Welcoming Ansel Halliburton to our Board

Today we’re proud to announce that Ansel Halliburton has joined the Free Law Project Board of Directors. Ansel has already been contributing to Free Law Project for several years, and his experience as both a practicing lawyer and legal technologist will help steer us into the future.

Ansel has been involved in legal technology since 2006, when he joined a team at Stanford Law School to help build a comprehensive database of all federal intellectual property litigation. Now a lawyer, Ansel practices technology law in San Francisco. Ansel holds degrees from UC Berkeley and UC Davis School of Law, writes about technology and security for Lawyerist, and builds small robots.

Board members are selected for terms lasting two years.

We couldn’t be more delighted to welcome Ansel to the board,” stated Free Law Project Executive Director Michael Lissner. “Ansel brings the kinds of knowledge, experience, and smart thinking that will be invaluable to Free Law Project over the next few years.”

You can read more on our Board of Directors page and you can learn more about what it means to be a member of the board in our bylaws.

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Judge Profiles on CourtListener Now Show Oral Arguments Heard

We’re proud to share that we’ve now linked together our database of judges and our database of oral argument recordings. This means that as of now if you look at the profile page for a judge, you may see a list of oral argument recordings for cases that judge heard.

For example, on the page for Ruth Bader Ginsburg, there is a new section that looks like this:

Example screenshot of RBG

Ginsburg has participated in hundreds of oral arguments that we have in our system.

Clicking on the button at the bottom takes you back to our database of oral argument recordings where you can further refine your search. If the judge is active, there is an icon in the upper right that lets you subscribe to a podcast of the cases heard by that judge. At this time, these features are only available for the Supreme Court and for jurisdictions where the judges for specific cases are provided by the court website. We hope to expand this in the future.

To our knowledge, a linkage like this has never previously existed on any system, and we hope that it will make research and exploration faster and easier for our users …

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CourtListener Oral Argument Podcasts Now on iTunes

iTunes Logo

Just a quick post today to share that our oral argument podcasts are now available on iTunes.

If you are a user of iTunes, you can easily subscribe to our podcasts by opening iTunes and searching for “Free Law Project” or “oral arguments.” Once you subscribe, the podcasts will download to iTunes wherever you use it.

These podcasts contain all of the oral argument audio for a given court or for a search that you create. This means that as of this moment, you can pipe the audio from the Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Courts directly to your pocket with almost no effort.

To learn more about creating custom podcasts or about the podcasts that we already have, we’ve created a page on our site with all the details. It also has information about how to subscribe using Google Music, Stitcher Radio, and other apps.

We hope you’ll enjoy these podcasts. Who doesn’t want the Supreme Court in their pocket?

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Judge Profiles on CourtListener Now Have Campaign Finance Information from the National Institute on Money In State Politics

We’re proud to share that as of today we’ve added campaign finance data to our database of judges. This update links judges in the CourtListener system to their fundraising profiles in the FollowTheMoney.org database, allowing researchers and members of the public a new way to understand judges elected in State Supreme Court jurisdictions. This work was made possible by a prototype grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

Using this system, you can easily see the sources of money that a judge received as part of an election, and you can put it side by side with all of the data that we have already gathered about that judge, such as the decisions they’ve written, the positions they’ve held professionally and in the judiciary, and their biographical information.

For example, on the page for Judge Tom Parker, there is a new section that looks like this:

Example screenshot

Tom Parker has raised approximately $2.1M dollars.

To our knowledge, it has never previously been possible to research the decisions written by a judge side by side with the money they’ve received. We invite researchers and journalists to use this information to uncover interesting …

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Judge Profiles on CourtListener Now Show the Cases Authored by Each Judge

When we launched our judicial database, we shared our plan to show the cases written by each judge. As of today, we’re pleased to share that we’ve launched the first iteration of that endeavor. If you pull up any judge, say, Sonia Sotomayor, you’ll see a new section at the bottom that looks like this:

This listing provides the five most important opinions by the judge, and you can click the button at the bottom to see all of the cases they wrote or participated in. Clicking the button takes you to our search results, where you can slice and dice the data, choosing, for example, to see only their opinions from the Second Circuit, or their Supreme Court Cases.

