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Legal Reference in the Digital Age Federal Case Law.

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1 Legal Reference in the Digital Age Federal Case Law

2 Court System Supreme Court Circuit Courts of Appeals District Courts Federal Trial Courts

3 The Supreme Court Stands at the head of the judicial branch of the federal government Provides the definitive interpretation of the U.S. Constitution and federal statutes The Court of Last Resort in the federal court system Has final word on federal issues raised in state courts and hears cases arising between the states Exercises tight control over its docket and has wide discretion to decline review, or to deny a writ of certiorari as it is called Usually only accepts for consideration those cases which raise significant policy issues In recent years has issued opinions in fewer than ninety cases during its annual term, first Monday in October to late June Background information of the court can be found at:

4 Timeline The timeline for a U.S. Supreme Court slip opinion is: Announces its decisions on an irregular basis at its 10 a.m. sessions, beginning in October or November, reaching a peak when the most contentious cases of the term are decided usually in late June. First issued as a bench opinion, a pamphlet version available at the court and distributed electronically to several publishers including FindLaw, Lexis, Loislaw, VersusLaw and Westlaw. Cornell Law Schools Legal Information Institute (LII) provides PDF copy of printed bench opinion. Opinions available from 1990 to present. Bench opinion is superseded, usually within an hour, by the official slip opinion, posted in PDF on Supreme Court website, possibly containing corrections. not found in bench opinion. Slip opinion controls if any discrepancy Rely on permanent official reports for citation purposes

5 United States Reports Begun in 1790 as a private venture Became official in 1817 Continues today as the official edition of the United States Supreme Court decisions Slip decisions> preliminary prints>bound volumes Early volumes now numbered sequentially (cited as U.S.) For many years, were cited only by the names of the individual reporters nominative Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. (1 Cranch) 137 (1803) Earliest volumes haphazard

6 Other Sources Supreme Court Reporter (Print and Westlaw) Lawyers Edition (Print and Lexis) Because U. S. Reports are published so slowly, The Bluebook specifies that a recent opinion that does not yet have a U.S. citation should be cited to the Supreme Court Reporter or Lawyers Edition

7 Supreme Court of the United States

8 Quickest source for New Slip Opinions

9 Justia

10 Cornell Law Schools Legal Information Institute

11 Circuit Courts of Appeals Judiciary Act of 1789 established the federal court system, 13 circuit courts which were added to over time. In 1891 the Circuit Courts were renamed the United States Courts of Appeals The 1891 act created 9 numbered circuits, and eventually the system came to include 13 numbered circuits and a series of specialized courts of appeal. Every Court of Appeal has its own website which usually has recent opinions and other information.

12 United States Circuit Courts of Appeal

13 PACER: Public Access to Court Electronic Records Have to register and have username and password, but if charges are less than $10 per quarter, the fee is waived.

14 Individual Court Pacer sites Will give links to the individual court sites. Type of coverage depends on the individual courts.

15 Subscription sites Fastcase Loislaw -From Wolters/Kluwer; 3 different subscription plans at reasonable rates with complete retrospective coverage of Supreme Court cases since Versuslaw Provides a program free to Law

16 Lexis/Nexis Academic Search cases by citation, parties or topic. Explanation of correct citation format to use when searching this way. Includes things like case summary, prior history, Lexis headnotes, lawyers involved, statute links, etc.

17 Lexis/Nexis Academic Example of case by citation

18 United States District Courts The general trial courts, the United States District Courts, are divided into ninety-four districts, with one or more in each state. California, New York, and Texas are each divided into four districts, while twenty-six of the states, including New Jersey have just one district. There is no counterpart to the U.S. Reports for the decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals and the District Courts. The only official published sources are the individual slip decisions that the courts issue and post on their websites. Each District Court website has case information, local rules, contact information and other documents for attorneys, litigants, and jurors. The format is www.[state][district] or www.[state][district] There are also several trial courts with specialized jurisdictions, such as the United States Bankruptcy Courts, Court of International Trade, etc.


20 Wests National Reporter System In 1876, John B. West began publishing selected decisions of the Minnesota Supreme Court in weekly syllabi. Three years later he launched the NorthWestern Reporter, covering Minnesota and five surrounding states. West established a national reporter system with seven regional reporters and reporters for the Supreme Court and the lower federal courts By 1887 competitors had folded and West National Reporters became the dominant commercial source.

21 Each case reported was accompanied by classified Key Number headnotes that allowed comprehensive and uniform subject access to cases in different jurisdictions. The two most famous online commercial databases, Lexis and Westlaw, grew out of the same tradition of uniform subject access across jurisdictions. Lexis began in 1966 with the Ohio State Bar Association, followed by Westlaw in 1975.

22 Reporters of the Federal System published by West Federal Reporter covers decisions in U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals. Federal Supplement (begun in 1932) covers decisions of the U.S. District Courts. Federal Rules Decisions (begun in 1940) covers decisions of the District Courts dealing with procedural issues under the Federal Rules of Civil and Criminal Procedure. Topical reporters in West system cover decisions such as in the Bankruptcy Court, the Claims Court, Tax Court, etc.

23 Published vs. Unpublished Opinions Only a small portion of decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals are designated as published and therefore as precedential. Since the 1970s, each circuit has had rules limiting publication to decisions meeting specific criteria. A decision is generally published if it lays down a new rule of law or alters an existing rule, resolves an apparent conflict of authority, or involves a legal issue of continuing public interest. These policies of selective publication are used to shape precedent and cut down on a glut of reported cases

24 Less than sixteen percent of Court of Appeals cases are terminated with a published opinion. Until recently, unpublished decisions could not be cited as persuasive authority under most circuits rules. The demand for them kept increasing however, as these cases could provide guidance of how a court would treat a similar subsequent claim. Lexis and Westlaw provided access to thousands of decisions that were unpublished and eventually other internet sites did as well.

25 In 2000, the Eighth Circuit ruled in Anastasoff v. United States that the ban on citing unpublished opinions was an unconstitutional violation of Article III. In the wake of this decision, West began publication of the Federal Appendix in 2001, a series limited to unpublished Court of Appeals decisions. A new Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure was adopted in 2006 which permits Unpublished decisions to be cited as persuasive authority Policies on decisions prior to 2007 vary from circuit to circuit

26 The Bluebook Compiled by the editors of the Harvard Law Review, the Columbia Law Review, the University of Pennsylvania Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. Considered the Bible of legal citation, this inexpensive reference source also contains much other pertinent information about courts and the legal system, all in one easy to use book.

27 Google Scholar

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