SCOTUS decisions database, 1791-2015
July 13, 2016 11:14 AM   Subscribe

The Supreme Court Database is a comprehensive, Creative Commons-licensed database of the decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States, broken down by justices, issues, votes, and numerous other variables. Yesterday marked the newest release, including comprehensive coverage from 1791 through the recently concluded 2015 term. [via mefi projects]

The online analysis tool offers an easy way to get started with the data. For more serious or custom analysis, the underlying data is available for download in numerous formats.
posted by not_the_water (14 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
posted by Going To Maine at 11:15 AM on July 13, 2016

I recently inherited development and maintenance of the database, and it's kind of a daunting responsibility. It feeds into numerous other legal research projects and forms the backbone of a lot of journalism about the court (this recent New York Times front page piece, for example).

Luckily the project has been running pretty smoothly for almost 10 years now, and some very brilliant people have worked on it or are still working on it, especially Andrew Martin, Lee Epstein, Harold Spaeth, and Troy DeArmitt (who, incidentally, maintains a long-running annual photography contest).
posted by jedicus at 12:06 PM on July 13, 2016 [16 favorites]

That is some terrific work!
posted by xingcat at 12:14 PM on July 13, 2016

How is it CC-BY-NC? Aren't court documents all public-domain?
posted by Galaxor Nebulon at 12:22 PM on July 13, 2016 [2 favorites]

Now I feel too embarrassed to post my me-fi project showing photos of my toenail clippings.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 12:25 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

How is it CC-BY-NC? Aren't court documents all public-domain?

SCDB doesn't maintain copies of the opinions themselves, although it does link to copies maintained elsewhere. The SCDB is, essentially, a database of metadata, some of which is objective fact (e.g. the date a decision was issued), but much of which involves human judgment (e.g. identifying the issues a case is about, identifying whether the decision on a given issue was conservative or liberal). Even for objective facts there can be a copyright in the selection, coordination, and arrangement of that data, if it rises to the level of a creative work.
posted by jedicus at 12:30 PM on July 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

I suspect GN was more concerned with whether the project was asserting ownership over public domain documents than whether the new work deserved copyright protection.
posted by phearlez at 1:07 PM on July 13, 2016

whether the project was asserting ownership over public domain documents

To be clear, then: it definitely does not, nor could it, since the underlying documents are not part of the database. That's left to third party services such as Public Resource, FindLaw, Lexis, and WestLaw.
posted by jedicus at 1:23 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Relatedly, I've been enjoying More Perfect, a podcast about the Supreme Court. It's spun off from Radiolab, so it has great production value and talent behind it... although it also inherits Radiolab's flaws, including the cloying nature of Jad Abumrad's faux naiveté. Worth checking out.
posted by painquale at 1:38 PM on July 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

Is it available via pneumatic tube?
posted by larrybob at 3:59 PM on July 13, 2016

That's cool!

Along these lines, has transcripts and recordings of oral arguments to the Supreme Court. One of my particular favorites from the last case where a non lawyer argued before the court, SEC vs. Sloan. The SEC had the power to order a suspension of a stock being traded for 10 days without notice or hearing, decided to claim it could do that back to back, and ran with that idea.
posted by gryftir at 9:46 PM on July 13, 2016

Hey, I was playing with this last winter while doing some computational research. Very cool!
posted by stoneandstar at 10:45 PM on July 13, 2016


There's a medium important case where the plaintiff has my surname. It's pretty uncommon - there's a C-list celebrity with it, and that's pretty much the only well-known person ever with it - so that was kind of a fun thing to find out in AP US History.
posted by Chrysostom at 9:21 PM on July 14, 2016

Hmm, this is much more difficult to use than I hoped.
posted by rhizome at 9:20 PM on July 21, 2016

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