Quick Hack Will Now Alert People When The Supreme Court Quietly Changes Rulings On Its Site

from the but-only-if-they're-updated-there dept

A few weeks ago, we covered a NY Times article about how the Supreme Court was quietly changing rulings well after they had been released — and often doing so without notifying anyone other than a few big legal publishers. Because of that, many people were still relying on the old and outdated versions. A few people suggested setting up an automated system to just check the Supreme Court website for changing documents and monitor those changes — and that’s exactly what someone has done.

Lawyer David Zvenyach quickly hacked together a system to check the Supreme Court’s website every five minutes for any opinion that changes, and to then automatically tweet out an announcement @SCOTUS_servo. He then follows it up with a manual explanation of the change, and recently added a feature that will highlight the actual change in the document.

This is great — though, it assumes that the Supreme Court will always update its website with the latest rulings. As the original article pointed out, that doesn’t always happen. Still, it’s a step in the right direction, though there’s absolutely no reason that the Supreme Court doesn’t do this itself. And, in the meantime, as I discovered earlier this week in looking up a certain case, it’s not just the Supreme Court that does this, but many other courts as well. Perhaps we’ll need to get Zvenyach to set up similar feeds for each of the different circuit appeals courts as well…

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Comments on “Quick Hack Will Now Alert People When The Supreme Court Quietly Changes Rulings On Its Site”

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Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Good idea, dubious implementation

Twitter? Really?!

That may make it accessible to the people dumb and careless enough to hand personal data over to Twitter, but it hardly makes it accessible to everyone. Nor does it guarantee that it will be archived or indexed.

A much better way to do this would be to use Mailman to set up a (public) list and send the announcements there. That way they’re available at minimal privacy cost (either subscribe from a throwaway or just monitor the web version), they’ll get indexed by search engines, and if the site owner gives permission, the site can be mirrored. Plus: gateway it to a Usenet newsgroup so that it gets global propagation and archiving. Plus: set up an RSS feed.

Setups like this ensure long-term online preservation of data and they do so in a way that (a) makes it nearly impossible for anyone to take it down and (b) make it possible to read the data years later. (I presume everyone knows that email and Usenet archives from 30+ years ago are completely readable and usable today using standard Unix/Linux tools. And even if they weren’t, the formats are simple enough that a decent Perl/Python/Java/etc. programmer could write a parser for them in a day.)

They also (c) remove it from the control of corporations like Twitter, who have recently indicated that they will censor anything for anyone on demand because, of course, they’re run by spineless cowards. How long do you think it will be before those “few legal publishers” do what legal publishers usually do and try to crush any effort that threatens their monopoly status?

Michael (profile) says:

Re: Good idea, dubious implementation

So you are complaining that this rather nice, totally free, and easily accessed service is not good enough?

Fantabulous – please go ahead and build something better to replace it and let us know when it is done.

In the meantime, I am going to thank David Zvenyach rather than bitch that his solution doesn’t use services and technology that I find adequate.

Rich Kulawiec (profile) says:

Re: Re: Good idea, dubious implementation

I’m not complaining, I’m pointing out that (a) he’s handed over control of his communication channel to a company that JUST THIS WEEK made it abundantly clear that it will engage in censorship-on-demand and (b) if his goal is to notice, document and preserve these changes for the long term (and it may or may not be) then using something as ephemeral as Twitter and something as unilaterally-controlled as Twitter is a bad idea. (Surely nobody reading this thinks that Twitter is immortal. In five years it could be gone. Or it could lock up its entire archive. Or it could delete it.)

If you want things to last on the Internet then you need to use open formats, open services, open protocols, open source. Even doing all that isn’t a guarantee: things can still go wrong. But it’s the best way to stack the deck in your favor — as decades of history have shown.

No, I’m not going to bother to fix this particular thing. I only have time to contribute so much — and I do. I’m going to point out this design flaw and stop there. Maybe it’ll get fixed. Or maybe not. (Maybe the author doesn’t care about long-term preservation, in which case the point is moot.)

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