Professor Tom Bruce, Director of Cornell University’s Legal Information Institute (LII), this week has powerfully demonstrated the value of free access to law. He gives a detailed account of the matter here. Here is a summary (Tom, please correct me if I get any of this wrong.):
According to press reports, Joe Arpaio, Sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona, USA, recently asserted that he had legal authority, under U.S. federal law, to apprehend individuals considered to be undocumented immigrants to the United States. To support this assertion, the press reports state, the sheriff cited what he represented as a U.S. federal statute, which, he asserted, he had discovered in the LII’s version of the U.S. Code. Unfortunately for the sheriff, as the press reports relate, this assertion turned out to be inconsistent with the truth: the “statute” that the sheriff had reportedly cited is not a U.S. federal law, nor a law of any other jurisdiction: it seems to be a work of fiction, apparently created by an anti-immigrant political activist organization.
Yet, according to news reports, because the LII publishes a current, freely available version of the U.S. Code on its Website, many individuals who learned of the sheriff’s assertions were able to use the LII’s version of the Code to investigate the sheriff’s assertions and to determine that the sheriff’s representation of the law was inaccurate.
Preventing government officials from misrepresenting the law, by giving citizens free public access to the law, is arguably among the most powerful justifications for the free access to law movement, and for continued support for the legal information institutes.
Congratulations to Professor Bruce and the LII team, and to the other members of the free access to law movement, for providing to people throughout the world the vital benefit of access to the laws that govern them.