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LII Collection: US Supreme Court decisions

Where to find...

Context

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.

Extent and currency

The LII maintains two collections of decisions by the US Supreme Court:

Current decisions distributed through Project Hermes

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.

Information about the court itself

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.

LII Collection of Historic 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.

Source information:

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.

Direct (pinpoint) linking to particular decisions:

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

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct-cgi/get-us-cite?

followed by the volume and page numbers separated by a plus sign, eg.:

463+1032

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.

Searching:

Location of search form:

  • 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=

Fields or metadata you can search:

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.

Captive searches:

Historic decisions --
  • for a particular word or phrase
  • 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 --

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.

Conditions for use:

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.