SCOTUS's "Link Rot" Problem Illustrated in a Single 404 Error Message

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
Sept. 23 2013 4:27 PM

The Mischievous 404 Error Message That Illustrates SCOTUS's "Link Rot" Problem

The New York Times brings us news of a growing problem in the world of Supreme Court opinions: "link rot," a term coined to describe hyperlinks used to cite online material that vanish or change beyond recognition over time.

The top-line takeaway from the Harvard research the paper cites is rather remarkable: roughly half of the 555 links used in opinions by the court since 1996 no longer lead to the material actually cited by the justices in their written opinions. (That revelations would be a whole lot more surprising if we weren't talking about a group that admits it hasn't quite figured out the whole email thing just yet.)

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You can find the Harvard draft report here, and the Times story on it here. But perhaps the best way way to illustrate the problem is with the rather (intentonally) hilarious "404 error" message that resides at a hyperlinked address found in a 2011 Supreme Court opinion penned by Justice Samuel Alito Jr.:

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Head on over to Times for a handful of other examples of SCOTUS hyperlinking gone wrong.

Josh Voorhees is a Slate senior writer. He lives in Iowa City. 

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