Tarlton Launches Online Research Guide on Supreme Court Reform

Tarlton Law Library Director Barbara Bintliff is used to monitoring the churn of daily news for stories about the law and the American legal system. That’s because, when a topic reaches the front-page headlines of major news outlets, it’s predictable that Tarlton’s librarians will start getting inquiries—from students, faculty, and even the general public—wanting to know more. During the last months of the presidential election cycle, the big legal stories were the Supreme Court, the battle over the seat vacated by the passing of Justice Ginsburg, and an attendant debate about whether the nation’s highest court should be changed.

Tarlton Reference Librarians Alisa Holahan, Daniel Radthorne, and Lei Zhang

“That’s when our amazing reference librarians Alisa Holahan, Daniel Radthorne, and Lei Zhang jumped into action,” says Bintliff. “They organized academic writings, popular press materials, and historical documents to create the Supreme Court Reform digital research collection.”

The collection gathers nearly 200 materials organized around sub-topics such as Court Expansion, Term Limits, Merit Selection, and more. If a user of the research guide starts at the beginning, they will first listen to President Roosevelt’s March 9, 1937 “Fireside Chat,” on the topic of reforming the judiciary. From there, they will find dozens of articles and books arguing for and against different methods of reform. All told, the collection covers nearly seventy-five years of timeless principles, ideas for change, and impassioned debate.

For this reason, Bintliff believes the guide has both immediate relevance and lasting value. “Little of what people are arguing about today is new,” observed Bintliff. “It wasn’t even new when Roosevelt talked about it in 1937! Changing SCOTUS is always a topic among law faculty and political mavens, however, and has been since the Constitution created the  Court so many years ago.”

The intended audience for the new research tool is the Texas Law community. But Bintliff and the reference librarians expect many more to use it as well, including faculty and students elsewhere on campus, and even campus visitors (though those visitors will have to be online only for the foreseeable future, as UT’s physical campus is currently closed to the public). Tarlton’s reference librarians are available to assist the public (via the Virtual Reference Desk) in finding the information even if they are not on campus.

Indeed, interest in the new collection already exists beyond The Forty Acres. Other law libraries have asked to link to it so that their patrons can find the resources via their home institutions.

The experience of putting the Supreme Court Reform research tool together in the midst and immediate aftermath of a presidential election, which saw a record number of votes cast and heightened attention placed on America’s courts, has reinforced for Bintliff the essential role Tarlton plays in the life of the law school, and in the community more broadly. “The public libraries of the US developed along with the public school systems; public schools for children, public libraries for adults. Giving adults a way to increase their knowledge helped them contribute to society, the economy, and their own self-governance. The guide was developed with that in mind: to help people learn more about a topic of timely importance so that they could participate meaningfully in the public debate.”