Let me start off by saying that I support the ideas, principles and declarations made by the 33 individuals that have placed their signatures on that statement. Putting the laws that we citizens live under in a format that is freely available, in a format that is not tied to a specific vendor or physical format, and having the institutions that write these laws responsible for making sure they are immediately available is a great idea. However, when I scan down the list of signatures of those supporting these ideals, I see something missing… and that is a signature from any members of the Judiciary, Legislative or Executive branch, state or federal, that would have the power to move these ideals forward. In fact, other than Judy Meadows, the State Law Librarian of Montana, all the other signatories are either members of top tier law schools, publishers, or individuals with no direct link to the courts or government agencies that they are asking to adopt these ideals.
It reminds me of when I was with the Oklahoma Supreme Court and we adopted the Universal Citation System for all of our cases based on the AALL Citation Format Committee’s guidelines. We started the process back in 1996 and by 2001 had all 60,000+ Oklahoma Appellate Court decisions online, with the vendor-neutral citations, and freely available to everyone. When I went up to a committee member in 2001 and said that we need to get the word out about Oklahoma’s success and start talking to other State Supreme Court Justices, Bar Associations and Court Administrators to get them to follow suit, you know what I got?? Nothing. The reason? The committee was no longer focusing on cases, and was now interested in finishing the guidelines for Administrative Rulings. The “process” of establishing additional guidelines trumped the “action” of getting courts to move forward on actually adopting and implementing the already established guidelines.
I really hope that the Law.Gov folks are not following in the footsteps of the AALL citation committee.
There is a lot of clout in having the signatures of Deans, Professors, and Law Librarians from distinguished schools like Harvard, Yale, Cornell, Princeton, Stanford, Berkeley and others, and that should not be dismissed as not important, because it is important. However, until you start getting some signatures from State Court Administrators, State and Federal Judges, Governors, State and Federal Legislators, and State and Federal Agency Directors, it is still an exercise in academia… and will never make it pass this phase.
Getting these types of signatures won’t be easy (if it was, they’d already be on there.) But, there are states out there that are doing very well at doing a number of things that the Law.Gov principles and declarations are asking them to do. Why not go out and recruit these Judges and state officials to sign in order to show their peers that it can be done, and what benefits they have reaped from already making their laws and regulations more transparent?? A State Supreme Court Justice is going to take notice of a peer from another state before he or she will listen to a law professor from an Ivy League school. Getting one of those signatures should be Law.Gov’s current mission.
[Note: See Ed Walter’s follow-up to this post – “Why .Gov is at the *End* of Law.Gov“]