Our New Citation Finder

CourtListener now has a new citation finder that you can use with any citation in our system. It’s dead simple. Just make a link with a format like:

  • https://www.courtlistener.com/c/REPORTER/VOLUME/PAGE/

And you’ll get to the page for that citation. For example, using parallel citations, any of these links will take you to Citizen’s United v. Federal Elections Commission:

This new tool relies on our existing citation extractor, which extracts thousands of citations from opinions every day. As a result, these links are also able to handle alternate names for any reporter that we have encoded in our Reporters Database. For example, the United States Reports has historically also been abbreviated as “U.S.S.C.Rep.” or “USSCR”. Use either of these, and you’ll find that they also work without a hitch:

Of course, this isn’t just limited to important reporters like the United States Reports. We have alternate names for hundreds of other reporters like the Vermont Reports, which can variously be referred to as “Vt.”, “V.R.” or “Verm.”, or the Hill and Denio Supplement (1842-1844), which can be “Hill & Den.”, “Hill & D.Supp.”, “Hill & Den.Supp.”, “Lalor” or even “Lalor Supp.” If we have a citation for any of these reporters, this new tool will help you look up the correct case.

A hitch of the American legal system is that many reporters are not unique. For example, there are many opinions that are only a sentence or two, and in some instances several opinions are placed on the same page in the reporter. For example, this citation refers to two different Supreme Court opinions, each only a paragraph or two long:

In other instances, the abbreviation for a reporters themselves is not unique. For example, “Mart.” can refer to either Louisiana Reports, Martin or North Carolina Reports, Martin. There are dozens of ambiguous reporters like this that we support.

When you try to load citations with problems like this, you’ll get a list of the cases that it might refer to, like so:

Several Results Found

We’re very excited about this tool because it’s a great example of the kind of work that is made possible by open data and open tools. This project combines the alternate names we encoded in our Reporters Database with the citation finder built by a volunteer to provide a unique and powerful tool.

We look forward to seeing how this gets used and how it grows over time!


A Note for the Technically Inclined

If you are technically inclined, there is one more detail about this tool you may find useful. HTTP status codes are configured to serve as a basic API:

  • If a citation has no results a 404 (Not Found) is returned.
  • If a citation has more than one result, a 300 (Multiple Choices) is returned (along with an HTML list of items).
  • If a citation has one unique result, a 302 (Temporary Redirect) is returned, sending you to the correct location.

The idea behind this is that it is now possible for a computer to find CourtListener URLs for any citation. This should allow links to CourtListener to flourish.

The Right to Read Anonymously

In 1996, in the Connecticut Law Review, legal scholar Julie Cohen wrote what has become a landmark article in Internet Law entitled, “A Right to Read Anonymously: A Closer Look at “Copyright Management” In Cyberspace.” She began by stating,

A fundamental assumption underlying our discourse about the activities of reading, thinking, and speech is that individuals in our society are guaranteed the freedom to form their thoughts and opinions in privacy, free from intrusive oversight by governmental or private entities.

Cohen notes that, in the past, our right to read anonymously has been protected by libraries and librarians. See, for example, the American Library Association’s Freedom to Read statement, adopted in 1953. Our American experience has generally been that one is able to walk into a public library, take almost any book off the shelf, sit down, and read without ever identifying oneself or asking anyone’s permission. Most libraries, as vigorous defenders of reader privacy, only maintain information about which books you check out until you return them and then they destroy any record connecting your identity to the books checked out. It was, in 1996, the growing prevalence of electronic dissemination of information and technologies to monitor our receipt of such information that prompted Cohen’s article and its special focus on those monitoring technologies.

Cohen explains the case law that has supported the right to read anonymously, typically predicated on “the likely chilling effect that exposure of a reader’s tastes would have on expressive conduct, broadly understood – not only speech itself, but also the information-gathering activities that precede speech.” In Stanley v. Georgia, 394 U.S. 557 (1969), the Supreme Court recognized “the right to satisfy [one’s] intellectual and emotional needs in the privacy of [one’s] own home” and “the right to be free from state inquiry into the contents of [one’s] library.” Cohen also explains how the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence on the right to speak anonymously and on associational anonymity, each more traditionally understood as protections provided by the First Amendment, also support the right to read anonymously. I believe her analysis is absolutely correct and that the First Amendment rights to speak and to associate are intertwined with this right to read anonymously such that we should see the right to read anonymously as a fundamental constitutional right.

