Results of Meeting at MPSA

  • From: Matthew Roberts <mroberts@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <scotus_archive@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 26 May 2002 08:44:48 -0500

In case you haven¹t seen this through other channels, Tom Powers asked me to
pass on the following message, a summary of the on-line archive meeting
recently held at the Midwest Political Science Association meeting.

----- Original Message -----
From: Tom Powers <mailto:tpowers5040@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Thursday, May 23, 2002 5:10 PM
Subject: Internet Con Law Case Archive

Internet Constitutional Law Case Archive Project

Discussion at Midwest Political Science Association Meeting, April 27, 2002



The notes that follow summarize a very preliminary discussion a group of us
had about the form an archive of edited U.S. Supreme Court cases on the
internet might take. There was agreement that this would be an invaluable
teaching/learning tool, a powerful resource with many applications and great
flexibility. The problems with using unedited full-text cases now available
on the web in the classroom are obvious. There was also fundamental
agreement that the project of providing a comprehensive collection of
important cases could be achieved at least in part as a collaborative,
voluntary effort among the community of students and teachers of American
constitutional law. Such an effort, sensibly guided and organized, would
presumably accumulate a sizeable collection of useful information relatively

The comments and suggestions that follow do not purport to be representative
of anything other than our discussion. There were only a few of us at the
meeting in Chicago who spoke together about this, and our conversation was
necessarily very preliminary and tentative. But hopefully our efforts may
serve as a starting point for further discussion and reflection (and,
hopefully, at some point in the not too far distant future, action).

The discussion we had may usefully be divided into the following areas:

I. Unresolved Central Issues

A. Who will host / maintain / compile the archive ?

B. Content of the archive

­ what is to be included ?

­ different versions of the same case for different teaching purposes?

­ how to deal with the issue of political bias in editing/interpreting

­ including a statement of editorial focus/interpretation

­ including access to the full-text version of cases as well

C. Is there a need for some sort of feedback / "review" of the edited cases
before they are included?


II. Specific Detailed Suggestions

A. Submitting / acquiring cases

B. Case details

C. The site

D. Access to other resources


I. Unresolved issues

A. Who will host / maintain / compile the archive?

Practically speaking, it¹s obvious that without an answer to this question,
the archive will not materialize. This is a big project and will require
fairly substantial institutional support. A school/institution with the
logistical wherewithal to bring it off will at some point have to take the
lead. If no such institution should come forward, it is possible that the
law/courts section of the APSA might be asked to take up this role. But it
seems that a better home for such a project would be one of the
larger/better funded schools (probably one with a law school). (None of us
was at such a school and so our discussion was highly speculative on this

B. Content of the archive

i) What is to be included?

A standard format will need to be devised to give guidance to individuals
willing to provide edited cases to the archive. Standard information in
addition to the edited opinion(s) would include some or all of the
following: the vote of the Justices, number/authors of concurring/dissenting
opinions, procedural disposition of the case, and a summary of the facts.

ii) Should different versions of the same case be provided for different
teaching purposes?

Since the same case can be taught in different contexts with different
emphases, it seems that in such instances multiple "editions" of the same
case might be provided. A website would have little trouble making plain the
difference among different versions of the same case. (In some instances
this would not be necessary, especially when a case is relatively brief and

iii) Including a statement of editorial focus/interpretation?

One response to the issues raised in (ii) would be to have whoever edits a
case provide a brief statement of the intention guiding his/her editorial
decisions and indicating what material has been cut. This could be included
as a link so as not to clutter up the text. (See also (v) below.)

iv) How to deal with the issue of political bias in editing/interpreting

>> Ideally, an edited case would allow both (or all) sides of any given debate
>> to have its views fully expressed. In some cases ­ especially when, in the
>> interest of brevity, dissenting and concurring opinions need to be
>> considerably shortened ­ this is difficult as a practical matter. But even
>> when such practical considerations do not present themselves, editing in a
>> balanced way is difficult. Some of us think that every Scalia dissent is
>> brilliant, some of us don¹t. Anyone who has wondered how an editor could have
>> left out "that paragraph" can attest that the issue of political bias in the
>> editing of cases is one that should probably be confronted head-on in a
>> project such as this.

v) Including access to the full-text version of cases.

One way to respond to the issues raised in both (iv) and (ii) above would be
to provide, in addition to any edited version(s), the full text of a case as
well. This would permit one quickly to compare the edited case with the
original. (Clearly denoting elisions in the text of edited cases would also
be helpful here.) As there are already websites that provide full-text
versions of cases, this might be redundant/unnecessary ­ but if the full
case is not to be included, providing direct links to the full text of
specific cases at another website would be useful. (That full-text sites are
not always user-friendly is an argument in favor of including them in a
consolidated constitutional law archive.)

C. Is there a need for some sort of feedback / "review" of the edited cases
before they are included?

Especially because of the issues raised above (in (B)), some sort of
informal review of case editions would probably be a good idea. This would
not need to be a particularly onerous chore and, especially if many scholars
participate in the project, one that could be widely distributed among those
already contributing. An alternative might be to have some sort of
centralized editorial guidance though, for reasons stated above, it might be
a good idea to subject any such editorial control in turn to some sort of
scrutiny by those participating.

II. Specific detailed suggestions

A. Submitting / acquiring cases

­ It is possible in many instances now to download full-text versions of
most important cases from the web and to then convert them to either a
WordPerfect or MSWord document. Cases could then be edited in either format
and submitted easily either via email or on disk. Where this is not possible
cases can be edited and then scanned. (Presumably few would be interested in
participating if it meant typing out the entirety of an edited case.)

­ It would be possible to begin by asking to use edited cases already on the
web. There are many sites set up by individual instructors providing on a
limited scale exactly the sort of resource that the case archive would hope
to achieve on a bigger scale. This would allow the site to attain fairly
quickly a sizeable collection of cases, some of which might then be edited
further in the future.

B. Case details

>> ­ There can be no simple guidelines for the length of each edited case.
>> Length will vary for a number of reasons.
>> ­ It would be preferable if U.S. reports pagination could be
>> maintained/noted.
>> ­ Including citations wherever possible (as weblink notes perhaps) would be
>> useful. (At the very least, provide the citations when including the full
>> text of the opinion (see I.B.v above).)
>> ­ Indicate clearly in the edited version where text has been cut. (If the
>> site provided the full-text version of the case as well, it might be possible
>> even to provide a link directly to the portion excised.)

C. The site

­ The site should be simple to navigate and user-friendly. Speed of loading
should be a consideration (i.e., minimal graphics).

­ Cases should be categorized various ways (alphabetically, by topic, by
opinion author, etc.). A search engine would also be obviously useful.

­ Making the site printer-friendly would be very important (this is a
limitation on some of the sites that now provide full-text versions of

­ Permitting the text to be downloaded in a format that could then be
manipulated further in a word processing program would be useful.

D. Access to other resources

­ Providing a link to oral argument for each case included at the website would be obviously useful.

­Many other resources are available and might be usefully incorporated into
an archive website. Commentary on cases, law review essays, etc. could all
be conceivably be compiled and/or linked together. Putting something like
this together (essentially a U.S. constitutional law internet library)
would, however, be a massive project in its own right. To the extent that an
archive of edited cases became a widely used teaching/research tool, it
might be appropriate to expand the idea in that direction, but, "first
things first."

My thanks to Joyce Baugh (Central Michigan University) and W.Merrill Downer
(Thiel College) for their insights and suggestions.


Tom Powers

University of Minnesota Duluth

------ End of Forwarded Message

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