The Constitution Annotated in 2020

For the first time since 2009, I don’t have to write a blogpost or letter calling on the Library of Congress to make its legal treatise, the Constitution Annotated, available online in a usable format. Last year, the Library finally published that document online as HTML. For those unfamiliar, the Constitution Annotated is a legal treatise, prepared by the Congressional Research Service, that explains the U.S. Constitution as it has been interpreted by the Supreme Court.

In a laudatory post published today, the Library describes how “the Constitution Annotated website has had over a million visits and millions of page views,” over the last year, “educating people across the nation and around the world on the Constitution.” Indeed.

Putting it online has released innovation to improve the resource, which they also explain:

Since its launch, the Library has further honed the website, adding new features such as a homepage carousel that highlights key issues, an Updates page to announce recent changes to the content, improved search functionality, and streamlined Browse navigation. The Constitution Annotated also features discussions of emerging constitutional law issues, Library of Congress resources for researching the Constitution, and supplemental resources, such as the table of Supreme Court justices, the table of Supreme Court decisions overruled by subsequent decisions, and the table of laws the Supreme Court has held unconstitutional in whole or in part.

Over the decades, civil society has retyped and republished that document and begged, pleaded, cajoled, and pushed the Library to make it available online. The irony, of course, is that they have prepared it as structured data since the early 2000s, but published it as unusable giant PDFs once a decade.

We are glad to see the Constitution Annotated is now online. When I first started writing them and advocating for this change, I didn’t think it would take this long. We are still hopeful they will publish it online as structured data — it is prepared as XML — but we’re going to take this as a win. We hope other modernizing efforts at the Library will not take as long.

Happy Constitution Day.