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 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.
Opinions first appear on Westlaw, Lexis, 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. By making use of the Advanced Search options on Lexis, Westlaw and Bloomberg Law, you can search for opinions by a specific judge, argued by a specific attorney or cases involving a specific party. Making use of the Advanced Search option is a quick way to locate Supreme Court opinions with defined parameters.
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:
Opinions of the Supreme Court are reported in three printed reporters:
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.
Also available electronically through Lexis.
Emergency orders, or shadow dockets as they are sometimes called, are the way some cases are decided today; without full briefing or oral argument and without any written opinion. Up until relatively recently, these emergency orders were rare and for procedural matters such as scheduling and filing extensions. In the past few years, the number of these emergency orders has grown and they are sometimes controversial. The Court has used emergency orders to rule on issues including gerrymandering, pandemic rules, environmental regulation and abortion.
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: