Happy Constitution Day! Now we can all download our own copy — on an app.

September 17, 2013
The Constitution is now an app, on iOS devices, for free.
The Constitution is now a free app on iOS devices.

It took a long time and a lot of collaboration, but the U.S. Constitution has finally entered the digital era.

No, you didn't miss a new policy precedent. But, thanks to a new app from the Library of Congress, Congressional Research Service and and the Government Printing Office, you'll never have to be in the dark about the state of the Constitution again.

In honor of Constitution Day, the organizations have released an app not only including the text of the nation's hallowed document, but also reams of case law and analysis from the experts who know it best. The app, and an accompanying Web version, is a digital copy of a 10-pound, $290, 2,860-page "Constitution Annotated" that legal scholars and researchers have been using for the last 100 years. The book, which has been available for purchase or at depository libraries around the country, is produced by order of the Senate Rules Committee.

The committee has also been one of the driving forces behind the project, to increase access to the nation's founding document by turning it into a roughly 55MB app for iOS device  -- yes, an Android app is in the works -- to make it more portable.

"Now instead of taking up shelf space and straining wallets, the public can access to the book for free or on their iPad," Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Senate Rules Committee said.

The app isn't showy -- a section-by-section listing, search bar and fairly standard reading interface -- but getting the book into a digital format does a couple of key things, said Ken Thomas, the editor-in-chief of the full volume.

First, it takes the price of the content way down -- to nothing, to be exact. It also allows users to jump to exactly the section that they need without sifting through the whole book.

It also makes the volume much easier to update. Researchers worked for a year to hand-index all the information in the book into fully searchable, shareable format. With that groundwork laid, the document can be updated much more quickly and more frequently.

"It won't be a blog," Thomas said, "But before, we updated it every two years, and now we can do it more as cases are decided."

Thomas said that he sees this as an extension of the legal analysis blogs such as SCOTUSblog that have gained a strong audience in recent years. "There's a need for a public product," he said. "I feel like this is just another step in that direction."

Lisa LaPlant, one of the project managers for the app from the GPO, said that being able to share pages from the document (each of which bears a seal of authenticity) should also help stir more interest in and expand people's knowledge of the Constitution, which pops up a fair amount in regular political debates.

"There is more and more interest in the Constitution -- not just among lawyers but among average people," Schumer said. "It used to cost $290 to have this sort of information at [your] fingertips. Now you can have it, annotated, for free."

The Library of Congress released a new, free app that puts the entire Constitution at your fingertips.

Hayley Tsukayama covers consumer technology for The Washington Post.
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