Launching the RECAP API

List of interested parties to contact:

  • Sai - i@s.ai
  • Gavin Sheridan - gavin@vizlegal.com and Jose Alberto ja@vizlegal.com
  • David Donet Sr - david@donetsr.com
  • Ian Francis - ianjfrancis55@gmail.com
  • Kyle and ALex
  • Michael Shurtleff - ms@salemlawllc.com
  • Mark Deming - bittersweetholdingcompany@gmail.com
  • Reed Jessen - reed@ipstreet.com (interested in bi-directional API in May/June for use with Unified Patents)
  • Surya Mattu - Guy I met at the Knight Foundation thing, now works for Gizmodo. Is building a PACER awareness bot for their slack channel. Only interested in the API once it can scrape new stuff. surya@suryamattu.com
  • Matt Channon - jrqqqq@gmail.com. building some kind of iOS tool called Habeas.
  • David Gribbin (djgribbin11@gmail.com) - kind of a random person that emailed. Gathering more info…
  • Nikolaos Tsoukas - Interested I guess from research perspective. See email.
  • David Kellum - Sqoop.com. Has some platform for helping journalists. Interested in RECAP Archive and Clearinghouse, but may not want to pay…not clear. Currently is scraping PACER RSS feeds.
  • Nirav Patel (nirav@datazapp.com) - Wants to use data to market to bankrupt people. Not ideal, but, hm.
  • Jonathan Edward Germann (jgermann@gsu.edu) - Wants PACER data for research, I think.
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More Information about our Judicial Database and Some Responses to Feedback

Robert Ambrogi recently wrote an article about our new judicial database for his LawSites blog. In his article, he makes a few concrete observations about our judicial database, and I want to use these observations as a launching point to talk some more about what we have made, why it is useful, and what we are working on next.

The two observations Robert makes are:

  1. Our page for Justice Robert Cordy is sparse compared to the same page on Ballotpedia.

  2. Scalia’s end date was not set for his time on the Supreme Court, and his education data was not quite correct.

These kinds of observations are really important to us, and it shows that we still have work to do building and explaining our work.

On Sparseness

To the first observation about Robert Cordy, our response is that we’re building a database, not a more free-form wiki. Unlike the incredible work Ballotpedia is doing, which allows almost any kind of information, our work is focused on gathering specific facts about judges and appointing officials. This approach has pros and cons, and Robert is fair to point out that our data about this important judge is fairly sparse. He …

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Free Law Project and Princeton/Columbia Researchers Launch First-of-its-Kind Judicial Database

A screenshot of President, Judge Taft

President Taft’s Biography Page

Today we’re extremely proud and excited to be launching a comprehensive database of judges and the judiciary, to be linked to Courtlistener’s corpus of legal opinions authored by those judges. We hope that this database, its APIs, and its bulk data will become a valuable tool for attorneys and researchers across the country. This new database has been developed with support from the National Science Foundation and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, in conjunction with Elliott Ash of Princeton University and Bentley MacLeod of Columbia University.

At launch, the database has nearly 8,500 judges from federal and state courts, all of which are available via our APIs, in bulk data, and via a new judicial search interface that we’ve created.

The database is aimed to be comprehensive, including as many facts about as many judges as possible. At the outset, we are collecting the following kinds of information about the judges:

  • Biographical information including their full name, race, gender, birth and death dates and locations, and any aliases or nicknames that a judge may have.

  • Their educational information including which schools they went to, when they went, and …

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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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CourtListener is Now Integrated with the Supreme Court Database

Earlier this week somebody on the Internet pinged us with some code and asked that we integrate the data from the Supreme Court Database (SCDB). Well, we’re happy to share that less than a week later we’ve taken the code they provided and used it to upgrade CourtListener’s database.

