Harvard Law study finds Supreme Court editing its decisions without notice

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This morning, Adam Liptak reported at the New York Times that the Supreme Court has been quietly editing its legal decisions without notice or indication. According to Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard Liptak interviewed about a new study examining the issue, these revisions include “truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning.”

The court does warn readers that early versions of its decisions, available at the courthouse and on the court’s website, are works in progress. A small-print notice says that “this opinion is subject to formal revision before publication,” and it asks readers to notify the court of “any typographical or other formal errors.”

But aside from announcing the abstract proposition that revisions are possible, the court almost never notes when a change has been made, much less specifies what it was. And many changes do not seem merely typographical or formal.

Four legal publishers are granted access to “change pages” that show all revisions. Those documents are not made public, and the court refused to provide copies to The New York Times.

The Supreme Court secretly editing the legal record seems like a big deal to me. (Lawyers, professors, court reporters, tell me I’m wrong!)
To me, this story highlights the need for and, eventually the use of data and software to track the changes in a public, online record of Supreme Court decisions.

Static PDFs that are edited without notice, data or indication of changes doesn’t seem good enough for the legal branch of a constitutional republic in the 21st century.

Just as the U.S. Code, state and local codes, are being constantly being updated and consulted by lawyers, courts and the people, the Supreme Court’s decisions could be published and maintained online as a body of living legislation at SupremeCourt.gov so that they may be read and consulted by all.

Embedded and integrated into those decisions and codes would be a record of the changes to them, the “meta data” of the actions of the legislative organ of the republic.

What you’ll find now at SupremeCourt.gov is a significant improvement over past years. Future versions, however, might be even better.

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Can NewsGenius make annotated government documents more understandable?

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Last year, Rap Genius launched News Genius to help decode current events. Today, the General Service Administration (GSA) announced that digital annotation service News Genius is now available to help decode federal government Web projects:

“The federal government can now unlock the collaborative “genius” of citizens and communities to make public services easier to access and understand with a new free social media platform launched by GSA today at the Federal #SocialGov Summit on Entrepreneurship and Small Business,” writes Justin Herman, federal social media manager.

“News Genius, an annotation wiki based on Rap Genius now featuring federal-friendly Terms of Service, allows users to enhance policies, regulations and other documents with in-depth explanations, background information and paths to more resources. In the hands of government managers it will improve public services through citizen feedback and plain language, and will reduce costs by delivering these benefits on a free platform that doesn’t require a contract.”

This could be a significant improvement in making complicated policy documents and regulations understandable to the governed. While plain writing is indispensable for open government and mandated by law and regulation, the practice isn’t exactly uniformly practiced in Washington.

If people can understand more about what a given policy, proposed rule or regulation actually says, they may well be more likely to participate in the process of revising it. We’ll see if people adopt the tool, but on balance, that sounds like a step ahead.

600-x-320-GSA-Mentor-Protege-Program-subpart-519-70-on-cell-phoneWhat could this look like? As Herman noted, Chicago’s SmartChicago Collaborative uses RapGenius to annotate municipal documents.

Another recent example comes from DOBTCO founder and CEO Clay Johnson, who memorably put RapGenius to good use last year decoding testimony on Healthcare.gov.

The GSA’s first use is for a mentor-protege program.

Here’s hoping more subject matter experts start annotating.

[Image Credit: Huffington Post]

European Parliament posts draft open government declaration online, asks for feedback

Have ideas for improvement to the open government declaration I’ve embedded below? Edits to the document below should make their way back to the original draft.

ExpertNet: What is the future of the open government platform?

The President has lunch with Sen. Bob Casey at the Famous 4th Street Deli in Philadelphia

The President has lunch with Sen. Bob Casey at the Famous 4th Street Deli in Philadelphia. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

Citizen engagement platforms grew in 2010. There will be more such platforms coming from top, through open government, and from the bottom, as civic developers create, host and use their own communities. The opportunity for citizens to participate in the co-creation of the most high profile open government platforms for citizen consultation, ExpertNet, will close on January 23rd, when the White House’s Request for Information will end.

