Saturday, December 9, 2006

Web Resource: Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse

Thanks to Margo Schlanger for a tip about a great new web resource, made available by Washington University Law School. The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse provides on-line access to documents in civil rights cases in the areas of Child Welfare, Disability Rights, Election/Voting Rights, Immigration, Jail Conditions, Juvenile Institution, Mental Health Facility, Mental Retardation Facility, Nursing Home Conditions, Police Non-Profiling, Police Profiling, Prison Conditions, Public Housing, School Desegregation. According to the website: "The site is dedicated to injunctive rather than damages litigation—that is, to cases seeking policy or operational change, not cases seeking money. For each of the categories, our eventual goal is to include a close-to-comprehensive catalog of the cases in which plaintiffs have actually been awarded or negotiated such change."

Case-related documents go beyond links to court opinions. What makes this resource so valuable is that Schlanger and her colleagues are making available documents through the course of litigation at the trial court level and after. The site is still in development, and coverage is more complete for newer cases than for older ones, but some of the interesting documents you can find include:

Also particularly helpful is an essay by Margo Schlanger and Denise Lieberman about using the records for research and teaching, published in the UMKC Law Review, and available on the site and here.

The St. Louis Dispatch reported on the project here, noting that "Over the last 50 years, civil rights litigation has spurred dramatic changes in American life, affecting hiring, housing, voting, education, law enforcement and the justice system itself. The litigation has produced countless reams of important documents, which are difficult and time-consuming to find and search through. To remedy the problem — and preserve a critical part of our nation's history — a team of professors and students at the Washington University School of Law has created a free electronic library that opened to the public for the first time last month. The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse, the brainchild of law professor Margo Schlanger, houses thousands of documents including settlements, court orders, opinions, case study research, key filings and other papers related to more than 1,000 civil rights cases."

A limitation of the site is that links for court opinions often take you to the subscription services Westlaw and Lexis. Researchers without access to those services can often paste the casenames into Google, and find the cases at non-subscription sites like FindLaw. Even with this limitation, the Clearinghouse is a superb resource.