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220+ Years Later, It's Time to Publish the Constitution Annotated Online in XML

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constitutionToday, the Sunlight Foundation called upon the Government Printing Office to publish the legal treatise The Constitution Annotated online in XML format as it is updated. The Constitution Annotated has been written by the Library of Congress for nearly 100 years, and contains analysis of nearly 8,000 U.S. Supreme Court cases.

Over the decades, GPO has published print versions of this extraordinary resource every two years, with limited electronic versions available from 1992 edition onward. Although the Library of Congress has drafted the Constitution Annotated in XML for a number of years, that data is no longer present when it is published online by GPO. [Update: To clarify, GPO has never published the XML data. However, CRS currently creates that document in XML format, and has done so for a number of years.] Releasing the treatise in XML would allow for the easy sharing of information between different kinds of computers, applications, and organizations, and provide a roadmap to the underlying data.

In addition to asking for The Constitution Annotated to be published online in XML, we are also asking that as the data is updated and made available to Congressional staff, it also be made available to the general public. For an example of what that could look like, see Cornell University Law School's transformation of the data.

Today is the 222th anniversary of the adoption of the Constitution. In 1787, it was made available to the American people by the most modern technology of the day. We should do no less today, and provide the Constitution (along with commentary) in XML.

Constitution Annotated Letter

The full text of the letter is after the jump.

The Honorable Robert C. Tapella Public Printer of the United States Government Printing Office 732 North Capitol Street, NW Washington, DC 20401-0001 September 17, 2009 Dear Mr. Tapella: Today is the 222th anniversary of the adoption of the United States Constitution. It is in light of this momentous historical event that I am writing on behalf of the Sunlight Foundation to ask that the GPO begin to immediately publish the legal treatise "The Constitution of the United States, Analysis and Interpretation" (The Constitution Annotated) online in XML. The Constitution Annotated is the oldest continuously published treatise on the Constitution, containing analysis of nearly 8,000 U.S. Supreme Court cases. Prepared by the Library of Congress for nearly 100 years, it provides a wealth of resources to scholars and laypersons alike. The Library of Congress now transmits this document to your office in XML format for publication, so GPO needs only to electronically publish that file. Moreover, the GPO should publish the treatise as it is updated, and not every two years, as is current practice. Publishing The Constitution Annotated online without encoding it in XML is analogous to printing it without a table of contents, index, chapter breaks, or footnotes. As you know, XML is a standard for laying out data in a format that allows other computers to easily parse that data. Releasing this document in XML would allow the easy sharing of information between different kinds of computers, applications, and organizations, and provide a roadmap to the underlying data. GPO’s publication of The Constitution Annotated in XML will further the agency’s mandate of making available government information to the public in a timely fashion. Here, GPO can provide a substantive and timely view of the Constitution’s enduring role in our democracy, and uphold the President’s pledge to increase accessibility to government information. If you have any questions regarding this request, please feel free to contact me. Sincerely, Ellen S. Miller Executive Director

Updated: to add a "plus" sign