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Georgetown Law Library

Supreme Court Research Guide

This guide provides background information and suggests resources for further research on the history of the U.S. Supreme Court, the justices of the Court, and the Court's practice and decisions.

Contents

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  • Georgetown restricted access
  • On Westlaw
  • On Lexis
  • On Bloomberg
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Documents

In a typical year, over 8,000 petitions are filed with the Supreme Court for review of lower court decisions. The Court denies review in the vast majority of cases, and, in recent years, has issued full opinions in fewer than 100 cases each term. The Court and the parties who argue before it produce many documents, including not only opinions, but also orders, briefs, and argument transcripts.

Opinions

Opinions of the Supreme Court are widely reported and readily available in printed reporters, loose-leaf services, online databases, and the Web. Listed below are the major sources of Supreme Court opinions and information on how to find opinions in these various sources.

For more information about opinions, see Information about Opinions and Where to Obtain Supreme Court Opinions on the Supreme Court's website.

Databases & Websites

  • Lexis and Westlaw
    Opinions first appear on WestlawLexis (Browse Sources > Search Sources > U.S. Supreme Court Cases - Lawyer's Edition), and Bloomberg Law within an hour after the Court announces its decisions. All decisions of the Court, including denials of certiorari and grants or denials of motions, are available online. Bloomberg Law allows filtering by Justice, but does not have field searching options. Using a segments search on Lexis or fields search on Westlaw, you can easily get a list of opinions:
     
    • by a particular justice
    • argued by a particular attorney
    • involving a particular party

    For example:

Type of Search Lexis Westlaw
Segment Search Field Search
Majority Opinions by a Justice Opinionby O'Connor JU O'Connor
All Opinions by a Justice Writtenby O'Connor JU, SY JU(O'Connor) or SY(O'Connor +s concur! dissent!)
All Cases Argued by an Attorney or Law Firm Counsel Thurgood /2 Marshall AT Thurgood /2 Marshall
All Cases Involving a Party Name AFL-CIO TI AFL-CIO
  • U.S. Supreme Court Library (HeinOnline)
    Searchable and browseable PDF versions of every volume of the Supreme Court,s official reporter, United States Reports.
     
  • There are several educational, government, and commercial websites that offer judicial decisions free of charge; however, these sites do not provide the sophisticated searching available on subscription databases and may not be comprehensive. If you need to do a comprehensive search for Supreme Court cases, use Westlaw, Lexis, or Bloomberg Law. If you just want to locate the text of an opinion, any of the following are good web sites to use:
     
    • United States Supreme Court Website
      Opinions are available beginning with the October 1991 Term. Provides PDFs of the United States Reports.
       
    • Google Scholar
      All Supreme Court decisions.
       
    • Justia
      All Supreme Court decisions; full text keyword search or browse by year or volume of United States Reports.
       
    • Legal Information Institute
      The Cornell University Legal Information Institute offers Supreme Court opinions under Project Hermes, the Court's electronic dissemination project. This archive contains all opinions of the court issued since May 1990 and a number of "historic" decisions prior to that date. Full text keyword search or browse by topic, author, or party.
       
    • For additional sources of Supreme Court opinions free online, see our guide to Free and Low Cost Legal Research on the Web.

Print Reporters
Opinions of the Supreme Court are reported in three printed reporters:

  • United States Reports (U.S.) (KF101 .A2)
    Official version of Supreme Court opinions published by the Court. Publication of the U.S. Reports is several years behind, but opinions are available earlier in preliminary prints. Also available electronically in PDF through HeinOnline (Vol. 1 - ) and the Supreme Court's website (Vol. 502 - ).
     
  • Supreme Court Reporter (S. Ct.) (KF101 .A32)
    Unofficial version published by West with coverage beginning with the 1882 Term. Opinions appear approximately four to six weeks after the date of decision in advance sheets. As part of the West National Reporter System, opinions in the Supreme Court Reporter are assigned Topics and Key Numbers to assist researchers in finding additional cases. Also available electronically (access PDF from individual opinions) through Westlaw.
     
  • United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition (L. Ed, L. Ed. 2d) (KF101 .A312)
    Unofficial version published by LexisNexis. Opinions appear approximately four to six weeks after the date of decision in advance sheets. In addition to the full text of the opinions, this version contains summaries of counsel briefs for each opinion and annotations on three to five important opinions in each volume. Also available electronically through Lexis (Browse Sources > Search Sources > U.S. Supreme Court Reports Lawyer's Edition).

Finding Tools

DIGESTS

Both West and LexisNexis publish digests specifically for Supreme Court cases. Both digests provide case summaries and contain a table of cases that lists in alphabetical order (by both plaintiff and defendant) every case decided by the Supreme Court with a citation to the full text of the decision. Digests also include cross-references, references to other research sources, such as Corpus Juris Secundum and Matthew Bender publications, and citations to U.S., S. Ct., and L. Ed. / L. Ed. 2d. For more information on using a case law digest, see our Using Digests guide or the Case Law Tutorial.

  • West's United States Supreme Court Digest (KF101.1 .A32)
     
  • LexisNexis's Digest of United States Supreme Court Reports (KF101.1 .D5)

INDEXES

  • Linda A. Blandford & Patricia Russell Evans, Supreme Court of the United States, 1789-1980: An Index to Opinions Arranged by Justice (1983) (KF101.6 .B57)
    Lists opinions (including dissents and concurrences) written by each justice from 1789 to 1980 and provides citations but no summaries.
     
  • Nancy Anderman Guenther, United States Supreme Court Decisions: An Index to Excerpts, Reprints, and Discussions (2d ed. 1983) (KF101.6 .G83)
    Provides citations to books and articles published between 1960 and 1980 that have discussed, reprinted, or excerpted various Supreme Court cases. Includes citations to many publications not covered by Shepard,s or KeyCite (see the section on Citators, below).
     
  • Kelly S. Janousek, United States Supreme Court Decisions, 1778-1996: An Index to Excerpts, Reprints, and Discussions, 1980-1995 (2001) (KF101.6 .G83 2001)
    A continuation of Guenther's index.
     
  • Timothy John Fox Alden, Index to the Reports of the Decisions of the Supreme Court of the United States. From Dallas to 14 Howard Inclusive [1790-1852] (1984) (KF101.6 .A4)
    Subject index to the Court's earliest cases.

CITATORS

  • Lexis
    Shepardize Supreme Court cases using the U.S. ReportsSupreme Court Reporter, or United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition citations. It is also possible to Shepardize the Court,s rules, using the citation format Sup. Ct. R. #. Shepardizing a court rule will only tell you whether it has been cited by any decision or secondary source; it will not tell you whether the rule has been superseded.
     
  • Westlaw
    KeyCite Supreme Court cases using the U.S. ReportsSupreme Court Reporter, or United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition citations. It is also possible to KeyCite the Court,s rules, using the citation format S CT Rule #. KeyCiting a court rule will only tell you whether it has been cited by any decision or secondary source; it will not tell you whether the rule has been superseded.
     

Orders

The Supreme Court issues orders related to the grant or denial of certiorari, stays, motions in pending cases, mandamus, rehearings, permission to file amicus briefs, and attorney discipline. These orders can be found in the following places:

Petitions for Writ of Certiorari

A petition for writ of certiorari is a filing asking the Court to hear a case. Review by the Supreme Court is not guaranteed; a party desiring such review must use the cert. petition to persuade the Court to hear the case. Supreme Court cert. petitions are available from the following sources:

  • Lexis (Browse Sources > Search Sources > U.S. Supreme Court Briefs)
    Selected petitions from 1999 to present. Availability is greater for more recent cases and cases granted certioriari.
     
  • Westlaw: U.S. Supreme Court Petitions for Writ of Certiorari
    Selected petitions from 1985
     
  • U.S. Supreme Court Records & Briefs, 1832-1978 (Making of Modern Law)
    This database contains nearly 11 million pages of records and briefs brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in the period 1832-1978 and materials from approximately 150,000 Supreme Court cases, including cases where certiorari was denied.
     
