And “justices” should be “Justices,” god, don’t people read their Bluebooks anymore?

    I am just grateful that I currently do not recall the page number for the section on capitalization-there are some rules, I and some of the other editors, have the page numbers memorized for. Ugh. I have Big Problems, yes?

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