Georgetown Law
Georgetown Law Library

Constitutional Law and History Research Guide

This guide covers sources that are useful for researching Constitutional law and Constitutional history.

Text of the U.S. Constitution

The text of the U.S. Constitution is widely available through a variety of sources. Searching for the text of the Constitution affords a rare case in which a simple web search for "constitution" will suffice. Most sources will work as well as another because unlike references to statutes, court decisions or most other authorities, Bluebook rules provide that a citation to a current state or federal constitution need not provide a source or a date.

That said, the following are select sources of the text of the Constitution:

Annotated Codes

Because of their annotations, some of the more useful versions of the U.S. Constitution are published as a part of the unofficial editions of federal statutes:

These annotated codes are a good place to start your case law search.  For each relevant article or section of the Constitution, first reference the "Notes to Decisions" on Lexis and "Notes of Decision" on Westlaw for a list of cases curated by the editors and organized by topic.  Next, reference the cases listed via the citator tools ("Citing References" on Westlaw; "Shepardize" on Lexis).  


Case Law

For a basic introduction to case law, see our Case Law Research Guide and/or refer to our Case Law video tutorial.

Absent a specific Constitutional article or section, there are four recommended methods for identifying cases:

  1. KeyCite (Westlaw) and Shepardize (Lexis) known cases.  Both KeyCite and Shepard's are editorial citators that allow you to focus on the headnotes that are of most interest to you. Although it is easier to limit by headnotes using KeyCite than using Shepard's, it is important to use both systems if you want to be thorough. 
  2. Search using Headnotes & Key Numbers.  This is a very productive way of finding good cases. It will require you to identify the relevant Key Number(s) for your issue.  For more information, see Digests, Headnotes, and Key Numbers on our Case Law Research Guide.
  3. Keyword Searching. Without using a carefully-designed advanced (terms & connectors) search, this is often the least effective way to find cases because it depends on matching your search terms precisely with the terms used in the court decision, which is akin to "a stab in the dark."  When keyword searching, consider limiting your search to only the synopsis and digest (headnote) fields. This often proves to be more productive than searching the entire text, because it focuses your search only on the major issues of the case as described in the headnotes. (You can restrict your searches to databases containing only constitutional case law using, for example, Lexis' Constitutional Law Cases Database or Westlaw's Federal First Amendment Cases or Civil Rights Cases Database)
  4. Secondary Sources. It is always beneficial to start with a Secondary SourceAny source on the Secondary Sources page of this guide will include citations to relevant cases.  Once you've found a case that is on-point, you can use citators and key numbers(above) to find others.  Some specific secondary sources that may be useful to you in finding case law are also listed below: