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Why not an open-access Law.gov to access public legal materials?

Carl Malamud’s vision of a new Law.gov “would give public easier access to all kinds of documents” — and not force us to rely on LexisNexis and Westlaw for access to what is, after all, public material.

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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Ameet Sachdev writes for the Chicago Tribune about Carl Malamud‘s vision of a new Law.gov that “would give public easier access to all kinds of documents” — and not force us to rely on LexisNexis and Westlaw for access to what is, after all, public material:

He’s boldly calling for an authenticated registry and repository of all primary legal materials in the United States available to the public at no cost. What does that include? Statutes, legal opinions, regulations and other rules that govern the daily lives of citizens, right down to permits issued by the local water district. Malamud has a name for his giant database, Law.gov.

“We are a nation of laws, but the laws are not publicly available,” Malamud said recently on a visit to Chicago. “That’s a problem of democracy and justice.”

via Time for free and easy access to legal information – chicagotribune.com.

The idea, according to the Public.Resource.Org description, is to “provide bulk data and feeds … to use the raw materials of our democracy.” What are these raw materials? Basically, all materials that have the force of law, including:

  • briefs and opinions from the judiciary;
  • reports, hearings, and laws from the legislative branch;
  • and regulations, audits, grants, and other materials from the executive branch.

As an academic legal researcher currently disconnected from a law school, any access to a broader swath of legal information and materials is a win for me personally. I think access by everyone to such resources is also a good thing (even if those unfamiliar with reading and interpreting legal materials can often misinterpret what they are reading…).

I would love to see such a thing extend beyond federal materials (which are reasonably accessible online now). Getting 50 states (and various territories) to cooperate with a central repository would be challenging — but brilliant. Hopefully Malamud and the various co-conveners can pull it off!