The Supreme Court is increasingly citing in its opinions and decisions hyperlinks to information obtained on the internet. But link rot has become a problem for lawyers and legal scholars accessing them: currently almost half of the hyperlinks in SCOTUS decisions no longer work. Citations and footnotes provide essential background and precedent, and allow lawyers and scholars to drill deeper to understand and assess the court’s evidence and reasoning. In addition to missing cited webpages, there’s also the problem of not having access to the precise content used for the decision, since the web source may have been updated after an opinion has been published. Even its in-house website is inconsistent: many of the links to SCOTUS’s own website no longer work.
We’ve all at some point felt the frustration of getting a 404 message. Ultimately, it would be nice if there were some way that broken or changed links left forwarding information, similar to a forwarding address or new phone number message. But bad links are often a result of content management errors at the website level, and thus – except for its own website – aren’t within the Supreme Court’s control.
If the actual content can’t be mirrored on the Supreme Court’s own website (“retrieved on mm/dd/yyyy”), I’d suggest linking to the page as it is captured on the Internet Archive. That might even be more useful for scholars than content stored on the Supreme Court’s website, because they could see if and how the information had changed before and after the date of retrieval.