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The Serial Set, Part 3: Supreme Court Nominations

Serial Set SCtOur first two Serial Set Posts discussed HeinOnline’s new database content of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, and the differences in the online offerings of Hein and Lexis. Now, for the last installment of our series, we dive into the documents themselves, since none of this would be worth the bother at all if the Serial Set didn’t offer the most vivid view of the history of the nation.

With the sting of Supreme Court nominations so recently in mind, the Year-End Report, 1st session of 97th Congress (1981) [Report of Senate Comm on the Judiciary, Nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor. Executive Report No. 97-22.], regarding the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor, reminds us that consensus was once easier to achieve. Speaking about the recommendation to the full Senate (17 aye, one present), Senator Thurmond, then Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, summarized those hearings [at p. 147]:

…The Committee recommended the approval of the first woman to be nominated to the United States Supreme Court. In providing the background and recommendation on which the Senate could fulfill its Constitutional duties, the Committee held three days of hearings and considered the views of a wide range of witnesses. On the recommendation of the Committee, the Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Twelve years later, in 1993, the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sent to the Senate Floor with a unanimous recommendation to confirm, with a final Senate vote of  93-3. [Nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Supreme Court, Report from Senate Comm on the Judiciary, Aug 5, 1993]

Serial set 3

And in-between, in 1991, was the highly charged hearing on the nomination of Clarence Thomas as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, with testimony given by Anita Hill of a pattern of sexual harassment by the nominee. With contemporary articles pointing out the all-but-too-close parallels to the conduct of the Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the Serial Set refreshes history, and our memory, with the report of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which ultimately made no recommendation on the nominee, and with the Committee vote tied at 7 to 7. [Nomination of Clarence Thomas, Report of Comm of Judiciary, no recommendation 7-7. Sept 19, 1991]

Serial set 3a

Among the many speeches by Senators who rose to explain their vote, Senator Robert Byrd took to the floor with a singular and powerful eloquence, explaining why, in the end, he could not vote to confirm Clarence Thomas — ultimately rejecting the nomination in favor of the grace of the Court itself. [Senator Robert C. Byrd on the nomination of Clarence Thomas]

Even after the final vote, 52-48, the narrative continued, with a potent shift to the another part of the story.  A Temporary Independent Counsel was immediately appointed to investigate the leak of the confidential Anita Hill information, the disclosure of which triggered the public airing of the sexual harassment she detailed, and the hyper-charged televised hearings that followed.

Serial set 3b

The subsequent Report of the Temporary Independent Counsel summarized all the key players, and yet in the end concluded that it was unable to identify the source of the disclosures. [Independent Counsel after Clarence Thomas hearings, part 1]

This report of the Temporary Independent Counsel was accompanied by a 172-page collection of exhibits. Among other materials, it included the Anita Hill statement, photographs of Anita Hill arriving at the Senate hearings, deposition testimony from the NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, editorial cartoons, and press reports and newspaper articles on colleagues of Anita Hill supporting her veracity. [Exhibits to Report by Temporary Independent Counsel.May 1992]

The Serial Set has all this and more.

As the 116th Congress, convened on January 3, 2019, begins its work, all the records of whatever comes across Congressional sightlines will be also eventually be added and indexed and become a part of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.


Databases at the San Francisco Law Library, including HeinOnline and the Lexis are open to the public for free access at the San Francisco Law Library.

For more questions about research in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set or about the scope of other San Francisco Law Library resources, please contact the Reference Team at sfll.reference@sfgov.org   or 415:554-1772.

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The Serial Set, Part 2: HeinOnline v. Lexis

Serial Set 2

HeinOnline is not the only player in the game when it comes to the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. Lexis also includes U.S. Congressional Documents 1777-present (U.S. Serial Set), with its own advanced search functions. You may be thinking this is overkill (isn’t one of these enough?), but for any researcher who has something specific in mind and cannot easily fish it out, it is a boon to be able to have all sources at hand and algorithmic search variables to multiply the means to compare and locate possibilities.

As valuable as a specific Serial Set Identification Number may be, the problem with a very special number is that even a small anomaly in the citation may mean a blank wall within one or the other databases. As one example: the Senate Committee on Judiciary Report on the Nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor is available on both Lexis and HeinOnline.  The Serial Set citation given on HeinOnline is 13406 S.rp. 22 and on Lexis the report is designated as 13406 Exec. Rpt. 22. Neither will bring up the other solely on the assigned number.

Serial set 2 cite

Fortunately, both Serial Set databases also offer keyword and title searches, with advanced filters. The true charm of having this content both within HeinOnline and on Lexis is the power to search across the entire Serial Set based on whatever level of information is already known to the researcher.

