Thomson Reuters – the company that owns Westlaw – has been beefing up its coverage of legal affairs in recent years, with reporting and commentary available through the Thomson Reuters News & Insight website. As part of this push into enhanced legal coverage, the company recently launched a new offshoot devoted to covering the Supreme [...]
TAG | Supreme Court
Supreme Court watchers usually set their sights on the first Monday in October. This year, however, they might want to pay attention to the last Monday in September. On Monday, the preeminent Supreme Court blog, SCOTUSblog, will unveil a new look and some new features.
SCOTUSblog has long stood out to me as among the best of the legal blogs. Here is a blog that has established itself as the definitive and authoritative resource for all things Supreme Court. It tracks the court from all angles, providing news reports, in-depth analysis, case files, court calendars and statistics. All this is done with a roster of contributors that includes practitioners, academics, journalists and others. And while the founder and publisher of SCOTUSblog, Tom Goldstein, has a practice that focuses on Supreme Court advocacy, the blog never seems like a marketing vehicle but always remains focused on providing useful information.
Monday’s redesign will be, by my count, the fourth complete overhaul of the site since it launched in October 2002. More notably, just a year after SCOTUSblog unveiled a major redesign in which it moved away from the traditional blog format of presenting posts in reverse-chronological order, it is now returning to that format.
Among the changes that will be unveiled on Monday:
- The front page “reverts” to a two-column, reverse-chronological format that more closely resembles a traditional blog format, as distinguished from the three-column format now in use that separates “Featured Posts” and “Other Posts.”
- A new bar is added across the top of every page that highlights “Featured Content.”
- There is more prominent integration of social media, particularly with buttons on each post to publish the post to Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus.
- Key content now located in the lower portion of the center home page now moves to the right-hand column. This includes the calendar, “This Week at the Court,” “Upcoming Oral Arguments,” “Upcoming Petitions” and “Term Snapshot.”
- The top-of-page navigational elements are restructured in ways that have them point more directly to different types of content.
By email, Tom Goldstein tells me that the most major new feature accompanying the redesign will be a “community” system for discussions. He also provided some insight on the reasons for the redesign:
In some respects, I decided that we needed to move backwards to move forwards. Our last platform was so unusual that I think more than half the readers didn’t really like having the two columns noting blog posts, though there are certainly loud exceptions. I think that platform educated the readers about the other features we have – like the case pages, calendar, and statistics – so those don’t have to be front and center, with everything on a single page, any longer. And the “featured content” level is a better solution to highlighting our most important posts (including because it appears on every page).
This platform is also evolutionary: there is a direct and immediate list of the current term’s merits cases; and the list of upcoming arguments is better than the previous upcoming merits cases, because you see a whole week and a summary of the issue.
These changes to the blog come in a year that also saw changes to Goldstein’s practice. In January, he left Akin Gump and returned to his former firm, Goldstein & Russell, citing client conflicts as his reason for leaving. Initially, it was unclear whether the blog — which he brought to Akin Gump — would follow him when he left. Fortunately for us readers, it did.
Law.com this week published my article, Get Your Free Case Law on the Web. No sooner did it appear than I received an e-mail from a reader questioning how several of the sites discussed in the article could claim to have U.S. Supreme Court cases from before there was a Supreme Court. In fact, they claimed to have Supreme Court cases dating back to 1754 — even before the American Revolution.
I’ll admit, I felt like an idiot for not questioning this myself when I wrote the article. And when I e-mailed several of these sites to put the question to them, I heard back from only one, and the person who responded was not immediately sure of the answer.
Hoping to find the answer for myself, I first turned to one of the sites, Public.Resource.Org, to see this supposed 1754 Supreme Court case. I went to its Supreme Court library and made my way to Volume 1, Page 1 of the U.S. Reports. Sure enough, it is from September 1754. But while it is from a supreme court, it is not the Supreme Court. Rather, it is the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania.
None of the decisions appearing in the first volume and most of the second volume of United States Reports are actually decisions of the United States Supreme Court. Instead, they are decisions from various Pennsylvania courts, dating from the colonial period and the first decade after Independence. Alexander Dallas, a Philadelphia, Pennsylvania lawyer and journalist, had been in the business of reporting these cases for newspapers and periodicals. He subsequently began compiling his case reports in a bound volume, which he called “Reports of cases ruled and adjudged in the courts of Pennsylvania, before and since the Revolution”. This would come to be known as the first volume of “Dallas Reports.”
