June 3, 2009

What the Supreme Court website should look like

The always interesting Sunlight Foundation recently published a series of mock-ups of what the Supreme Court could do to update its web presence.

While no one would claim the government is on the cutting-edge of web technology, the Supreme Court website is noticeably dated -- the simple list of links, the blocky image of the Court steps, the use of archaic images as buttons. Even the websites of the White House and Congress appear comfortably ahead of the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court's wouldn't be bad if it was a kid's school assignment, but it is not up to par for a site that receives 18 million hits a month and is the official web home of the highest court in the land.

The central theme of the new mock-ups is the idea that all relevant info should be easily accessible. In addition, the Sunlight Foundation realizes that the website is a place for people of all sorts of backgrounds. School kids, legal researchers, as well as interested citizens all visit the site. This is why the new site would feature easy to grasp background information about the Court, links to current and past decisions, as well as a news feed to keep interested parties up to speed.

The Sunlight Foundation briefly mentions a machine-readable record of every Supreme Court decision ever made. This would be fascinating. Say you wanted to read every decision that mentioned the Commerce Clause that was decided between 1850 and 1900 when the Chief Justice was appointed by a Republican. Or see every decision in which Anthony Kennedy joined Ruth Bader Ginsburg in a 5-4 decision. With such a machine-readable record what used to take months of research could be determined in seconds.

The Supreme Court should realize the need for keeping up with web technology (and by all accounts they do) and consider the suggestions made by the Sunlight Foundation.