Government Information •

852 RARE: David Sewall: Lawyer, Federal Judge, Weather Aficionado

It’s spring break at Harvard, although March can bring decidedly un-springlike weather to New England. After an unusually mild winter (except for one weekend of record-breaking cold), the first weekend of spring break started off as mild and sunny as a fine day in late April, and is now, well, very March-like. Weather is a perennial topic of conversation in New England (and everywhere else?). It affects us all and is a topic of conversation anyone can participate in and on which everyone seems to have an opinion.

Of all seasons, winter is perhaps especially ripe for discussions, whether one is marveling at, cursing, or boasting about record snowstorms, record cold, unseasonable warmth, and everything in between. Not surprisingly there’s nothing new about the weather as a rich source of conversation. As we approach the vernal equinox on March 20th this year, here’s a glimpse into the meteorological musings of David Sewall (1735-1825). Sewall was a 1755 Harvard graduate (and classmate of John Adams), a lawyer, and a judge, appointed by George Washington to the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine in 1789, a position he held until his resignation in 1818.

Historical & Special Collections has a letter from Sewall, written from his home in York, Maine (then part of Massachusetts) to an unidentified correspondent, on January 17, 1795.

HOLLIS 2204095_p1

Sewall begins with the acknowledgement of a small book, then talks of politics. But soon the topic of the weather slips in, when in the third or fourth line, he comments: “The month of December as to mildness and agreeableness of weather has surpassed any that the most ancient among us, can recollect. We have now scarcely enough for slaying [sleighing] ….” Shortly thereafter Sewall turns back to politics and government, pondering Alexander Hamilton’s intention to resign as Secretary of State at the end of the month. He mentions meeting and conversing with the Rev. David Osgood (1747-1822) in a public house in Woburn (Mass.) and discusses court and legislative issues. But the next day, a Sunday, when he picks up his pen to continue the correspondence, his opening line sets the tone for most of the rest of the letter.

HOLLIS 2204095_p2-3

“Last Evening we had a pretty fall of light snow … The cold increases and N.N.W. wind blows about the Snow considerably this Evening.” He asks “how comes it that we ever have snow?” and launches into a long, detailed, and thoughtful musing on trade winds, precipitation, temperatures, and weather patterns along the eastern coast of the United States. He marvels at having “known the thermometer to be at 6° below 0 and in less than 9 hours to be above the freezing point” and notes that “I have known the snow to dissolve faster toward the close of Winter with a Southerly Wind of 24 hours (or a little longer) continuance than with a moderate Rain, of the same duration.” Had he lived in our era, the good judge from Maine may have settled down at the end of a long day to watch the Weather Channel.

The State of the Union Address

According to the US Constitution, The President “shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” U.S. Const. art. II, §3, cl. 1.

President Barack Obama will deliver his last State of the Union address to a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, January 12, 2016.  Since George Washington’s first address in 1790, presidents have delivered a report to Congress about the state of the union either in person or by written letter.

There is speculation that Obama’s 2016 address will be a non-traditional message.  The NY Times provides a well documented account of Obama’s promises and results in How Did He Do? Assessing Obama’s State of the Union Promises.  Follow more news and analysis about the speech.

See what your members of Congress are saying about the speech, before, during, and after, on Twitter, Facebook, and official press releases by using

Interested in State of the Union messages from past presidents?  Check out the outstanding archive at the American Presidency Project.  You can also search recent addresses and other presidential documents using HeinOnline.

Review: – A Discovery Engine for Government Info

“Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people, who have a right and a desire to know;” John Adams

Trying to research and review all of the information that the government releases on any particular topic can be overwhelming.  Add in trying to stay up to date on current happenings in the government generally, and you have a recipe for information overload.  I recently discovered a resource that wants to be the one stop for all unedited government media, news, statements, and information releases:  (Hollis number 013924920)


Ranging from the official releases of agencies to personal tweets of elected officials, strives to capture and make sense of the thousands of ways our government tries to communicate with us.  Their website says their mission is “to become the established site of record for unedited media, news and information from all official government sources, providing reliable and comprehensive value-added access to government communications.”

