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Constitutional Law Research

This guide offers research and strategy related to U.S. Constitutional Law

Books

The United States Supreme Court

The United States Supreme Court Decisions

Decisions of the Court are reported in three print sources: United States Reports (official), United States Reports Lawyer’s Edition (Lexis), and the Supreme Court Reporter (West). Opinions also appear on Lexis, Westlaw, and Bloomberg Law within an hour after they are released, as well as the Court’s own web site (http://www.supremecourt.gov). Both Lexis and Westlaw carry all opinions of the Court. Opinions appear on the Court’s web site beginning with the 1991 Term with bound volumes of U.S Reports starting with Volume 502 in PDF format. Slip opinions appear on the Court’s web site within minutes of their delivery from the bench.  According to information from the Court, slip opinions are maintained on the Court’s web site until they appear in a bound volume. For a more detailed document containing information on the opinions of the Court and their forms of publication, see http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinions.aspx.

The Rules for Citation of Supreme Court opinions are contained in Table 1 (T1.1) of the Uniform System of Citation (19th Edition).  Citations to the Court’s earliest volumes are to the name of the Reporter of Decisions, rather than to the convention for modern volumes. Referenced citations may appear in either format depending on the publication. The following table will indicate the corresponding volumes to named reporter citation.

91 U.S. to date

Cite as U.S.

68 U.S. to 90 U.S.

1 Wallace to 23 Wallace

66 U.S. to 67 U.S.

1 Black to 2 Black

42 U.S. to 65 U.S.

1 Howard to 24 Howard

26 U.S. to 41 U.S.

1 Peters to 16 Peters

14 U.S. to 25 U.S.

1 Wheaton to 12 Wheaton

5 U.S. to 13 U.S.

1 Cranch to 9 Cranch

1 U.S. to 4 U.S.

1 Dallas to 4 Dallas

 Note that there are no Supreme Court opinions in 1 U.S. (1 Dallas). This volume contains cases from various Pennsylvania Courts. The first published summary of Supreme Court activity (The February Term, 1790) appears at 2 U.S. 399 (2 Dallas).

The workload of the Court demonstrates that the Justices consider only the most important cases presented to them. According to the 2014 End of Year Report on the Federal Judiciary issued on December 31st, 2014, the total number of case filings in the 2013 Term was 7,376. Of these, 79 cases were argued and 77 were disposed of in 67 signed opinions. 

Digests

There are two digests devoted to the Supreme Court, one published by West, and the other by Lexis. The West Digest (United States Supreme Court Digest) is organized using the topic and key number system West uses in all of its digest products. The Lexis Digest (United States Supreme Court Digest Lawyer’s Edition) is also organized by topic, with the outline numbers corresponding to headnotes appearing in the Lawyer’s Edition of U.S. Reports. The Lexis digest also cross-references to American Law Reports, AmJur, and other research sets.

Oral Arguments and Argument Transcripts

Transcripts to oral arguments are available on the Supreme Court web site beginning with the 2000 Term. They are available on Lexis starting with the 1979 Term, and on Westlaw beginning with the 1990 Term. Recordings of oral arguments for selected cases are available for streaming and downloadable in MP3 format from the Oyez Project (http://www.oyez.org/). The recordings were provided to Oyez from the National Archives.  The Court offers audio recordings on its web site beginning with the October 2010 term (http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_audio.aspx).

Briefs

Supreme Court briefs and records are available in microform format. Coverage varies with libraries. DePaul, for example, has a microform collection that starts with 1945. Lexis and Westlaw have a briefs database for all argued cases starting with 1939 (Lexis) and 1931 (Westlaw). Note that the selected briefs online may not be a complete set. Items such as amicus briefs, joint appendices, petitions for certiorari or other documents may not appear online. The most complete set of materials will be with the microform collection.  Some libraries may have purchased access to commercial databases that contain these documents.

Coverage for Lexis (from the Lexis online information statement, as of March 2015):

Earliest brief dated August 12, 1936 through current. Includes merit briefs for cases granted certiorari and special masters, amicus curiae briefs, and joint appendices beginning in January 1979, with selected coverage from 1936. All briefs are available for cases granted certiorari beginning after the 1993-1994 term; also includes briefs petitioning for certiorari in civil cases (other than habeas cases) from the 1999-2000 term through current. For civil cases where cert. is denied, briefs are provided for cases on the paid docket but are not provided for cases on the In Forma Pauperis docket. No cert-stage briefs are provided for habeas cases or for criminal cases that are summarily decided or where cert. is denied.

Coverage for Westlaw (from the WestlawNext online information statement as of March 2015):

[Briefs:]  Selected coverage begins with 1930. A limited number of selected older briefs may be included.  [Joint Appendices:]  Selected coverage begins with 1982. A limited number of selected older joint appendices may be included.  [Petitions for Writs of Certiorari:]  Selected coverage begins with 1985. A limited number of older selected petitions may be included. Appendices filed with the petitions are not included.  U.S. Supreme Court Petitions for Writ of Certiorari includes petitions for writs of certiorari to the U.S. Supreme Court. Also included are related documents - briefs in support of petitions, briefs opposing petitions, and amicus briefs. All documents are those filed with the court prior to certiorari being granted or denied. Briefs filed after a case is granted certiorari can be found in U.S. Supreme Court Briefs.

Another source for briefs is Findlaw. Selected briefs beginning with the 1999 Term of Court are available for free download at  http://supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supreme_court/briefs/index.html.

For more information, see the Court’s own information on where to find briefs at  http://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/briefsource.aspx.

Practice before the Supreme Court

One of the more useful books in print, and revised regularly, is Stern and Gressman’s Supreme Court Practice. Now in its 10th edition published in 2013, the book presents a detailed description of the Court’s procedure, and instructs attorneys on how to properly prepare and file issues with the Court. It covers important topics such as jurisdiction, procedure, brief writing, and analyzes historical factors in the Court’s past operation.  More information is available from the publisher at http://www.bna.com/supreme-court-practice-p11770/

The Court has a brief set of Guides to filing cases and other procedural steps at http://www.supremecourt.gov/rules_guidance.aspx.