Citizen history project offers the chance to see the most private moments of the Supreme Court
If you’re looking for a diversion from the craziness of the day, here’s something that’s interesting, educational, and even … fun. A citizen-history project is focused on transcribing handwritten conference notes from past Supreme Court cases. These include some of the most famous cases that have come before the court, and notes from some of the most famous names in the nation’s legal history.
It’s a chance to get an “unprecedented behind the scenes” look into the thoughts and discussions that helped shape some of the court’s toughest and most crucial decisions. The project has only been underway for a few weeks, but already some of the volunteers have uncovered notes on why the justices voted the way they did—and notes by one justice speculating about what another justice would do. There are thousands of notes still out there that have yet to be transcribed.
For history buffs, this is pretty heavy stuff.
When the U.S. Supreme Court decides a case almost all of the decision making process takes place in secret. In fact, unlike Congress and the president, citizens see very little of our nation's highest court. Most secretive are the conference discussions that take place for each case. Specifically, in these meetings the justices privately discuss cases and cast initial votes. Unfortunately, the only records kept during these meetings are the justices' handwritten notes not available to the public until they leave the Court and decide to open their archives to the public. This project asks volunteers to transcribe these notes in an effort to better understand how law and legal policy are made by the U.S. Supreme Court.
And it’s not the only new project that offers a chance to peek into history and discover something that no one has seen in years. An upcoming project offers the opportunity to transcribe the military records of African American soldiers in the Civil War.
The project on African American Civil War soldiers can currently be viewed, but a test set of documents has already been fully transcribed. This small set of data was issued out to test the tools used in transcribing this project. Now that the test has been completed, a larger set of documents can be expected soon.
Both projects offer the chance to see history in grand sweep and in intimate detail. And they’re also a nice reminder that there are places where those interested in the history of the nation can make a real contribution.