Content sources searched include information from more than 10,000 web locations:

  • Press Releases, News, Notices
  • Columns, Articles, Op-Eds, Blogs
  • Decisions, Opinions, Orders
  • Events, Media Advisories, Fact Sheets
  • Newsletters, Bulletins, Circulars
  • Alerts, Reports, Publications
  • Speeches, Statements, Remarks
  • Testimony Transcripts

Sometimes described as a “discovery engine,” the home page gives you a simple, Google-like search box where you can immediately search the government’s releases on any topic – search “VW,” for example, to find releases from agencies, members of Congress, or the administration about the recent emissions scandal or “Benghazi” to find out who was tweeting during Secretary Clinton’s hearings.  Researching the debate surrounding Planned Parenthood funding? will help you find key proponents and opponents – and what they are saying.

The advanced search page gives you more control of the results.  Simply tick off the boxes to limit your search to Congressional documents, for example, or exclude social media sources.  There is a way to limit your searches to statements and documents by party affiliation, gender, branch of government, and even those people running for president, a handy tool as we head into 2016!

While viewing results, suggests new searches and highlights key people, keywords, places and organizations that may be helpful to review.  Your search terms are also highlighted for easy scanning and context review.

One of the coolest features, IMHO, is the compare feature.  Any search you do is automatically displayed in a graph illustrating how two groups over time have released information on your topic.  The default is House Republicans vs. House Democrats, but options are available to change that and view how two individuals or other groups compare on the topic.

Take a look and explore how your representatives have responded to topics in the news, or research a government agency’s statements on current events in their area of authority.  If you get stuck or lost, has a handy “Ask a Librarian” link to one of their experts, and of course, you can always contact us here in the Harvard Law Library.



Brown Bag: PACER Campaign with Carl Malamud

Come hear about the Yo.YourHonor.Org campaign!
Brown Bag with cookies
Monday, April 6th, 12:30-1:30pm
Lewis 214B, Harvard Law School (maps)

Carl Malamud is visiting the Library to talk about the Yo.YourHonor.Org campaign currently underway to make U.S. District Court documents on the PACER system much more broadly available.

Carl Malamud is the founder of Public.Resource.Org, a non-profit that helps make the law more broadly available on the Internet. Working with Larry Lessig and Creative Commons, Public Resource made historical opinions of the U.S. Court of Appeals available for the first time. Working with Aaron Swartz, Public Resource did a comprehensive audit of District Court dockets for privacy violations. In the 1990s, Carl was responsible for putting the SEC’s EDGAR database and the U.S. Patent database on the Internet. Carl is the author of 8 professional reference books and is credited as the operator of the first radio station on the Internet. He received the Berkman Award in 2008. You might remember seeing him during our events and Future of Law Libraries conference a few years back.

App of the Month: U.S. Constitution – Analysis and Interpretation

U.S. Constitution App LogoOn September 17th of this year, the Library of Congress celebrated Constitution Day by releasing a new resource, the Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation. This document contains the full text of the United States Constitution as well as in-depth analysis of each individual clause. As part of the analysis, the document includes discussions of every relevant Supreme Court case through June 26, 2013 and information about selected historical documents. It also includes, according to the app itself, a list of “all federal, state and local laws that have been struck down by the Supreme Court, and all cases where the Court overturned its previous precedent.” Available both online and as an iPhone or iPad app, the resource is fully searchable and also offers the option to export the content to your preferred e-reading app or to email sections to yourself. The table of cases and index in the app also help researchers to quickly locate relevant information. While the PDF format of the pages can be a bit difficult to read on an iPhone, the app includes so much useful information that it is worth checking out if you are interested in legal history of the U.S. Constitution. And, best of all, it is free!

If you are interested in more apps for research, productivity or just plain fun, check out our guide to mobile apps.