The Supreme Court Database includes data for about 8,500 Supreme Court opinions from 1946 to 2013 and this first pass merges that data with CourtListener so that:

  • Our copy of these opinions are enhanced with better parallel citations. You can now look these items up by U.S. Reporter (U.S.), The Supreme Court Reporter (S.Ct.), Lawyers’ Edition (L.Ed.) or even LEXIS citation (U.S. LEXIS). This should make our citation graph much more robust and should help people like Colin Starger at University of Baltimore that are doing great analyses with this data. Many of these items were screen scraped directly from the Supreme Court website meaning that for these items, this is the first time they have had proper citations. Here’s an example of the many parallel citations items now have:

Roe v. Wade
Citations

  • All Supreme Court Opinions from 1946 to 2013 have a new …
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Announcing Oral Arguments on CourtListener

We’re very excited to announce that CourtListener is currently in the process of rolling out support for Oral Argument audio. This is a feature that we’ve wanted for at least four years — our name is CourtListener, after all — and one that will bring a raft of new features to the project. We already have about 500 oral arguments on the site, and we’ve got many more we’ll be adding over the coming weeks.

For now we are getting oral argument audio in real time from ten federal appellate courts. As we get this audio, we are using it to power a number of features:

  • Oral Argument files become immediately available in our search results.
  • A podcast is automatically available for every jurisdiction we support and for any query that you can dream up. Want a custom podcast containing all of the 9th circuit arguments for a particular litigant? You got it.
  • You can now get alerts for oral arguments so you can be sure that you keep up with the latest coming out of the courts.
  • For developers, there are a number of new endpoints in both our REST API and our bulk data API for …
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CourtListner’s REST API Featured on Programmable Web

Yesterday Mark Boyd published a great story about the CourtListener API on Programmable Web. Mark talked to several of the API’s early adopters and really learned what the issues are and how people are addressing them. Thanks to all those quoted in the story for taking the time to talk with Mark about the CourtListener REST API. We’re excited about how you all are already using the API and hope to continue improving it. (There’s nothing like people hitting your website thousands of times a day to shake loose hard-to-find bugs…and we’ve had some of that too and hope to get any and all bugs resolved ASAP!)

I particularly like Waldo Jaquith‘s sentiment quoted in the article that 24 months from now we will find it quaint that anyone found this interesting. I sure hope so! That will mean we’ve made many advances and the thought of not having an API for United States case law will seem unimaginable. Unfortunately, free programmatic access—even digital access—to U.S. case law has been not much more than a fanciful dream for a long time in the legal technology community. For years we’ve …

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Free Law Project Unveils API for Court Opinions

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Today marks another big day for the Free Law Project. We’re happy to share that we’ve created the first ever API for U.S. Legal Opinions. An API —- or Application Programming Interface —- is a way for computers to talk to each other and consume each others’ data in an automated fashion. From this day forth, developers, researchers and legal startups can begin consuming the data that we have at CourtListener in a granular and very specific manner.

For example, here are some very basic things that can be done with our API (these links will only work if you are signed in to your CourtListener account):

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Free Law Project Adds More than 1.5M Opinions to its Collection Thanks to Data Donation

For Immediate Release —- Berkeley, CA

After many years of collecting and curating data, today CourtListener crossed some incredible boundaries. Thanks to a generous data donation from Lawbox LLC, our computers are currently adding more than 1.5M new opinions to CourtListener, expanding our coverage to a total of more than 350 jurisdictions. This new data enables legal professionals and researchers insight into data that has never before been available in bulk and greatly enhances the data we previously had. This data will be slowly rolling out in our front end, and will soon be available in bulk from our bulk downloads page. A new version of our coverage page was developed, and, as always, you can see our current coverage for any jurisdiction we support.

