Legal Research Blog


The Baseball Card that Changed The Sound of the Supreme Court

This week we hosted Jerry Goldman, founder of the Oyez Project, for a coffee talk at Fastcase DC headquarters. Today, Oyez is the comprehensive home for everything Supreme Court: audio and transcripts of oral arguments, summaries, briefs, Justice bios.  Oyez has grown a lot recently, with a move to Chicago Kent College of Law, and especially with new mobile apps Pocket Justice and OyezToday.

Photo credit: Nicholas Moline of Justia

And the whole thing sprang from a Cubs game and a baseball card.

Jerry was watching a Cubs game one day (the Cubs were losing badly, as Jerry remembers), wondering how he could marry his love of the law and his love of baseball.  And then it came to him: the statistics on the back of a baseball card could be just as interesting for Supreme Court Justices.

Oyez began in the late 1980s as the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the U.S. Supreme Court,” with baseball cards for Supreme Court Justices, including their “stats.”  And in the process, Jerry discovered that he could link audio on the stat sheet.  In fact, there was a huge trove of unused Supreme Court audio.  So the Hitchhiker’s guide was transformed into a comprehensive source of Supreme Court audio, and the rest, as they say, is history. From audio recordings and transcripts of oral arguments, to full synopses of cases and Justice biographies, provides appellate litigators and the public alike with a terrific inside look at the High Court.

Jerry also knows us, so he brought gadgets.  He brought out the iPad 2 to show off Oyez mobile apps – PocketJustice and OyezToday.  PocketJustice features constitutional decisions, with audio and written transcripts, as well as Justice bios. Just this spring, the Oyez Project launched its second mobile app, OyezToday, with deeper background on the cases of the most recent term.  He also previewed some sweet new clipping and sharing features that we’re really excited about for a forthcoming release – but you’ll have to wait for Oyez to announce those.  Oh, and did we mention, OyezToday is free?  Download for your iPhone or iPad here.

Happy National Library Legislative Day!

One of the best things about living in D.C. is meeting and learning about groups who come from all over the country to advocate for important issues they face every day. And, today, our friends are here – it’s National Library Legislative Day! Librarians from all over the country are networking, meeting with members on Capitol Hill, and bringing awareness to upcoming legislation.

For more information, check out the briefing materials on the American Library Association webpage.

Fastcase: We ride with the Future

At Fastcase, it is no secret that we are big fans of smarter, cutting edge technology. Just last month our team was lucky enough to be able to take the Tesla Roadster, an incredibly speedy electric sports car, out for a spin in downtown Washington, D.C.

So when we saw this next generation motorcycle, our hearts were all aflutter. The Sora, an electric performance motorcycle by the Canadian company Lito, is designed to go 185 miles on a single 8 hour charge. While not as sleek looking as it larger cousin, the Sora’s carbon fiber and aluminum body will certainly turn heads, and as the bike tops out at 125 mph, it will turn those heads quickly. The Sora is currently not yet in production, but that just heightens the anticipation.

Smartphones: Searchable by Police?

                In many states, courts have upheld the authority of police to search a person’s cell phone contents upon arrest, without a warrant. Now that many of us carry internet-capable smartphones, which hold vast stores of personal information, the rulings permitting such searches may need reconsideration. Courts find themselves at an intersection where emerging technologies meet old case law. New precedent is likely to result.

                An article in last week’s Law Technology News did a great job of framing this issue with illustrative cases. First, author Engel points out that states have upheld the legality of arrest even for minor offenses. In Atwater v. Lago Vista, 532 U.S. 318 (2001) a woman was held to have been legally arrested, handcuffed, and taken to the police station after a traffic stop for failing to wear a seatbelt. She was returning home from soccer practice with her children. Then, this year, United States v. Curtis, No. 09-2049 (2011) held a man’s text-messages to have been legally searched and used to incriminate him in a mortgage fraud case, after he was arrested for an unrelated crime. In combination, these two cases justifiably make us fear the worst: we could legally be taken into police custody for a small infraction and then have some of our most private information scrutinized. Even without any wrongdoing on the part of the arrested person, this policy is an uncomfortable invasion of privacy and a potentially huge embarrassment.

                At issue here is the fact that modern smartphones are far different from the objects originally determined to be searchable by police during arrests. “Incident to arrest” searches were determined to not violate Fourth Amendment rights decades ago. These searches could include the defendant’s person and immediate personal property. The searchable items were then interpreted to include containers, and soon pagers and cell phones were being lumped into this “container” category in legal decisions. But ubiquitous new internet-capable smartphones may finally be making the point that phones are less like containers and more like personal letters – thereby qualifying for some court protection.

                Some courts have considered the new nature of cell phones in their interpretation, and thus limited authority of police to search them without warrants, notably the Ohio Supreme Court in 2009. But other states, such as California, have continued to treat cell phones as searchable containers.

                California has been one of the places where police searches of cell phones received significant attention this year, along with Michigan. The California Supreme Court issued a ruling upholding the right of police to search cell phone contents during an arrest. And, in Michigan, state police are using a customized piece of hardware to extract cell phone data from drivers during traffic stops. The ACLU in Michigan has taken action against the police for this apparent invasion of privacy. The Michigan police can reportedly retrieve all phone data – such as photo data and GPS location information. This reminds us of Apple’s recent scandal with iTracking users’ location data which we remarked on last week.

                While case law about the legality of cell phone searches continues to develop, perhaps the best we can do is to keep ourselves informed. And in the meantime, maybe we need to consider password protection or encryption for our mobile devices.

Get your vocal cords ready- Google Voice Search is (almost) here.

cc licensed flickr photo credit: Ian Kath

Just a month following Google’s widespread practical joke, their latest development for Chrome added last week is anything but. Google unveiled their speech recognition software and chose a select few to give it a test run. Adapted from the tool used on both Android and iPhone mobile devices, speech recognition software for the desktop requires little explanation: simply say what you’re looking for into the computer’s microphone and, voila – your search terms appear. Granted, none of the testers have issued a final review to confirm functionality but if the mobile app’s success is any indication, the desktop version should produce some satisfying results. Some are questioning the necessity of the software, a debate we’ve visited before, but in the case of speech recognition software, there seems to be an extensive list of reasons why we should be considering this the latest frontier.

Speech recognition software gives the computer user a rest from the aches and pains of typing and the curse of a low WPM score. Additionally, ReadWriteWeb suggests that the introduction of the software into everyday life could improve an individual’s comfort level with developing more effective search queries. Instead of typing and retyping lengthy strings of search terms to no avail, simply recite your queries as they come to you and let the software do the work. Finally, the software now recognizes Chinese in addition to English, meaning even easier and more accurate translation software is probably not far behind.

Google is waiting to roll out their speech recognition software to the public, undoubtedly to get feedback from their test users and make any necessary adjustments. We’re excited to hear what these lucky few have to say and also for the software to make its formal appearance. We do know that Google does not plan to keep the software for themselves – enabling developers to add the capability to their applications just as soon as they launch. Just another reason why Google was aptly named “Most Reputable Company” by Harris Interactive. Congrats!