5th Circuit Rolls Out New Hyperlinks in Decisions

By Brett Snider, Esq. on February 11, 2014 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

In an attempt to make life easier for its clerks and judges, the Fifth Circuit has started to insert hyperlinks for citations in its decisions.

Three opinions published since Friday, including an immigration case we covered in our last post, have been updated with shiny blue links for each citation.

But do these links actually work?

In late 2013, the Fifth Circuit issued some innocuous changes to the way in which briefs to the court could cite case records. This didn't really cause riots in the streets, but it may have something to do with what's been going on behind the scene in the Fifth Circuit clerk's office.

According to the Texas Appellate Watch, this rule amendment was made in order to get all briefs and court docs primed to be read by a hyperlink-adding software. This software would allow the court clerks to run each party's briefs through the system, so that every citation (even ones to court records) would be turned into a hyperlink. We imagine that might make appellate briefs slightly easier to read for clerks judges.

And it apparently also works for the court's opinions.

As of Monday, no source has been able to pinpoint exactly what software is being used to add links to these citations. However, a commenter on Louisiana litigator Raymond P. Ward's Louisiana Civil Appeals blog stated that this "application will be made available to all circuits in the near future."

But what use are the links to those outside the court?

Our own Technologist remarked back in 2009 on the federal courts' search for best link practices, but they were focused mostly on citing webpages in court opinions. Citing webpage hyperlinks which may cease to exist is certainly a problem -- 49% of SCOTUS' Internet cites no longer work -- but hyperlinks to federal cases and codes is a whole new ballgame.

Based on a very preliminary gloss of the court's first three opinions using this software, we hesitantly say that they are usable by those outside the court -- with these qualifications:

  • You can only use Internet Explorer. We tested out the links with both Chrome and Firefox, and it seems that Internet Explorer is the only Web browser capable of successfully opening a citation link.
  • Adobe Reader works too. You can download an opinion's PDF and then open in it Adobe Reader to use the citation links, but they'll still open in Internet Explorer.
  • Maybe only Westlaw. It could be just the preference of the Fifth Circuit, but the links we tested directed our Web browser to Westlaw. Sorry Lexis users.

It's very possible that the Fifth Circuit will address the appearance of these hyperlinks in the near future (or how to properly use them), but for now we can only imagine how useful they'll become.

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