Back in the "old days," virtually immediate access to ICPSR's massive--and massively important--federal court data holdings was simple, easy, and, quite literally, involved only a few "clicks" of the mouse. A few years ago, "something happened," and that something resulted in the imposition of a formal ICPSR application requirement along with pre-IRB approvals and restricted use agreements. And all this for publicly available data. Gone were the days when researchers could simply "browse" datasets without such impediments. While ICPSR data remain "available," access now requires a comparatively dogged effort and these barriers to access have dampened overall use of ICPSR data.
But change is coming, and some of it has now arrived. One supplier of ICPSR data germane to legal scholars, the Federal Judicial Center, in conjunction with the U.S. Administrative Office, has effectively "side-stepped" ICPSR and made the FJC's Integrated Database (through 2016) directly available to users. FJC's Joe Cecil, who was instrumental in this data access project, sums it up nicely:
"The Federal Judicial Center’s Integrated Database, containing records of all federal court cases, is now available without the necessity of a restricted use agreement at www.fjc.gov/research/idb (or here). An interactive query function allows selection of subsets of civil cases based on federal circuit, district, nature of suit, disposition, origin, jurisdiction, class action designation, filing date, termination date, and docket number. Annual case filing and termination datasets through 2016 for civil, criminal defendant, appellate, and bankruptcy cases also can be downloaded in SAS format."
The FJC deserves well-earned applause from empirical legal scholars for its efforts.