Sunday, October 23, 2011

Very Odd: Rapidly Changing History?

One of the reasons that I shy away from the birther stuff is that for every legitimate issue that has been raised, there seem to be a dozen pretty crazy claims that get made, too.  Here is one that at first glance seems to be worrisome.  The complaint is that dozens of historic Supreme Court decisions archived at justia.com that referenced a particular Supreme Court case were changed starting in 2008 so that this case was no longer referenced, or at least no longer easy to find--and after inquiries were made, all of these cases were restored to their historic content earlier this year.  This is from Dianna Cotter at Portland Examiner:

So far, 25 corrupted SCOTUS have been identified, and this number may continue to rise as the scope of the tampering becomes apparent. These cases all relied upon Minor, some specifically referencing its definition of Natural Born Citizen - a definition which makes Obama ineligible to be President as that definition is part of the holding and continuing precedent, issued from the highest court in our nation making it the law of the land, even now.

The most extreme sabotage so far discovered appears to have been done to the landmark decision United States v. Wong Kim Ark which was sabotaged to remove "Minor v. Happersett" three times, along with one reference to "Scott v Sandford", another to the Slaughterhouse Cases  and some accompanying text relevant to the issue. These surgical alterations would alter and shape the national dialogue; leaving a persistent and  incorrect interpretation of the meaning of the 'natural born citizen' clause. There is no doubt whatsoever that this was the specific intent of those responsible for this illegal editing of American history and law.

As previously mentioned, the specific distinction between Citizen and Natural Born Citizen made in Minor v. Happersett is in the holding of the case, the section which creates the Law, and it is this Law which has been repeatedly cited over the decades since. In order to minimize the importance of Minor, someone at Justia deliberately decided to make these supporting citations as difficult as possible to find.
I decided to check the claim, to see if this is birther madness or not.  It involves an apparently consistent (and therefore almost certainly intentional) change to U.S. Supreme Court decisions at Justia.com that reference Minor v. Happersett, 88 U.S. 21 Wall. 162 (1874), a case that while it is about whether women were citizens of the United States or not, includes a rather lengthy discussion (starting on p. 168) of whether children born in the United States to alien parents are citizens or not.  (The applicability of this to President Obama, born to a citizen of British Kenya and an American citizen, should be obvious.)

The person raising the question used the Internet Archive repository to demonstrate that these changes took place.  I have taken one particular example, U.S. v. Wong Kim Ark, 169 U. S. 649 (1898), and followed its history through the Internet Archive.  The copy archived April 20, 2008 has this at 169 U.S. 649, 654:
The constitution nowhere defines the meaning of these words, either by way of inclusion or of exclusion, except in so far as this is done by the affirmative declaration that 'all persons born r naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.' Amend. art. 14. In this, as in other respects, it must be interpreted in the light of the common law, the principles and history of which were familiarly known to the framers of the constitution. Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162; Ex parte Wilson, 114 U.S. 417, 422, 5 S. Sup. Ct. 935; Boyd v. U. S., 116 U.S. 616, 624, 625 S., 6 Sup. Ct. 524; Smith v. Alabama, 124 U.S. 465, 8 Sup. Ct. 564. The language of the constitution, as has been well said, could not be understood without reference to the common law. 1 Kent, Comm. 336; Bradley, J., in Moore v. U. S., 91 U.S. 270, 274
  Yet by June 19, 2008, the same page of an historic Supreme Court decision has subtly changed:
The Constitution nowhere defines the meaning of these words, either by way of inclusion or of exclusion, except insofar as this is done by the affirmative declaration that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." In this as in other respects, it must be interpreted in the light of the common law, the principles and history of which were familiarly known to the framers of the Constitution. 88 U. S. 422; Boyd v. United States, 116 U. S. 616, 116 U. S. 624, 116 U. S. 625; Smith v. Alabama, 124 U. S. 465. The language of the Constitution, as has been well said, could not be understood without reference to the common law. Kent Com. 336; Bradley, J., in Moore v. United States,@ 91 U. S. 270, 91 U. S. 274.
The Minor case is still referenced in subsequent paragraphs, but it is a bit strange that a case that has not changed in more than a century, stuff is changing.  It remains this way as late as May 15, 2011, the last capture in the Internet Archive for this decision.  Yet today, it is restored to its pre-Obama campaign state:
The Constitution nowhere defines the meaning of these words, either by way of inclusion or of exclusion, except insofar as this is done by the affirmative declaration that "all persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States." In this as in other respects, it must be interpreted in the light of the common law, the principles and history of which were familiarly known to the framers of the Constitution. Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162; Ex parte Wilson, 114 U. S. 417, 114 U. S. 422; Boyd v. United States, 116 U. S. 616, 116 U. S. 624, 116 U. S. 625; Smith v. Alabama, 124 U. S. 465. The language of the Constitution, as has been well said, could not be understood without reference to the common law. Kent Com. 336; Bradley, J., in Moore v. United States, 91 U. S. 270, 91 U. S. 274.
The allegation is that because justia.com is a very commonly used source of Supreme Court decisions, removing many of the references to Minor v. Happersett would cause people attempting to look into the legal question of Obama's citizenship to miss a decision that at least at first glance, has some relevance to the question.

