Under Analysis: It's not a movie, but it still deserves a good review

By Charles Kramer

The Levison Group

For my entire life, it has been my rule of thumb to avoid introducing friends to potential dates, and to never recommend movies, plays, restaurants, or anything else which ultimately involves subjective taste. After all, there is always a chance, as slight as it may be, that my view will not be shared by the friend, and then what? If he or she is not enamored with my suggestion they begin to think I have no taste, think less of me, and my reputation suffers. However, every rule has its exceptions and today I take the plunge. Without any hesitation, I bravely introduce you, dear readers, to a website that you’ve probably never heard of, but which I believe you will find to be one of the more interesting websites created since Al Gore invented the Internet. In fact, it’s right up there with our own www.levisongroup.com.

The website of which I speak is http://www.scotuswiki.com, and is commonly known as ScotusWiki. Although at first the name may sound like a dreadful Tahitian malaria strain, in actuality the site is aptly named.

The “Scotus” in ScotusWiki is simply the acronym for “Supreme Court of the United States” and the “Wiki” is far from a weak reference as well. In fact, most people have heard of the word “wiki” by now, due to its inclusion in the name of the common-folk edited Internet encyclopedia known as Wikipedia. The word is derived from a Hawaiian word for “quick.” Now before you get too excited, ScotusWiki is not a quicker version of our higher court. It also does not proclaim to be able to increase the number of cases the Supremes will choose to review, nor does it promise that it will convince the Justices to render opinions any sooner. Rather, ScotusWiki is an informational website that provides fingertip information about pending and recently decided United States Supreme Court cases... quickly.

The site provides summaries of the issues presented, the points made during oral argument, and the apparent positions of the Justices. ScotusWiki is a companion site of SCOTUSblog.com, and is written and maintained by the same contributors. The summaries about the cases and oral arguments are written in straight forward, easy to understand prose and are flavored with just enough subjective interpretation as to provide a reader with an entertaining insight into the workings of the High Court. The site’s contributors, for example, will at times interpret the interplay between the Justices during oral argument, and attempt to identify the viewpoints the Robed Ones’ questions reveal. Still, for the more strict constructionist site visitors, the site does not force you to accept their interpretations. Once oral argument occurs, the site includes a link to the actual transcript of the oral argument as well.

In addition, the site provides links to the briefs, motions and other papers filed with the Supreme Court by the parties, and ultimately provides links to the opinions which are then entered by the court. It is thus a convenient reference point for those readers who are interested in tracking a particular case pending before the Top Bench.
For the more generally interested, however, the site also contains a chart which lists all the cases that have been accepted for decision by the High Court and summarizes the issues each case presents in one or two sentence blurbs. A Supreme Court groupie can thus check in from time to time to see what new morsel has tumbled onto the justices’ plates. The chart then tracks each case’s progress through the Supreme Court process, adding links, descriptions and articles as the case passes through each step of its journey. In short, the site allows simple browsing of pending cases Supreme Court cases, and allows a site visitor to see what issues are before the court, as well as being an easy access point for those tracking a particular case.

The ScotusWiki site is built using MediaWiki, the same open-source software which powers Wikipedia, so the look and feel of the site is similar to that website. However, unlike Wikipedia, the site’s pages are maintained by a select few and are NOT open to editing by anyone at any time. Thus, the information provided is more reliable and more carefully vetted than information on the popular encyclopedia site may be. In addition, the site provides the ability to subscribe to a “Watchlist” for a particular case or two. Once you register on a Watchlist, the folks at ScotusWiki will notify you when updates are posted concerning the cases you have elected to follow. It may not be as fun as playing in the Supreme Court fantasy league, but for those who wonder what the court is up to, there’s no easier way to keep score.

Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Charles Kramer is a principal of the St. Louis, Missouri law firm Riezman, Berger, P.C. You may direct comments or criticisms about this column to the Levison Group c/o this newspaper, or direct to the Levison Group via e-mail, at comments@levisongroup.com. © 2010 Under Analysis L.L.C.