  • SCOTUSblog
    View pending petitions ("Petitions We're Watching") under "Petitions." For other petitions, go to the case page (under "Merits Cases").
     
  • Findlaw
    Selected petition-stage briefs (OT 1999 to OT 2007) for cases where argument was scheduled.
     
  • Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States (KF101.9 .L3)
    Provides documents and oral arguments from major constitutional law cases since 1793. In recent years, this set has covered 10-15 cases each term; fewer cases were covered in earlier years.
     
  • Antitrust Law: Major Briefs and Oral Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1955 term-1975 term (Phillip B. Kurland & Gerhard Casper eds., 1975) (KF1641 .A57)
     
  • U.S. Supreme Court Records & Briefs (KF101.9 .U54 Micro)
    The Georgetown Law Library has an extensive collection of Supreme Court records and briefs on microfiche, including some cert. petitions:
     
    • 1832-1896: Provides cert. petitions only for cases where cert. was granted. Access to materials from this time period requires the use of an index.
    • 1897-1972: Before the October 1960 term, provides cert. petitions only for cases where cert. was granted. From October 1960 to 1972, provides cert. petitions in cert. denied cases as well. The materials are arranged by the official U.S. Reports citation.
    • 1973-present: Provides cert. petitions for all cases, whether cert. was granted or denied. The briefs are arranged by docket number.

Briefs

Parties to each case considered by the Supreme Court file briefs related to the merits of the case. Non-parties hoping to influence the Court,s decision in a case may also be permitted to file briefs as amici curiae (friends of the court). Reading the briefs can be useful for in-depth study of the facts of a case and the arguments advanced by all parties and interested non-parties. The library has briefs, if available, from all cases decided by the Supreme Court from 1832 to the present, and for all cases (including where the Court denied review) beginning in 1982. For information on the availability of briefs for cert. denied cases prior to 1982, ask at the Reference Desk. Current briefs are available online first, and 6-8 weeks later in microfiche. For cert. denied cases, briefs are available on microfiche approximately 8-10 weeks after the Court denies review, or in Westlaw's database(selected cases only). Briefs from many cert. denied cases decided between 1832 and 1978 are also available in the database U.S. Supreme Records & Briefs, 1832-1978.

WHERE TO FIND MERIT BRIEFS

  • Lexis (Browse Sources > Search Sources > U.S. Supreme Court Briefs)
    Selected petitions and related briefs as early as 1936. Availability is greater for more recent cases and cases granted certioriari.
     
  • Westlaw: U.S. Supreme Court Briefs
    Selected briefs from 1930
     
  • Bloomberg Law: U.S. Supreme Court Briefs
    Select briefs filed from 1936 to present
     
  • The table below presents some useful sample searches for briefs in these two databases:
Type of Search Lexis Westlaw
Segment Name Search Field Name Search
Docket Number Number 93-1260 DN 93-1260
Case Name Name United States and Alfonso Lopez TI "United States" & "Alfonso Lopez"
  • U.S. Supreme Court Records & Briefs, 1832-1978 (Making of Modern Law)
    This database contains nearly 11 million pages of records and briefs brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in the period 1832-1978 and materials from approximately 150,000 Supreme Court cases, including cases where certiorari was denied.
     
  • SCOTUSblog
    Briefs for cases granted certiorari starting in October Term 2007.
     
  • Findlaw
    Selected merits briefs (OT 1999 to OT 2007) for cases where argument was scheduled.
     
  • Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases (American Bar Association)
    Provides merit briefs for cases granted certiorari beginning with the October 2003 term.
     
  • Office of the Solicitor General
    Merits briefs from 1982 to present (site does not include responses to "in forma pauperis" petitions).
     
  • Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States (KF 101.9 .L3)
    Contains briefs filed in major constitutional law cases since 1793. In recent years, this set has covered 10-15 cases each term; fewer cases were covered in earlier years.
     
