URL Shortening in Legal Briefs, and Now Legal Opinions

Most readers will be familiar with URL shortening services — redirection services that give users a short web address that points to a longer one. I’ve come across URL shortening in legal briefs more and more, and I have used such links in briefs myself. The shortening avoids an unsightly excessively-long URL when you are linking to content on the web, and it’s also easier for the reader who might hand-type the URL into a browser. In the opening brief in United States v. Auernheimer, for example, I linked to http://goo.gl/dVQ4k instead of to the ugly https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/scraper/mbigbapnjcgaffohmbkdlecaccepngjd?hl=en.

In the last two years, federal court decisions have started to use URL shortening links, too. Judge Kozinski uses them extensively in today’s dissent in Minority Television Project v. FCC, a case on the First Amendment implications on banning certain kinds of ads on public TV. An excerpt:

Third, advertisements are speech. Viewers often see commercials as no more than annoying interruptions, but the Supreme Court has recognized that advertisements often carry important, sometimes vital, information. See, e.g.,Bates v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350 (1977) (lawyer advertising); Virginia State Bd. of Pharmacy. v. Virginia Citizens Consumer Council, 425 U.S. 748 (1976) (prescription drug prices); Rubin v. Coors Brewing Co., 514 U.S. 476 (1995) (beer labels). Advertisements can be for annoying, useless or decadent products, but they can also encourage people to get breast exams, http://goo.gl/MM6sV9; join the peace corps, http://goo.gl/bfBmiy; get a smoke alarm, http://goo.gl/wChmN0; prevent forest fires, http://goo.gl/HrCxQG; vote, http://goo.gl/do9TCc, etc., etc. Excluding advertising from public broadcasting deprives viewers of the opportunity to obtain such important information.

A quick Westlaw search finds 9 judicial opinions before today’s decision that use Google’s URL shortener, goo.gl. Several of them use the service for maps, such as this excerpt from Arnette v. Armor Correctional Health Services, Inc., 2013 WL 5356869 (W.D.Va. 2013):

On March 10, 2011, Arnette was taken to a gastroenterologist in Warrenton, Virginia.FN7 The gastroenterologist assessed Arnette’s ulcerative colitis as “chronically active” and “uncontrolled,” prescribed a 6–week steroid treatment, ordered blood-work, and scheduled a two-month follow-up appointment.

FN7. The gastroenterologist’s office that Arnette was taken to was approximately 32.8 miles from Coffeewood. Google Maps, http://goo.gl/maps/9FBe3 (last visited Sept. 17, 2013). MCV is approximately 84.8 miles from Coffeewood. Google Maps, http://goo.gl/maps/ePaS8 (last visited Sept. 17, 2013).

It’s an interesting development, and I suspect it’s one that we will see more of rather than less of in the future.