Thursday, July 29, 2010

Federal Register 2.0

A completely new digital version of the venerable daily newsprint publication was launched on July 26, 2010, the 75th anniversary of the signing of the Federal Register Act., or FR 2.0, is intended to be more-user friendly and interactive, with a look-and-feel more like a web news site ("Federal Register: The Daily Journal of the United States Government"). The current issue is organized by general topic - Money, World, Business & Industry, Environment, Science & Technology, and Health & Public Welfare – and by type of document – Notices, Proposed Rules, Final Rules, and Presidential Documents.

There are browse features and search features, and each agency has its own page, but there are also pictures and social networking icons – truly a change from the past!

The redesign is also part of the Obama administration’s Open Government Directive, so the goal is to make the information more accessible and feedback easier. Email addresses are active, and links to are provided (along with instructions on submitting comments).

An interesting feature is plain language abstracts, which are essentially summaries written by the agencies (that are in themselves supposed to be in plain language, but can still be a little technical and dense).

FR 2.0 is currently unofficial. The content, taken from the daily XML-based edition of the Federal Register (FR), is not an official, legal edition. The PDF hosted on the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System (FDsys) is the authenticated official version (along with the print of course). For each document on FR 2.0, there is a link to the official, authenticated PDF. This may change in the future, though, as evidenced from this statement from the Legal Status & Disclaimer: “This prototype edition of the daily Federal Register on will remain an unofficial informational resource until the Administrative Committee of the Federal Register (ACFR) issues a regulation granting it official legal status.”

The front page states this is an experimental beta site, and comments and suggestions are welcome.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

DOJ: No Criminal Charges in U.S. Attorney Firings

The Justice Department announced that “no criminal charges are warranted” against Bush administration officials in regard to the firing of nine United States Attorneys in 2006. The decision was revealed in a letter to the chair of the House Judiciary Committee.
For news coverage, see BLT (Legal Times’ blog), the New York Times, or the Los Angeles Times.
The DOJ’s 2008 Inspector General Report, An Investigation into the Removal of Nine U.S. Attorneys in 2006, is available electronically, or in print at KF5107 .U52 2008 @Classified Stacks.

Thursday, July 8, 2010

Happy Birthday!, the federal government's portal website, celebrated ten years of operation with a cleaner, less cluttered design. The search engine is faster and mobile apps are featured.

Want to "friend" your government? The site offers multiple ways to connect with government, including Facebook, Twitter, RSS, YouTube, and blogs.

You can even watch tutorials to learn how to get the most out of the site and its services.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Harvesting Relevant Cases on Lexis and Westlaw

LexisNexis and Westlaw are both very powerful research systems. Their coverage has a lot of overlap -- they both have state and federal cases, statutes, and regulations, they both have lots of law reviews, and so on. And their features are generally comparable -- you can search with connectors or with natural language, you can check the status of cases with a citator (KeyCite or Shepard's), and so on.

Focusing on the the similarities and parallels, I've sometimes underplayed the differences, telling students it's largely a "Coke-Pepsi" or "Ford-Chevy" thing.

But there are some differences, and it's worth conducting a taste test or taking a look under the hood (depending on whether you favor the soda or the car metaphor). Susan Mart investigates two parallel techniques for finding cases once you know one relevant case:
  • searching for more cases like a given headnote, and
  • using a citator to find later cases discussing the point of law in a headnote.
Susan Develow Mart, The Relevance of Results Generated by Human Indexing and Computer Algorithms, 102 Law Libr. J. 221, 2010 Law Libr. J. 2010-13.

Mart's methodology required a lot of painstaking work -- more than most of us would be willing to undertake, which is why it's so helpful that she published her results. She selected 10 prominent cases, then found pairs of corresponding headnotes to use from each (e.g., LexisNexis headnote 7 and Westlaw headnote 8 from Brown v. Board of Education). She ran searches using Westlaw's Custom Digest and two methods in LexisNexis: "More Like This Headnote" and the list of topics. Having written in advance what would count as relevant, she then sifted through all the cases retrieved and scored them as relevant or not. And then she compared the sets.

