Clever piece of code exposes hidden changes to Supreme Court opinionsSubmitted by Michael Nystrom on Fri, 06/13/2014 - 22:21
by Jeff John Roberts | GigaOM
SUMMARY: The Supreme Court has long made surreptitious changes to its opinions without telling anyone. In response, a coder has created a tool that flags and publicizes those changes.
Supreme Court opinions are the law of the land, and so it’s a problem when the Justices change the words of the decisions without telling anyone. This happens on a regular basis, but fortunately a lawyer in Washington appears to have just found a solution.
The issue, as Adam Liptak explained in the New York Times, is that original statements by the Justices about everything from EPA policy to American Jewish communities, are disappearing from decisions — and being replaced by new language that says something entirely different. As you can imagine, this is a problem for lawyers, scholars, journalists and everyone else who relies on Supreme Court opinions.
Until now, the only way to detect when a decision has been altered is a pain-staking comparison of earlier and later copies — provided, of course, that someone knew a decision had been changed in the first place. Thanks to a simple Twitter tool, the process may become much easier.
Code to the rescue
David Zvenyach is general counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia and, in his spare time, likes to experiment with computer code. Upon learning of Liptak’s column, which was based on a study by Harvard law professor Richard Lazurus, he decided to so something about it.
Last week, he launched @Scotus_servo, a Twitter account that alerts followers whenever a change is made to a Supreme Court opinion.