Scottish Court of Session Digital Archive Wins Legal History Award

The American Society for Legal History has awarded the 2019 Mary L. Dudziak Digital Legal History Prize to the UVA Law Library’s Scottish Court of Session Digital Archive (SCOS). SCOS is a digital archive and research platform produced by the University of Virginia Law Library that makes accessible roughly 10,000 printed documents produced by Scotland’s supreme civil court in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

The SCOS documents, formally known as Session Papers, tell a new and understudied story of life, law, and trade in the British Atlantic world. Cases before the Court regularly involved underrepresented groups, despite their apparent absence from available case indices, law reports, and, most notably, scholarship. As a result, the papers contain rich narratives of women, enslaved persons, and laborers who lived in the British Atlantic world during the era of the American Revolution. These are documents about people, often in their own words, circulating in these spaces as they protected their physical and intellectual property, conducted business, engaged in marriage or divorce, and established personal and economic connections that transcended political borders. By digitizing these materials, providing fully searchable page text, and describing them with rich metadata, SCOS presents new avenues for scholarly inquiry across many fields, particularly legal history.

Team members Loren Moulds, Randi Flaherty, and Jim Ambuske (clockwise from front) examine volumes of Session Papers.

In 2019, the project team based within Law Special Collections re-launched the SCOS website with enhanced tools for exploring the collection, including curated themes that align with current interests in the field of legal history and a full-text search function that displays snippets of relevant documents. This launch followed a complete redesign of the project database led by Loren Moulds and Jim Ambuske.  The Law Library debuted this intellectual work and technological overhaul in July 2019 at a conference held by the International Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. Continued digitization, rich description, and new features are planned through 2020.

For scholars and students of legal history, these seemingly unlikely sources provide a new Atlantic perspective on America’s colonial and early national periods. The project responds to emergent trends in academic scholarship centered on Atlantic and global history, women’s history, slavery and the law, and the history of capitalism. Providing scholars with ready access to these court papers has revealed a fascinating world of women, men, and children and their relationship to the law.

The award was presented at the ASLH’s annual conference in November 2019.

Written by

Loren Moulds

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New ACLU and United Nations Databases Available at UVA

It’s 2018—are you researching civil rights, immigration, or women’s issues? How about climate change or international politics? The UVA Law Library is excited to announce the acquisition of two new online research databases that may pique your interest.  Now available UVA-wide, the American Civil Liberties Union Papers (1912-1990) and AccessUN offer a wealth of information and resources and are a great starting point for exploring these topics and more.


American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Papers, 1912-1990

Gale: American Civil Liberties Union Papers, 1912-1990

The ACLU is a key advocate for US citizens’ constitutional rights, and its papers from 1912-1990 offer a unique vantage point on some of the defining issues of the Twentieth Century. The files in this collection cover issues ranging from lynching and racial discrimination to immigration to birth control. They also provide an inside perspective on key events in U.S. history, including the Civil Rights Movement, the Anti-War movements of the 1960s and 1970s, and the First and Second Red Scares. Of particular interest are the papers of the ACLU Southern Regional Office (founded 1964), which dealt with school segregation, public transportation, voter suppression, sexism, and numerous other issues in the former Confederate states. In the 1912-1990 collection, users will find internal memoranda, court documents, and publications, as well as public correspondence and other materials. All documents are available on the site and are fully text-searchable.


AccessUN, 1945-2017

Access UN indexes more than 500,000 documents from the United Nations’ six main bodies (including the Security Council, General Assembly, and International Court of Justice) and provides an invaluable tool for those interested in international law and politics since the end of the Second World War.

ReadEx: AccessUN

This resource catalogs UN documents (resolutions, records, and publications) on the full breadth of its proceedings since its creation. Here, users will find extensive documentation of the UN’s discussions and resolutions on issues including international security, world hunger, economic development, human rights, and the environment. This catalog offers full text or links to full text for resolutions from the General Assembly (1981-present), Security Council (1974-present) and Economic and Social Council (1982-present), and more.

Written by

Zachary Hoffman

Zachary Hoffman received his PhD from UVA in 2017 and is a historian of Modern Russia and East Asia. He is currently working on a project about Russian imperialism and popular culture in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.

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Law Librarians Present Travaux Préparatoires at Human Rights Conference

At the “What’s Next for Human Rights Scholarship?” conference on March 31, law librarians Ben Doherty and Loren Moulds presented the Law Library’s new searchable database of preparatory works, or travaux préparatoires,[1] of the United Nations’ core human rights agreements. More than 30 human rights scholars from North America, Europe, Asia, and Oceania participated in the two-day interdisciplinary conference, which was organized by the UVA Working Group in Human Rights Research.

