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Leahy Uploads Source Materials Behind Kagan's Nomination

BY Nancy Scola | Wednesday, May 19 2010

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and his Senate Judiciary Committee have done the public a solid and posted the source materials they're using in their vetting of the nomination of Elena Kagan to filling departing Justice John Paul Stevens' Supreme Court seat. In doing it, they're taking a page from the likes of ProPublica and the New York Times, who have been pioneering the press practice of uploading primary materials to the web whenever possible. Up on Judiciary.Senate.gov right now is a copy of Kagan's official committee questionnaire, as well as Kagan's thesis on 20th century New York City socialism that Princeton University has been harassing bloggers to pull down. For slightly lighter fare there are "[t]wo April Fool's Day columns in the Harvard Law Record" that, Kagan reveals, appeared under her byline "although I had no involvement in writing them."

Giving the public access to the press's source materials like ProPublica and the Times are doing with their DocumentCloud viewer arguably serves at least two purposes. There's the first, the one often discussed, that giving people raw materials gives them the opportunity to do their own research, write their own stories, spin their own theories. There's, I think, a second one though too, and that's that by giving the public a way of looking inside the process can generate some good will, or at least minimize the appearance of secrecy and inside dealings. The same might be said for the Senate's bulk upload of Kagan related materials. It gives allies, opponents, and the media fodder for their work. It also helps lower the veil surrounding the endeavor.

That said, Senate Judiciary could learn a thing or two from the DocumentCloud project, starting with posting these welcomed materials in some more accessible format than clumsy PDFs and audio files marked things like "Question 12B: Combined Attachment." They're aware, though, with a note on the website reading, "the Committee will work to more specifically identify each attachment over the coming days."

And this is just the start. The Clinton Library is reviewing more than 160,000 documents from Kagan's time in the administration in the interest of their possible release.