  • Antitrust Law: Major Briefs and Oral Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1955 term-1975 term (Phillip B. Kurland & Gerhard Casper eds., 1975) (KF1641 .A57)
     
  • U.S. Supreme Court Records & Briefs (KF101.9 .U54 Micro)
    Merits briefs from 1832 to present. The method of locating briefs varies by date:
     
    • 1832-1896: Access to briefs from this time period requires the use of an index.
    • 1897-1972: Briefs are arranged by the official U.S. Reports citation.
    • 1973-present: Briefs are arranged by docket number.

WHERE TO FIND AMICUS CURIAE BRIEFS

  • Lexis (Browse Sources > Search Sources > U.S. Supreme Court Briefs)
    Amicus briefs for cases granted certiorari from January 1979 to present (selected coverage from 1936).
     
  • Westlaw: U.S. Supreme Court Briefs
    Amicus briefs from 1930 (some older briefs may be available).
     
    • See the table under "Where to Find Merit Briefs" for useful sample searches in Lexis and Westlaw.
       
  • Bloomberg Law: U.S. Supreme Court Briefs
    Select briefs filed from 1936 to present
     
  • U.S. Supreme Court Records & Briefs, 1832-1978 (Making of Modern Law)
    This database contains nearly 11 million pages of records and briefs brought before the U.S. Supreme Court in the period 1832-1978 and materials from approximately 150,000 Supreme Court cases, including cases where certiorari was denied.
     
  • SCOTUSblog
    Briefs for cases granted certiorari starting in October Term 2007.
  • Office of the Solicitor General
    Amicus briefs from 1982 to present (site does not include responses to in forma pauperis ("IFP") petitions).
     
  • Preview of United States Supreme Court Cases (American Bar Association)
    Provides amicus briefs for cases granted certiorari beginning with the October 2007 term.
     
  • Findlaw
    Selected amicus briefs (OT 1999 to OT 2007) for cases where argument was scheduled.
     
  • Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States (KF 101.9 .L3)
    Provides documents and oral arguments from major constitutional law cases since 1793. In recent years, this set has covered 10-15 cases each term; fewer cases were covered in earlier years.
     
  • Antitrust Law: Major Briefs and Oral Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1955 term-1975 term (Phillip B. Kurland & Gerhard Casper eds., 1975) (KF1641 .A57)
     
  • U.S. Supreme Court Records & Briefs (KF101.9 .U54 Micro)
    Merits briefs from 1832 to present. The method of locating briefs varies by date:
     
    • 1832-1896: Access to briefs from this time period requires the use of an index.
    • 1897-1972: Briefs are arranged by the official U.S. Reports citation.
    • 1973-present: Briefs are arranged by docket number.

Oral Arguments

  • U.S. Supreme Court Website
    Transcripts (OT 2000 - ) are made available the same day as the argument, and audio recordings are posted on Fridays of each argument week (OT 2010 - ).
     
  • Lexis: Browse Sources > Search Sources > United States Supreme Court Transcripts (October Term 1979 - )
     
  • Westlaw: Supreme Court Oral Arguments (October Term 1990 - )
     
  • OYEZ
    OYEZ has digitized recordings of the Court's proceedings. There are over 600 oral arguments from leading cases currently available with more added each year. The recordings of oral arguments at the National Archives provide the source material for this site. The Oyez Player overlays audio with text and identifies the speaker. Oyez also has transcripts. Available arguments begin in October Term 1955.
     
  • Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States (KF 101.9 .L3)
    Provides documents and oral arguments from major constitutional law cases since 1793. In recent years, this set has covered 10-15 cases each term; fewer cases were covered in earlier years.
     
  • Antitrust Law: Major Briefs and Oral Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1955 term-1975 term (Phillip B. Kurland & Gerhard Casper eds., 1975) (KF1641 .A57)
     
  • May It Please the Court: The Most Significant Oral Arguments Made Before the Supreme Court Since 1955 (Peter Irons & Stephanie Guitton eds., 1993) (KF4748 M39)
    Provides the transcript and audio (cassette tapes) of oral arguments in 23 well-known Supreme Court cases, including Gideon v. WainwrightMiranda v. ArizonaRoe v. Wade; and United States v. Nixon. Arguments are edited and narrated.
     
