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Abandoning Law Reports for Official Digital Case Law by Peter W. Martin, Cornell Law School (January 25, 2011) Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper No. 11-01.
In 2009, Arkansas ended publication of the Arkansas Reports. Since 1837 this series of volumes, joined in the late twentieth century by the Arkansas Appellate Reports covering the state’s intermediate court of appeals, had served as the official record of Arkansas’s case law. For all decisions handed down after February 12, 2009, not books but a database of electronic documents “created, authenticated, secured, and maintained by the Reporter of Decisions” constitute the “official report” of all Arkansas appellate decisions.
With justifiable pride, the state supreme court proclaimed Arkansas to be the first jurisdiction in the nation to switch from law report publication to official legal data distribution. It will not be the last.
This article examines what distinguishes this Arkansas reform from the widespread cessation of public law report publication that occurred during the twentieth century and its reporter’s official database from the opinion archives hosted at the judicial websites of most U.S. appellate courts (including that of the Arkansas judicial branch between 1996 and 2009). The article next explores the distinctive alignment of factors that both led and enabled the Arkansas judiciary to take a step that courts in other jurisdictions, state and federal, have so far resisted.
Big Hat Tip to Sabrina I. Pacifici!
The National Association of State CIOs has issued a brief on state government transparency that describes and defines a vision of open government information. The brief recommends that State CIOs should partner with agency executives, records managers, librarians, archivists, data architects, and others to create an open system of government information. It sets out 8 Open Government DAta Principles. Data should be:
- Machine processable
See the report:
A Call to Action for State Government: Guidance for Opening the Doors to State Data, National Association of State CIOs (September 2009).
Hat tip to beSpacific!
- Professor Posts “Illegal Copy” of Guide To Oregon Public Record Laws Slashdot, September 16, 2009.
The Attorney General of Oregon is claiming copyright over a state-produced guide to using public-records laws and sells the 326-page book for $25. The AG’s offices says, “that’s how the AG’s office makes back the cost of producing the book” (A smackdown over Oregon public records, by Jeff Mapes, The Oregonian, September 14, 2009).
Bill Harbaugh, Professor of Economics at the University of Oregon, has posted scans of the guide on his website and is daring the AG to respond. He notes that the manual includes on its cover the famous James Madison quote, “A popular Government, without popular information, or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to a Farce or a Tragedy…” and he says that, “Given that this very quote is prominently posted on the cover of the same manual which AG John Kroger is trying to keep off the internet, I hold with those who favor farce.”
The Sunshine Week 2009 Survey of State Government Information online found that while more and more government records are being posted online, some of the most important information is being left offline. And in some cases governments are charging taxpayers to access records that they already paid for, such as death certificates.
Teams of surveyors scanned government Web sites in every U.S. state to look for 20 different kinds of public records. The results were released today at the start of Sunshine Week 2009, which runs March 15-21. The study was developed by Sunshine Week, the American Society of Newspaper Editors’ Freedom of Information Committee, the National Freedom of Information Coalition, and the Society of Professional Journalists’ FOI Committee.