Something Rotten in the State of Legal Citation: The Life Span of a United States Supreme Court Citation Containing an Internet Link (1996-2010)

Article excerpt

TABLE OF CONTENTS  INTRODUCTION  I. OVERVIEW OF THE SUPREME COURT'S CITATION TO WEBSITES  II. LINK ROT & DEAD LINKS   A. Link Rot Generally   B. How Link Rot Affects Law Generally   C. How Link Rot Is Related to Legal Citation   D. How Link Rot Affects Judicial Opinions   E. Prior Studies of Link Rot in Legal Citation  III. CURRENT STUDY--PURPOSE AND RESEARCH QUESTION  IV. METHODOLOGY   A. General Methodology   B. Citation Format Problems  V. RESULTS  VI. POSSIBLE SOLUTIONS   A. The U.S. Supreme Court Clerk of Courts   B. The Judicial Conference of the United States   C. Non-Court Based Alternative Solutions     1. The Archival Approach     2. The Permanent URL Approach     3. Other Projects of Note  CONCLUSION  APPENDIX 

"If permanence of legal thought is important to legal scholarship then it must be preserved consciously". (1)

INTRODUCTION

Citations are the cornerstone upon which judicial opinions and law review articles stand. Citations provide both authorial verification of the original source material at the moment they are used and the needed information for readers to later find the cited source. (2) The ability to check citations and verify that citations to the original sources are accurate is integral to ensuring accurate characterizations of sources and determining where a researcher found information. (3) However, accurate citations do not always mean that a future researcher will be able to find the exact same information as the original researcher. (4) Citations to disappearing websites cause serious problems for legal researchers. (5) In this article, we follow the popular practice of studying legal citations, (6) including (8) law review citations (7) and citations in empirical legal analysis, focusing specifically on the use of Internet links in Supreme Court citations.

As this article will demonstrate, our field's present method of citing websites in judicial cases, including within U.S. Supreme Court cases, allows such citations to disappear, becoming inaccessible to future scholars. without significant change, the information in citations within judicial opinions will be known solely from those citations. Citations by the U.S. Supreme Court are especially important, given the Court's position at the top of the federal court hierarchy, its role in determining the law of the land, and even its ability to influence the law in international jurisdictions. Studying the Supreme Court's citations has become increasingly prevalent, beginning with the first comparative analysis of Supreme Court citation practices of secondary sources in 1986 (9) to more recent empirical studies of citations to law review articles. (10) However, ours is the first detailed study analyzing Supreme Court citations to websites, and it is the first paper considering the topic since a 2006 study published by the National Center for State Courts. (11) Considering that every Justice on the Court from Rehnquist through Kagan has cited a website in a majority opinion, studying these citations of Internet sources has become critical to understanding Supreme Court citation patterns and the future of legal information. (12)

Our findings parallel results of previous studies in other academic areas and specific aspects of law, studies that focused on Internet citations in law review articles generally, and one study detailing their use in Washington state cases. we cannot predict what links will rot, even within individual Supreme Court cases. The Internet's ephemeral nature means websites can be available today--and gone tomorrow. (13) Unfortunately and disturbingly, the Supreme Court appears to have a vast problem with "link rot," the condition of Internet links no longer working. We found an alarmingly high number of websites cited by the Supreme Court that are no longer working, almost one-third (29%) of the time. our research also found that the type of online document (pdf, html, etc. …