JustiaGate: 'Natural Born' Supreme Court Citations Disappear

Did Justia.com deliberately aid Barack Obama in 2008 by helping to hide the one legal case that might prevent him from legally qualifying for the presidency?

On October 20, 2011, New Jersey attorney Leo Donofrio accused online legal research behemoth Justia.com of surgically redacting important information from their publication of 25 U.S. Supreme Court opinions which cite Minor v. Happersett, an 1874 decision which arguably contains language that appears to disqualify anyone from presidential eligibility who wasn't born in the country to parents who were citizens.  According to the decision in Happersett:

At common-law, with the nomenclature of which the framers of the Constitution were familiar, it was never doubted that all children born in a country of parents who were its citizens became themselves, upon their birth, citizens also. These were natives, or natural-born citizens, as distinguished from aliens or foreigners.  (Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 162, 167 [1874])

Justia is a Google Mini-powered website which has singled itself out as one of the most comprehensive and easy-to-search legal sites on the internet.  Other legal resources such as Lexis can cost as much as $5,000 a month for a subscription, and it's impossible to hyperlink to cases which include copyrighted headnotes and analysis.  This is why powerful law firms such as Perkins Coie (where former Obama White House Counsel Bob Bauer practices law) have cited Justia's pages.

The Wayback Machine, run by InternetArchive.Org, is the means by which the changes made at Justia were documented over time.  Among the first responses from Justia regarding this controversy was to block its Supreme Court Server from being viewed by the Wayback Machine.

Click the following link for an image documenting the pattern of changes made to one of those 25 cases, Luria v. U.S., 231 U.S. 9 (1913).  Notice that the case name "Minor v. Happersett" has been removed, minimizing the case searchability.

The cover-up simply reeks.  While Justia owner Tim Stanley told CNET that there were more cases which had also been "mangled," there is no way to identify how much bogus law was published by Justia over the three-year period in question.  Minor v. Happersett simply disappeared from cases which cited it, minimizing its footprint on the internet at a critical juncture in history -- the election of 2008.

McCarthy v. Briscoe, 429 U.S. 1317 (1976)

On Nov. 3, 2008, one day before the election, Donofrio petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to stay the ballots in New Jersey from being used the next day in the case Donofrio v. Wells, claiming that the eligibility of both Obama and McCain had not been verified by the NJ secretary of State as required by law.

In his research, Donofrio had found a reference to McCarthy v. Briscoe, 429 U.S. 1317 (1976), an important precedent which allows the Supreme Court -- or even one justice acting alone if an emergency stay is requested -- to order a secretary of state to insert a name on the ballot.  The holding of the case implies a reciprocal power to remove names from ballots for the several secretaries of State, as well as the U.S. Supreme Court.

Back in '08, Donofrio couldn't find the in chambers decision anywhere online.  Forced to go old-school, he procured it from a brick-and-mortar law library.  But to this day, McCarthy v. Briscoe remains elusive at Justia.  If you look in their "Volume" database and click "429," all of the in chambers opinions are mysteriously absent. 

In chambers opinions generally begin on pg. 1,301, but not every official volume has them.  For example, Volume 428 has no in chambers opinions, but 429, 434, and 439 do.  Justia's database for Volumes 434 and 439 do exhibit the in chambers opinions, but Volume 429 has them scrubbed.

If you search Justia's Cases & Opinions by Year in 1976, McCarthy v. Briscoe is listed.  There are two cases, an insignificant one-page opinion at page 1,316, followed by the relevant decision on pg. 1,317.  There are links to the preview as well as "Full Text."  However, all of the links are broken, leading back to Justia's front page.

Additionally, Justia's publication of a following 1977 5th Circuit case, 553 F.2d 1005, includes a hyperlink back to 429 U.S. 1317, and that link is also mysteriously broken.

It would be instructive to track the timeline of changes in the Wayback Machine, but Justia is steadfastly preventing that transparency.  Furthermore, if Justia continues its previous pattern, the links (eg: http://supreme.justia.com/us/429/1317/) will be restored upon publication of this article.  Take your screenshots now.


With numerous state-level challenges being prepared by opponents of Obama's eligibility for 2012, McCarthy v. Briscoe will be a required citation.  That it continues to be unavailable at Justia seriously calls into question Stanley's contention that the cases on Justia's servers were mangled by an innocent coding error.

