CRS On Making the Constitution Annotated Available in XML


Last week, the Sunlight Foundation urged the Government Printing Office to publish the legal treatise Constitution Annotated (a.k.a. CONAN) online in XMLCONAN explains the U.S. Constitution section by section, describing in its usual (and legally required) non-partisan fashion how the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted the Constitution’s provisions. CONAN contains analysis of nearly 8,000 Supreme Court cases.

We contacted the Librarian of Congress, who has statutory responsibility for preparing CONAN, for his opinion on making the treatise available online in XML. (Although it is prepared in XML, GPO publishes CONAN online in plain text and PDF format, sans meta-data. As a result, the structured data is unavailable to those who may want to republish, remix, or otherwise engage with the treatise.)

The Congressional Research Service*, which is part of the Library of Congress and whose staff actually write CONAN, made themselves available to answer our questions, summarized below:

(1) Would CRS agree to making the Constitution Annotated available online in XML every two years, when the document is printed?

(2) Would CRS agree making the Constitution Annotated available online in XML as that document is updated and released on Congress’s intranet? (This would be more frequent than the every-other-year publication schedule.)

Here is CRS’s response:

The Congressional Research Service and the Government Printing Office plan to discuss publication of the Constitution Annotated and possible future enhancements.

It is not entirely clear what this means. What we hope is that this statement indicates movement towards an arrangement whereby CRS frequently provides the XML file to GPO on a regular basis, and GPO makes that file — untouched — available for download on its website. Stay tuned.

Thanks to BoingBoing for the coverage.

* Disclosure: I used to work for CRS.