Citing to the U.S. Constitution, generally, and other GovDocs


To preface this, I’m a lawyer who is finishing up my MLIS degree to be a law librarian. I do a lot of work with legal documents, from cases to statutes to code to constitutions, as well as other Government Publications/Documents, particularly United States documents, but occasionally what would be considered foreign law (i.e. not American). I am continuously frustrated when trying to cite those materials in Paperpile, specifically:

How do others cite to the U.S. Constitution generally, as in, not a specific version? As of right now, if I was citing to a historical printing/version of the Constitution, I would probably enter it as a book and be on my way. However, for most legal writing, if you’re not citing to a specific version, the rule is just to cite it generally, Art. Sec. Cl., as appropriate. Paperpile doesn’t seem to give me a way to do this, at least not that I can see.

And I get it, most likely nobody on the Paperpile team is trained in legal citations (heck, many lawyers struggle with it daily, and particularly law students, which will be my patron base). So I think part of the issue is just that there is no proper vehicle to do so.

That said, has anybody else met this problem, and how have you solved it? I know right now I’m also fighting with Paperpile trying to turn the ~author “Government Printing Office” into Office, GP.


I almost never cite the US constitution or US legal cases, but I do cite a lot of treaties, UN documents, and cases from other jurisdictions (e.g. the European Court on Human Rights as as more obscure ones like, say, the Gambia). So our experiences do not line up, but hopefully there is enough common ground.

  1. For constitutions, I use Statute. Not perfect (see below) but works well enough.
  2. For institutional authors you need to use curly brackets, i.e. {Government Printing Office}.

In general, you are correct in that legal and government materials are handled imperfectly - by Paperpile and every other software out there. There are, as I see it, two issues:

  1. The reference entry side: i.e. how do you enter a document, statute, case, etc. Paperpile is actually a bit more advanced here than, say, Papers or Zotero, in that Paperpile has specified several legal types (e.g. treaty) that do not exist in other programs. If there is no type that works for my material, I have found that I can basically jury-rig an existing reference type like Statute or Generic or Report. The Geneva Graduate Institute has examples of this, using Zotero here:

  2. The formatting of the reference, using Chicago, OSCOLA, Bluebook, or whatever. With Paperpile and most other programs this is handled via CSL – this is true for Mendeley, Zotero, Papers, Readcube, Quiqqa, etc (the only exceptions that come to mind are Endnote and Bookends). This means that part of the issue is that each CSL must be accurate and also address any reference types added by that particular program. You can manually edit CSL styles though I personally find it very clunky and slow. But I mostly write for a non-law audience and most social science citation standards are more forgiving of legal materials than the Bluebook.

The net result is not a great set-up for legal referencing anywhere. Paperpile is ahead of some of its competitors in that there are more reference types, but not every citation style handles them properly and I believe that there are some inherent limitations with CSL that make it impossible to completely, 100%, solve this without some manual edits at the end.

You have probably already seen Juris-M which is a fork of Zotero aimed at legal researchers and lawyers. I personally do not like it but it is an option.