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Law Library News

Law Library News Archive

Feb. 7, 2005.
Kristy Moon, editor.


Pursuing Presidential Directives

--Cheryl Nyberg

Presidential directives are a mystery to most legal researchers. Presidential directives establish a policy and may have the force of law. But unlike their better-known cousins—executive orders and proclamations—presidential directives are not required to be published in the Federal Register or the Code of Federal Regulations. For example, many directives have been classified for national security reasons.

Recent presidential directives generally cover issues relating to national defense and homeland security, for example:

  • Combating terrorism through immigration policies (Homeland Security Presidential Directive 2)
  • Defense of U.S. agriculture and food (Homeland Security Presidential Directive 9)
  • Trafficking in persons (National Security Presidential Directive 22)
  • U.S. commercial remote sensing policy (National Security Presidential Directive 27)

The Federation of American Scientists website maintains the most comprehensive list of presidential directives available on the Internet, http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/direct.htm. This site also contains a 2003 Congressional Research Service report on the history, variety, and sources of a wide array of presidential policy instruments: Presidential Directives: Background and Overview (Feb. 2003), http://www.fas.org/irp/crs/98-611.pdf.

Historical collections include:

  • A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents (20 vols.) Covers through 1925 (J81.B96g at Classified Stacks).
  • Documents of the National Security Council (microfilm). Covers from 1947 (Microfilm A6617 at Suzzallo’s Microforms and Newspapers Collection).
  • Declassified Documents (index and microfiche) (J83.A1 D42 and Microfiche M-2808 at Government Publications).
  • National Security Directives of the Reagan and Bush Administrations: The Declassified History of U.S. Political and Military Policy, 1981-1991 (1 vol.). Available through Summit, http://summit.orbiscascade.org/search/.

Lost Something? Check the Lost & Found

If you’ve lost something in the Gallagher Law Library or in Gates Hall, check the Lost & Found located at the Library's circulation desk. The items are kept there for two weeks and then taken to the campus-wide Lost & Found at the Husky Union Building Information Desk. HUB's location and hours are posted at: http://depts.washington.edu/sauf/hub/infodesk.php.

Online Resource Spotlight: Search Systems Free Public Records Directory

--Shannon Malcolm, Reference Intern

You’re probably well aware that not everything is on the Internet; a great deal of information is only available in print resources. Of what is available on the Internet, however, Search Systems provides an excellent portal to information of interest to legal researchers. If you are not yet familiar with this site, http://www.searchsystems.net/, you should consider taking a look at it. If you have ever been reduced to fruitlessly Googling as your desperation grows and the urge to stick a pen in your eye mounts, Search Systems may be just what you’re looking for.

The site is free. It links to public records of all kinds, organized by jurisdiction: "U.S. Nationwide," "U.S. By State," "U.S. Territories," "Canada Nationwide," "Canada By Province," "Worldwide" and—no fooling!—"Outer Space." The U.S. and Canadian materials are the most robust, but the others are worth investigating, especially if alternative avenues have proven unavailing. Within each jurisdiction, materials are topically arranged (e.g., "Adoptions," "Foreclosures & Properties," "Securities," etc.).

The information available ranges from the ridiculous to the sublime, but a great deal of it has potential use for legal work. You can find out about monetary contributions to political candidates, scan missing persons listings, examine deadbeat parents’ arrears, browse the yellow pages for Macau, or discover to whom a particular aircraft is registered. I even found my father’s cemetery plot number in Pennsylvania!

Search Systems itself is not an integrated tool like, say, FindLaw or LoisLaw. Rather, it provides a single interface linking to other resources and databases; its value lies in its facilitation of one-stop shopping for researchers. Selecting a topic leads to a more detailed menu of particular resources you can choose to search. Handy scope notes, which explain a bit about each resource’s contents, are provided in hyperlinks immediately beside the resources’ names. The menus also indicate whether or not the resource is free or must be paid for. I must make one "Jeer within a Cheer" (with apologies to TV Guide) about Search Systems: some of the ostensibly free resources actually direct you to sites where you can get only superficial, largely useless information, but which attempt to entice you into paying for some service or other which will allow you access to the more useful databases. This last observation is the only real gripe to be made about Search Systems, and it isn’t that big a deal. Beggars can’t be choosers, and when you consider how much information is collocated here and made available free of charge, it sure beats sticking a pen in the eye!

The individual resources Search Systems links users to can vary in quality, but my experience has been that most are quite useful indeed. Technophobes may be a bit put off by the variations among the different resources’ interfaces, but most are pretty intuitive, and are not any more difficult than using an Internet search engine. Besides, it always helps to be flexible. The organization you wind up working for might not have access to arguably more sophisticated (and expensive!) records locating systems like InteliUS, so you should keep Search Systems in mind.

Remember that in the "real world" there will be plenty of factual research (vs. purely legal research) to be done, especially for areas like civil litigation, guardian ad litem work, or handling certain probate matters. While the usual suspects—Westlaw and LexisNexis—provide access to many public records, they may be unavailable or prohibitively expensive. Or they may simply not have what you are looking for. Search Systems provides a great resource to augment these and other traditional legal research tools, at no cost. So the next time you’re tempted to surf the ‘Net on your laptop when you ought to be working on a seminar paper or paying attention to your professor, go bookmark this site instead of checking out the latest edition of the Onion, and maybe you won’t feel quite as guilty about losing your focus.