Abandoning Law Reports for Official Digital Case Law
43 Pages Posted: 27 Jan 2011 Last revised: 24 Jun 2015
Date Written: January 25, 2011
In 2009, Arkansas ended publication of the Arkansas Reports. Since 1837 this series of volumes, joined in the late twentieth century by the Arkansas Appellate Reports covering the state's intermediate court of appeals, had served as the official record of Arkansas's case law. For all decisions handed down after February 12, 2009, not books but a database of electronic documents “created, authenticated, secured, and maintained by the Reporter of Decisions” constitute the “official report” of all Arkansas appellate decisions.
The article examines what distinguishes this Arkansas reform from the widespread cessation of public law report publication that occurred during the twentieth century and this new official database from the opinion archives now hosted at the judicial websites of most U.S. appellate courts. It proceeds to explore the distinctive alignment of factors that both led and enabled the Arkansas judiciary to take a step that courts in other jurisdictions, state and federal, have so far resisted. Speculation about which other states have the capability and incentive to follow Arkansas’s lead follows. That, in turn, requires a comparison of the full set of measures the Arkansas Supreme Court and its reporter of decisions have implemented with similar, less comprehensive, initiatives that have taken place elsewhere. Finally, the article considers important issues that have confronted those responsible for building Arkansas’s new system of case law dissemination and the degree to which principal components of this one state’s reform can provide a useful template for other jurisdictions.
Keywords: law, case law, Arkansas, reporters of judicial decisions, West's regional reporters, judicial web sites, neutral citation, authentication, unpublished decisions
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