Government Information • Et. Seq: The Harvard Law School Library Blog

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.

Advocating Greater Access to Government Information

Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation, a non-profit organization that seeks to harness the internet to increase access to government information and governmental transparency, testified before House Appropriations Committee’s Subcommittee on the Legislative Branch about the importance of increasing access to Congressional Research Service (CRS) reports and THOMAS data.  The full written testimony is available on the Sunlight Foundation blog.  For more information on the issues relating to access to the CRS report, check out our earlier blog post on this topic, Paying for CRS reports twice? or the UNT Digital Library.

Librarians, technologists and law students join forces to provide open access to California law

Our colleagues at the Robert Crown Law Library at Stanford Law School and Justia (with some help from the folks at Fastcase and Stanford Law students) recently teamed up for SCOCAL, an exciting project to provide open access to California law. From a description on its fabulous Legal Research Plus blog, the website

“provides free access to the full text California Supreme Court opinions from 1934 to the present, along with detailed annotations of selected cases written and edited by students in our Advanced Legal Research class here at Stanford. For selected cases related California Supreme Court briefs, other documents and news items are also available, all free of charge. Users may subscribe to separate RSS feeds of new opinions, annotations, Court news and follow the site on Twitter.”

We had a chance to ask Erika Wayne and Paul Lomio some questions about the project:

MP: How did this project evolve?
PL and EW: Tim Stanley (Justia) came to our Advanced Legal Research class a few years ago and mentioned that lawyer driven annotations were the next big thing. Paul, while biking home, thought let us annotate something….California Supreme Court seemed like a great starting point (model after SCOTUS sites, and local, manageable).

MP: Are students continuing to contribute to the project even after they are done with your class?
PL and EW: We encourage them to do so and I think it is too soon to say….

MP: What happens when your class is not in session (e.g. summer)?
PL and EW: We collect cases for the next quarter. It is based on the Law Review case note model. Alacrity is not critical. Over the course of the year, most of the major cases are covered.

MP: What are the average number of cases each student is covering?
PL and EW: Right now it is 2; it might go to 1 in the future (TBD).

MP: Is participation mandatory for your class?
PL and EW: Yes.

MP: What have been the pedagogical outcomes of having students participate in such a project?
PL and EW: The students all have a deeper appreciation of indexing, court reporting, and computer assisted information retrieval. The students are also learning valuable lessons about search terms and synonyms. In gathering related materials, they understand how difficult it can be to acquire court documents and compile the complete record of the case since it may not all be online (which so many of them expect). We also encourage them to link to free sources so they have a greater awareness of what resources are freely available and what still remains proprietary or unpublished.

MP: Any further enhancements/developments planned for the project (that you may share)?
PL and EW: We are exploring some expansion possibilities, but it is too early to discuss these…..stay tuned!

For more information about this project, check out this posting by Cicely Wilson at Justia.

Readers of the World Unite or GPO Partners with Google to Offer Federal E-books


“The U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO) and Google have entered a partnership to offer the public, for the first time, Federal Government titles in an e-book format. The titles will appear on Google’s recently launched Google ebookstore ,” which can be accessed on most e-readers or on your computer. Some of the books are free, but it looks like most books will cost you several Washingtons and Lincolns.

To learn more click here.

Being positive about the law

When teaching students about federal statutes, one of the most confusing concepts can be that of positive law. If there is a discrepancy between the Statutes at Large and the United States Code, the Statutes at Large trumps unless the title has been enacted into positive law, which has not happened with the majority of titles. Peter LeFevre of the Office of the Law Revision Counsel recently blogged about pending legislation that would solve many of the problems that now exist in the United States Code in Positive law codification will modernize U.S. code.

For some interesting reading about intricacies of the United States code and the problem of positive law see The United States Code, Prima Facie Evience, and Positive Law, Are You Positive About Positive Law?, The U.S. Code, the Statutes at Large, and Some Peculiarities of Codification and Positive Law Codification in the United States and other sources listed on the Law Librarians Society of D.C. website.

Federal Register Re-launch

Today, in celebration of the 75th anniversary of the Federal Register Act, the Office of the Federal Register has launched its new Federal Register site.

The new Federal Register organizes agency issuances into six sections: Money, Environment, World, Science & Technology, Business & Industry, and Health & Public Welfare. In addition to search, the site provides browsing by agency and by topic.

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