Sep, 2019 Blog Posts

U.S. Constitution has new searchable and user-friendly website.

Sep 23, 2019

In celebration of Constitution Day on September 17th The Library of Congress website released a new annotated version of the US Constitution complete with search capabilities, explanations and references. Since 1911, legal researchers at the Library of Congress have published and distributed an annotated version of the Constitution that lawmakers are able to use as a guide in their legislative duties.  That version has been updated regularly as applications of the laws have evolved with changing societal norms and been refined by Supreme Court decisions. With time, the annotated version grew to nearly 3000 pages and included over 6000 case citations. It had been available to the public online in a pdf format but was not easily searchable and cumbersome to use. The new version changes that.

The HTML annotated version greatly increases the accessibility of this important document. Clicking on a link from the Library of Congress’ home page or simply typing Constitution.congress.gov brings you to a page inviting you to search the Constitution and displaying links to related topics and historical material. I found the links to the Library’s newsletter “Legal Sidebar” explaining how constitutional law relates to current events to be particularly interesting. The links to George Washington’s private papers and tables of Supreme Court decisions subsequently overruled were also fun to peruse.

The actual text of the Constitution is printed first in italics with the analysis following so that it is easy to differentiate between to the two. Footnotes are attached with links to the full text of relevant Supreme Court cases and scholarly articles about specific points of law. The commentary provides a historical context of the Articles and Amendments and explains the evolution of their practical applications over time.

The Constitution can also be browsed in order. The title of the Articles and Amendments are displayed first and then the contents of a particular passage is broken down by different areas of law. For example, clicking on Article IV, I can specifically choose to view its applications to divorce law, debt collection, etc.

Curious to see how current the information on the website is, I searched for a news making case that was just decided on June 20th of this year, “The American Legion v. American Humanist Association.” I was impressed to find that the result led me to the First Amendment where a paragraph had already been written examining the case.

The Library of Congress has created a great resource with this website showing the Constitution not simply as historical material but as an evolving document that impacts the daily lives of us all. I hope that word of its existence will spread so that it can be utilized not just by legal professionals and students but also by anyone curious to understand the origins of the laws by which we live.

Category: Legal Research


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