U.S. Supreme Court

Link rot in SCOTUS decisions documented; half don't go to original material

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The U.S. Supreme Court has cited Internet materials 555 times since 1996, but tracking down the information isn’t always easy.

According to a new study by co-authored by Harvard law professor Jonathan Zittrain, half of the hyperlinks in Supreme Court opinions no longer link to the information originally cited. The New York Times covers the results. “Supreme Court opinions have come down with a bad case of link rot,” the Times says.

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According to the study, many of the links did turn up Web pages, but they didn’t go to the original information cited or the information had materially changed. Sometimes when the information changed, there was no note indicating the update.

The Times notes one hyperlink in an opinion about violent video games by Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. Users who click on the link are taken to an error message that reads: “Aren’t you glad you didn’t cite to this Web page? … If you had, like Justice Alito did, the original content would have long since disappeared and someone else might have come along and purchased the domain in order to make a comment about the transience of linked information in the Internet age.”

The Supreme Court clerk does keep a hard copy of hyperlinked materials, but Zittrain suggest another solution: a platform that would allow authors to generate, store, and reference archived data. He is working on such a platform, called Perma.cc, which is supported by a group of law libraries and nonprofits. Though the project would initially focus on legal scholarship, it would also work for the Supreme Court, Zittrain told the Times.

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