Best Practices for State Supreme Court Websites

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Preparation of this report was funded by the State Justice Institute (Grant award number SJI-12-N-004) and the National Center for State Courts. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the State Justice Institute or the National Center for State Courts.

October, 2012

The following guidelines are offered to improve the utility of state supreme court websites for the public and members of the media.

The practices described have been collected from a review of the uses that state high courts currently make of their websites and identify new technological developments and applications that can assist courts in creating and disseminating information. By creating new websites, or improving their existing web presence, state courts of last resort can contribute to a better public understanding of and appreciation of their work.

At least one state supreme court implements each of the practices described, and each practice is illustrated with one or more examples, including screenshots and links as well as descriptions of the feature and its appealing qualities.

Many courts are still experimenting with online innovations, so access to web-based materials can at present be “fluid.” The practices described have been or are still being used by some states, but courts should also look to other web-based resources in the public and private sectors for ideas they might adapt to fit their own needs. Not every feature that provides value for other institutions will be useful for courts’ websites, but there is no need for the judiciary to reinvent the wheel when it comes to using the Web.

Simplicity and accessibility are important general principles that should guide choices about the design and implementation of state court websites. A number of different user populations visit the websites of state high courts, including the general public and journalists as well as litigants, lawyers, researchers and students. However, efforts to provide features and content for all of these users must be done while keeping the site uncomplicated and easy to navigate. Advances in web capabilities and design standards have and will continue to shape users’ expectations of what a website should provide and how it should look.

Ideally, a state high court’s website should strive to provide the following:

  • Broad access to its work and products
  • Clear organization of its contents and work
  • Flexible means of providing information to users

Detailed description of several features that characterize the best of state supreme court websites follows with discussion of their virtues and screenshots from examples illustrating the design of these features.

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