“First Class Readers”
In the midst of all the chaos this year, the United States Supreme Court did something remarkable. We’ve already told you about Georgia v. Public.Resource.Org and its impact on opening up state-law materials; but, now is the perfect time to look a little more closely at what the Court said and why it was so good to hear.
Writing for the majority, Chief Justice Roberts explained that “no one can own the law. ‘Every citizen is presumed to know the law,’ and ‘it needs no argument to show … that all should have free access’ to its contents.” We’ve been beating that drum since 1992, and it’s wonderful to hear it echo at the Supreme Court. We wouldn’t have arrived here without your generous support.
But it’s something else the Chief Justice wrote that I want to focus on. He invited readers to “imagine a Georgia citizen interested in learning his legal rights and duties.” He notes that readers of the “economy-class version of the Georgia code available online” would come across laws that have been invalidated by courts. “Meanwhile,” he noted, “first class readers with access to the annotations will be assured that these laws are, in crucial respects, unenforceable relics that the legislature has not bothered to narrow or repeal.”
By posing that scenario, the Chief Justice was clear that the public deserves free access to complete and correct resources that fully enumerate and explain citizens’ rights and obligations. And he assumes that citizens will go online to access them. This is a HUGE shift from where we started out, when it seemed not just fashionable but downright “responsible” for judges, lawyers and academics to question the utility and reliability of free online legal resources available to the general public. Only lawyers needed the law, the argument went, and trusting its dissemination exclusively to a duopoly of deep-pocketed publishers to keep it out of the hands of everyone else seemed more like a solution than a problem in that worldview.
But even in those early days, we knew that all of you are “first class readers” who use the law to do your work, solve your problems, participate in society, and generally live your lives. It has always been our top priority to bring you accurate, updated, and unbiased primary and secondary sources of legal information to help you do all that. And, it turns out, the Supreme Court agrees that’s a very good idea.
Thank you for supporting us,
Legal Information Institute