20+ Orgs Ask For Better Access to the “Constitution Annotated”


Photo from " By Pink Sherbet Photography" on FlickrToday, on the birthday of the Constitution, more than 20 organizations and individuals called for better public access to the legal treatise Constitution Annnotated, a government publication that explains the Constitution as interpreted by the Supreme Court. Although updated on a frequent basis and readily available to congressional staff, the complete Constitution Annotated is released to the public only once a decade — scrubbed of helpful metadata. Updates reflecting recent Court decisions are released separately every two years, far short of what’s available to Congress.

We believe the Constitution Annotated should be published online as it is updated and with metadata intact. Because it is prepared in XML, this is relatively easy to do.

Last September, the Sunlight Foundation called for the release of the Constitution Annotated, a call that was joined by Senator Feingold in October. Although the Congressional Research Service and the Government Printing Office have held a meeting regarding its release, as the parties respectively responsible for authoring and publishing the document, they still have not acted. It is time.

The signatories urge Senators Schumer and Bennett and Representatives Brady and Lungren — who lead the relevant House and Senate committees — to prod CRS and GPO to make this vital resource available to the American people intact and on a timely basis.

The letter is available here, with background information on the Constitution Annotated available here.

Organizations Call for Better Access to the “Constitution Annotated”

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  • Daniel Schuman

    Hey Mary,

    The “Constitution Annotated” is not the same document as the Constitution. The “Constitution Annotated” is a legal treatise, about 1500 pages long. It takes the Constitution and breaks it into chunks — clause by clause — and explains how each clause has been interpreted by the Supreme Court.

    For example, the First Amendment references freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of the press, right to peaceable assembly, etc. The Constitution Annotated takes each of these concepts and explains the meaning that the Supreme Court has derived from them in its decisions.

  • Mary

    So, I just bought a $5.00 copy to carry in my pocket like @the late @SenByrd. And I know there are copies of Constitution, Bill of Rights, + admendments all around the net. Am I understanding the question?

  • From what I’ve seen — and I used to work at CRS, which authors CONAN — I don’t think that there are concerns about the content.


    It makes one wonder if the reason could be because their amended interpretations may be WAY WRONG. . . . and they don’t want to be busted !

  • Todd,

    So far I haven’t heard a good reason why it is not being published as we have requested. My attempts to get an answer are detailed here: http://bit.ly/cKzyPT. I’ve been writing about this for over a year, with resources gathered here: http://bit.ly/5cz9c9

    Congress intended for this document to be publicly available when it passed a law on CONAN in 1971.

    The best reason I can think of why this isn’t the way we would like is that either no one has made a sufficient effort to get folks to focus on this issue, or to the extent we’ve been able to get people to focus, no one has taken responsibility.

  • todd

    What’s missing here is “why”? Why is the release of this even an issue? Turf battle? Is Congress concerned it will lose some power by allowing the public to freely view this document as it’s updated?

    It must be at least one of these reasons. Otherwise, why would any agency waste time holding a meeting on this?

    It would be helpful to know the “whys” before embarking on a campaign to liberate this document.

    I assume Sunlight Foundation knows the answer(s). Wouldn’t it be the transparent thing to do to share them with us?