Thoughts on the Archive

  • From: Matthew Roberts <mroberts@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <scotus_archive@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Sun, 26 May 2002 16:02:37 -0500

Below are my thoughts on our nascent project.  I've kept the outline
structure that Tom used, and as you can see, my thoughts in many places echo
those of the Midwest group.

I.  Unresolved issues
    A.  Who will host / maintain / compile the archive?

I agree that we're not likely to make any progress until there's actually a
site to host the archive.  I'm still interested in being involved with this
aspect, though I haven't spoken to Tim Johnson (law/courts faculty here at U
of MN Twin Cities) about it lately; I also haven't discussed it with our
department.  I also agree that the best home for the archive probably will
be at some institution, unless the Law/Courts section site was to receive
some sort of permanent home.

    B.  Content of the archive
        i)  What is to be included?

I think this archive's functionality will really turn on being able to keep
track of this kind of "extra information" about a case.  Storing some of
this meta-information in a database, separate but connected to the actual
edited opinions could be really useful.

        ii) Should different versions of the same case be provided for
            different teaching purposes?
       iii) Including a statement of editorial focus/interpretation?
        iv) How to deal with the issue of political bias in
            editing/interpreting cases?

I think both of these issues are best handled by way of the same
"meta-information" mentioned above.  We could settle on a handful of
standard categories for case content/topical focus; contributors could
choose from the top one or two categories that fit their purpose.

I also agree that contributors should, whenever possible, include a brief
commentary on how they went about their editing to help highlight possible
biases that might be included (purposefully or accidentally) in the edited
case.  It might be nice if there was someway that we could easily compare
various editions to see which included what portions and how complete each
would be, but I'm not sure of an easy method off the top of my head...

I would hope that if the archive began to develop a selection of cases which
were very clearly slanted in their editing, that we could easily recruit or
include others to serve as balance.

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

A very important inclusion, which I think we can adequately handle by
linking to other online sources.  Links to Oyez arguments would also be

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

I'm torn on how this should work.  It also brings up basic questions of how
the archive will work.  Can anyone (e.g. students, the public at large)
visit the site and look at the cases?  Are contributions accepted from
anyone, or do contributors somehow need to "register"--and if so, how do
those registrations get approved?

To keep this a truly useful, scholastic endeavor I think it might be a good
idea to submit each incoming contribution to a brief blind review process.
Another idea that might work in tandem (or as a replacement for review?)
would be some sort of rating process; registered users would be able to
provide rankings on how valuable, insightful, or useful they found a case.
This would be one way for the truly superior contributions to rise to the
top, though it might also have the effect of pointing users exclusively to a
few cases instead of to the broad variety of contributions we hope to

II. Specific detailed suggestions

    A.  Submitting / acquiring cases

I don't have much to add here beyond what the Midwest group discussed.
Since all the content is ultimately destined for the web, keeping things as
electronic as possible would probably help the process.  We'll have to
decide what file formats to include for distribution.  First, we'll have to
decide whether there will be any HTML based version that can be viewed right
in the web browser.  This would probably be a plus, and wouldn't be too hard
to generate from any word processing file that was sent along.

I'm always a big fan of Adobe Acrobat, since neither WordPerfect or MSWord
is free and there's no guarantee any given user has one or the other (though
they most likely have Word).  If submissions were made in Word or WP format,
the editor could make, without too much effort, an Acrobat and HTML version
of the case.

I also think it's a good idea to build-up our selection by finding those who
already have online cases and asking if they would like theirs to be

    B.  Case details

Pagination to US reports is an important inclusion, in my opinion.  I also
think it would be best if there was a common format for doing so (e.g. using
square brackets with asterisks, or something like that).  Making citations
into links, say to Findlaw's full editions, would also be helpful.

Since not everyone might be interested in creating these truly interactive
cases (or perhaps it would just take too much lead time), it might be useful
to have some scaled system of contribution.  For example, the most basic
level would just be edited case text; the next level would include linked
citations, etc.  We could track this data for each contribution and display
it to users before they choose to view a particular case.  Enterprising
members might decide to help-out by adding these extra features to cases
already in the archive.

    C.  The site 

My only thoughts here are that we need a variety of useful ways to get at
the information.  I think the Midwest group highlighted the important ones:
"alphabetically, by topic, by opinion author".  A search engine could let us
search on any piece of information that we tracked--even by the name of the
contributor to the archive.

    D.  Access to other resources

I agree that this archive would be most useful when it includes links to
other supporting material.  To start with, however, I think we should focus
just on the cases themselves.

Matthew Roberts (mroberts@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx)
   Ph.D. Candidate, Dept. of Political Science
   Instructional Technology Fellow
   University of Minnesota

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