Subtitled: Why the Eight Circuit's site is da bomb.
Professor Berman of SL&P fame today had the audacity to praise the District of Maine's website without mentioning the wonderful Eighth's. I did check out D. Maine's site, and it's indeed impressive. It's also aesthetically pleasing (the pictures at the top of the screen are pleasing to this primate). But it still doesn't top the Eighth Circuit's, which is the best judicial site I know of. For these (and undoubtedly, many other) reasons:
First, its opinions are available promptly. With most other federal circuits, it's a crap shoot whether its opinions will be on time (or whether it's even on anything other than a loose schedule). The Eighth Circuit always has its opinions up in the morning.
Second, its case summaries provide the reader all relevant information: the holding; the panel's members; and whether it's published. Other circuits make me open a .pdf file to obtain this information.
Third, the opinions are well-written, and usually no longer than necessary. Judicial economy should also apply to legal opinions.
Fourth, they make almost all briefs and oral arguments available. This leads to transparency: I can read the briefs if I think the panel is misrepresenting the facts.
Fifth, I've never read a decision where I shook my head and said: "Man, that's just wrong." The Eighth Circuit is to jurisprudence what the Midwest is to values - not always right, but rarely unreasonable.
Excluding selfish reasons, why do I care whether a court's website is well-designed? It's important the justice and the appearance of justice. When a court's site is inaccessible, it tells me, as a member of the public, that I don't matter.
"Who cares if you can easily access our site or determine what we have done. Who cares if you can check the parties' briefs to ensure that we have not omitted any crucial point of law or fact?" Such an attitude could indeed evidence a hostility towards individual rights. I don't think it's coincidental that the Fifth Circuit has the least accessible website.