Ben began the presentation by explaining that, until the Law Library undertook the initiative, the travaux were only selectively available in electronic format, as excerpts in published guides to the travaux, and in hardcopy or microfiche at U.N. depository libraries. A Refdesk question from Professor Mila Versteeg led the law librarians to conclude that “it’s not available” was not an answer the Law Library was willing to give. Using the published guides and the United Nations’ UNBISNET database, the Law Library compiled fully-searchable, digital copies of as many of the travaux préparatoires as could be found. The travaux database and other recent digital initiatives, such as the Neil Gorsuch Project, a website that assembles all of Gorsuch’s written opinions and much of his other writings and speeches, are examples of how the Law Library’s content and services are driven by inquiry. Ben advised attendees that, “instead of thinking of research as simply being able to get what is already available,” a scholar can push “research methods forward by thinking about what you need for your scholarship and partnering with your associated library to create those datasets or resources.”

Loren likewise encouraged “scholars not to feel limited in our research plans, particularly when it comes to issues of access to materials, the creation of new types of digital collections, or the adoption of new analytical techniques.” His presentation included an overview of the website and a discussion of the technology used to create it, but he situated his technological discussion within the Law Library’s philosophical approach to scholarly research. Explaining that the Law Library provides ever-expanding expertise in a field that includes scholarly publishing, copyright issues, and the aggregation, management, and preservation of data, Loren stated, “We consider ourselves empathic stewards of knowledge production through collaboration with researchers, technologists, and other librarians working to develop the intellectual infrastructures necessary for new kinds of scholarship and research methods in a digital age.”

After the presentation, Ben and Loren took questions from the conferees. The conclusion of the ensuing discussion was that the travaux database is an example of modern librarianship: a specific inquiry (“What role did smaller countries play in drafting human rights treaties?”) was stymied by a specific problem (the lack of systematic, comprehensive access to the travaux préparatoires), which was resolved by the expertise residing in the Law Library.

[1] The travaux préparatoires are documents that are generated in the drafting and negotiation of a treaty. Under the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, treaty terms are to be interpreted according to their ordinary meaning. However, Article 32 provides that the travaux préparatoires can be used as a supplementary means of interpretation in certain instances.

Written by

James McKinley

James McKinley, a 2005 graduate of the Law School, has been with the Law Library since 2016. He previously served as a career law clerk for United States District Judge Norman K. Moon in the Western District of Virginia. James holds a M.F.A. in creative writing from U.Va., and a M.A. in English and creative writing from Hollins University.

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Gorsuch Project Launched

Hearings on the nomination of the Honorable Neil Gorsuch to the U.S. Supreme Court are scheduled to begin March 20 and interest in the nominee’s judicial record is high. To assist researchers, we’re proud to announce the launch of the Neil Gorsuch Project, a website that assembles all of Gorsuch’s written opinions, as well as concurrences and dissents he either wrote or joined as a judge for the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Lists of published articles and speeches by Gorsuch are also included. 

The idea for the Gorsuch Project was born after law librarians from several universities and government offices faced a similar question from their patrons: “Find as much information about the new Supreme Court nominee as possible.” The results of that inquiry form the core of the site’s content. More about the project and its contributors can be found on the website.

Written by

Jon Ashley

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The Constitute Project

Tunisia, Egypt, Fiji, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Libya, South Sudan and Hungary have all produced new constitutions in the past few years. Each of these constitutions arose in different political circumstances, but how, in general, does a nation produce a new constitution? UVa law professor Mila Versteeg and co-author Benedikt Goderis argue that building a new constitution does not occur in national isolation. Constitutions, they say, are “shaped by transnational influence, or diffusion.” New constitutions are based on other countries’ constitutions and their constitutional experiences.

To make the job of drawing from or comparing the constitutions of countries around the world easier, the Comparative Constitutions Project developed the Constitute Project. Constitute contains English versions of the constitutions of “nearly every independent state in the world” along with a more limited number in Arabic. With subject tags, Constitute makes comparing the provisions of different constitutions easy. For example, you can easily pull up all of the constitutional provisions from around the world tagged as protecting equality regardless of gender. From there, you could select certain countries’ provisions to compare directly in a side-by-side screen. You can easily switch which countries to view in your comparison and pin those comparisons so that you can download them all as a document or CSV file. For users needing more targeted queries of the Constitute data, they have provided a SPARQL endpoint.