This sounds so paranoid--but why this odd change to a decision more than a century old, exactly at the time that the controversy over Obama's citizenship came up--and now the decisions are apparently back to what they were before these references were flushed down the memory hole?  It could make you run out and download all the Supreme Court decisions to your own hard disk--just in case.

UPDATE: As some readers pointed out, the modified version of the case above replaced not just Minor, but also Ex parte Wilson, with a hyperlink to the newer method of citing Supreme Court cases: 88 U.S. 422 (which seems to be Minor's volume number, but Ex parte Wilson's page number).  Perhaps what happened was that someone at justia.com decided to replace all the old format citations (e.g., 21 Wall 462) with the U.S. format citations, and the script that they used did not do it correctly.  Still, when questions were raised, justia.com should have acknowledged that they screwed up, and were restoring them to the original contents.

As others have pointed out, if you were going to do a Ministry of Truth action like this, changing justia.com's copies would not be terribly effective unless you did likewise to the many other Supreme Court collections as well.  Never ascribe to conspiracy what can be explained by stupidity or accident; conspiracy requires intelligence, and there is not enough of that around to be a problem.

UPDATE 2: Even more reason to suspect incompetence, not conspiracy.  The modified version has the correct hyperlink for 88 US 162 (where Minor is located), but the text displayed is 88 US 422, which makes no sense at all.

27 comments:

hga said...

It would seem that Minitrue is alive and well.

As I recently commented on the renamed Snowflakes in Hell when Sebastian asked "Have Any of the Occupiers Even Read Orwell?", "Perhaps it’s like Atlas Shrugged, which lately the Instapundit has been commenting more and more wasn’t intended to be an instruction manual."

Scary stuff, and although I do it mostly for other reasons I myself download anything I really care about and archive it.

Eric said...

I noticed that in the edited version, Ex Parte Wilson (which has nothing to do with citizenship) is also inexplicably taken out. At the same time, a hyperlink to Minor v. Happersett appears in the edited version, while in the prior version you would have had to look it up.

Justia is not a government repository, but a free site run by Amazon.com. so I think the claim that any editing was illegal is spurious.

DSM said...

My guess would be a simple bug in the processing code used to work with the hyperlinks. All you'd need to have done is correctly detect the list of references in bare text, have a problem parsing one of them, and then reaccumulate only the successful links (instead of concatenating either the original full or the successful completion).. It might not necessarily be suspicious even if the citizenship-related ones were the only ones to be affected -- I've often run processing code only on a subset of a system, say on what's getting most used at the moment.

But it's more likely that there are similar changes in lots of other decisions too, and the reversions were made after attention was drawn to the problem and the bugs were fixed. I bet 20 CDN that there are lots of other such changes that even conspiracy-minded types would have a hard time coming up with a motivation for. Or maybe not: "They did it to hide the real target of the campaign!" "..."

I've had exactly the same fact pattern occur in completely innocent contexts (working with the OEIS, for example). Natural language processing, even stylized natural language, is very frustrating.

Clayton said...

I guess what I find so odd is that these were changes to decisions that should not be changing at all. Why would you reprocess these decisions? The timing of when is also a bit curious.

Jon said...

Whoosh is the sound I hear whenever a man or woman states to me that they are a Lawyer.

