Scott Kuhagen

Thoughts on law and policy, immigration-related and otherwise.

Waldo Jaquith coding his way to more meaningful access to state statutes

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Last we left Waldo Jaquith, he announced that he was working on a new project called Virginia Laws, an effort that promised to create an online version of the Virginia Code “for humans.”

Several days ago he revealed that he’s been working on something far more significant, a project called The State Decoded. Jaquith won a $165,000 grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation to “[t]o create a digital platform that will display local laws and court decisions in a way that provides clarity and context.” Specifically:

In a nutshell, they’re giving me $165,000 to spend a year and a half modularizing this code and making it available to groups in every state in the union to put their codes online. A bunch of that time I’ll spend coding, and a bunch more I’ll spend identifying stakeholders in states across the country, convincing them to deploy this (free) software to make their state codes more accessible.

In the comments on Jaquith’s post discussing the project, Genevieve notes that the screenshot Jaquith showed “looks like . . . free Westlaw. Except more basic, and yet, just as awesome.” Jaquith responds:

I have never, ever seen Westlaw. I’ve avoided even looking at a screenshot of it. It might sound foolish, but bear with me. :) I recently heard a story about a band made up of rural, home-schooled girls who were given musical instruments and told to make music. They had never heard rock and roll or, really, any music involving bass, guitar, or drums. The result was really interesting. That’s kind of what I’m going for here. I don’t want to imitate existing solutions—I want to make what I think is useful for me. Once it’s all done, then I’ll look at what the competition is up to.

Plenty of other interesting ideas and considerations in the comments of Jaquith’s post. He also links to coverage of his project on the Nieman Journalism Lab website.

Bottom line: It will be fascinating to see how this develops. I wish Waldo the best in his efforts.

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