Announcing a New Open Database of Court Information, IDs, and Parsers

John Adams Courthouse

One court, many names: The “Supreme Court of Massachusetts”, the “Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts”, “The State of Mass. Supreme Court”, the “Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court”, and the list goes on. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Since 2010 when we launched CourtListener, one of our goals has been to build a complete, accurate, and audited collection of open case law. Today that goal takes a major step forward as we announce a new tool we have built to parse court data.

A critical step in parsing court opinions is knowing which court produced the opinion. Unfortunately, courts change their names over time and so we encounter opinions from the “Supreme Court of Massachusetts”, the “Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts”, and the “Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court”, among others. These are all names for the very same court of last resort in Massachusetts, so we created a tool that recognizes all these varied names.

We call our tool the Free Law Project Courts-DB.

Using Courts-DB, you can easily look up the name of nearly any American court with published cases going back to 1600. We have used this functionality to parse nearly 16 million court names. After doing so, our accuracy at …

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A Complete Chronology of PACER Fees and Policies

Today, the PACER system contains millions of court filings for the federal district, circuit, and bankruptcy courts, most of which are sold at a dime per page with a three dollar cap per document. But content in PACER was not always priced this way, and indeed the PACER system goes back all the way to the early 1990’s, before computers were generally connected to the Internet.

Fees for using PACER are set by the Judicial Conference of the Administrative Office of the Courts, which scrupulously keeps notes from its bi-annual proceedings going back to its creation in 1922. In this post, we have gone through all of the relevant proceedings, and we present what we believe is a complete history of PACER fees and changes.

During the 27 year history outlined below, technology has changed significantly, and the Administrative Office of the Courts has done its best to keep up. Over the years, PACER has offered a variety of ways to get court information. These include a 1-900 number, a search service available via a regular phone call, the ability to connect your own computer directly to the courts’, and the websites that we know today.

But regardless of …

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We’ve Added Thousands More Citations to Historical Supreme Court Opinions

We have a small update to share today, as we’ve wrapped up adding thousands of historical Supreme Court citations to our collection. These are the original citations for the Supreme Court from 1754 to 1874, from before when the United States Reports had begun. Previously we had many of these citations, but as of today we can say we have historical citations for our entire SCOTUS collection.

For the unfamiliar, Supreme Court citations were originally named after the Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court from the time the opinion was published. For example, the first person to do this was Alexander Dallas, and his citations start at 1 Dall. 1 (1754), and go forward to 4 Dall. 446 (1806). After Dallas came a long line of other reporters, each of whom named their series of books after himself until 1875, when congress began appropriating money for the full time creation of these reporters and demanded they be called the “United States Reports.”

18 Stat. 204 (1874)

A snapshot of 18 Stat. 204 (1874), which allocated $25,000 to the Supreme Court for printing (about $557,100 today).

At that time, 91 U.S. 1 was the first case to be born with …

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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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