Searching for Clues in The Bluebook

By Ian Pisarcik, Legal Publications Attorney Editor

I recently stumbled across Derrick Muller’s blog post, “Was Barack Obama’s Greatest Contribution to Legal Scholarship the Bluebook?” The post posits the following three facts: (1) Harvard Law Review members generally lead the effort to revise The Bluebook, (2) The fifteenth edition of The Bluebook was released in 1991, and (3) Barack Obama was the president of the Harvard Law Review from 1990 to 1991. The fifteenth edition includes massive revisions (the book expanded from 272 to 366 pages). While it is unclear whether the president’s contributions were negligible or significant, Muller’s blog post managed to spark my interest in the history of this often shuddersome book.

The first edition of The Bluebook was published in 1926 by Erwin Griswold, a second-year law student at Harvard, and consists of 26 pages. There is no index and the book devotes two pages to identifying symbols for hand editing manuscripts. The cover isn’t even blue; it is a dull grayish-brown color reminiscent of efflorescence-riddled concrete or perhaps the mouth of the Willamette River. The first line in the first edition states: “This pamphlet does not pretend to include a complete list of abbreviations or all the necessary data as to form.” The current nineteenth edition, coming in at 511 pages (36 of which make up the index), suggests The Bluebook may have strayed from this original intent.

As for those who wish to look for details in the pages of the fifteenth edition, like patterns in tea leaves, foreshadowing the future path of the president, you may want to start with the fact that South Texas College of Law Professor James Paulson called the fifteenth edition the first manual with a “social conscience.” Paulson noted that the fifteenth edition added a substantial number of citation examples written by women, including titles on topics such as feminism, sexual orientation, reproductive rights, and apartheid. You may want to turn to page 103 and note the newly added and apropos (in light of a recent executive order) citation example: Women’s Bureau, U.S. Dep’t of Labor, Leaflet No. 55, A Working Woman’s Guide to Her Job Rights. Given The Bluebook’s current pace, curious minds will have to employ a team of researchers to find such details if another Harvard law review member is ever elected president of the United States.

* Those who may be interested can find full PDF copies of the first 15 edition of The Bluebook here.

This entry was posted in Writing and Style Tips and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *