Citations and Hyperlinks To Materials in Court Opinions on the Web

The following article published in the July 2009 issue of The Third Branch: Newsletter of the Federal Courts discusses a project conducted by U.S. Circuit librarians in the federal courts, and organized by the Fudicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM). The project involved observation and recording over a six month period of how court opinions and materials in court opinions are cited and hyperlinked in a representative sampling of web pages, resulting in a compilation of “suggested practices” for citing and hyperlinking these materials..

This type of resource is needed as a reference for citing primary materials in all branches of government – federal, state, local, and probably foreign and international as well.. With the increasing empsasis on “going green”, preservation of resources, etc. the rate of conversion from hard copy to digital, web based materials is accelerating to the point where it is urgent that we have authoritative sources now that we can rely upon for citing and hyperlinking primary source legal materials on the web.

With this article I am happy to see an example of how the federal courts are “stepping up to the plate” on this issue.

David Badertscher
Here is the article from The Third Branch newsletter:

Internet Materials in Opinions: Citations and Hyperlinking

The Judicial Conference has issued a series of suggested practices to assist courts in the use of Internet materials in opinions. The recommendations follow a pilot project conducted by circuit librarians who captured and preserved webpages cited in opinions over a six-month period. The Internet often seems to pervade everyday life, giving us answers, matches, recommendations, definitions, and citations. But the information on the Internet can be as ephemeral as yesterdays blog entry. Websites can change or disappear altogether.

Judges are citing to and using Internet-based information in their opinions with increasing frequency, Judicial Conference Secretary Jim Duff wrote recently to chief judges. Unlike printed authority, Internet information is often not maintained at a permanent location, and a cited webpage can be changed or deleted at any time. Obviously, this has significant implications for the reliability of citations in court opinions.

The Judicial Conference Committee on Court Administration and Case Management (CACM) began the pilot project, conducted by circuit libraries, and received and endorsed the recommendations of an ad hoc working group of circuit librarians. In approving those recommendations in March 2009, the Judicial Conference agreed that all Internet materials cited in final opinions be considered for preservation, while each judge should retain the discretion to decide whether the specific cited resource should be captured and preserved. The Conference directed the Administrative Office to work with the CACM Committee to develop guidelines to assist judges in making the determination of which citations to preserve.

The guidelines suggest that, if a webpage is cited, chambers staff preserve the citation by downloading a copy of the sites page and filing it as an attachment to the judicial opinion in the Judiciarys Case Management/Electronic Case Files System. The attachment, like the opinion, would be retrievable on a non-fee basis through the Public Access to Court Electronic Records system. When considering whether to cite Internet sources, judges are reminded that some litigants, particularly pro se litigants, may not have access to a computer.

The Judicial Conference also recommended that the Judiciary avoid including in final opinions working hyperlinks that lead directly to materials contained within commercial vendor databases to prevent a stated or implied endorsement or preferential treatment. To the extent that a court determines that such hyperlinks are to be used in opinions, it is recommended that an appropriate disclaimer be provided
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