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UPDATE: Supreme Court web fails transparency test

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UPDATE: The Supreme Court’s media relations office responded to our inquiry Monday. PIO Kathy Arberg responded to our questions with the following statement:

“The Court recently asked for appropriations from Congress to fund the equipment and new positions required to bring the Web site in-house and integrate it with the Court’s other operations (the Web site has been hosted by the Government Printing Office since
its debut in 2000). The transfer will enable the Court to better control and manage the Web site and expand the data and services provided by the site more efficiently. In the meantime, the Court’s technical staff are making progress, working in-house, to design a better site with enhanced services. Once the Web site has been moved in-house and necessary additional staff are in place, it will begin to reflect the planned improvements and upgrades.”

This is good news. It shouldn’t take a law degree to figure out the basics of what is going on at the Supreme Court.

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Word is the Supreme Court’s website is a complete joke.

Volokh Conspiracy:

“One of the odd things about the website for the U.S. Supreme Court is that it’s not the place to go to get briefs, new opinions, and oral argument audio of the Court’s own cases.”

Upon review by Watercooler staff, the site indeed looks like it hasn’t been updated since Al Gore invented the internet.
The Court web site simply isn’t the best place to find out the official happenings of the court. Private and non-profit sites have become the place to go for SCOTUS news.  (See SCOTUSblog, SCOTUSwiki, Oyez.org).

The Court’s website is extremely difficult to navigate, especially when finding specific Court information such as decisions. Take for instance the Court’s decision Tuesday to grant review of the case Skilling v. U.S. (08-1394), which in part argues whether “searing media attacks” on Enron executive Jeffrey K. Skilling tainted his criminal trial.

SCOTUSblog, operated by a private law firm, posted news of the review at the top of its blog with an informative explanation that cuts the courtroom jargon and provides an idea of when the Court will actually judge the case.

Using the Supreme Court’s government sponsored website, it took the Watercooler several minutes to find the Court’s decision because of a badly organized navigation bar. Finally after clicking the “Orders and Journals” tab (the ninth tab down!) and then following the “Orders of the Court” selection, the decision can be found in a difficult to read PDF document. But even this lacks crucial details about the case which was only found in a separate PDF by searching the “Skilling” case in the site’s search bar.

This is a mess.  Who is to blame?

The Government Printing Office developed and hosts the Supreme Court website. With a slogan like “Keeping America Informed,” the GPO is falling a smidge short of its goals.

The GPO didn’t return calls from The Washington Times Friday and the Supreme Court did not reply to our inquiry.

The government has bungled the Supreme Court website. The third branch of the U.S. Government, responsible for interpreting our Constitution should be much more accessible to the public.

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Anthony Bowe

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