When the United States Supreme Court, along with the rest of the new Federal Government, moved in 1791 to the nation’s temporary capital in Philadelphia, Dallas was appointed the Supreme Court’s first unofficial and unpaid Supreme Court Reporter. (Court reporters in that age received no salary, but were expected to profit from the publication and sale of their compiled decisions.) Dallas continued to collect and publish Pennsylvania decisions in a second volume of his Reports, and when the Supreme Court began hearing cases, he added those cases to his reports, starting towards the end of the second volume, “2 Dallas Reports,” with West v. Barnes (1791). Dallas would go on to publish a total of 4 volumes of decisions during his tenure as Reporter.
When the Supreme Court moved to Washington, D.C. in 1800, Dallas remained in Philadelphia, and William Cranch took over as unofficial reporter of decisions. In 1817 Congress made the Reporter of Decisions an official, salaried position, although the publication of the Reports remained a private enterprise for the reporter’s personal gain. The reports themselves were the subject of an early copyright case, Wheaton v. Peters, in which former reporter Henry Wheaton sued then-current reporter Richard Peters for reprinting cases from “Wheaton’s Reports” in abridged form.
In 1874, the U.S. government began to fund the reports’ publication, creating the United States Reports. The earlier private reports were retroactively numbered volumes 1-90 of the U.S. Reports, starting from the first volume of Dallas Reports. As a result, decisions appearing in these early reports have dual citation forms; one for the volume number of the United States Reports, and one for the set of nominate reports. For example, the complete citation to McCulloch v. Maryland is 17 U.S. (4 Wheat.) 316 (1819).
Maybe I learned that back in the first year of law school. If so, I’ve long since forgotten. Now I know and this time, I doubt I’ll forget. But what we do know is that when these sites claim to have Supreme Court cases back to 1754, what they mean is that they have the full series of U.S. Reports.
There is now a Twitter feed for news from the U.S. Supreme Court. The blog Law Tech Review suggests that this feed comes directly from the court, which uses it to disseminate information about its latest activities. But I strongly doubt that the feed is from the court. If it is from the court, then why does it provide links to Supreme Court opinions posted at the Legal Information Institute instead of the opinions posted on the court’s own official site? And why does it link to only some but not all of the opinions issued so far this term? And why would the nation’s highest court choose to follow on Twitter only five feeds — The White House, the House, the Senate and two feeds owned by a man who appears to be equally consumed by U.S. politics and Christian fundamentalism? No, even though this feed bears the name of the Supreme Court, I don’t think the court is its source.
In honor of this first Monday in October, I have rounded up links to my previously posted items and columns that cover resources related to researching and tracking the Supreme Court.
- August 2003: A Supreme Collection of High Court Resources.
- March 11, 2007: LII discontinues older RSS feed.
- Feb. 14, 2007: Justia Does FindLaw One Better.
- Feb. 7, 2007: Supreme Court adds special-master reports.
- Dec. 12, 2006: A Supreme (Court) Resource.
- Sept. 4, 2006: SCOTUSblog launches a podcast.
- July 16, 2006: Podcast: Supreme Court year in review.
- May 26, 2006: Podcast discusses SCOTUS eBay ruling.
- April 30, 2006: The Supreme Court zeitgeist.
- March 4, 2006: Goldstein, SCOTUSblog, going to Akin Gump.
- Dec. 8, 2005: Audiocast: Military recruiting at law schools.
- Dec. 1, 2005: Audiocast: Abortion and the Supreme Court.
- Nov. 21, 2005: Top 10 Supreme Court patent cases.
- Nov. 15, 2005: Harvard Law Review looks at high court.
- Sept. 28, 2005: Supreme Court Preview.
- July 19, 2005: Supreme Court Watch launches a podcast.
- March 24, 2005: Web site helps teach about landmark Supreme Court cases.
- Feb. 8, 2005: New and improved SCOTUSblog.
- Jan. 13, 2005: An RSS feed for Supreme Court opinions.
- March 4, 2004: As Blackmun papers go public, new Web site serves as finding aid.
- March 1, 2004: A site for Supreme Court records and briefs.
- August 13, 2003: Medill site offers journalist’s view of Supreme Court.
- July 15, 2003: Oyez Project adds MP3s of Supreme Court arguments.