The White House has been taking public feedback on designing democracy with this citizen consultation platform for weeks. In a number of respects, the discussion on ExpertNet.wikispaces.com has resembled an unconference, where the participants themselves drive the process.

So what’s interesting here? “It is the idea that the public will be (directly) shaping policy that is intriguing, and is a critical component to bridging the gap, both the economic gap as well as the digital gap, as the average citizen is the real stakeholder, and before now has had no forum for influencing change so directly,” said Megan Eskey, OpenGov Lead at the NASA Ames Research Center.

Or put it another way, as Anil Dash did earlier today: how should a White House Quora work?

The White House is looking to build a web community to get its questions answered, sort of their own Quora, and they’re trying to do it the right way. They’re asking those who would participate to help shape how the community itself works. They’re not trying to create a network from scratch, but instead trying to connect to networks that already exist. And they’re not just making a community for the hell of it — they’re trying to build one with purpose.

But they’ve asked for our help, from those of us who build, and know, and love web communities. We’re being asked to share our expertise in what does, and doesn’t work on successful web communities. Our deadline for participating is on Monday. Giving them insights into our hard-earned lessons will only take 15 minutes of your time this weekend, and will keep us from having to wonder, “Why wasn’t I consulted?

Many lively discussion threads have emerged, including suggestion for moderation, voting, ownership of intellectual property and more, including:

“It’s not so much the idea of a wiki or whatever platform ExpertNet rolls out, but rather the format they are looking at of matching experts with those seeking to solve immense problems,” said Eskey. “Whether it is a wiki or a social site or some other crowdsourcing tool like delib’s dialogue app, that feedback loop is critical, especially if the digital divide is to be bridged via new bills that are introduced into Congress, although at this time the project is envisioned for executive agencies and departments only,” she said. Eskey noted that any ideas for using ExpertNet within the legislative branch should be directed to elected representative(s) in Congress.

For those interested in the future of open government and citizen consultation, there’s no time like the present to weigh in. Tim Bonnemann of Intellitics has also posed six questions for ExpertNet for further consideration.

First DC Govup highlights dynamism of millennials in the federal workforce

Last night, Washington’s first “Govup” saw dozens of government workers come together near Dupont Circle. In the brief video below, Marie Davie, Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Assisted Acquisition Services the General Services Agency praises Steve Ressler, the founder of Govloop, for his work in creating a platform to empower government workers to network and collaborate online.

“If you’ve got a great idea, and you want to change the world, try it, do it, take that risk” said Mary Davie. “We are a tribe. We’ve got linchpins. We’ve got people that are passionate and really want to make a difference. Thank you for letting us do that.” You can visit Govloop for pictures of the DC Govup.

Govloop and the next generation of government workers earned some coverage in the Washington Post earlier this month. The social network now has over 30,000 members and continues to grow. That’s only likely to continue, given demographic trends highlighted in the article:

Almost one in three of the 142,690 federal workers hired last year was 29 or younger, while more than one in four were between 30 and 39, a demographic that’s reshaping the bureaucracy — and creating tension and opportunity along the way. In 10 years, about 400,000 of the 2 million federal workers will be younger than 35, government personnel experts say.

The pro-government attitude of the millennial generation is also critical to consider in that context, particularly with respect to interest in improving the efficiency of delivering government services.

Wikis and Open Government at the GSA

For a more formal look at Davie’s work at the GSA with acquisition and wikis, read about the Better Buy Project and watch her presentation at the Gov 2.0 Expo below. As with so many areas, often real change is quiet, incremental and collaborative.

Intellipedia: Moving from a culture of “need to know” to “responsibility to share”

For more than four years, the intelligence agencies in the United States have been using a wiki called “Intellipedia” to improve knowledge capture and sharing. I interviewed Sean Dennehy and Don Burke at the Gov 2.0 Expo to learn more about Intellipedia. The two CIA officers have spearheaded the Intellipedia effort since its inception.

The GSA’s Mary Davie talks about open government and wikis at the Gov 2.0 Expo

Mary Davie is the Assistant Commissioner for the Office of Assisted Acquisition Services (AAS) in GSA’s Federal Acquisition Service (FAS). In this interview, she talks about using wikis in government.