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Half of Links Cited by U.S. Supreme Court No Longer Work: Study

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By Brett Snider, Esq. on September 24, 2013 3:39 PM

Almost half of the links the U.S. Supreme Court has cited in its opinions are now deader than doornail dead.

The Nine aren't typically credited with being the most tech-savvy jurists in the nation, but according to The Atlantic, a new Harvard study found that 49 percent of the online resources linked to by the High Court don't work.

Link rot isn't only a problem for the Supreme Court, but it may be a bit more pressing if these black hole links make past jurisprudence incomplete.

Some Links Are Crucial

In one particular case, Scott v. Harris, the High Court was dealing with an exciting car chase -- evocative of "The French Connection" to Scalia -- which was then included in the footnotes of the case for future reference.

The only problem is that the link doesn't lead to the exciting video described in the case (purportedly a file named "scott_v_harris.rmvb"). Rather, it leads to the U.S. Supreme Court's homepage.

We can excuse the Court for using a Real Player format as late as 2007. But should we expect amateur Web practice from the nation's highest court?

Another case, Brown v. Entertainment Merchants Association, contains a link to ssnat.com, a site which no longer exists in its prior form but was bought up in order to poke fun at the Supreme Court.

If future cases contain Web links instead of citations pointing to physical references (i.e., books), then these referenced links need to be frozen in time or else risk being incomplete or incomprehensible.

Can Justices Upgrade Their Linking Practices?

The Atlantic reports that the Court is taking advantage of "digital archiving tools" in an attempt to keep its links fresh. Some publicly available tools include the Wayback Machine and even browsing Google's cached versions of pages.

Linking to external pages, like Urban Dictionary, may seem easier than hosting the information on the Court's own server, but internal linking is a much better way to ensure the ever-growing backlog of cases will stay fresh.

Sometimes even low-tech solutions are better; Court opinions could easily include PDF versions of linked sites as appendices, thus ensuring the site will be preserved offline as an image.

Sounds like it may be time for the High Court to hire some Internet-friendly Millennials.

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