LII Collection: US Supreme Court decisions
Where to find...
- Historic Decisions
- Decisions: 1992-present
- Information about the Court
The Supreme Court is the highest court in the US judicial system. Decisions since 1990 are made available under the auspices of Project Hermes.
Decisions prior to 1990 are available from a variety
of on-Net sources, in a variety of formats. The LII
collection of historic decisions of the US Supreme Court contains over 300
of the court's most important decisions through the whole period of its existence.. FedWorld provides pointers to various uses of the FLITE database, including one at Villanova; FLITE only
covers the period from 1937 to 1975, but does so comprehensively. The Findlaw collection also reaching back to 1937 is comprehensive without the post-1975 gap. The USSC+
service from Infosynthesis provides full coverage from 1966 onward, and
some 450 older cases dating back to 1793. Finally, the fee-based WestDoc service provides full coverage of all the court's decisions. There
are other sources for the opinions; this is not a comprehensive list.
Another interesting collection is Northwestern's collection of oral arguments, delivered via streaming audio.
The LII maintains two collections of decisions by the US Supreme Court:
The Court began distributing decisions electronically under the auspices of Project Hermes in 1990. Until January of 1997, the LII did not archive decisions at Cornell but instead built finding aids on top of the existing Internet collection at Case Western Reserve University. In January of 1997 we began receiving our own Hermes distribution, and also converted the entire CWRU "backlist" into richly crosslinked HTML for mounting at our site. The collection is updated as new decisions are received from the Court; some maintenance (notably the addition of US Reports citation information and the construction of caselists by party name) takes place on an annual basis each summer. Further details about the collection itself and some of its technical workings are available. We have also constructed a rich assortment of caselists and finding aids which you may find useful.
We publish the court's schedule of oral arguments, and a biography and decision list for each of the justices. We also have mounted the text of the court rules, information about the court's authority and jurisdiction, and a continually-expanding glossary of terms encountered in decisions.
The LII Collection of Historic Decisions of the US Supreme Court is available on the Net. It currently consists of over 600 of the Court's most important decisions from the founding of the court to the present. We provide a variety of finding aids with this collection, including lists of cases by opinion author, party name, and topic.
There are three strata of decisions. Decisions prior to May of 1990 are licensed under arrangements with USSC+ and with LEXIS/NEXIS. Decisions from May 1990 to January of 1997 were released by the Court under the aegis of Project Hermes, archived in WordPerfect format at Case Western University, and then converted by us to HTML in January of 1997. There are some gaps in the CWRU archive, which we have attempted to fill. Decisions from January 1997 onward were received by the LII via direct HERMES transmission and converted on the spot. Those interested in verifying accuracy may be interested in our work with digital signatures as a means of confirming the accuracy of these texts.
If there is not yet a US Reports cite:
The URLs which point to particular decisions are derived from the docket number assigned by the Court and further elaborated into a somewhat arcane system which names syllabi, opinions, concurrences, and dissents separately. If the opinion is new enough that it lacks a cite to the US Reports, you'll need to discover the URL by other means; the easiest is probably just to look at one of our finding aids for recent decisions (it can take up to eighteen months for a US Reports cite to be assigned).
If you have a cite to the US Reports:
We provide a "choice of viewing" engine which returns Supreme Court cases from a variety of Internet sources given a US Reports cite. To use it to get pointers to various versions of Michigan v. Long (463 U.S. 1032), you'd say:
<A HREF="http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct-cgi/get-us-cite?463+1032">Michigan v. Long</A>
Note that the URL is just the root
followed by the volume and page numbers separated by a plus sign, eg.:
This syntax will work with any decision which has a US Reports cite; the list of locations having the decision will vary depending on its age.
- Historic decisions: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/index.html?scope=onlyhistoric&query=
- Decisions since 1990: http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/index.html?scope=onlyrecent&query=
In both collections you can search by opinion author and party name. The historic collection currently supports topical searches directly; you can accomplish the same thing in the current collection by searching on relevant terms in the syllabi only. See the section on captive searches immediately below. Full help on searching is on the search page for each of the collections.
Historic decisions --
- for a particular word or phrase
- Use the base URL http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/index.html?query= followed by your term or terms separated by plus signs, eg. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/index.html?query=child+AND+adoption
- for a particular topic, author or party
- Topical searches are only supported for particular topics and terms which are built into the structure of the collection itself. Probably the easiest way to build a topical or author search into one of your own pages is to use your browser to copy a link appearing on our caselist-by-topic, caselist-by-author, or caselist-by-party documents into your new page.
Current decisions --
- for a particular word or phrase
- Use the base URL http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/index.html?query= followed by your search term or terms separated by plus signs, eg. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/index.html?query=child+OR+adoption.
- for a particular topic
- Essentially this is just a word search of the syllabi, which (logically) acts as a proxy for true topic searching. Use the base URL http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/index.html?scope=onlysyllabi&query= followed by your search term or terms separated by plus signs, eg. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/search/index.html?scope=onlysyllabi&query=abortion.
- for opinions by a particular author
- Use the base URL http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/author.php? followed by the author's name, eg. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/author.php?Scalia
- for a particular party name
- Use the base URL http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/party.php? followed by the party name, eg. http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/party.php?Michigan.
These are simple examples of the types of search we believe most people will want to do. More complex captive searches can be constructed by combining terms using some of the more sophisticated techniques described on the search page and in our tutorial on captive searches.
Current decisions released under Project Hermes are in the public domain. Copyright in the underlying hypertext markup and any editorial material furnished by the LII is held by Cornell University. Numerous copyright considerations apply to the historic decisions collection; please read our "Credits and Conditions" document.