Pitfalls of Online Antedating

Fred Shapiro fred.shapiro at YALE.EDU
Wed Jan 19 18:05:34 UTC 2005

On Tue, 18 Jan 2005, Baker, John wrote:

>         <<For an explanation of the present position of the law in
> reference to extradition under a treaty with a foreign state, it is only
> necessary to turn to the admirable opinion of Judge Betts, in the late
> Case of Metzger [Case No. 9,511]. . . . Whether the judiciary has
> authority in habeas corpus, after the fugitive is under arrest, to
> prevent his extradition, if the president decides to make it, was not
> decided.>>
> United States v. Robins, 27 F.Cas. 825, 870 (D.S.C. 1799).  The Metzger
> case referred to does not appear to be available on Westlaw.

As more and more of our "antedatings" are obtained from online sources, it
is more and more important to be conscious of the bibliographic and
textual complexities that are so important to the accuracy and the
authority of the OED.  One of the things that makes Barry Popik's research
so special is that he still is in the research libraries looking up print
sources when the rest of us are limited to our computers (well, I
sometimes get into the stacks, but far less than I used to).

The citation above is a great case in point.  This is really an 1896
occurrence, not a 1799 occurrence.  Federal Cases is a set of books that
frequently pops up in Lexis and Westlaw searches without any indication of
its true nature.  It was a late 19th-century reprint of federal decisions,
in which the opinions from older "nominative" reporters are imperceptibly
blended in with late 19th-century editorial additions.  Here the word
"extradition"  appears only in the 1896 editorial additions.  The Metzger
case cited above is an 1847 case, so it clearly could not be referred to
in 1799.

Fred Shapiro

Fred R. Shapiro                             Editor
Associate Librarian for Collections and     YALE DICTIONARY OF QUOTATIONS
  Access and Lecturer in Legal Research     Yale University Press,
Yale Law School                             forthcoming
e-mail: fred.shapiro at yale.edu               http://quotationdictionary.com

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