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A New Website for the Supreme Court

BY Nancy Scola | Friday, March 19 2010

The Supreme Court yesterday unveiled the much-needed redesign of its website at SupremeCourt.gov.

The old SupremeCourt.go

The site was once a bit of an eyesore, and difficult to use -- more appropriate for a small rural parish's website than the online home of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Information was difficult to find, and required an intimate familiarity of the court's jargon and proceedings to make much sense of. How's the redesign? From a non-attorney's perspective, the site -- design-wise -- has been updated to about, hmm, 2002. Then again, the highest court in the land does not like to rush blinding into the future. The early aughts is perhaps the best we could have hoped for. As for functionality, it's easier now to find some of the site's key elements, but there's still plenty of work to be done. But first, here's how SCOTUS described the launch in a press release:

Visitors will find that the Supreme Court Web site has an updated and more user-friendly design. The site continues to provide online access to the Court's slip opinions, orders, oral argument transcripts, schedules, Court rules, bar admission forms, and other familiar information. But it also has several new features, including enhanced search capabilities, an interactive argument calendar, improved graphics, and additional historic information.

The blog of Legal Times finds key elements of the site's content pleasingly easier to get to now:

Several important pieces of information about the Court that used to take several clicks to get to are now brought forward, for easier access.

And Daniel Schuman of the Sunlight Foundation, which notably did a volunteer mock redesign of the Supreme Court site, notes several improvements, along with several areas where things could still be better:

  • The webpage needs to provide more information about what the Court is doing, explaining legal terms of art, and grouping relevant information together (such as information pertaining to a particular case).
  • It should incorporate a user-friendly advanced search engine.
  • Use machine-readable formats (not just PDFs).

But, that said, the most important part of the Supreme Court website took place under the hood, as they say. For more than a decade, the Supreme Court hasn't actually had control over their own online home. They relied upon the Government Printing Office to manage the site, shipping changes GPO's way anytime they wanted anything posted or tweaked. A handful of Supreme Court justices trekked to Capitol Hill recently to ask for appropriated money for an in-house site. They got it. Now, going forward, the staff of the United States Supreme Court will actually run the website of the United States Supreme Court. That should make things easier, and suggests that this week's redesign was just the start.

Update: Alex Howard does an in-depth review of the new Supreme Court website -- and notes that the new site breaks a number of old links.