If someone relies on the www to look up Law and quote it, then they are a fool. Go ahead and research on the www, but go to the hard copy in the Law Library at your local County MAIN Courthouse and research for real (you will be surprised how many of the really important books are in a Judges Chamber just to keep them from your eyes). Remember "OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND".

Almost forgot the disclaimer: Jon are not a Lawyer, just a Citizen of the United States of America.

Clayton said...

Certainly, going to the U.S. Supreme Court's official website seems pretty safe.

I am curious: what "really important books are in a Judges [sic] Chamber just to keep them from your eyes"?

Jon said...

To Clayton: You have my email address. I will reply with a short list and why.

But here is a legal brain teaser that if no one gets in the next week then I will post it here.....Teaser:

What is the official dictionary of the Congress of the United States, and the year it was last abridged?

Ironghost said...

The official Dictionary of Congress, in something like 1859?

Belial said...

Please, this is paranoid nonsense. Justia.com is a private site with plenty of glitches, it is not the law and nobody making a legal argument would rely on it. When they start razoring paragraphs out of the US Reports, or when West or Lexis (also private companies, but with enough standing to be at least quasi-official) start editing their databases, then raise the issue.

willem said...

Paranoid, indeed. But then there is this:

"We do not know at this point if Justia personnel were behind this or if their site was hacked. That being said, Justia’s reaction to my last report mirrored the deception of the sabotage. Instead of addressing the proof, Justia quietly and with stealth un-scrubbed the evidence without acknowledging or addressing the issue at all. And they placed “.txt robots” on their URL’s for the two previously identified cases so the Wayback Machine could no longer provide historical snapshots of those cases as published at Justia."

And this:

"Within an hour after I published that report, Justia.com had re-instated the opinions to include the missing references to Minor and the missing text without commenting or noting the revisions. Justia then further covered the trail of deceit by placing robots on their URL’s for Boyd v. Nebraska, and Pope v. Williams, so that access to the Wayback Machine’s snapshots is no longer possible for those cases. (Should they now scrub the robots, here are screenshots for Justia’s Boyd and Pope opinions which show the robot blocking.)

Justia’s stated mission is as follows: “Justia’s Mission: To advance the availability of legal resources for the benefit of society.”

Justia CEO and founder, Tim Stanley, is known as a leading light advocating for freedom of legal information on the web. Stanley was also the founder of Findlaw, which he sold to West Publishing for $37 million. So, what’s good for the goose should be good for the gander, and therefore Stanley is the last person who should be using robots to hide previous versions of Supreme Court cases (which are in the public domain anyway)."

The active link detail and the 23 cases are found here; this is the website that appears to have the red meat:

http://naturalborncitizen.wordpress.com/2011/10/20/justia-com-surgically-removed-minor-v-happersett-from-25-supreme-court-opinions-in-run-up-to-08-election/

Something else to file away in the proverbial "it's a feature not a bug" department:

Justia's Tim Stanley was apparently a significant inside player in the 2008 Obama campaign. He's also listed as a former CTO and a collaborator involved with GE online development projects. Those details will likely come out as well. It could all be entirely innocent, but it's all rather weird; especially when Justia's apparent premeditated use of gatekeeper bots alleged to blind the wayback machine to conceal the history of changes is factored back in.

The most fascinating aspects of this story involves the materiality of what was being concealed on the Justia site. That materiality may turn out to be the real story.

a921bc78-fe10-11e0-a94c-000bcdcb2996 said...

"includes a rather lengthy discussion (starting on p. 168) of whether children born in the United States to alien parents are citizens or not."

No it doesn't.

Not unless three sentences within one paragraph noting that some question whether such children are citizens but that since such is not part of the case no ruling is being made on it somehow qualifies as both "lengthy" and a "discussion".

The lengthy discussion regarding such citizenship appears exclusively in U.S. v Wong Kim Ark. Even a deliberate redaction of the link to Minor v Happersett will not remove that discussion, and the direct ruling made there regarding the child of two non-citizen parents.

Alec Rawls said...

Clayton: WND cites a different example, and in that case, though the author was under the impression that the Minor citation had been expunged, it had only been altered to a more modern form: "Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162" was replaced with "88 U.S. 165." Both are valid citations for Minor.