1984-Big-BrotherNow, imagine a different sort of “library,” so different from traditional libraries we should instead call it simply a “repository.” This repository has no shelves or books directly accessible to the public. Instead it has only a giant counter, guarded by something so unlike librarians, we must call them “sentinels.” One must request every document one wishes to read from these robotic sentinels who will make fastidious notes about your every request. These records of your reading habits are maintained for at least three months and maybe longer. No one knows for sure.

Imagine further that before a sentinel will grant any of your document requests, one must provide the sentinel with one’s full name, date of birth, full address, phone number, email address, and a credit card. The credit card is necessary, because every request you make of a sentinel incurs a charge, and most every document you are granted permission to view also costs money.

Now imagine further that this Orwellian repository is run by the government and that the documents it keeps under such close watch are all public domain court records. These documents are the very law itself. One’s First Amendment right to read anonymously is thwarted by such a system, and this is precisely the system our own government operates right now under the name “PACER.” PACER requires the above identifying information in order to establish an account and gain access and PACER’s quarterly billing statements contain this detailed record of every document you read on PACER. The privacy policy at PACER.gov gives no indication how long these records of your reading habits are kept by the government. On this Constitution Day, I submit, that for this reason alone—ignoring many others—that the PACER system is unconstitutional and must be changed.


New Juriscraper Email List

Quick post today to share that by popular demand, we’ve created YAEL — Yet Another Email List. Today’s list is one we should have made a while back, and is for folks that work on the Juriscraper library. You can find and add yourself to the list here:


In general, this will be a normal list where we’ll post any important updates about Juriscraper, but this list will also get one special email per day documenting the status of our 200+ court scrapers. Previously this email was only sent privately to maintainers, but by making it public, we’re hoping to encourage more people to identify and fix the day to day problems that arise with so many scrapers.

Scraper Status Email
Yesterday’s status email

We look forward to lots more discussion and so much more scraping!

Free Law Project and University of Baltimore to Collaborate to Create Supreme Court Doctrinal Maps

An early prototype of the new version.
An early prototype of the new version.

Free Law Project is excited to announce that over the next several months we will be collaborating with the University of Baltimore and Assistant Professor of Law, Colin Starger, to build a web-based version of his Supreme Court Mapping Project, a software-driven effort to visualize Supreme Court doctrine. Currently a desktop software tool, the collaboration will move this functionality to the web, incorporating it directly into Free Law Project’s CourtListener platform.

Once incorporated into CourtListener, users will be able to create visualizations of how different cases cite each other, including plotting them against variables from the Supreme Court Database such as whether the case had a liberal or conservative outcome, and the minority/majority votes of the justices. Using the CourtListener citation API, Colin and his partner Darren Kumasawa have done a lot of work in this area already, laying a great foundation for this project.

The current design
The current design

We hope that within a few months our new service will go live, and that teachers, librarians, and researchers will be able to create great new visualizations of Supreme Court doctrine. If you’ve been watching Colin and Darren’s work over on the Supreme Court Mapping Project’s blog, and are interested in getting involved as an early tester of this new platform, be sure to get in touch. As an explicitly social project, we need early testers to help us prove that our assumptions are good and to bring more great ideas to the table.

You can read more about this project in the Supreme Court Mapping Project’s announcement.


AI and Law Call for Papers

Passing along this call for papers:

Special Issue of Artificial Intelligence and Law in Honor of Carole Hafner: call for papers

Earlier this year, Carole Hafner, a key figure in the origin and development of AI and Law, died. A tribute to Carole can be found at http://www.iaail.org/?q=page/memorials. A special issue of Artificial Intelligence and Law (which she co-founded) will be published in 2016, focusing on Carole’s main research topics: semantic retrieval and the procedural, temporal and teleological aspects of reasoning with legal cases.

In her long academic career, Carole Hafner made contributions in a number of areas of AI and Law. Her 1978 Ph.D. dissertation was a pioneering effort in semantic information retrieval of legal cases; ahead of its time, it supplied what would now be called ontologies for describing case law domains and cases, a retrieval language, and methods for retrieving, from a corpus of a hundred cases, cases providing: examples of which a specified concept is (or is not) true, criteria for knowing that the concept does (or does not) hold, or the consequences of the presence or absence of the concept in a particular case. Today, developments in technology have transformed the possibilities for information and case retrieval, and opened up rich possibilities to address the issues which motivated Carole.

