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Comparative Constitutional Law, Gov 2480: U.S. Case Law

Citations

About Citations

Law cases are not cataloged individually in the Library's catalog. They are traditionally published together in sets of paper volumes called law reporters, and now, in online databases as well. The traditional legal citation is used in both print and electronic collections to identify individual cases but is based on the print reporter system. In addition, to locate an individual case in a print law reporter, you need to know the case's citation. While legal citation is no longer essential for finding case law online, it is the most precise and efficient identifer for a specific case.

How To Read A Citation

Example citations using Chicago Manual of Style, 15th ed.:
Entry in bibliography:
  Wallace v. Jaffree. 472 U.S. 38 (1985).
Footnote or endnote:
  13. Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 41-42 (1985).

In the examples above, Wallace v. Jaffree is the name of the case, 472 is the volume number, U.S. is the abbreviation for the law reporter (United States Reports), 38 is the page number on which the opinion begins, and 1985 is the year of the decision. In the note, the page numbers being referred to in the note are also provided, in this example, pages 41-42.

A court opinion may also be published in a commercial reporter. In the partial citation "86 L. Ed. 2d 29", 86 is the volume, L. Ed. 2d is the abbreviation for the law reporter (United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers Edition 2nd Series) and 29 is the page number within Vol. 86 on which the decision begins. If you use a commercial reporter, it is advised that you cite both that commercial reporter and the official reporter; the official reporter comes first in the citation:

Entry in bibliography:
  Wallace v. Jaffree. 472 U.S. 38, 86 L. Ed. 2d 29 (1985).

Go to Federal Court Citation Examples for a more detailed discussion.

Finding Case Law

Find Cases By Citation

Online: Use either Westlaw or Nexis Uni and type the partial citation, e.g. 472 U.S. 38, into the appropriate search box.

Print: Using the legal citation, identify the appropriate print law reporter series. Using the list of Print Law Reporters, find the reporter series in our collection. Then find the case using the volume number and page number from the citation.

Find Cases by Litigant Name

Although much case law is referred to by citation, sometimes you may only have the names of the litigants in the case.

  1. Go online to Westlaw or Nexis Uni and type the names of the litigants into the appropriate search boxes.
  2. Fulltext of the case appears on the screen.

Find Cases by Keyword or Subject

  • Search by keyword in Westlaw or Nexis Uni. This strategy often results in a zillion hits and frustration.
  • Use the Key Number system in Westlaw. Either start with a known relevant case or use Browse > Tools.

Note: It is usually much easier to use secondary sources (such as encyclopedias on the law or law review articles) to find cases on a particular topic.

Find Related Cases

  • In Westlaw, begin with a case of interest. Choose a headnote of interest from within that case. Click on the hotlinked text after the image of a key.

Find Cases Citing a Case

  • In Westlaw, find the case to which you would like to find citations. Click on "Citing References".
  • In Westlaw, find the case to which you would like to find citations. Choose a headnote of interest. Click on "Cases that cite this headnote".
  • In Nexis Uni, find the case to which you would like to find citations. Next to "Next steps", choose "Shepardize".

Find Cases Citing a Statute

  • In Westlaw, choose Federal Materials/United States Code Annotated (USCA). Search on a U.S. Code Annotated section (e.g., 8 U.S.C.A. § 1158). Look for a red or yellow flag above the statute that indicates the statute's status. Choose the "Citing References" tab to limit to citing cases in a particular jurisdiction. Alternatively, click on the "Notes of decisions" tab to see cases that construe or apply the statute; this option may be less current or less exhaustive than the "Citing References" option.  Or,
  • In Nexis Uni, click on "Search by Content Type" then Legal: "Federal and State Cases". Search on a U.S. Code Service section (e.g., "8 USCS 1158").
  • Use United States Supreme Court Digest (Main Library Ref. KF101.1.A5D5), vol. 16 Index to Decisions, Annotations, and Digest. Look up your act by popular name, e.g., Sherman Act. Under the heading will be listed subtopics of the act with corresponding citations for related Supreme Court cases. Use the L. Ed citation to locate the case in the United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyer's Edition volumes in
    Govt. Doc KF101.A5 U5.

Oral Arguments

Transcripts

Argument Transcripts, Supreme Court, 1968-present

The Complete oral arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States
Govt Micro, 1982-ca. 2019

Audio

Oyez Project
"the most complete and authoritative source for all of the Court’s audio since the installation of a recording system in October 1955".

Argument Audio, Supreme Court, 2010-present

Court Listener, Free Law Project.
"We collect oral argument audio from the Supreme Court and all of the Federal Circuit courts that provide it." Includes Supreme Court recordings, 2013-

Audio Recordings of Oral Arguments, 1955 - 2012, National Archives and Records Administration.
As of April 2019, none of these recordings is available online.

Online Federal and State cases

The Federal court system consists of the Supreme Court; 11 regional circuit Courts of Appeals and 1 federal circuit Court of Appeals; and 94 District Courts.

Please note: the sources below vary in the amount of interpretive annotation they provide, with more being provided by the commercial sources. Even within a single source, earlier volumes may include fewer or briefer annotations. Consult more than one source for a case for the full range of interpretive annotations.

