Constitutional Analysis: There’s an App for That

By Joseph Marks

September 17, 2013

Ever find yourself passionately defending your right to privacy in a barroom dispute? But when your opponent challenges some minor point you can't seem to find the right counterargument through all those penumbras?

Or maybe the Second Amendment’s your thing, but when some clever gun controller starts tearing into McDonald v. Chicago, you suddenly find your holster’s empty?

Yep, there’s an app for that too, now.

The Library of Congress marked Constitution Day on Tuesday by releasing its new Constitution Annotated mobile app. The app, officially titled The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, was released in cooperation with the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration and the Government Printing Office.

The app includes hundreds of pages of analysis for each of the constitution’s seven articles and 27 amendments, based mostly on Supreme Court decisions and written by Library of Congress experts. The app also has extra sections for acts of Congress and state legislatures that have been held unconstitutional and Supreme Court decisions that were overturned by subsequent decisions.

The app is available on Apple’s iOS platform now and an Android version is in the works, the printing office said in a news release. The app incorporates Supreme Court decisions from the founding of the republic through June and will be updated several times each year as the court issues new decisions, the printing office said.

“Legal professionals, teachers, students and anyone researching the constitutional implications of a particular topic can easily locate constitutional amendments, federal and state laws that were held unconstitutional, and tables of recent cases with corresponding topics and constitutional implications,” the office said.

There’s one drawback. The app is designed as a collection of PDFs with small print, which means most users will have to zoom in to read each page and then zoom out to go to the next page. The app includes a search function so users can more easily find analysis of particular constitutional passages or court cases.

The government transparency group Sunlight Foundation called out this format in a blog post on Tuesday calling the app “difficult to read and hard to navigate.” The PDF format will also make it more difficult for outside developers to automatically extract data from the app, the nonprofit noted.

The app’s release date also marks the 100th anniversary of the first publication of the print version of The Constitution of the United States of America: Analysis and Interpretation, which was first printed at the direction of the U.S. Senate in 1913.

Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., is chairman of the Senate Committee on Rules and Administration, which oversees publication of the printed version of the document.

“The United States has the world’s oldest constitution, written over 225 years ago,” Schumer said in a statement. “The Constitution Annotated app will enable people across America to gain up-to-date, state-of-the-art access to one of the world’s greatest legal documents.”

This story has been updated to include comment from the Sunlight Foundation. 

(Image via zimmytws/

By Joseph Marks

September 17, 2013