In the search results and in the list on the judge profile page, the opinions are ordered by relevance, using our CiteGeist relevance engine. This highlights the cases that have been cited the most frequently by the most important cases.

Finally, you can now get an RSS feed for any active judge in our system, enabling you to keep up with anything they write. To do so, click the RSS icon (), and configure it with your RSS …

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CourtListener Podcasts Now on Google Play

Google Play Logo

Just a quick post today to share that our oral argument podcasts are now available on Google Play Music.

If you are a user of Google Play Music, you can easily subscribe to our podcasts by searching for “Free Law Project”, “CourtListener”, or simply, “oral arguments”. Once you subscribe, the podcasts will download to your device if you use one, or will be playable via the website.

These podcasts contain all of the oral argument audio for a given court or for a search that you create. This means that in 2016, you can literally pipe the audio from the Supreme Court and Federal Circuit Courts directly to your pocket.

In honor of this announcement we’ve created a new page on our site that lists our existing, pre-made podcasts, explains how to make custom ones, and explains how to subscribe to them in Google Play Music or Stitcher Radio.

We hope you’ll enjoy these podcasts. Who doesn’t want the Supreme Court piped to their pocket?

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It’s easier than ever to contribute to CourtListener and Free Law Project

Working on complex software with a lot of dependencies can be difficult, and over the years many people have struggled to install and configure all the complex components CourtListener requires. Our previous solution to this was to create and maintain the Free Law Virtual Machine, which allowed people to work in a VM with all the right software installed. Alas, keeping the VM maintained was a real burden and we weren’t the best at it. It fell into decay and without realizing it we informally stopped recommending people use it.

Today we have a new, more modern solution using Vagrant. We’re getting the last of the kinks out of the new system, but already a number of people are using it in their daily process. It has all of the dependencies installed and configured. Best of all, although your code will be running in a virtual machine like before, when you’re using this setup, you still get to use all of your favorite tools on your local machine. If you haven’t used Vagrant before, you’ll find it’s a rather magical experience.

If you’re a contributor to CourtListener it’s definitely worth checking this …

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Releasing V3 of the API, Deprecating V1 and V2

This post is one with mixed news, so I’ll start with the good news, which is that version 3.0 of the CourtListener API is now available. It’s a huge improvement over versions 1 and 2:

  • It is now browsable. Go check it out. You can click around the API and peruse the data without doing any programming. At the top of every page there is a button that says Options. Click that button to see all the filtering and complexity that lies behind an API endpoint.
  • It can be sampled without authentication. Previously, if you wanted to use the API, you had to log in. No more. In the new version, you can sample the API and click around. If you want to use it programatically, you’ll still need to authenticate.
  • It conforms with the new CourtListener database. More on this in a moment, but the important part is that version 3 of the API supports Dockets, Opinion Clusters and Sub-Opinions, linking them neatly to Judges.
  • The search API supports Citation Searching. Our new Citation Search is a powerful feature that’s now available in the API.
  • Bulk data now has metadata. In response to a …
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Citation Searching on CourtListener

One of the great new features that the new version of CourtListener provides is what we’re calling Citation Searching. Citation Searching lets you look at all the opinions that cite an opinion you’re interested in and then slice and dice them so that you only see the ones that are important to you.

For example, say you’re looking at Roe v. Wade and you want to analyze the cases that have cited it. In CourtListener, in the sidebar on the left, there’s a list of the opinions citing the one you’re looking at, in the section called “Cited By”. At the bottom of that section, there’s a link that says, “Full List of Cited Opinions”.

Sidebar

If you click that link, you’ll be taken back to the search results page, and you’ll see that your query is for cites:(108713). The number in there is the ID of Roe v. Wade that you can see in its URL. This is just standard CourtListener search syntax, so you can tweak it however you like.