This claim of innocent technical error was debunked by Dr. David Hansen, a Ph.D. in computer science.  McCarthy v. Briscoe, 429 U.S. 1317 (1976) at Justia shows a completely different pattern of information removal from what could be explained away by a single coding error which erased case names.

The removal of prior versions of cases from the Wayback Machine by Justia amounts to nothing less than supreme hypocrisy considering Stanley's high stature as a leading light championing transparency of legal information for the public.  

Use at your own risk

Justia in 2008 tangled with the State of Oregon when it downloaded and republished the State Statutes without either informing the state or gaining its permission, in violation of copyright law.  Dexter Johnson, the head of the Office of Oregon State Legislative Counsel Committee reported that the Committee received information that the State Statutes were available at a website other than the state.  Upon investigation, the Committee ultimately decided not to pursue legal action against Justia for copyright violation; instead, "the committee decided to waive its copyright on the Oregon Revised Statutes going forward," said Johnson in a phone interview.

It is left to a user of Justia to verify the information to be found within its pages, despite a disclaimer of "Full Text of Case" on its pages.  Upon inquiry with the U.S. Supreme Court, Patricia McCabe Estrada, deputy public information officer of the U.S. Supreme Court, responded that "the official opinions of the Supreme Court are posted on the Court's Website and we don't generally monitor other sites." 

Johnson says Oregon also does not have a monitoring policy in place.  When asked how a person using Justia's services would know if he were receiving accurate information or not, Johnson replied:

The only way, it seems to me, would be to compare that with what's on the legislature's website. In which case you might as well go directly to the legislature's website. It's one of the reasons why we had originally suggested that they have their website simply point in the direction of our own.

Justia publishes SCOTUS cases with the positive affirmation "Full Text of Case."  Clearly this was not done with regards to the specific opinions it redacted and covered up.  Whether a violation of law or not, various non-profit agencies, students, law firms, and private researchers who relied upon Justia's services remain in the dark, unable to determine if their research materials were altered by Justia, as the company has released neither what it redacted nor in what cases.  Without an effective means of verifying accuracy, Justia's transparency and credibility are questionable.


It turns out that Justia received additional help from their close counterpart in the open government information movement, Public.Resource.Org (PRO), founded and run by Carl Malamud.  Malamud was also the chief technology officer for The Center for American Progress, a progressive think-tank funded in part by none other than George Soros.  Tim Stanley is on the Board of Trustees at Public.Resource.Org, and Justia is PRO's top benefactor.  Stanley is also a co-convenor of Malamud's Law.gov organization, which, despite appearances, is not a government entity. 

PRO makes available a huge database of court cases to other organizations such as the Cornell Legal Institute, which has now been dragged into the Justia mess through a case that cements Minor v. Happersett as defining "Natural Born Citizen."  Ex Parte: Lockwood  states:

In Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162, this court held that the word 'citizen' is often used to convey the idea of membership in a nation, and, in that sense, women, if born of citizen parents within the jurisdiction of the United States, have always been considered citizens of the United States, as much so before the adoption of the fourteenth amendment of the constitution as since[.]"  (Emphasis added.)

However, at Cornell, the opinion is cut off right after "Minor v.".  Someone searching for "Minor v. Happersett" will be detoured from this case and its holding in support of Minor's precedence.  Cornell's version of Ex Parte: Lockwood is completely mangled.  Yet Lockwood helps prove that the decision in Minor created a legal definition of "Natural Born Citizen," something the national narrative states that no Supreme Court Case has ever done, in part because Minor's importance was effectively obscured.

There has been a deliberate, targeted effort to minimize if not erase the legal importance of Minor v. Happersett in defining the term "Natural Born Citizen."  Justia and PRO champion freedom of information yet at the same time hypocritically redacted the law to suit a political goal.  Justia and Tim Stanley butchered these cases and, when caught, removed Wayback Machine's access to Justia's entire Supreme Court server.  The only thing hidden now is the evidence of Justia's deliberate scrubbing, as the cases are available in the public domain.

Tim Stanley has not returned messages asking for comment on this story at time of publication.  Sometime last week, Justia added a disclaimer at the bottom of its SCOTUS case texts:

Official Supreme Court caselaw is only found in the print version of the United States Reports. Justia caselaw is provided for general informational purposes only, and may not reflect current legal developments, verdicts or settlements. We make no warranties or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness, or adequacy of the information contained on this site or information linked to from this site. Please check official sources.

The disclaimer speaks volumes about the credibility and accuracy of Justia.com.

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