In that case the change was clearly NOT to designed to hide the reliance on Minor because the earlier citation did not include an active link while the change to "88 U.S. 165" added an active link, making Minor EASIER to track down.

It seems clear in that case that Justia must have been going through adding active links, and whoever was doing it got overzealous and replaced the Court's actual citation with a modern format citation (not required in order to add a link). But the added link proves that suppression was not the intent.

Now in this example you cite, it seems that something else is going on. "Minor v. Happersett ,21 Wall. 162" is replaced with "88 U.S. 422," NOT a valid reference to Minor. Ah, but look at what else is changed. Also missing is the citation that was originally right after the Minor citation: "Ex parte Wilson, 114 U.S. 417, 422."

It seems that whoever was going through replacing "Minor v. Happersett, 21 Wall. 162" with "88 U.S. 165" made a copy and paste mistake. They deleted both the original Minor citation and all of Ex Parte Wilson except for the 422, and in its place went, not the full "88 U.S. 165" citation, but just "88 U.S."

Well, that is what happens when human beings are tasked with robotic functions. They make the occasional mistake. Gotta be it.

Brett said...

This would be a wonderful occasion for somebody (Who's a better programmer than me!) to write a program to crawl through the Internet Archive pages for Justica, and search for changes. Then we might discover whether there's really some sort of subtle pattern to the alterations, or they're random.

Alan said...

Is someone at justia.com trying to broaden those penumbras and emanations?

Alec Rawls said...

Clayton: Given how far this story has gotten, I decided to put together a post on my discovery of what actually happened:

Justia did NOT expunge references to key natural-born case, they just changed citations to modern format

naturalborncitizen said...

DSM,

There was nothing innocent about the sabotage. Not only was the text of the case name "Minor v. Happersett" removed from all 25 cases, the official numerical citations were sabotaged in all 25 cases as well. And furthermore, whole sentences of text were removed from various decisions such as US v. Wong Kim Ark and Pope v Williams... sentences on point to the issue of POTUS eligibility. Cases don't sabotage themselves. This was systemic and surgically precise. Justia.com has suddenly placed robots.txt over their entire site so nobody can now view the Wayback Machine history.

Thank you, Clayton for looking at this and posting.

Leo Donofrio

http://naturalborncitizen.wordpress.com

naturalborncitizen said...

Alec Rawls,

I have responded to your comment at my blog. Your theory has been debunked

Clayton said...

If the goal was to surgically remove Minor from Wong Ark Kim, why did they leave references to that case in later paragraphs? In addition, 88 U.S. 422 was not a reference to Minor or to Ex parte Wilson, but to Minor's volume and Wilson's page number--which is what you might expect if someone wrote a script intended to stick in a hyperlink to Minor (which was not present on April 20, 2008) that was defective: you could perhaps end up with something that scrambled these together.

There are aspects of what justia did that are worrisome. If they recognized that they had unintentionally damaged these cases, they should have admitted this, rather than silently restore everything, and use robots to stop further archiving.

naturalborncitizen said...

Clayton,

Mario Apuzzo is preparing a full analysis of the sabotage of Wong Kim Ark where they removed three references to it and and left the one that was included in Gray's opinion.

Furthermore, as I have stated in my response to Alec's blog, all 25 cases were modernized prior to the sabotage. IN the first revision, all 25 cases had the correct citations and included the case names and two citations, one to the official reporter citation and another to the specific page in a second source.

Every case was modernized from the 2006 versions which had no hyper links... prior to the sabotage.

There was no human error in the first revision which modernized the cases and hyperlinked them. Then in 2008... all 25 cases were revised again... this time they were sabotaged.

Furthermore, Justia has now placed robots.txt on their entire domain so that you cannot see the prior benevolent revisions in the timeline.

What do they have to hide? They have been the leading light on freedom of legal information but as of this morning. Not so much.

However, relevant screenshots showing the first benevolent revision have been saved. I anticipated that Justia would block review of their case publications in the Wayback Machine, and I anticipated this argument made by Alec. My prior comment above links to my response to Alec and I have a full report coming with screenshots tomorrow.

Perhaps the human error involved in this case was that the saboteurs left a reference to Minor by accident after they scrubbed the case.

Regardless, we have 25 cases... all 25 were originally published without hyperlinks in 2006.

