January 16, 1996
Chair, Coalition on Government Information
c/o American Library Association Washington Office
1301 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W. #403
Washington, D.C. 20004-8419
Dear Ms. Kranich:
On behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, I am honored to submit to the Coalition on Government Information the nomination of the Consortium of Law Schools for the 1996 Madison Award. These seven schools, located strategically throughout the country, have voluntarily assumed responsibility for providing the public with no-fee Internet access to Federal Appellate Court information, and for archiving these opinions. This project is a successful national cooperative effort to make United States Appellate Court opinions available to the public through the Internet. It demonstrates the way libraries and other private organizations can work cooperatively with public agencies to improve access to government information.
The American Association of Law Libraries (AALL) is a nonprofit educational organization headquartered in Chicago with over 5,000 members nationwide. Our members respond to the legal and governmental information needs of members of the general public, law professors, attorneys and students; legislators, judges, and other public officials at all levels of government; corporations and small businesses.
Begun in 1994, this initiative to provide no-fee access to the opinions of the Federal Appellate Courts now includes all jurisdictions with the exception of the First and Eighth Circuits. The participating law schools are:
* Villanova University School of Law (Third and Ninth Circuits);
* Emory University School of Law (Fourth, Sixth, Seventh, Tenth and Eleventh Circuits);
* Cornell University School of Law (Supreme Court and New York Court of Appeals);
* Georgetown University Law School (the D.C. Circuit and the Federal Circuit);
* Pace University School of Law and Touro Law Center (Second Circuit);
* Tarlton Law Library (Fifth Circuit).
The goal of the project is to establish a national database of federal court information by enlisting the participation of at least one law school in each judicial circuit. As you can see from the above list, the first phase of the project is nearing completion. It is expected that the model can and will be expanded to provide access to state court information as well as other legal and governmental information. AALL believes that the efforts of the Consortium of Law Schools to provide no-fee public access to this important judicial information and to create a model for others to follow well deserves the recognition of the Coalition on Government Information.
Circuit Court opinions, like those of the Federal District and Bankruptcy Courts, are available from the government electronically through the PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) bulletin board system, but at a cost to users of 75 cents per minute for connect time. In many jurisdictions, the Court has demonstrated wholehearted support for the law schools by waiving these charges for the participating institutions. Circuit Court opinions are available as well, for those who can pay a hefty sum, through private sector, value-added services.
Prior to the Law School initiative, this important body of judicial information was not available electronically to the public free of charge as it is today. The growing number of public, academic and special libraries which provide their patrons with Internet access contributes significantly to making these opinions more widely available to the public.
The participating law schools have all made a substantial commitment to this endeavor in terms of technology and staff. Judicial opinions are retrieved early each morning from the PACER system, are automatically indexed using special software such as that developed specifically for this project by the Villanova Center for Information Law Policy, and are easily retrievable by case name or through a simple free-text search function. In addition to being responsible for providing both current and long-term access to the opinions of each jurisdiction, these law schools also provide hotlinks to the other consortium sites. The result is a national network which provides Circuit Court information to the public in a timely, efficient and very low-cost manner. You are invited to visit Georgetown University Law Center's home page at http://www.ll.georgtown.edu to explore this project firsthand.
AALL believes that the Consortium of Law Schools truly deserves the honor and recognition which the Madison Award represents. By providing Circuit Court opinions through the Internet at no charge, this project significantly improves the accessibility of judicial information and promotes the public's right to know. Thank you very much for your consideration of this nomination for the 1996 Madison Award. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or if I can be of any further assistance.
Robert L. Oakley
American Association of Law Libraries
Washington Affairs Representative