Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Expanded Access to Federal Court Opinions

In the spirit of Open Access Week, (see more about Open Access at Duke), Reference Librarian Kelly Leong highlights the collaborative efforts of the U.S. Government Printing Office and Administrative Office of the United States Courts in piloting a program to offer free electronic access to federal court opinions.

FDsys, the GPO’s collection of electronic materials, currently offers a plethora of free authenticated content, including the U.S. Code, Federal Register, and numerous congressional documents. As announced earlier this month, FDsys now also offers the United States Courts Opinions – Beta collection, providing free electronic access to federal court opinions. The current Beta version offers the authenticated opinions from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island, U.S. Bankruptcy Court - Southern District of New York and U.S. Bankruptcy Court - Southern District of Florida. The collection is set to expand to twelve courts, and then to “more than thirty,” although there is no information of which courts are slated to join and when.

The advanced searching features available elsewhere on FDsys are also available for this new collection, including common fields such as party name, case number, and court type. Similar to PACER (the federal judiciary’s repository of court filings, which requires a password and charges per page viewed), users can also search the FDsys collection by “nature of suit” code. The availability of opinions date as far back as 2001 for the Eighth Circuit, but the collection is not yet complete even for the selected pilot courts. Opinions are provided in PDF; the “More” link provides access to metadata and “Document in Context,” a notable and interesting feature associated with the collection is the ability to locate other opinions within the same case. If the Eighth Circuit has previously ruled on an issue within the same case, it will be linked to the opinion under this page.

Most importantly, the GPO is seeking feedback on this new collection. Share your thoughts with GPO, and Ask a Librarian for help with locating other court opinions.

--Kelly Leong, Reference Librarian