As you may know, Congress.gov is the official website for official U.S. legislative information and documents such as bills, committee hearing transcripts and committee reports. It took over that roll from THOMAS, the original Congressional website, in 2012.
For most of the period since the transition, however, THOMAS continued to be the better source for information about treaties: Senate consideration and action on treaties submitted by the President. For example, see the information provided by THOMAS on the Senate’s consideration of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities below.
This Spring, Congress.gov began providing detailed information about treaties back to 1975. See the display of information on the disabilities convention in Congress.gov below.
Unlike the display in THOMAS, Congress.gov provides links to several relevant documents, including the Treaty document itself, 112-7, and the accompanying Senate reports, in HTML text or PDF.
Using Congress.gov can be an adjustment. Fortunately, the site provide extensive Help screens, including Search tips.
The great website GPO Access, the home of official U.S. Government documents, has changed its format as well as it’s name. It’s now called FDsys, but it still has the same great content. Take a look at the current FDsys “Featured Collections.”
Now that’s what I call official!
The new link is spelled out below.
A previous post discussed the Bloomberg Law docket search feature and access to federal court filings from the PACER system. While provided in different way, Westlaw Next also provides access to many court dockets, briefs and other court filings.
If you were researching, for example, Young v. United Parcel Service, Inc., the pregnancy discrimination case decided recently by the Supreme Court, you could begin by retrieving the case on Westlaw Next. In the KeyCite information above the case report, the History tab provides information about lower court proceedings, in both list and graphical format. The Filings tab provides access to dockets, briefs and other court filings–not only for the case at the Supreme Court, but at lower courts as well. The Adobe icon indicates a document that is available in PDF; other documents are in HTML. (Click images below to expand.)
Starting with a published case is the easiest way to locate court documents related to that case, but you can also find these documents by searching appropriate databases on Westlaw. From the main browse menu, Westlaw Next provides databases for briefs, dockets and argument transcripts, allowing the researcher to select smaller databases for those documents arranged by jurisdiction.
For example, an advanced search of briefs filed with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit retrieves three briefs from the Young case before that court.
While these databases on Westlaw Next do not provide the full list of all filings in lower court proceedings–and is less comprehensive than Bloomberg Law for current federal cases–it is a major source of dockets and other court documents for federal and some state courts.
For more information on locating court documents, consult our research guide or speak with a reference librarian.
One of the most useful features of Bloomberg Law (BL) is the ability to access court dockets and filings in current and recent cases. For federal District and Circuit Courts of Appeals cases, BL allows you to access documents provided through the Federal Courts’ PACER system. Using your academic passwords, you can do this without paying the charges that PACER customers incur, which is generally 10 cents per page for each document accessed.
During a BL session, go to the Litigation & Dockets tab; then select the Search Dockets feature. From the resulting search screen, there is a two step process: first, select the court from the browse menus; then search for the particular case for which you are seeking docket information. (If you are seeking federal court information and already know the docket (or file) number for the case, these two steps can be merged into one search.) Click below to expand images.
For example, consider David King v. Sylvia Burwell, the case that challenged the legality of federally-sponsored insurance exchanges under the Affordable Care Act, currently pending before the Supreme Court. That case originated in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, and the trial court ruling was appealed the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. Suppose you were seeking documents from the District Court proceedings.
At the search page on BL, the first step is to select the court; here, the District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. To run a search for the case, you could search for the name of a party, David King; the search retrieves two cases. Selecting the most appropriate case retrieves the docket. Access listed court filings by clicking the “View” or “Request” link for that item. Listed first, the Complaint is available as a PDF file, which appears in a window within the BL environment. Documents can be downloaded, printed or emailed.
The make-up class on Court Documents research is scheduled for Monday, March 16, 1 p.m. (Room 335).
Slots are still available. If you haven’t registered, you can do so at: http://lawlibraryguides.bu.edu/certification/register
Class page: http://lawlibraryguides.bu.edu/cert2015_Court-documents
For information on the Supreme Court and cases pending before the SCOTUS, the law library offers a wide range of commercial databases, along with free Internet resources.
These resources can provide almost anything you may want to know about a case at the Court. For an example, consider Zivotofsky v. Kerry, a case involving the constitutionality of a statute that directs the Secretary of State, on request, to record the birthplace of an American citizen born in Jerusalem as “Israel” on a United States passport. The Court’s web site provides docket information about the case, and much else: after the case was argued last week before the Justices, the transcript was posted later that day; and the audio recording of the argument was posted on Friday afternoon, following the Justices’ conference.
Among sources that compile information about the case, see SCOTUSblog for links to the briefs on the case; news coverage and links to commentary on the case; and a link to the lower court decision, which held the statute in question unconstitutional.
Among subscription services, Bloomberg BNA’s U.S. Law Week provides several useful tools for tracking the case, including the case summary from the Supreme Court Today Navigator, and news coverage at all stages of the case–e.g., the story on last week’s argument. Major general newspapers, such as The New York Times and The Washington Post, are also excellent sources.
