January 14, 1997
The Honorable Albert Gore, Jr.
Vice President of the United States
276 Old Executive Office Building
17th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20503
Dear Mr. Vice President:
In great part due to the fine leadership of President Clinton and yourself, the Federal government has taken its rightful place at the leading edge of the information revolution. On behalf of the American Association of Law Libraries, I commend your strong commitment to using the latest technologies to enhance citizen access to electronic government information. In addition, the Administration's endorsement of discounted rates for schools and libraries assures connectivity to the Internet within every community across the Nation. The ability of all citizen to have equal access to electronic information from all three branches of government through libraries and schools is a basic principle of our democratic society.
The American Association of Law Libraries is a nonprofit educational organization headquartered in Chicago with over 5,000 members nationwide. Our members respond to the legal and governmental information needs of legislators, judges, and other public officials at all levels of government, corporations and small businesses, law professors and students, attorneys, and members of the general public.
As we witness the growth of electronic information produced by the government, however, AALL remains troubled that barriers to electronic court opinions continue to exist. In September 1996, we sent a letter to the U.S. Air Force commending their recent decision to release a historic file of Supreme Court opinions covering the years 1937 through 1975 that are part of "Federal Legal Information Through Electronics" (FLITE). The U.S. Air Force created FLITE as an experimental electronic database in 1963, back in the nascent days of computer technology. Although created and maintained by government employees and at government expense, FLITE opinions had never before been available to the public. Today, these historic materials are now available on the Internet through the Government Printing Office's legislatively-mandated GPO Access system.
We believe that access to the law of the land is a fundamental right for all Americans, and the release of this limited portion of the FLITE database was a beginning step in the right direction. However, the purpose of my writing to you today is to urge you to request that the Department of Justice release the public domain materials, including the remaining opinions of the Supreme Court and all lower Federal court decisions, that are part of the JURIS database. An outgrowth of FLITE and funded by taxpayer dollars, JURIS was developed for the Department of Justice under contract by West Publishing Company. It is the only publicly funded comprehensive electronic database of Federal court opinions.
AALL agrees with the longstanding principle that government information created or compiled by government employees or at government expense, regardless of format, should be in the public domain. Federal copyright law, specifically 17 U.S.C. Section 105, implements this principle by prohibiting the government from holding copyright protection for its works. How can we on one hand strongly affirm the principles of public access to government information that guarantee an informed citizenry while, on the other hand, withholding these valuable resources created at government expense from the public?
We respectfully request your support, Mr. Vice President, in urging Attorney General Janet Reno to release the public domain court opinions that are contained in the JURIS database. Further, these files should be made available to the U.S. Government Printing Office for inclusion in the GPO Access system. In addition to the FLITE historic materials from 1937 through 1975, the Government Printing Office is developing a database of Supreme Court opinions from 1992 to the present. The legal information needs of the American public will be well served by the addition of the remaining Supreme Court and lower Federal court opinions to GPO Access.
Release of this valuable repository of judicial information will further the Administration's goal of making government information available to all citizens. We look forward to the day when the American public will have electronic access to all the remaining Federal court decisions. Thank you very much for your prompt consideration of this very important matter and please feel free to contact me for any additional information.
Robert L. Oakley
American Association of Law Libraries
Washington Affairs Representative
Honorable Janet Reno, Attorney General, United States Department of Justice
Honorable Orrin G. Hatch, Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee
Honorable Patrick J. Leahy, Ranking Minority Member, Senate Judiciary Committee