It’s difficult to overstate the importance of this new data. In addition to being a massive expansion of our coverage, it also brings some notable improvements to the project:

  1. For all of the new data and much of our old data, we have added star pagination throughout. For the first time, this will make pinpoint citations possible using the CourtListener platform.
  2. We’ve re-organized our database for more accurate citations enabling for the first …
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A few small API changes

We’re updating our code in a number of ways today and that is resulting in a number of changes to the format of our data dumps. If you use them in an automated fashion, please note the following changes:

  • dateFiled is now date_filed
  • precedentialStatus is now precedential_status
  • docketNumber is now docket_number
  • westCite is now west_cite
  • lexisCite is now lexis_cite

Additionally, a new field, west_state_cite, has been added, which will have any citations to West’s state reporters. We’ve made these changes in preparation of a proper API that will return XML and JSON. Before we released that API, we needed to clean up some old field values so they were more consistent. After this point, we expect better consistency in the fields of our XML.

If this causes any inconvenience or if you need any help with these changes, please let us know.

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Second Series of Federal Reporter from 1950 to 1993 now on CourtListener

Over the past few months we have been working on cleaning and importing the 2nd series of the Federal Register (F.2d) from http://law.resource.org. Today we’re excited to share that we’ve made over 12,000 meta data additions, corrections or categorizations, and that we’ve finally added F2 to our corpus.

This expands our coverage to nearly 600,000 searchable cases, and improves the quality of bulk data that is available for free on the Web.

We’re very excited by these new features, and we hope to import the third series next. If you’re interested in contributing to this work, please drop us a line - it’s a huge task cleaning and importing this information and we can use all the help we can get!

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New formats for dump files

As mentioned in a previous post, we are currently making some changes to our back end to allow better citation meta data and searching granularity. As part of these changes, we have made two small changes to our dump formats.

The first change is to list docketNumber, westCite and lexisCite instead of caseNumber and westCitation. We previously had many West-style citations listed as generic case numbers. This wasn’t very accurate, so we’ve re-organized this to have better granularity.

The second change we’ve made is to how we handle missing or incomplete data. Previously, if a case was missing data, we would simply not include it in a dump. This was not the best solution, so we’re now including any information we have about a case in every dump we create. In some cases, this can create partial cases that lack vital meta data.

We hope these changes will be easy to work with, and that they’ll cause no disruption.

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The abolishment of the Emergency Court of Appeals (April 18, 1962)

One of the coming features at CourtListener is an API for the law. Part of that feature is going to be some basic information about the courts themselves, so I spent some time over the weekend researching courts that served a special purpose but were since abolished.

One such court was the Emergency Court of Appeals. It was created during World War II to set prices, and, naturally, was the court of appeals for many cases. The creation date of the court is prominently published in various places on the Internet, but the abolishment history of the court was very difficult to find. After researching online for some time, and learning that my library card had expired (sigh), I put in a query with the Library of Congress, which provides free research of these types of things.

Within a couple days, the provided me with this amazing response, which I’m sharing here, and on the above Wikipedia article:

As stated in the Legislative Notes to 50 U.S. Code Appendix §§ 921 to 926, as posted at

http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/html/uscode50a/usc_sec_50a_00000921——000-notes.html, the following explanation is given regarding the amendment and repeal of Act …

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Updated Supreme Court Case Dates and The First Release of Early SCOTUS Data in Machine-Readable Form

A few years ago, the Library of Congress released a PDF that listed the exact dates that the early Supreme Court Cases were decided. Since the written record only contained the month and year of the decision, this list served as the official record for the cases.

While it was great for the Library of Congress to publish this report, unfortunately they did so in a large PDF rather than a more useful format that could be used by projects such as CourtListener. Attempts to contact the Library of Congress were unable to locate the original version of the document, so we converted the PDF into both a CSV and an ODS spreadsheet so that the data can be easily read by a computer. I’m happy to be releasing these files today so that they can be used by others.

The second project we have been working on at Free Law Project was to import this data into our system. Because citations in the file are not always unique, we had to device a heuristic algorithm to link up the data in the CSV with the data in our system. Today, we’re happy to share that we did …

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