The following is a guest post by David Mao, Law Librarian of Congress. He has previously guest posted From the Desk of the Law Librarian, The Law Librarian in London, and Rebellious Children and Witches.
In a previous post I mentioned keys belonging to former Law Librarian of Congress Carlton Kenyon. This Pic of the Week shows another object that belonged to a former Law Librarian. Roberta Shaffer generously donated it to the Law Library of Congress when she moved to her current position. No, it is not a model of Cousin Itt. This object is a work of art by Scott Carney which he created using a volume of Shepard’s Citations.
Like many other English-speaking jurisdictions, the U.S. legal system is based upon common law and thus the use of precedent is an integral part of the judicial process. For example, judges rely upon previous decisions as precedent (or authority) to help in deciding cases; or they might create precedent that would be followed in future cases. Legal practitioners use citators, like Shepard’s, not only to determine when and how a particular authority has been cited, but also to ensure that it is still good law, or binding precedent.
Shepard’s Citations first appeared in the late nineteenth century and for many years was considered the premier legal citation service. In an early edition of their famous text, Effective Legal Research, law librarian luminaries Miles Price and Harry Bitner relayed the story of an attorney that failed to check a cited authority and did not realize that the precedent had been overturned. The judge in the case chastised the attorney and reminded him to “always Shepardize your case.”
Today one can still find and use print Shepard’s Citations in many law libraries; however, technology allows one to use electronic citators.
We affectionately refer to the work of art as “Shreddy” but its actual title is Shredding Shepard’s: Unbinding Precedent.
Print Shepard’s volumes are not that easy to find in law libraries these days – when the cost for the print version skyrocketed, many libraries canceled the print.