App of the Month: Sitegeist

Sitegeist LogoIf you are one of the many students who has ventured away from the Law School campus for the summer, you might find yourself in a new city that you don’t yet know much about. One great mobile app that will help you to learn more about the demographics, popular hot spots and weather of your current location is Sitegeist. Created by the Sunlight Foundation, which ” is a non-partisan non-profit that uses cutting-edge technology and ideas to make government transparent and accountable,”  this app pulls together information from a variety of publicly available APIs, such as the U.S. Census Bureau, Yelp!, and Dark Sky to create a picture of the area around you. All information is displayed in the form of visually appealing infographics and in many cases they link you out to more information if your interest is piqued. Whether you want to learn more about a city you have never visited or you are looking to familiarize yourself with a city you have lived in your whole life, Sitegeist is a fun example of how publicly available data can be used. The app is available for free for both iOS and Android devices. If you like the app, you might want to also check out the other two apps created as part of the National Data Apps series: Sunlight Health, a healthcare rating and drug safety app, and Upwardly Mobile, an app to help users find new places to live based on the available data.

Interested in finding more mobile apps? Check out our guide to Mobile Apps for Legal Research and More.

The Start of the Supreme Court’s 2012-2013 Term

Supreme Court SealToday marks the beginning of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2012-2013 term. The first case of the new term, which was heard today, is a challenge of the 1789 Alien Tort Statute, which has been an important tool for human rights organizations seeking to end overseas humans rights abuses (briefs in the case are available online), and the Court has already agreed to hear a number of other interesting and controversial cases this term, including a case challenging University of Texas’ affirmative action practices and two cases regarding the use of drug-sniffing dogs.

As the term progresses, there are a number of resources available for those who want to keep up-to-date on the Supreme Courts activities and decisions. The first place to look is the Supreme Court’s website, which offers calendars, transcripts, and audio recordings of arguments as well as the latest slip opinions. If you want to read the briefs in cases that will be heard this term, many can already be found online on the American Bar Association’s Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases website. As the term progresses, you can also refer to the Oyez Project for audio recordings of cases, commentary on the issues presented, and summaries of other pertinent information about the cases.

Introducing the Beta Version of

Today the Library of Congress, the Government Printing Office, the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives came together to announce the launch of the beta version of This new site, which will eventually replace THOMAS, already offers access to information on the status and language of bills, video of the House and Senate floors, biographical information about individual members of Congress and videos explaining the legislative process, and more features from THOMAS will be added to the site over time. It is designed to be user-friendly, with a focus on improved search functionality, including the ability to narrow results with facets. The site also works on mobile devices so that you can continue your search on the go without installing a separate app. Check it out and let us know what you think!
Introducing CongressDotGov

More Open Access to Law from Justia

New daily opinion summary alerts service

In March, Justia launched a fabulous daily opinion summary service where you can receive alerts by jurisdiction or legal practice area.    Recently,  it announced that along with the United State Supreme Court and all Federal Appellate Courts, the service now includes all 50 states and over 60 legal practice areas/subjects.   You can have them delivered by Facebook, Twitter, or subscribe to a blog/RSS feed.

Eventually, they hope to include summary blogs with RSS feeds for all [U.S.] state supreme courts, the US Supreme Court and all Federal appellate courts.

According to Cicely Wilson at Justia, summaries are written by a team of 4 writers (lawyers), all of whom are bar-certified.

You can read the original announcement about the service and  its update when it added its 50th state at


New website for legal commentary

Justia also recently launched Verdict, a great new website dedicated to legal analysis and commentary about a variety of issues from an interesting array of contributors including Marci Hamilton and Michael Dorf.  It even includes a section with book reviews. Read more about its launch on the Justia website and check out Robert Ambrogi’s Justia launches site for legal commentary for a great description of the service.

Watch the Sunlight Foundation Forum on C-SPAN

As an update to our earlier post on the Sunlight Foundation, C-SPAN has now posted video of a forum hosted by the Sunlight Foundation on May 9, 2011 to discuss the Congressional Research Service.  Participants discussed the CRS analysts, the reports they prepare, and the agency’s future.  The discussion also focused on the likelihood of improving public access to non-confidential publications prepared by CRS and included information on a bill that will be introduced to make these reports publicly available.