New Database Creates Time-Series Plots of Phrases in U.S. Supreme Court Opinions

Emory and Michigan State Law Schools have teamed up to create a free database that allows you to search for a term or phrase in U.S. Supreme Court opinions (1791-2005) and automatically generate a time-series frequency chart of the phrase’s appearance.

According to their announcement, here are some of its attributes:

– Instant return of a time-series plot for one or more comma-separated phrases.

– When you access the site, the default search is currently interstate commerce, railroad, deed (with plots for each of the term displayed simultaneously), as displayed below:

– You may test out any phrase of up to four words in length. Examples include: Habeas Corpus, Clear and Present Danger, Custodial Interrogation, Due Process, Economics, Unconstitutional, Property, and Privacy.

– Each of the phrases you search will be highlighted in blue. If you click on these highlighted phrases you will be taken to the full list of U.S. Supreme Court decisions that employ the selected phrase.

– Click to export the list to Excel or click on an individual case and you will be able to access this case for free.

– Advanced features, including normalization (controlling for docket size) and alternative graphing tools.

– There is available a brief slide-based tutorial as well as an academic presentation by its creators explaining the theory and design of this type of database.

As described by its creators, the database is in a “beta pre-release” phase, and they invite your feedback. Eventually they hope to expand coverage to lower courts, such as the U.S. Courts of Appeals.

Thanks to the creators of this new and free resource, which will no doubt be of significant value to legal historians, other scholars, and legal practitioners.


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