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Asking Rehnquist to free 14 years of Court Opinions

   *** Sign-on Letter asking the U.S. Supreme Court to 
       release to the public 14 years of court opinions.
  The attached sign-on letter asks Chief Justice Rehnquist to put 
  into the public domain the electronic copies of the typesetting 
  files used to print the official version of all U.S. Supreme 
  Court Decisions since 1982.  
     To add your name to the letter, send a note James Love, at
     love@tap.org, by October 18, 1996.
  We are trying to get a copy of the ATEX typesetting files used to 
  publish the United States Reports, the government's official 
  reporter of U.S. Supreme Court opinions.  The Air Force has 
  recently released (from its FLITE database) copies of Supreme 
  Court decisions from 1937 to 1975.  If Rehnquist agrees, the 
  public would have free access to 54 of the last 60 years of 
  Supreme Court opinions, missing only the opinions from 1976 to 
  1981.  The records are now controlled by Frank Wagner, the 
  Reporter of Decisions for the Supreme Court, who can be reached 
  at the court's main number, at 202/479-3000.  In 1993 Mr. Wagner 
  denied a request by Alan Sugarman for copies of these records.  
  Mr. Wagner recently declined to talk with us about the ATEX 
  records.  The decision about public access to these records is 
  reportedly made by Rehnquist himself.  For more background on 
  issues relating to public access to court opinions, see:
     jamie  (love@tap.org)
   The letter follows...
  October 18, 1996
  Chief Justice William Rehnquist
  United States Supreme Court
  Washington, DC 20543
  Dear Chief Justice Rehnquist:
  We are writing to ask that the United States Supreme Court 
  release to the public copies of the electronic media used for 
  printing the United States Reports.  It is our understanding that 
  the Court currently has magnetic tapes which contain the 
  typesetting computer files used to print the United States 
  Reports from 1982 to the present, and that these tapes have not 
  been released to the public.   We seek to obtain copies of these 
  tapes to publish the Supreme Court decisions on the Internet, the 
  decisions will be available to the general public, for free.  As 
  you know, the public has already paid the costs of creating this 
  data through tax dollars, and federal law prohibits the copyright 
  of works of federal employees.  We are willing to pay the court 
  any reasonable additional costs associated with making copies of 
  the printing tapes.  We want to make it clear that we are not 
  asking the court to undertake any extra data processing expense, 
  outside of making copies of the tapes.*
  [*] It is our understanding that the data exists in ATEX typesetting 
  format.  This is the same format used by GPO to publish the Federal 
  Register.  GPO gives the public access to the ATEX files of the 
  Federal Register, and we urge the Supreme Court to do the same.
  This request is part of our larger efforts to enhance the 
  public's access to information from the courts.  In September the 
  U.S. Air Force was persuaded to release a portion of its FLITE 
  database of U.S. Supreme Court opinions.  The Air Force released 
  to the public about 7,400 Supreme Court decisions from 1937 to 
  1975.  It took more than four years to get the Air Force to 
  release these public documents, which were created at taxpayer 
  expense.  Due to a copyright dispute with West Publishing, the 
  Air Force has refused to release copies of its post 1975 Supreme 
  Court Opinions, which were typed in from the West Supreme Court 
  Reporter, rather than from the government's own United States 
  As you may know, there is great public frustration over the 
  restricted access to federal court opinions.   This is a 
  particular problem with the U.S. Circuit and District Courts, 
  where West Publishing is the only comprehensive publisher of 
  opinions, and West asserts a copyright to the corrections that 
  appear in the published versions of the opinions, and also to the 
  citations to the court opinions.   West's activities have had the 
  practical effect of giving this private firm a monopoly on the 
  version of American jurisprudence that is widely recognized as 
  the authoritative record of the lower federal courts.
  The Supreme Court  has a proud history of making its opinions 
  publicly available, through its long-term publication of opinions 
  in print through United States Reports, and since 1990 through 
  making its slip opinions available to the public electronically.  
  The Court should now take the additional step of releasing the 
  electronic record of the United States Reports, so that the 
  public can be assured of the greatest access to the law.
  James Love / love@tap.org / P.O. Box 19367, Washington, DC 20036
  Voice: 202/387-8030; Fax 202/234-5176
  Center for Study of Responsive Law
     Consumer Project on Technology; http://www.essential.org/cpt
     Taxpayer Assets Project; http://www.tap.org