Monday, April 13, 2015

Making the Case (Available): Preparing ACLU Case Files for Research

ACLU of Georgia logo, 2005/2006
annual report (ACLU of Georgia
Records, Series I., Box 8, Folder 40)
This semester I have the great fortune of reviewing a collection donated to the Russell Library by the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union) of Georgia. The ACLU seeks to defend the principles and freedoms granted to individuals in the Bill of Rights. To do this, the ACLU of Georgia (along with 52 other ACLU affiliates) advocates for civil liberties by working toward changes in case law and legislation. As a second-year law student at the University of Georgia School of Law, I have been asked to review the ACLU’s records for a variety of legal restrictions - including attorney-client communications, attorney work-product, and confidential materials. It can be difficult for a layperson to know the differences between these restrictions and determine when they apply, so having the documents reviewed by someone with legal knowledge is important. I can scan documents for restrictions more quickly, and, when there is a question about whether a restriction should apply, I know what kind of legal sources (ex. law journals, the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, and the Official Code of Georgia) I should consult for an answer. Working on the ACLU of Georgia’s records has been useful for me as well. I enjoy learning more about the lives and work of people who live in Georgia and I get to review the files of some pretty interesting cases.

As many of the researchers who visit the Russell Library know, wading through documents that are sometimes more than ten years old can be tedious. However, the rewards from working on this collection far outweigh any challenges that this research can bring. What rewards could one possibly get from searching through these records? Well, to begin, the ACLU of Georgia’s records offer unique insight into the legal issues that Georgians faced over the past forty years -- issues that, in many ways, continue to exist. Challenges to unlawful searches and arrests, abuses of prisoners’ rights, abrogation of free speech, including free speech of children while at school, and the commingling of church and state can all be found in these records. The ACLU records offer so much more than what you can read about these issues in a ten-page court opinion! These records contain a unique perspective into the kinds of legal arguments parties filed with the court and the debate surrounding these issues. That kind of lawyerly jostling for a favorable opinion cannot always be captured in the final opinion issued by the court. For that reason alone, the ACLU of Georgia records will be worth a visit.
"Know Your Rights" brochure
(ACLU of Georgia Records, Series I., Box 8, Folder 48) 

Additionally, the records provide an interesting look at the kinds of pleadings, memoranda, and other legal filings that are part and parcel to a case. As a law student, it has been interesting to come across types of pleadings that I have never heard of before. I enjoy having the opportunity to read through those pleadings and get a sense of how lawyers practice on a daily basis. But even individuals without a legal education can find interest in the form arguments take when they are presented to a court and the procedure for doing so.

Overall working on the ACLU of Georgia records has been immensely rewarding, and I look forward to learning more about the kinds of legal issues that affect Georgians and the ways the ACLU has sought to address those issues.

For researchers interested in accessing these records, the case files will be available for research following the completion of the review, expected in early 2016.  Other portions of the records, including administrative, issue, and legislative files, will be opened this.

Post by Shaniqua Singleton, Russell Library student assistant

No comments: