Tuesday, November 15, 2016
In the landmark 1967 case In re Gault, the U.S. Supreme Court incorporated procedural due process protections into the administration of American juvenile courts and paved the way for lawyers to represent and prosecute children in juvenile court. The Court's sweeping opinion drew on empirical research to address broad principles of due process as well as the specifics of the case. In the decades since, American juvenile justice has been transformed. In this essay, we neither lament Gault's "lost promise" nor treat it as a "period piece." Instead, we use digital tools to investigate the use of this frequently cited case over time. We begin by reviewing the role of Abe Fortas, who wrote the majority opinion in this landmark decision. Next, we use digital tools and citation records to trace what happened to the most memorable parts of his decision (i.e., Fortas's Gault) in the subsequent case law, and how those parts compare to other citations of the case. We also use digital tools to search for potentially interesting patterns meriting further investigation. The conclusion notes that what remains of Gault is significant but largely confined to juvenile court. Yet scholars may be able to use citations to the case to discover valuable sites for exploring the legal history of American juvenile justice from 1967 to the present.