- May 23, 2003: The Supreme Court now and the Supreme Court then.
I’ve been so busy lately, I’ve neglected to plug the most recent episodes of my own podcast. So here is two weeks’ worth of Lawyer2Lawyer:
- First up: Supreme Court end of term. We look at last week’s key rulings and take the end-of-term pulse of the court with help from two guests: Tony Mauro, Supreme Court correspondent for Legal Times, American Lawyer Media and Law.com, and Amy Howe, partner with Howe & Russell in Washington, D.C., and regulator contributor to and editor of SCOTUSblog.
- Next in line: Pet food litigation. We discuss the class action litigation following recent pet-food recalls. Joining us are Jay Edelson, partner at the Chicago firm Blim & Edelson LLC, the lawyer who filed one of the first class actions over contaminated pet food, and Bruce A. Wagman, partner with the firm Schiff Hardin LLP in San Francisco and chief outside litigation counsel of the Animal Legal Defense Fund.
Download or listen to either program from the links above. (For downloading, free registration is required with the Legal Talk Network.)
As I mentioned in this 2005 article, The Power of RSS, Cornell’s Legal Information Institute has two RSS feeds for Supreme Court decisions, one for today’s decisions and another for recent decisions. But if you are using the RSS version 0.91 feed I linked to in that article, you’ll need to update your subscription. You can find the current feeds at this subscription page.
This week on our legal-affairs podcast Lawyer2Lawyer, we discuss the implications of the Supreme Court’s punitive damages decision, Philip Morris USA v. Williams for big business and big tobacco. Joining my cohost J. Craig Williams and I are Michael Gerhardt, professor of law at UNC School of Law; J. David Prince, professor of law at the William Mitchell College of Law and co-author of Products Liability Prof Blog; and Mark Gottlieb, executive director of the Public Health Advocacy Institute at Northeastern University School of Law in Boston.
“FindLaw’s core is showing its age. Started in 1994 as an index of legal resources on the Internet, FindLaw used that index as the foundation on which to build a range of resources for legal professionals, businesses and consumers. But in recent years, FindLaw has let its index go to seed, failing to weed out dead URLs, update site descriptions or add new resources as they come along. The deterioration of FindLaw’s index is so extreme as to call into question its usefulness as a primary resource for legal professionals.”
As I noted then, FindLaw’s downturn seemed to coincide with its 2001 purchase by Thomson West. What I did not mention then was that with that purchase came the departure of FindLaw’s co-founder Tim Stanley. From my earlier reporting about FindLaw, I knew Stanley to be creative and energetic. I could only wonder whether his leaving contributed to FindLaw’s downturn. (In fairness to FindLaw, it responded quickly to my series and continues to make substantial revisions and enhancements to its ever-growing site.)
Meanwhile, Stanley started a little company called Justia. At first, Justia’s main focus was “legal marketing solutions” — creating law firm Web sites and blogs and providing search engine optimization. At the same time, Stanley and his staff worked on public-interest side projects such as the Stanford Copyright and Fair Use Center and RecallWarnings.com. Later came Justia’s Supreme Court Center, pulling together a searchable collection of Supreme Court cases along with Supreme Court resources from all over the Web.
Justia continued to add innovative features, such as BlawgSearch for searching law-related blogs and Blawgs.fm for searching law-related podcasts. Just last week, he launched Federal District Court Filings & Dockets, for searching and browsing federal dockets. Along the way, Justia added collections of links to Web legal resources arranged by legal practice areas and to legal research and law practice resources arranged under cases and codes, courts, states, law schools, legal forms and the like.
All of which seems to be bringing Justia back full circle to where FindLaw was when Stanley left — when FindLaw was still the premier portal for legal research. Look at Justia’s front page today and one is reminded of the FindLaw of old. More to the point, Justia today is becoming every bit as valuable as a legal portal as FindLaw once was. In fact, I would say it is one of the best free legal-research sites on the Web.
“Special Master reports are now being posted on the Supreme Court’s Web site. On the ‘Docket’ page of the Web site you will find a link titled ‘Special Master Reports.’ The Court will add reports as they are issued in the future. In addition, the Court plans to post past reports as well.
Please contact the Public Information Office (202-479-3211) if you have any questions.”
As Lyle Denniston explains at SCOTUSBlog, the court appoints special masters to conduct preliminary reviews of original cases that the court allows to be filed and to make recommendations for deciding those cases.