September 17, 2019
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In honor of Constitution Day, U.S. Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Rob Portman (R-Ohio) sent a letter to the Library of Congress, urging to make the Constitution Annotated easily available to all Americans. The Constitution Annotated is compiled by the Library of Congress and details how the Supreme Court has interpreted each provision of the Constitution. The Constitution Annotated is a phenomenal resource that includes more than 2,700 pages of annotations. But while Congress has access to a user-friendly digital version of the document, this version is not available to the general public – the online public version is only made available online as one large and cumbersome PDF, or via an app that only shows that same large PDF and isn’t available for non-Apple phones. Wider publication of this resource would foster civic engagement and improve the ability of students and scholars to study the Constitution.
“Since 1913, the Library of Congress has authored, and the Government Publishing Office (GPO) has published, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, or simply, the Constitution Annotated,” the Senators wrote. “We urge you to publish the Constitution Annotated to the public in the same manner it is made available to Congress – as a series of web pages that are continually updated and viewable on multiple devices.”
The full text of the letter is available here and below:
Dr. Carla Hayden
Librarian of Congress
101 Independence Ave., S.E.
Washington, DC 20540
Dear Dr. Hayden:
As we approach Constitution Day, we write to you this with the words attributed to Thomas Jefferson in mind: “It is every Americans' right and obligation to read and interpret the Constitution for himself.”
Since 1913, the Library of Congress has authored, and the Government Publishing Office (GPO) has published, The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, or simply, the Constitution Annotated. This treatise is an invaluable resources for congressional staff, scholars, students, and other individuals interested in how the U.S. Supreme Court has interpreted our nation’s governing document. We write to encourage you to modernize how the Library of Congress makes the Constitution Annotated available to the public.
The Library of Congress already makes the Constitution Annotated available to members of Congress and their staff via an internal website. This internal version is relatively accessible and user-friendly with individual webpages for different sections of the document. Unfortunately, the public facing version is not so lucid. While we are pleased that the Constitution Annotated has been made publicly available since 2013 as an iPhone app, we have two concerns with the current state of affairs. First, the app, as well as the Library of Congress website, displays the contents of the Constitution Annotated – which when last published as a book exceeded 2,700 pages – as a slew of PDF pages. It is tough to read a short PDF on a phone’s tiny screen; for a document longer than the average Bible it is impossible. Second, the Constitution Annotated app is not available on non-Apple mobile devices.
We believe all Americans should have access to this incredible resource. We urge you to publish the Constitution Annotated to the public in the same manner it is made available to Congress – as a series of web pages that are continually updated and viewable on multiple devices. In addition, we ask that you consider publishing the Constitution Annotated to the public as a continuously updated structured data file, such as the XML format in which it is prepared. In particular, this will empower researchers and students to learn from the information it contains.
In 1833, Representative (and later Senator) Rufus Choate noted that “We have built no national temples but the Capitol; we consult no common oracle but the Constitution.” The “We” refers not to elected and appointed officials, but rather serves as shorthand for the Preamble’s beginning – “We” as in “The People.” It is only possible for citizens to consult our common oracle if they have access. We ask that you commit to provide such access to the Constitution Annotated as soon as possible. Thank you for your service to the Library of Congress, and your attention to this request.