  • National Archives
    Audio recordings of oral arguments in Supreme Court cases from 1955 to present are available at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Note that oral argument recordings are not available to the general public during the current term and are transmitted to the National Archives at the beginning of the following term. For more information on oral argument recordings at the National Archives, contact the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Records Section at (301) 837-3540 or mopix@nara.gov. Transcripts of oral arguments are also available at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. For more information on oral argument transcripts at the National Archives, contact Archives I Reference, Textual Archives Services Division, at (202) 357-5385 or archives1reference@nara.gov.
     
  • Complete Oral Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States (KF101.9 .U542 Micro)
    Microfiche collection contains transcripts of all oral arguments since 1968 and selected arguments from 1952-1967. Prior to 1968, oral arguments were not regularly transcribed. The transcripts are received once a year, usually about 6-8 months after the end of the term.
     
  • United States Supreme Court Library
    All transcripts from October Term 1968 to present and select transcripts from 1935. For more information on the availability of transcripts and obtaining copies, contact the library at (202) 479-3186.
     
  • Supreme Court Oral Arguments of the University of Michigan Affirmative Action Cases(KF4755.5 S86)
    Oral arguments in Gratz v. Bollinger and Grutter v. Bollinger. Videorecording (VHS) "features still picture images of the participants with audio only originally broadcast on April 1, 2003 (at approx. 12:15 pm ET) on C-SPAN Radio."

Opinion Announcements

  • OYEZ
    Provides access to over 2,000 opinion announcement recordings.
     
  • National Archives
    Audio recordings for opinion announcements from 1955 to present are available at the National Archives in College Park, Maryland. Note that opinion announcements were not always recorded and/or transmitted to the Archives. Recordings are not available to the general public during the current term and are transmitted to the National Archives at the beginning of the following term. For more information on opinion announcement recordings at the National Archives, contact the Motion Picture, Sound, and Video Records Section at (301) 837-3540 or mopix@nara.gov.
     
  • For a compilation of oral dissents from October Term 1969 to October Term 2008 and additional information on the availability of opinion announcements, see Jill Duffy & Elizabeth Lambert, Dissents from the Bench: A Compilation of Oral Dissents by U.S. Supreme Court Justices,102 Law Libr. J. 7 (2010).

Dockets

The docket is a list of cases before the Court at a given point in time , those in which the Court has granted certiorari, even if argument has not been scheduled. In addition, docket sheets for each case show the actions taken in a case, including motions filed, orders entered, and arguments heard. Some of the docket sources below also provide questions presented, fact summaries, and links to selected documents such as briefs.

  • Full Dockets
     
    • Westlaw: U.S. Supreme Court Dockets (cases filed January 2000 - )
       
    • Bloomberg Law: Browse courts to select U.S. Supreme Court Dockets (2003 - )
       
    • United States Supreme Court Website (October Term 2007 - )
      Search for dockets by Supreme Court docket number, lower court docket number, case name, or keyword. Includes questions presented.
       
    • National Archives
      Dockets from 1791- are available at the National Archives in Washington, D.C. For more information on the docket collection, search NARA's Microfilm Catalog for "docket supreme court" and read "View Important Publication Details" or contact Archives I Public Reference Information at (202) 357-5400.
       
  • Case Lists
     
    • United States Law Week (KF105 .U6) (1940, 1946 - )
      "Supreme Court Today" provides lists of and status information for cases in which certiorari has been granted; available online through Bloomberg BNA, select Supreme Court Today Navigator from column on left to search
    • Oyez Project (1793 - present)
      In addition to a case list by Term, provides for each case basic information, such as date granted, argued, and decided; opinion authors; attorneys; and articles on the case.
       
    • FindLaw (October Term 1999 - 2009)
      Case list by oral argument date; provides questions presented and links to lower court decisions, docket sheets, oral argument transcripts, and briefs.