The sets of cases retrieved using the West headnotes tended to have a higher percentage of relevant cases than did the sets retrieved using either of the approaches based on Lexis headnotes. Does that mean we can just drop Lexis and use only Westlaw? No -- because each time there were a number of relevant cases that were found only using the Lexis headnotes.

What of the citators? How do Shepard's and KeyCite stack up? Again, the results were more divergent than you might expect. Each system turned up lots of cases supposedly discussing a point of law that the other did not turn up, even when the headnotes were comparable.

From these samples, Mart draws the lesson that researchers who need to be thorough should use both systems and conduct multiple searches. Don't assume that following a headnote from one case in one system will yield all the relevant cases. Use many seed cases. And use more tools -- for instance, A.L.R. annotations and law review articles, not just headnote searches or citator scans.

Years ago our Lexis rep used to say in training sessions, "One search is not research." This study underscores the wisdom of that saying. No one search -- in either system -- does it all for you.

Photos from Washington Economic Development Commission and NIH Nat'l Ctr. for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Read the Big Health Care Act

Is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Pub. L. 111-148, 124 Stat. 119 (March 23, 2010) on your summer reading list?

Here are some sources:
  • plain text from Government Printing Office
  • PDF (906 pages) from the Government Printing Office (certified by the Superintendent of Documents as the authentic text)
  • print version from CCH, KF6276 .6201 .A22 2010 at Reference Area. Includes
    • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
    • Health Care and Education Reconciliation Act of 2010, Pub. L. 111-152
    • Joint Committee on Taxation technical explanation of the two laws
  • another print version from CCH, 2010 tax legislation, KF6276.569 .T3 2010 at Reference Area and Classified Stacks.
    • Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act
    • Health Care Reconciliation Act
    • HIRE and other recent tax acts
    • CCH editorial staff explanation and analysis
  • print version from RIA, KF6276.501 .R53 2010 at Reference Area and Classified Stacks. Includes
    • RIA's complete analysis of the tax and benefits provisions of the 2010 Health Care Act as amended by the 2010 Health Care Reconciliation Act
    • Code and ERISA sections as amended
    • committee reports
Why post this now? Well, in addition to the obvious tie to summer reading, it's because the PDF of the Statutes at Large version only just became available on Friday, according to the Law Library of Congress's Twitter feed.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Today in History: Civil Rights Act of 1964

Forty-six years ago today, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Pub. L. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241, HeinOnline. In just 28 pages, the law addressed many areas of American life: Voting Rights (Title I), Public Accommodations (Title II), Public Facilities (Title III), Public Education (Title IV), Federally Assisted Programs (Title VI), and Employment (Title VII).

The next day, the front page of the Seattle Daily Times told of blacks being able to visit a number of businesses that had been whites-only the day before -- and some businesses that chose to close altogether rather than serve blacks.

Page two reported that President Johnson, asking for cooperation with the new law, found responses were "wonderful and very hopeful." But another story said that the Justice Department was preparing to meet expected opposition and was asking for 40-50 new lawyers for its Civil Rights Division.

The front page on the Fourth of July had a story about a segregation rally in Atlanta at which whites beat two blacks with metal folding chairs. Governor George Wallace of Alabama, running for President, said at the rally that the Civil Rights Act was "a fraud, a sham and a hoax," and said he would not aid in its enforcement in his state.

During most of the discussion of the legislation, the focus had been on race, but sex was added to the ban on employment discriminationk, and that created many changes in society as well.

By the way, did you know that the University Libraries just subscribed to a database with the images of Seattle Times pages back to 1900? Isn't it great?

To get to the historic Seattle Times (and some other early newspapers from the state):

  • Go to the Libraries list of Electronic Newspapers and News.
  • If you are off-campus, click on the off-campus access link in the upper-right corner of the screen and log in with your UW NetID.
  • Choose Early American Newspapers (don't be thrown off by the caption that says coverage ends in 1900!).
  • Choose the Places of Publication tab and then choose Washington.