Washington University in St. Louis has created an electronic library that provides free public access to important civil rights cases, including settlements, court orders, opinions, case study research, key filings and other documents.
Law professor Margo Schlanger, along with colleagues and students, founded the “Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse,” which stores thousands of documents related to more than 1,000 civil rights cases.
Schlanger says the clearinghouse contains legal documents from some of the nation’s most critical civil rights and education cases, including the landmark Brown v. Board of Education case.
“It has been extremely difficult for any but the most determined researchers to find out the key facts and results of the cases,” Schlanger says, noting that attorneys and researchers can spend weeks hunting through courthouses and repositories for the documents.
Recent efforts at the National Archives and Records Administration could make the clearinghouse an even more important tool in the future.
“The National Archives is considering destroying some or all of the documents in federal cases after 1970 that didn’t go to trial,” says Schlanger. “But non-trial cases — those that settle or get decided on the basis of a legal rule rather than factual disputes — can be extraordinarily important. So we believe they should be preserved in an accessible format, like the clearinghouse.”
The clearinghouse can serve as important sources not only for legal researchers, but also for historians, political scientists, sociologists, anthropologists, students, teachers, advocates and policymakers, she says.
“The clearinghouse recognizes that the story of a litigation doesn’t end with a liability finding or decree. There is often continued court jurisdiction and post-decree action and oversight,” she says. “We hope that this kind of access will be not only a technocratic success, but a democratic one, as well.”
The clearinghouse can be accessed at http://clearinghouse.wustl.edu/index.php
— Diverse staff reports
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