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Following the law online

This column originally ran in ComputorEdge on December 10, 2004
(Issue 2250, Fix It, Trade It or Trash It)

Tith the Supreme Court back in session and accepting a flurry of appeals (and rejecting even more, meaning the lower courts' rulings stand), it's a interesting time of year to look at some of the resources available online for following the Supreme Court and other court rulings.

One of the better ones is JURIST, run by the University of Pittsburgh School of law. A legal portal, JURIST offers breaking headlines (as this is written, the Pennsylvania state Supreme Court has just ruled that independent presidential candidate Ralph Nader will not appear on that state's ballot), analysis, question and answer forums with leading legal scholars. (For instance, there is an analysis of the Democratic Party's campaign to keep Nader off as many ballots as possible by Mark Brown, who holds the Newton D. Baker/Baker and Hostetler Chair at Capital University School of Law.)

And there are forums where general readers (i.e., non-lawyers) can post their opinions – which is frankly a bit remarkable in the legal profession, where it is often forgotten that the judicial system belongs to the people.

There is also a database of Supreme Court decisions from 1980 to the present; it is both searchable and browseable.

Only as I'm looking at the Supreme Court archive, I realize I'm no longer on JURIST – instead, I'm on the Supreme Court Collection of Cornell University. Unfortunately, the university's Legal Information Institute ( was down when we tried to visit – but that's where the Supreme Court Collection resides and is undoubtedly worth a return visit when the server is up.

FindLaw is certainly one of the best-known of the commercial legal resources online. In addition to one of the (if not the) largest databases of legal decisions you'll find (especially for free), there is a news portal with the latest legal news -

For students, FindLaw is a treasure trove of information – links to every state constitution, for starters.

Law and the 'Net

For tech heads, FindLaw's tech law portal is a blessing. From file swapping to online political activity, the Internet in particular and technology in general are real nests of litigation these days. Keeping track of it all can be tough – unless you bookmark this page.

Another good place to keep up is at There is a news section here that seems to be updated daily.

Interestingly, c|net – famous for its tech news – doesn't seem to have a page devoted to technology and law. I'm sure someone does, but a couple hours of digging failed to turn one up. E-mail me if you know of one.

More general info on the Court

Let's not overlook the obvious – the Supreme Court's own Web site. There is a full docket online here, so you can see what they have coming up ahead of them as well. There is also an archive of prior decisions back to 1991 in PDF format (which tend to be kind of large – 4MB each and up).

The Department of Commerce has an archive of Supreme Court decisions from 1937-1975 at its FedWorld portal. It doesn't seem to be browsable – in other words, you have to search by topic or party to find a specific case, rather than just browsing by year.

The Washington Post newspaper has a fairly deep and informative page devoted to the law. From breaking news about current cases to an archive back to 1997, this is a very useful page from the folks who cover the Court on a daily basis.

For learning more about the Supreme Court, the Supreme Court Historical Society offers a multimedia look at the Court. From a timeline of all justices to explanations of how the court works, it's a pretty neat site.

And for finding some of the more important decisions from the Court, try the Landmark Supreme Court Cases site. While it's geared toward teachers, it's a well-designed site that will be of interest to anyone trying to learn more about the Court.