Court(s)

Years

Format

Location

Notes

U.S. Supreme Court United States Reports, vol. 1-, 1754- online United States Reports via HeinOnline (also slip opinions and more) Best Bet Choose Browse Databases by Name > U.S. Supreme Court Library.
United States Reports, vol. 1-542, 1754-2004 online United States Reports, via Library of Congress and HeinOnline Browseable but not searchable. Researchers can download PDF files of up to 20 pages per download. Electronic version of the print official publication. Instructions.
Supreme Court opinions, 1760-- online FindLaw: US Supreme Court Opinions  
Bound vols. of United States Reports: vol. 502-, 1991-
Slip opinions are deleted once bound vols. are published.
online U.S. Supreme Court: Opinions Electronic version of the print official publication.
online CourtListener
U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals;
U.S. District Courts;
U.S. Bankruptcy Courts
April 2004-, but varies by court online search or browse United States Courts Opinions via govinfo  
varies by court online PACER. A login and password are required to search or view documents. You can register for your own account. We suggest that Bowdoin affiliates Ask Us for more information. access to the case summary, the docket entries, and in many jurisdictions, copies of documents filed.
varies by court online RECAP Archive, CourtListener, Free Law Project "The RECAP Archive is a searchable collection of millions of PACER documents and dockets that were gathered using our RECAP Extensions for Firefox and Chrome."

Federal and State courts of all levels (with exceptions, varies by state)

1789-present

online

Westlaw Best Bet

search by citation, litigants, or keywords; includes annotations

1789-present

online

Nexis Uni Best Bet

search by citation, litigants, or keywords; includes annotations

varies, normally 1980's-

online

Legal Information Institute (Cornell)

search parameters vary by court; no interpretive annotations

U.S. District Court for the District of Maine 2000- online District Court Opinions Selected opinions only
Maine Supreme Judicial Court 1997- online Maine Supreme Judicial Court: Published Opinions of the Law Court  
Maine Superior Court 2000- online Maine Superior Court Decisions  

 

Federal Court Website Links

Geographic Boundaries of United States Courts of Appeals and United States District Courts, Wikipedia

State Court Web sites

Print Law Reporters & other sources for decisions

Case Law Reporters are sets of print volumes in which case law decisions for a level of court (Supreme Court, Appeals Court, state courts, etc.) are compiled. Typically, the cases are entered in chronological order.

Supreme Court reporters

At Bowdoin we have two print case law reporters for Supreme Court cases: United States Reports and United States Supreme Court Reports: Lawyer's Edition. The law reporters are housed in the Government Documents Collection, located on the lower level of H-L Library.

Title

Volumes, Years

Location

Notes

United States Reports Best Bet 1-
1790- (with gaps)
Govt Doc JU 6.8 Texts of official decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court without supplemental editorial material.
Partial citation form: 112 U.S. 2649
United States Supreme Court Reports: Lawyer's Edition Best Bet 1-100
1754-1956
Govt Doc KF101 .A5 U5 Includes supplemental editorial annotations, headnotes, and summaries.
Partial citation form: 47 L. Ed. 979
1-
1956-
Govt Doc KF101 .A5 U5 ser.2 Partial citation form: 120 L. Ed. 2d. 467
U.S. Supreme Court records and briefs: full opinion 1969- Main Micro In addition to full decisions for U.S. Supreme Court cases, this microfiche series provides the briefs and opinions of the individual justices.

Maine reporters (Supreme Judicial Court of Maine)

Title

Volumes, Years

Location

Notes

Maine Reports 1-161
1820-1965
Govt Doc Maine J 90.28: Partial citation form: 88 Me. 221
Maine Reporter 215-999
1966-2009/10
Govt Doc Maine J 90.28: and
Govt Doc Maine J 90.28:
Partial citation form: 486 A.2d 112  (Me. 1984)
Maine Reporter 1-
2009/10-
Govt Doc Maine J 90.28: Partial citation form: 54 A.3d 1284

Other sources for Maine cases

Consult the website of the Maine State Law and Legislative Reference Library

Reporters for other states

Massachusetts reports
Govt Doc KFM 2445 .A5
We hold v.1 (1804/1805)-v. 17 (1820/1822)

Otherwise, please use one of the sources of online state cases.

U.S. Supreme Court Briefs and Other Filings

Years

Format

Location

Notes

1873- online Landmark briefs and arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States: constitutional law via HathiTrust Later volumes are not available to view.
1930 - present online U.S. Supreme Court Briefs, Petitions & Joint Appendices via Westlaw Best Bet Choose "All content" > "Briefs" > "Briefs". Then search for the briefs of interest. Filings may also be available from the display of the opinion, choosing: Filings. Note: Most other filings are "out of plan".
1936 - present online

U.S. Supreme Court Briefs via Nexis Uni Best Bet

Choose: Advanced Search > Select a specific content type > Briefs, Pleadings, and Motions > Briefs. Do the search, then limit to Court > Supreme Court. Filings may also be available from the display of the opinion, choosing: About This Document > Related Court Materials > Other Court Documents.
1969 - present microfiche U.S. Supreme Court records and briefs: full opinion. Govt Micro In addition to full decisions for U.S. Supreme Court cases, also includes the briefs and opinions of the individual justices.
1982 - present online Supreme Court Briefs, U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Solicitor General  
1999 - 2007 online Supreme Court Briefs, Findlaw.com  
2001 - present online Docket Search, Supreme Court May include briefs and other filings.
2004 - present online Briefs, American Bar Association  
varies by court online PACER. A login and password are required to search or view documents. You can register for your own account. We suggest that Bowdoin affiliates Ask Us for more information. Access to the case summary, the docket entries, and in many jurisdictions, copies of documents filed.
varies by court online RECAP Archive, CourtListener, Free Law Project "The RECAP Archive is a searchable collection of millions of PACER documents and dockets that were gathered using our RECAP Extensions for Firefox and Chrome."
very recent online Petitions We’re Watching, SCOTUSblog Briefs accompanying petitions

 

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