Perhaps her most significant contributions were her triptych of papers written with Don Berman published in the 1991, 1993 and 1995 ICAIL conferences and consolidated in an AI and Law journal paper (Hafner and Berman 2002). All three of these papers dealt with various limitations of factor based reasoning. The 1991 paper (Berman and Hafner 1991) called for more account to be taken of the procedural context. The 1993 paper (Berman and Hafner 1993) discussed the need for consideration to be given to the social purposes of laws and legal decisions and the 1995 paper (Berman and Hafner 1995) recognized the dynamic nature of case law, and suggested that it was essential to be aware of the possibility that a current consensus was breaking down and a landmark case was coming. Factor based reasoning remains a very popular way of looking at reasoning with cases in AI and Law, and these papers are as relevant today as they were when they were first written. Although it is the second of these papers which has received by far the most attention of the three, all of them discuss issues that still demand attention.

We therefore invite contributions to a special issue of Artificial Intelligence and Law intended to revisit these aspects of conceptual case information retrieval or of reasoning with legal cases and the contribution of these papers. While contributions on any or all of the papers are welcome, we particularly seek contributions on the procedural and temporal aspects of case based reasoning, which we regard as unduly neglected. All contributions should clearly demonstrate their connection with Carole’s work. The editor of the special issue will be Trevor Bench-Capon, and all papers will go through the standard review process for this journal.

Contributions, which should be submitted through the Journal’s site at http://www.editorialmanager.com/arti/default.aspx and copied to Trevor Bench-Capon (tbc@csc.liv.ac.uk), should be received by 31st May 2016, and notification of acceptance will be by the end of July 2016 with a view to the special issue appearing as the last issue of 2016.


Carole D. Hafner and Donald H. Berman: The role of context in case-based legal reasoning: teleological, temporal, and procedural. Artificial Intelligence and Law 10(1-3): 19-64 (2002)

Donald H. Berman, Carole D. Hafner: Incorporating Procedural Context into a Model of Case-based Legal Reasoning. ICAIL 1991: 12-20

Donald H. Berman, Carole D. Hafner: Representing Teleological Structure in Case-based Legal Reasoning: The Missing Link. ICAIL 1993: 50-59

Donald H. Berman, Carole D. Hafner: Understanding Precedents in a Temporal Context of Evolving Legal Doctrine. ICAIL 1995: 42-51

Carole D. Hafner: An Information Retrieval System Based on a Computer Model of Legal Knowledge.  Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1981.

Carole D. Hafner: Conceptual Organization of Case Law Knowledge Bases.  ICAIL 1987: 35-42.

Welcoming Thomas Bruce and Jerry Goldman to our Board

Today we’re proud to announce that Tom Bruce and Jerry Goldman recently joined the Free Law Project Board of Directors.

Tom BruceTom is the Director and co-founder of the Legal Information Institute at the Cornell Law School, where he has built a strong organization that serves millions of people every year. He has consulted on four continents, is a member of a number of standards bodies and committees, and in a previous life made the first browser for Microsoft Windows.

Jerry GoldmanJerry is the founder and director of the Oyez Project, a vast and widely utilized multimedia archive devoted to the U.S. Supreme Court and its work. He’s an influential author on a number of political and legal topics, and has received numerous awards for his efforts at Oyez and as a professor at both Chicago-Kent College of Law, and Northwestern University’s Department of Political Science.

Fellow Board Member, Brian Carver, said, “Mike and I have been directing Free Law Project for a while and when we thought about who we would most like to help us with our mission, Tom Bruce and Jerry Goldman were our top two choices. We’re thrilled that these two, who have so much experience in making legal materials available to the public online, have agreed to help Free Law Project advance its public access mission.”

You can read more on our Board of Directors page.

Knight Foundation to Support OpenJudiciary.org

Free Law Project is pleased to announce that its OpenJudiciary.org has been selected as a winner of the Knight News Challenge on Elections, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The new project will make judicial elections more transparent for journalists and researchers by creating online profiles of judges. Profiles will show campaign contributions, judicial opinions, and biographies.