By early 2008, all 25 cases were modernized with hyperlinks and none of them were sabotaged. The hyperlinks were added generally in 2007, some in late 2006. There was no human error with the benevolent modernization. The case name was there, citation was correct and official, second citation to the correct page number was also included. No text was removed.

Then by November 2008, all 25 cases were sabotaged to remove the case name, screw up the citation... and to remove text of the opinion in some cases.

It's the second revision which proves sabotage.

Ask Tim Stanley to remove the blocking robots.txt so you can see the evidence today. I will not publish my full report on the benevolent revisions until tomorrow.

Leo Donofrio

Dianna said...

Dear Clayton,

I wanted to point something out. The Case number/citation didn't get changed on accident. The case number for Minor is 88 US 162. That is what lawyers or other folks savy to the law would have searched with the title of the case, or separately.

That means, even upon searching for the case number itself, the actual citation, a researcher would have come up dry. Anyone can do the math on this one.

furthermore, Justia has now put up .txt robots, just as predicted. You cannot insert the URL's for the cases anymore and get snapshots of the changes at the Waybackmachine.
Thanks for your post and for adding to the discussion!

Clayton said...

Yet the hyperlink actually pointed to 88 US 162, even though the text was 88 US 422. Yes, I suppose that someone might have intentionally made those mismatch, but if you were going to do that to make it hard to find the relevant case, why not make the hyperlink point to 88 US 422 as well?

This really smells of a defective script that tried to insert a hyperlink pointing these cases to the correct location, and scrambled the results. I have written a few scripts over the years that tried to do things like this, and even a few peculiarities in the underlying HTML could cause this. It certainly is more plausible of an explanation than removing Minor v. Happersett from one paragraph, but leaving it in the next paragraph.

Windy Wilson said...

Has any of this happened to the cases in Lexis/Nexis or in Westlaw? Justicia is sort of the poor man's Lexis. I don't have an account for Westlaw, but when I have time later today I will look at Lexis. If it is only Justica that changed, it seems to be more of a case of a defective script than any conspiracy.
Now that railroad case that has the headnote citation establishing corporations as persons where the case itself says not such thing. . .
But then that headnote has been in place for 150 years and countless cases cite to it, so there is no contemporary conspiracy.

Jon said...

Well is been a week and not a single one of the astute Legal Shepard's has reformed.

The Official Dictionary for the Congress of the United States is:
BOUVIERS 1871
Check it out at your nearest Courthouse Library. Every Federal Courthouse Library I have been in keeps this one locked up of lost in some judges chamber.

sally-hill said...

Eric,

"so I think the claim that any editing was illegal is spurious."

I'm curious if you think SCOTUS is okay with their words being changed and/or omitted from legal decisions having been handed down by the highest court in the land.

I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not certain as to the legality of changing SCOTUS decision, but if any work that has a copy-write is changed in any form, there would be legal implications. I'm not certain that SCOTUS decisions carry a copy-write, but I'm pretty sure there is some sort of legality to changing the wording.

sally-hill said...

Clayton,

At first, I too thought this was a simple scripting error; however, having worked with Databases for many years, I'm starting to believe not so much.

I guess when I got a stinky smell about the whole issue, is when Mr. Goodman noticed a case that he had cited in a paper he had written had the words "People of" removed.

Here is the text:
"The Constitution forbids only such legislation affecting citizens of the respective states as will substantially or practically put a citizen of one state in a condition of alienage when he is within or when he removes to another state, or when asserting in another state the rights that commonly appertain to those who are part of the political community known as the the United States, by and for whom the government of the Union was ordained and established.”

It SHOULD read "...who are part of the political community known as the PEOPLE OF the United States,..."

Yet another scripting error? I think not. But if you choose to be so naive as to chalk all the 'odd' changes and omissions to mere coincidence, go ahead. I think I'll keep my mind open to very real possibility that these errors were by design.

Clayton said...

Supreme Court decisions are not copyrighted, and in any case, publications this old are out of copyright anyway. I am skeptical that there can be any law violated by what appears to be incompetence.

4zoltan said...

The whole justiagate conspiracy only makes sense if Minor v. Happersett is precedential for the definition of the term natural born citizen.

Can anyone show any legal authorities citing it as such?