Constitute has a smooth, intuitive interface that makes comparative constitutional work easier. Since it focuses on constitutions currently in force and does not include historical constitutions, it may be of limited use for scholars seeking to trace constitutional trends over time. For many users, though, who are examining how current constitutions across the world treat particular topics, it’s a valuable (and free) resource.

– Ben Doherty 

Written by

Ben Doherty

Ben is a research librarian and Head of Instructional Services at the Law Library. He has worked at the Law Library since 2004.

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Take a Deep Dive into Lawmaking with FiscalNote

Want to keep up with what’s happening in Congress and in state legislatures? Check out one of the Law Library’s newest database offerings – FiscalNote. FiscalNote’s team of software and public policy entrepreneurs (including a U.Va. Law alum) have developed software and a fun, user-friendly interface that puts at people’s fingertips volumes of information that would take lots of capitol insiders tons of time to compile. FiscalNote gives you not only loads of information, but also crunches that information to predict whether bills will pass. And it delivers straight to your email inbox, via alerts you customize to your interests. Part of the start-up’s mission is to “foster a transparent political and legal system,” and they’ve been attracting press (see #5 of 11) and venture capital interest. See what the buzz is about by signing up for a password.

– Kristin Glover 

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Kristin Glover

Kristin Glover is a Research Librarian at the Arthur J. Morris Law Library.

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Law Librarian Jon Ashley’s Federal Suit Featured in Today’s NYT

Law librarian Jon Ashley has for the second time filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the U.S. Department of Justice. The FOIA filing seeks the release of 30 prosecution agreements between the Justice Department and various organizations. With Professor Brandon Garrett, Ashley has developed the Federal Organizational Prosecution Agreements database, a repository of prosecution agreements that is freely available to researchers. Ashley's lawsuit last year prompted Justice Department officials to release a single prosecution agreement after a FOIA request for it had been denied. Today's New York Times features an article about the work of UVA Law School's First Amendment clinic students in pursuing the litigation. [Reposted with corrections. – Ed.]


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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

The Arthur J. Morris Law Library is the home of research for students and faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law.

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The Legal Research Tournament, The Championship: WestlawNext vs. Critical Thinking


And then there were two. It has been a fun run up to the Championship, with a competitive field of teams opening the tournament a few weeks ago. Six of those teams have been eliminated from the tournament, but not before securing their spot in the One Shining Moment montage we’ll be showing at the conclusion of today’s championship match.

The Legal Research Championship features the favorite, WestlawNext, backed by West’s decades of experience in legal research, versus the surprise team, Critical Thinking, which has actually been around for much longer than West, but in these days of fancy online databases is often forgotten about as an important research tool.

The Championship will follow the traditional format for these tournaments by requiring the competitors to complete three tasks, with their performance scored by a panel of one objective judge. Without further ado, on to the competition!

Task 1: What is the penalty in Virginia for burglary?

WestlawNext: Ooh! Ooh! I’ll go first! Just type some words into my search box! Go ahead! Quick! Don’t think! Just do it!

Objective Judge: Ok, then: Penalty Burglary Virginia.

WestlawNext: Cool! Ok, filter by Statutes! Ok! Let’s see. Result number one . . . no. Result number two . . . no. Result number three! Annotated Code of Virginia § 18.2-89, “Burglary; How Punished.” Done! Bam!

Objective Judge: Great. So what does it say is the penalty?

WestlawNext: Burglary is “punishable as a Class 3 felony!” Bam!

Objective Judge: Ok, but that’s not an actual penalty.

WestlawNext: Oh! Right! Uh. . .

Objective Judge: Critical Thinking, can you do any better?

Critical Thinking: Yes. Statutes often work this way, requiring you to navigate multiple sections to figure out the law. From prior experience, I know that crimes are often grouped into categories for penalty purposes, so now I just need to find where those categories are explained. Fortunately, WestlawNext is not just a search engine. It also allows for browsing around resources. In this case, since we’re already looking at § 18.2-89, I can just open up the table of contents to Title 18.2 and go to the portion on Classification of Criminal Offenses and Punishment Therefor. In there, § 18.2-10, “Punishment for Conviction of Felony; Penalty,” explains that generally the punishment for a class 3 felony such as burglary in Virginia is 5 to 20 years in prison and a possible fine.

Objective Judge: Thank you. Task 1 goes to Critical Thinking.

Task 2: Find a good case from Virginia discussing when an employer can be held liable for an employee car accident.

WestlawNext: Me! Me! Me! I’ll go! Type! Type! Type! Type!

Objective Judge: Ok. Employer Liable Employee Car Accident.

