September 13, 2012
KeyCite: Adding History to a Historic Decision
KeyCite Analysts (“KCA”) review lots of decisions every year for direct history. Hundreds of thousands, in fact.
In a typical year, a KCA on the Federal Keycite Team sees hundreds of documents issued by the United States Supreme Court—everything from full opinions to rulings on petitions for certiorari to the Court’s so-called “miscellaneous orders.”
Reviewing Supreme Court cases isn’t exactly routine—they are always given the highest priority and an extra level of rigor. Then again, the review isn’t all that unusual either. . . until you add in all the anticipation and scrutiny of a high-profile case held for the last day of the Court session. This brings us to the decision on the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
As luck would have it, on June 28th, Lane Kowitz was assigned to process “Rush” cases. Sitting at her desk on the second floor of our office building in Eagan, Lane kept busy reviewing other recent federal cases, while waiting for the historic decision to be released in Washington, D.C.
Lane and the other KeyCite Analysts follow well-defined steps when reviewing a case for direct history. Using information about a new decision, like its title and docket number, the KCA identifies related decisions. Once these candidates are found, the Analyst examines each to determine how the cases relate to each other and then selects from the hundreds of phrase codes available to accurately and succinctly describe those relationships.
The goal: create a history chain, so attorneys, judges and other Westlaw users can understand how the case made its way through the legal system. The direct history, along with any negative indirect history from subsequent decisions, helps legal researchers answer the question, “Is this case still good law?”
Whatever anxiety Lane had that Thursday morning was lessened by the Supreme Court’s Reporter of Decisions. The Reporter prepares a Syllabus for each of the Court’s opinions. This includes a very clear statement about the case history.
For the June 28th decision, the Syllabus told Lane, and others, “648 F.3d 1235, affirmed in part and reversed in part.” Accordingly, she created a relationship between the new decision and the Eleventh Circuit‘s decision of August 12, 2011, showing the earlier decision had been affirmed in part and reversed in part. This relationship placed a red KeyCite flag on the Circuit Court’s decision. For Westlaw Classic and WestlawNext users, a red flag means the case is no longer good law for at least one point it contains.
Lane forged the last link in the Health Care Law history chain. The chain started in August 2010, when the Northern District of Florida denied reconsideration of its order denying a California dentist’s motion to intervene in the lawsuit filed by 13 state Attorneys General. The other links were added as later decisions were acquired and reviewed. To date, the chain includes 36 relationships, linking decisions from the District, Circuit and Supreme Courts.
Lane’s KeyCite work for the ACA decision was available to researchers on Westlaw by 9:45 a.m., just 16 minutes after the decision was acquired from the Supreme Court’s website. With that, she took a deep breath and returned to the many other recent federal decisions needing direct history.
(Editor’s note: Now that the Keycite enhancements have been added, our next post in the series will look at how the editorial enhancements are added to our cases.)