For news once the Court issues its opinion in the case, try also The Supreme Court Bulletin (syllabi of new opinions from Cornell’s LII) or Justia’s Opinion Summaries. For up-to-the-minute coverage, nothing beats the Twitter feeds of SCOTUSblog, other news sources or legal correspondents who cover the Court (Adam Liptak, Nina Totenberg).
Many researchers may be unfamiliar with one of the most useful types of U.S. government documents, the reports prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) for members of Congress on topics relevant to current political issues. CRS defines its mission as serving Congress, rather than the general public. Because there is no comprehensive source providing public access to all CRS reports, identifying reports and locating them is frequently not as easy as running a Google search.
CRS reports can support legal research in several ways. Reports generally identify and discuss primary legal documents, particularly legislation, presidential executive orders and agency regulations that pertain to a topic. They provide historical, statistical and other information that provides context to current issues. And CRS Reports often address varying policy proposals and viewpoints. For law students, CRS reports could be a great resource to help select a Note topic, efficiently conduct background research or seek leads to further sources of information.
A sampling of recent CRS reports suggests the almost unlimited range of topics addressed: the history and recent increases of the debt limit, NSA surveillance leaks, sanctions against Iran, legal issues related to hydraulic fracturing (fracking), U.S.-China Trade Issues, and campaign finance policy.
One subscription database that can be helpful is ProQuest Legislative Insight. During a session, select the “Guided search” options and click the box to search “CRS and Misc. Publications.” A flexible advanced search feature allows searching by title keywords, full text, etc.
Other effective means of locating CRS reports include:
- Open CRS is a project that seeks to make as many CRS reports as possible available by pointing to reports that have already been released to the public
- U.S. Department of State provides access to a collection of CRS Reports and Issue Briefs, with a focus on foreign relations and national security (arranged by date, region and topic)
- Federation of American Scientists (FAS) arranges CRS Reports by topic
- University of North Texas has created a search engine to locate CRS Reports by keywords
GPO Fdsys is the home of official U.S. Government documents. Take a look at the current FDsys “Featured Collections.”
Now that’s what I call official!
The new link is spelled out below.
(DOJ Archives Logo from http://www.justice.gov/archives)
A more serious look that our usual technology Thursdays, but an interesting one nonetheless–the U.S. Department of Justice has released a previously unseen series of opinions ranging from the 1930s to the 1970s from the archives of the Office of Legal Counsel. In many cases, the opinions do not reflect the current positions of the office, but illustrate how areas of law developed around previously hot-button issues and thus, may shed light on how similar issues will be dealt with in this day and age, such as domestic surveillance and violations of the Espionage Act of 1917 (For example, in 1941, the OLC weighed in on the Naval Intelligence Service’s desire to listen in on phone calls to use the records “in prosecutions involving espionage, sabotage, and subversive activities,” and in 1942, they opined on the criminal liability for newspaper publication of naval secrets under the Espionage Act).
The opinions also look at historical political issues, such as the legal and practical consequences of a blockade of Cuba, and the removal of Japanese citizens from Hawaii to the United States, as well as recurring constitutional issues, like the President’s power in the field of foreign relations. At 508 pages of historical legal goodness, with contributions from legal heavyweights like Antonin Scalia, William H. Rehnquist, and Robert Bork, they’re perfect for some end-of-summer beach reading. Pick up the PDF from the OLC here or read the highlights from the Wall Street Journal Law Blog.
* hat tip: Above the Law
Did you know that the the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (or FISA court) consists entirely of judges appointed by Chief Justice John Roberts without the advice and consent of the Senate? Or that this court’s secret proceedings are invariably ex parte, with the government making its case unopposed before the court (nearly always) grants the government’s requests?
In a recent segment of the Rachel Maddow Show, guest host Ezra Klein explained how the FISA court operates and summarized recent news stories about the the court:
Given the secrecy and lack of adversary proceedings that usually aid the fact-finding mission of courts, NYU law professor Elizabeth Goitein observed in this program, the FISA court is “a flawed institution by design.”
Under the USA Patriot Act, the Wall Street Journal article states “the Federal Bureau of Investigation can require businesses to hand over ‘tangible things,’ including ‘records,’ as long as the FBI shows it is reasonable to believe the things are ‘relevant to an authorized investigation’ into international terrorism or foreign intelligence activities.” Concluding that the FISA court effectively has revised the USA Patriot Act in ways that resulted in the surveillance recently disclosed by former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden, the article continues:
In classified orders starting in the mid-2000s, the court accepted that “relevant” could be broadened to permit an entire database of records on millions of people, in contrast to a more conservative interpretation widely applied in criminal cases, in which only some of those records would likely be allowed, according to people familiar with the ruling.
In interviews with The Wall Street Journal, current and former administration and congressional officials are shedding new light on the history of the NSA program and the secret legal theory underpinning it. The court’s interpretation of the word enabled the government, under the Patriot Act, to collect the phone records of the majority of Americans, including phone numbers people dialed and where they were calling from, as part of a continuing investigation into international terrorism.