One of the best online resources for information about the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to add coverage of state supreme courts across the country with the help of $600,000 from the Knight Foundation.
The Oyez Project, housed at the Chicago-Kent College of Law, is one of eight projects awarded money through the foundation’s Open Government project, which supports technology and ideas that make public information more useful and relevant.
For more than two decades, the Oyez Project has maintained a free, searchable archive of transcripts and audio of U.S. Supreme Court proceedings, plus analysis and news about the Court. The multimedia archive is intended to demystify the Court and make it more accessible to the average person.
(The name—which sounds like “oh, yay!”—is a reference to the tradition by which the marshal of the Supreme Court opens each session by declaring, “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” The term basically means “hear ye” and alerts those in the court to pay attention.)
“The mission is to improve understanding of our appellate courts and what they do,” said Jerry Goldman, a law professor at Chicago-Kent and the founder and director of the Oyez Project. “The efforts at open government and transparency have been pretty successful in the legislative and executive branches at the state and federal level, but the judiciary remains relatively opaque to the public.”
To that end, the Oyez Project offers straightforward analysis and summaries of cases, arguments and decisions in plain English. It has nearly 14,000 hours of audio of oral arguments and decisions dating to 1955, all searchable online. The site counts 7.5 million users to date.
Goldman plans to expand that model to state supreme courts and federal appellate courts across the country, begining with the five most populous states: California, Florida, Illinois, New York and Texas.
In addition, the state supreme court sites will offer biographical sketches of the judges and their voting information. Goldman hopes the courts will cooperate and allow Oyez to collect photos of the courtrooms and courthouses. His next order of business is to secure people in the target states who can help.
“We aim to find local partners, perhaps law librarians, law faculty, or bar associations, who can provide the types of content they normally do—statements or abstracts—and then we’ll do everything else, in terms of the gathering the audio and handling the technical aspects.”
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