Back in the olden days, this fall, before the advent of Westlaw Edge, I showed my research class some recently amended Arizona Revised Statutes (A.R.S.) sections. Using old Westlaw, we looked at the current versions of A.R.S. sections and then, under Credits, clicked on the links to retrieve the most recent amending acts to see how the text of the statutes had changed. It wasn’t particularly difficult for students to understand how acts amended existing A.R.S. sections since newly added text was highlighted in blue and deleted text had a strike-through line. If an act amended multiple A.R.S. sections, we had to scroll down to locate the A.R.S. section of interest.
As little effort as this required, apparently it was too much, since the Westlaw Edge powers-that-be decided to ever so slightly simplify the process of viewing/understanding the most recent amendments to a statute with the introduction of the Compare Versions feature.
What Has Changed?
On Westlaw Edge, statutes that have been amended at some point now have a Compare Versions button on the top right of the screen. Hovering a mouse over the button produces an explanatory mouseover with the text Show most recent amendments. And, indeed, that is what you get when you click on the button.
Using Arizona law as an example, A.R.S. § 36–2161 is a law about abortion facility reporting requirements. It was amended in 2018 by 2018 Ariz. Legis. Serv. Ch. 219 to require facilities to attempt to obtain ever more intrusive information on why a woman decided to obtain an abortion.
Retrieving the statute and clicking on Compare Versions produced the image below. The added text is still highlighted in blue but the deleted text is now red, though with the same strikethrough line. There is also information about the number of new deletions and additions to the statute and arrows to facilitate easy navigation through the changes.
I don’t have a screenshot of the 2018 Ariz. Legis. Serv. Ch. 219, the amending act, from old Westlaw. However, I am pretty sure that the format of acts hasn’t changed much in the Westlaw Edge. It has the same blue highlighting for text additions and strikethroughs for text deletions.
Is This an Improvement?
Is the Compare Versions button a usability improvement over clicking on the most recent amendment under the Credits heading? Certainly the feature is not earth-shattering, but I think it is a useful step toward the goal of providing users with an at-a-glance understanding of statutory changes. Usability enhancements have to start somewhere, and they are often improved in the future.
Also, it is easier to see the changes to a statute in the Compare Versions view since the deletions are in red and the blue for the text additions is, well, there is some quality about the blue that makes it a bit easier to see. (I am not sure that the screenshots are doing it justice so you might have to compare the two yourself on Westlaw Edge.)
Another possible advantage is less confusion for new users such as first year law students. Many are just learning how statutes are amended and seem to find clicking on amending acts rather confusing. With the Compare Versions button, users don’t have to understand what Credits and citations such as Laws 2018, Ch. 219, § 1 mean into order to see the most recent amendments to a statute.
Suggestions for More Improvement
Author’s Apologetic Note – 1/10/2018
Oooh noooooooooo, so embarrassing! As kindly pointed out via the comments below and multiple emails, what I wished for…err…already existed! Which I would have known if I had thought to click on the History tab. You already CAN compare two prior versions, as seen below.
Ignore This Part!
Which leads me to suggestions for improvement…because no matter how much I like something, I could always like it more!
Currently, Compare Versions only shows how a statute has been altered by the most recent amendment. However, since statutes are often amended multiple times, it might be nice to have a Compare Versions view for prior amendments. For example, A.R.S. § 36–2161 was originally enacted in 2010 and then amended in 2014, 2017, and 2018. Perhaps there could be a Compare Older Versions timeline of amendments which allows the user to choose to see, in this example, how the 2014 amendments changed the 2010 statute or how the 2017 amendments changed the 2014 statute. Some might be thinking, “Oooh, maybe the historical statutes databases such as Arizona Statutes Annotated – Historical already have the Compare Versions feature!?” Nope, I checked.
I am not sure many Westlaw Edge users would find this useful, but theoretically, things could get crazy. For a current statute, multiple previous amendments could be shown at one time, indicated by different colors – green highlighting/strikethroughs for 2018 amendments, red for 2017, etc. The same feature could be available for prior versions of the statute, simultaneously showing prior and subsequent amendments. Maybe hovering a mouse over a word, phrase, or subsection could produce a pop-up with its amendment history? (Okay, I am getting off the topic now…)
In conclusion, I am excited about the new Compare Version feature and hope to see it expanded in the future!