WestlawNext: Ok! Filter to just Cases! Then filter for jurisdiction to Virginia! Bam! Done! Virginia Supreme Court case from 1903: Norfolk & Western Railway Company v. Cromer’s Administratix!

Objective Judge: A case from 1903? But the car didn’t really come into common use until after the invention of the Model T in 1908.

WestlawNext: No problem! Let’s see. Let’s see. Ok! Result number 3: Virginia Supreme Court case from 1941, Barber v. Textile Machine Works!

Objective Judge: Hmm. Critical Thinking, what do you think?

Critical Thinking: That case actually looks like a pretty good one, appearing to establish how Virginia’s rules on respondeat superior might apply to an employee automobile accident. I might have started with some secondary sources, like Michie’s Jurisprudence maybe, or the ALR or a tort practice manual to get some background. Plus, I’d use this case as a starting point, using the West Headnotes or the Citing References to hyperlink to other Virginia cases on the same topic—to get a broader understanding of how these rules apply in Virginia. This Barber case is a great start though.

Objective Judge: Really? Ok, fine. WestlawNext takes the second task. On to Task 3!

Critical Thinking: Is that really necessary? Haven’t you made your point?

Objective Judge: What point? I’m not trying to make points. Just objectively judging an objective competition. No agendas here!

Critical Thinking: Uh-huh. The premise of this whole tournament was to answer the question “If you had to pick just one resource to use for all of your legal research, which one would be the best?” I think everyone knows that in doing research we should always use our critical thinking skills, but really I’m not much use for legal research without having some kind of database or set of books with which to work. This tournament was really about evaluating those databases or books wasn’t it?

Objective Judge: Maybe. . . but this was the perfect set-up to show these newfangled databases are not much help without using them with a critical mind. I had it all thought out!

Critical Thinking: Give people some credit. They know better than to just blindly follow whatever search results WestlawNext or any database puts up without thinking about it. If we get down to it, if I had to choose, at this moment, one resource to use for a legal research project, out of those that started the tournament, it would be WestlawNext. It just works better than the others right now on the whole.

Objective Judge: [Cold stare].

Objective Judge: Fine.

                Winner and tournament champion: WestlawNext.

– Ben Doherty 

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Arthur J. Morris Law Library

The Arthur J. Morris Law Library is the home of research for students and faculty at the University of Virginia School of Law.

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The Legal Research Tournament, The Semifinals, Game 2: WestlawNext vs. Bloomberg Law

The Legal Research Tournament continues with the Semifinals! You can review the rules of the Tournament here, or take a look at any of the Round 1 matchups. With only four teams remaining, the favorite WestlawNext is trying to fend off challenges from Bloomberg Law, Books in the Library and Critical Thinking. We continue today with the second semifinal matchup:

(1) WestlawNext vs. (4) Bloomberg Law.

This is a more typical matchup than in our other semifinal, featuring general legal research databases—both produced by major companies trying to capture large shares of the legal research market. Unfortunately for Bloomberg Law, WestlawNext is largely able to respond to any of Bloomberg’s challenges with the classic tune Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better. Bloomberg Law is essentially trying to butt in on research methods that Westlaw has been refining for years. Bloomberg is doing a good job of it and its database is improving in both content and features, but it has not yet arrived at WestlawNext’s level.

In its current form, Bloomberg Law’s bid to upset WestlawNext is like trying to beat the U.S. women’s hockey team by using only good goaltending. Bloomberg Law does certain things well. As discussed last week, its BNA practice guides and newsletters are great resources for staying on top of developments in a particular legal field. Bloomberg’s federal docket searching is a nice feature, providing more consistent access to the actual documents in the dockets than what you’ll find with WestlawNext. If you want to do basic legal research though—looking up statutes, cases, regulations, law review articles and the other basic building blocks for legal research—Bloomberg Law just does not yet have the overall game to compete with WestlawNext. Bloomberg Law offers no annotated codes, its case searching lacks the refined tools you’ll find with WestlawNext (like hyperlinked headnotes), and its law review collection does not have enough content to make it worth searching when you could search a fully stocked WestlawNext instead. It may be that in a few years Bloomberg will be able to really compete with WestlawNext, especially if Bloomberg can somehow purchase Lexis’s legal content and put it into Bloomberg’s better interface. For now though, use Bloomberg Law for its unique features like the BNA materials and the federal docket access, but use WestlawNext for your general legal research.

                Winner: WestlawNext. 

Next week: The Championships! WestlawNext vs. Critical Thinking

– Ben Doherty 

Written by

Ben Doherty

Ben is a research librarian and Head of Instructional Services at the Law Library. He has worked at the Law Library since 2004.

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