“The project aims to fill an information gap by helping citizens understand and meaningfully participate in judicial elections,” said Chris Barr, Knight Foundation director for media innovation, who leads the Prototype Fund.

A site such as OpenJudiciary.org is needed because big money is infiltrating the judicial election process. Academic research has shown that election years correlate with judges handing down harsher sentences, even an increased frequency of death sentences.

The money in state judicial elections appears to cause not only a public perception of partiality (judges being bought), but also real damage to judicial impartiality as judges are forced to fundraise from the attorneys and litigants that appear in their courts.

Free Law Project co-founder Brian Carver said, “It is currently extremely difficult for voters, journalists, or academics to investigate a judge’s past decisions and campaign contributors, and we expect OpenJudiciary.org to change that.”

Free Law Project’s CourtListener platform already contains more than 2.6 million court opinions. By combining this data with campaign finance data and other information about judges, OpenJudiciary.org will provide a means of acquiring the necessary information that makes civic engagement and informed voting possible.

Many go to the ballot box with simply no information about the judges up for election or retention. Other voters have been subjected to a constant barrage of vicious attack ads by outside groups with uncertain motives.

The problem of judicial elections has received extensive high profile coverage in the last year, with retired judges coming forward as whistle blowers, the Supreme Court hearing a case on the topic, and even popular comedian John Oliver dedicating a segment to it.

For those that want to get reliable non-partisan information about who is funding a judge’s campaign and what that judge’s record is, OpenJudiciary.org will be a vital new data source.

About Free Law Project

Free Law Project seeks to provide free access to primary legal materials, develop legal research tools, and support academic research on legal corpora. We work diligently with volunteers to expand our efforts at building an open source, open access, legal research ecosystem. Currently Free Law Project sponsors the development of CourtListener, Juriscraper, and RECAP.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes journalism excellence world-wide and invests in the vitality of communities in the United States where the Knight brothers once owned newspapers. Knight Foundation invests in ideas and projects that can lead to transformational change.

The Knight News Challenge on Elections is funding breakthrough ideas that better inform voters and increase civic participation before, during and after elections.


Free Law Project: Michael Lissner, Co-Founder & Project Lead; Brian Carver, Co-Founder, 510-501-6262, brian@mail.freelawproject.org.

Knight Foundation: Anusha Alikhan, Director of Communications, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2646, media@knightfoundation.org

Brian and Mike’s Presentations from Columbia’s Web Archiving Conference

Co-Founder Brian Carver and I presented at Columbia’s Web Archiving Conference last month and the videos have now been posted on YouTube. Brian gave a substantial talk about Juriscraper and how we used a grant from Columbia to expand it to cover all fifty states:

And I did a lightning talk about RECAP:

Postcards Arriving Soon

2015 PACER Protest PostcardsSee Free Law Project’s Brian Carver’s post on the Berkeley Blog about the National Day of PACER Protest.

Reporters Database

320px-UnitedstatesreportsA long time ago in a courthouse not too far away, people started making books of every important decision made by the courts. These books became known as reporters and were generally created by librarian-types of yore such as Mr. William Cranch and Alex Dallas.

These men—for they were all men—were busy for the next few centuries and created thousands of these books, culminating in what we know today as West’s reporters or as regional reporters like the “Dakota Reports” or the thoroughly-named, “Synopses of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of Texas Arising from Restraints by Conscript and Other Military Authorities (Robards).”

Motivated by our need to identify citations to these reporters, we’ve taken a stab at aggregating a few facts about them, such as variations in their name, abbreviation, or years they were published, and put all that information into our reporters database. Until recently, this database lived deep inside CourtListener and was only discovered by intrepid hackers rooting around, but a few months ago we pulled it out, put it in its own repository, and converted it to better formats so anyone could more easily re-use it.

Currently, it’s ready to use by any interested party, and it’s at version 1.0.9. The next version, 1.1, is around the corner and all it needs is dates for when reporters start and stop. If you’re a librarian or legal researcher, we’d love to have your help gathering this data so we can disseminate it to the world. To take one example of what can be done with this data, Frank Bennett created the Legal Resource Registry which, when you drill down to a particular court/jurisdiction, e.g., New Mexico’s Supreme Court, will show you all the reporters or citation schemes we know about for that jurisdiction. It’s a really nice visual way to view the data contained in this giant .json file.

We encourage others to take a look at the database, integrate it into their own projects, and expand on the effort.