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2nd Surprise of First Monday: A New SCOTUS Website

By Mark Wilson, Esq. on October 07, 2014 9:18 AM

The most surprising thing the Supreme Court did Monday was bury summary denials of certiorari to five pending same-sex marriage cases in the 80-page first order of the term.

But the second most surprising thing the Court did was to update its website. A new carousel of images greets visitors to the Court's main page, along with a more conspicuous calendar, a list of recent decisions, and a table of recent arguments with accompanying transcripts and audio recordings.

SCOTUS Week at FindLaw

Ooh, Shiny!

OK, maybe not so surprising: The Court did issue a two-paragraph press release on Friday touting the features of the redesigned site, including a reorganized menu bar and transcripts and audio of recent arguments. All of those things were indeed present -- and more.

Here are some highlights of the Court's new website (and compare with this version of the website as it was archived on August 29):

  • It's responsive! Page elements automatically change size when the window is resized. This also means that -- ta-da! -- the site finally mobile device-friendly.
  • The menus have been simplified. Instead of over a dozen menus and submenus, there are only six on the new website, and they fit into fairly logical categories: "Opinions," "Oral Arguments," "Case Documents," "Rules & Guidance," "News Media," and "About the Court."
  • The image carousel on the main page shows many pictures of the Court, including the Courtroom and the Main Reading Room of the Library (covered in rich mahogany, containing many leather-bound books). And when you reload the main page, you get a different set of images in the carousel.
  • Irrelevant ancillary buttons are gone. For example, the button to view a "printer-friendly version" of the main pages. Who prints out a website anymore? This just took up space and reminded us of 1998.

On the Wish List...

Rick Hasen of the prosaically titled Election Law Blog says there's still room for improvement: "There is no electronic filing system, and one cannot even get copies of briefs or even some Court orders from the Court itself. Instead, everyone has to rely on outside groups such as the ABA or SCOTUSblog or the parties themselves."

It is kind of weird that, if you want to learn anything substantive about a Supreme Court case, you must go to SCOTUSblog, which isn't officially affiliated with the Court and yet keeps a repository of information -- including comprehensive docket sheets showing every document filed, with links to the important ones (petitions and responses, amicus briefs, and merits briefs). (The Court did bend to the understanding that people were interested in the DOMA and Prop. 8 cases, creating a special page just for filings in those cases, with actual links to the documents.)

Also, the red background remains, in an attempt to emulate the red curtain from which the justices emerge like so many carnival attractions. There are also far too many PDFs -- but this is understandable given that the federal judiciary is strapped for cash and the Court probably doesn't employ a full-time person to generate content.

Overall, the site's revision is a positive change. Now if only they would just be more transparent.

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