In the current Phase I of the HeinOnline Serial Set, search results indicate whether the material is downloadable as full text content, or preliminarily indexed as part of Phase I, with the Serial Set citation and other information given.

Serial Set Part 2

In Lexis, searches facilitated by its own advanced search functions bring up detailed summaries of results, with the option of downloading the original text as “Replica of Original Proceedings.”

If you can’t make it to the library to use HeinOnline and Lexis, there is yet another congressional resource collection: the ProQuest Congressional database offers coverage from 1970 for some congressional reports, and later dates for other document types. Online access is available for free to any CA resident with a library card issued from the San Francisco Public Library.

Next up: an in depth look at available Supreme Court nomination materials

 


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New Database Content: The Serial Set

Serial Set

Every Congress accumulates a veritable ocean of words: in resolutions made, hearings held, and legislation introduced and sometimes passed. From when the very first Congress opened on March 4, 1789, then in Federal Hall in New York City, to the current Congressional session opened on January 3, 2019, documents and records have been piling up. Now that content is data — virtual and weightless — it is hard to imagine the vast and unruly mass accumulated over 230 years’ worth (and counting) of Congressional matters under consideration: bills, reports, records of hearings, maps of boundaries and territories, drafts, and treaties, select executive and agency documents, odd-ball records (such as reports on rivers and harbors 1817-1982), and some interspersed annual reports of various non-governmental organizations, such the Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, DAR, Veterans of Foreign Wars, and the Smithsonian.

The Serial Set was ordered by Congress in 1813, and has by now been modified and codified in Title 44 of the US Code §§ 701, 719, 738:

“Ordered, That, henceforward, all Messages and communications from the President of the United States; all letters and reports from the several departments of the Government; all motions and resolutions offered for the consideration of the House; all reports of committees of the House; and all other papers which, in the usual course of proceeding, or by special order of the House shall be printed in octavo fold, and separately from the Journals – shall have their pages numbered in one continued series of numbers, commencing and terminating with each session.”

(v. 9 Journal of the House of Representatives, pages 166-167, December 8, 1813)

For an excellent further discussion of the history and evolution of the Serial Set, see: https://www.fdlp.gov/about-fdlp/mission-history/u-s-congressional-serial-set-what-it-is-and-its-history.

Its name — Serial Set — is a nod to the process of organizing congressional history as it unfurls, through a serial identification system that consecutively numbers every document from each congressional session. Even with this numbered identification system, the sheer quantity and mix of types of materials can daunt or delight any researcher. While legal researchers may be intent in building out a legislative history (see Singer, Statutes and Statutory Construction §§48:31-48:3 for an extensive discussion of use of legislative history as an extrinsic aid to interpretation of a statute), other researchers may turn to the Serial Set for other explorations, such as genealogical research, research into environment change, or assessments of social and political history through the details of the records collected over this entire historical period. Due to the enormity of the task, full digitization with advanced search functions has been a wish more than a promise.

Open source sites, such as committee reports collected on Congress.gov (93rd Congress, 1973-1974 forward) or other core congressional materials on www.govinfo.gov  (104th Congress, 1995-1996 forward), offer a first bite, with excellent collections of relatively recent materials, but thin out quickly as time spools backwards. Microfiche, for anyone who has arduously wound through the pages one by one, is hardly the answer any researcher wants to hear.

The full print Serial Set is said to take up more than 15,000 thick bound volumes with an ever-growing density, Congress to Congress. On HeinOnline, the entire framework fits on one screen, containing these subsets:

• American State Papers: 1st-25th Congress (1789-1838)
• Congressional Serial Set: 15th-113th Congress (1817-2014)
• Congressional Documents: 114th-115th Congress (2015-2019)
• Congressional Reports 114th-115th Congress (2015-2019)

The HeinOnline Serial Set database, launched at the end of 2018, is better considered an archive under construction. Phase I provides a complete index of all congressional documents across the full date range of the Serial Set (1789-2018), along with full-text content of the most recent 40 years, 1978-2018.  The indexing element is a useful research stepping stone, since the Serial Set identification number can be one key in helping to locate a document in the morass. Ongoing development of a complete archive of full-text content is in the works, with a projected addition of a million pages a year until the full congressional date range of materials are entirely available and searchable. The Serial Set database fits well with other HeinOnline libraries of gnarly federal materials archives, such as earlier editions of the U.S. Code (from 1925 forward), and archives of the Federal Register (1936 – forward) and CFR (1938 – forward), expanding the ways and means of accessing these materials.

Stay tuned for more posts on the Serial Set and congressional records in the coming weeks.