For example, another important case in this area is Planned Parenthood v. Casey, which has an ID of 112786. If …

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Millions of New “Short Form” Case Names Now on CourtListener

While working on a soon-to-be-released feature of CourtListener, we needed to create “short form” case names for all the cases that we could. We’re happy to share that we’ve created about 1.8M short form case names, including complete coverage for all Supreme Court cases going back to 1947, when the Supreme Court Database begins.

If you’re not familiar with the term, short form case names are the ones you might use in a later citation to an authority you’ve already discussed in a document. For example, the first time you mention a case you might say:

Kellogg Brown & Root Services, Inc. v. United States Ex Rel. Carter

But later references might just be:

Kellogg Brown at 22

The Blue Book doesn’t have a lot to say about this format, but does say the short form must make it, “clear to the reader…what is being referenced.” Also:

When using only one party name in a short form citation, use the name of the first party, unless that party is a geographical or governmental unit or other common litigant.

With these rules in mind, we made an algorithm that attempts to generate good short form …

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Many Improvements Released in New CourtListener Version

It’s taken the better part of a year, but I’m thrilled to announce that a new and better version of CourtListener is live as of this moment. If you can’t tell the difference immediately, we see that as a good thing, since most of the enhancements are under the hood.

  • The most important changes in this version have to do with the database, which now supports a number of new features. Most importantly, legal opinions are no longer single entities. For example, in the past if we had the lead opinion, a dissent, and a concurrence, we had no choice but to put them all together and make them readable top to bottom on our site. That has been fine, but in our new system we introduce the concept of an Opinion Cluster, which consists of several “sub opinions”.

    This will let us have links from a dissent to a concurrence, something we couldn’t do before. Or we can change the way the “sub-opinions” are displayed so that you can easily go straight to the dissent or the concurrence, without having to scroll endlessly. In a similar way, we are now introducing dockets, which will soon …

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Launching Free.law Website

A quick announcement today to share that we’re making Free.law our new home and that we’re launching a new homepage to go with it. If you’re reading this post, you’re looking at the new site! Let us know what you think or if we can improve it somehow. For the most part, it’s a replica of our old site, but we’ve made a few improvements here and there. In general, the layout, typography, security, speed, and reliability should all be better.

In addition to the new homepage being live, we also updated our email, so you can now reach us at somebody@free.law.

We love preserving digital artifacts, so here’s a screenshot of the old site:

Old Homepage

FreeLawProject.org, v1. You can also browse the old site at archive.org.

For the technically curious, this new site uses the Pelican Static Site Generator, and runs on the Amazon Web Services stack. This means that it will be incredibly fast no matter where you are in the world, it should never go down, and it allows us to secure the page behind HTTPS. If you want more details, you can find them in …

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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. There are two ways to use it.

Either simply type in the citation you want to look up:

Citation Lookup

Or, 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:

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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 …

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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 …

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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 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 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 …

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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 …

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Reporters Database

United States Reporters

A 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 …

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New Versions of RECAP Extensions Out Now!

RECAP Logo

We’ve released new versions of the RECAP extensions for Chrome and Firefox and they will be auto-updating in your browsers soon.

These are the first new versions in more than two years, and while they are relatively small releases, we’re very excited to be rolling them out.

The headline feature for these extensions is a new Team Name field that you can configure in your settings. We are planning some competitions to see who can upload the most documents to RECAP and to participate, you’ll have to join a team and fill in this field with the team’s name. For now, this is a beta feature, so take a look and let us know if you have ideas for improving or using it.

There are a handful of other fixes that have also landed in these releases. In both Chrome and Firefox, the icons have been improved to support high resolution screens, and the extensions have been changed to support HTTPS uploads, making them more private and secure. In Chrome, we have a new testing framework, thanks to a volunteer developer, and we have fixed notifications to work more reliably.

A lot of this is minor …

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