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Read the Constitution Annotated here!

  • The Constitution Annotated is well-known and highly regarded as an invaluable resource for non-partisan explanations of Constitutional concepts.
  • Previously only available to the public as a PDF or in print, the Constitution Annotated now exists in XML courtesy of Cornell’s Legal Information Institute.
  • The LII’s Constitution Annotated is navigable, accessible, hyperlinked, searchable, and fully up-to-date.

Cornell’s Legal Information Institute is celebrating Constitution Day by publishing the first publicly-available web version of the Congressional Research Service’s Constitution Annotated, a non-partisan publication that helps readers appreciate how Americans’ collective understanding of our governing principles has changed throughout our history on timely issues such as the scope of presidential power, limits on free speech, or the right to bear arms.  

While the Government Publishing Office makes the Constitution Annotated available in print and online as a 2800 page PDF, it does not release the software “roadmap”(XML) that other publishers need to make feature-rich variations.  With assistance from open government advocates Josh Tauberer of GovTrack and Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, the LII re-created that map and then used it to improve upon the government’s PDF.  In addition to being fully up-to-date, LII’s Constitution Annotated (available at  https://www.law.cornell.edu/constitution-conan) is navigable, accessible, hyperlinked and searchable.  Subsequent versions will use Semantic Web technologies to assist interconnection and data integration with other online resources. The projects started with a group of Cornell Computing and Information Science students –  Anusha Chowdhury, Garima Kapila, Tairy Davey, Brendan Rappazzo, and Max Anderson, organized with the help of Professor William Arms. They developed software to convert the original PDF into data the LII’s developers could use as a starting point to building out the full version you see today.

“We have created an enhanced version that will not only be better in and of itself, but also act as a resource for improving other parts of our collections, notably our set of Supreme Court cases,” explained LII Director Tom Bruce.  “For example, we can make use of citations in footnotes to establish relatedness between cases, allowing us to show which of the cases that are related to a particular case by citation are actually the most related with respect to a particular topic.  We think it is going to be quite something.”

The Library of Congress refers to the Constitution Annotated as “one of our most important resources in answering questions about the Constitution and its history.”  Former Senator Russ Feingold has described it as “an invaluable resource for students, scholars, and other individuals interested in learning how the U.S. Supreme Court interprets our nation’s governing document.” By publishing the text as XML, the LII and its colleagues hope to help the document live up to its full potential.

The Legal Information Institute is an independently-funded project of the Cornell Law School dedicated to identifying, exploring, and implementing technical solutions that make legal information more accessible to all. Our team of technologists unlock government-published legal information and present it at www.law.cornell.edu and www.oyez.org in feature-rich and user-friendly collections used by more than 40 million people each year to find and understand the law.

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