How CONAN Helps People Understand the Constitution and No, We Don’t Mean the Barbarian
The Constitution Annotated, popularly known as CONAN, has been published by the Congressional Research Service since 1913 and provides analysis of the Supreme Court cases interpreting the Constitution. CONAN is highly regarded as a non-partisan publication that helps readers appreciate how Americans’ 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.
For many years, the LII published CONAN on our website and regularly updated it each time the Government Publishing Office (GPO) released a new version. But then GPO stopped making the underlying code publicly available, choosing instead to release only a print version and an unwieldy 2800 page PDF online. Without the software “roadmap” that facilitates not only re-publication but also the sort of feature-rich improvements that distinguish our collections, our online CONAN fell out of date. But, in 2018, with help from open government advocates Josh Tauberer of GovTrack and Daniel Schuman of Demand Progress, the LII re-created that XML software map, put it on the web and then used it to improve upon the government’s online version. In addition to being fully up-to-date, LII’s CONAN is easy to find online, to navigate and to search. It’s also accessible to people with disabilities; and, it links directly to close to 9000 Supreme Court cases on our site. Subsequent versions will use Semantic Web technologies to assist interconnection and data integration with other online resources.
“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.”
SCOTUSBlog and Roll Call wrote about our new resource, and The American Association of Law Libraries spread the word in their newsletter. Looking at our traffic stats, we can tell it’s been very popular among educators, from high schools across the country to Duke University and the U.S. Naval Academy. It’s also been used by journalists covering current events and linked to in articles by the Washington Post and the Atlantic among others. Most recently, CNN included a link to Article 1, Section 9, Clause 7 that explains the power that Congress has in deciding how money should be appropriated from the Treasury for government projects in an article covering the national state of emergency declared by the President in order to build a wall on the southern border.
Since we made it available to the public this Constitution Day (September 17, 2018) CONAN has now been viewed more than 570,000 times!
We set out to refurbish this resource without being quite certain of the audience because we knew there WAS an audience and thought someone ought to do it form. CONAN is an invaluable document that helps us understand how our interpretation of the Constitution has evolved over the years. Now, a few months in, we are glad to see how quickly it’s been adopted and grown in popularity. And we’d like to say thank you – without your support, this would not be possible! 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.”, and we look forward to making it even easier to find and understand.
You can find the Constitution Annotated here.