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Finding Supreme Court Cases

Court reports are published chronologically with many consecutively numbered volumes issued each year. To find a case, you need the case citation, which identifies the volume number, the name of the report series (abbreviated), and the page number. For example, the following citation to a Supreme Court case would appear as follows:

105 S.Ct. 2479 (1985)
  volume #     report name     page number     date of decision  

In addition to a case citation, all cases have a case name, which is not necessary to find the case decision but which can be used to locate the citation. A case name typically appears as follows:

Wallace v. Jaffree
  Plantiff     versus     Defendant  

Supreme Court cases (as well as cases in some other jurisdictions) are published in more than one set of reports. A Supreme Court case usually has 3 citations, (known as parallel citations), and most often appears as follows:

Wallace v. Jaffree, 472 U.S. 38, 105 S.Ct. 2479, 86 L.Ed.2d 29 (1985)

The first citation appearing above refers to United States Reports, the "official" reporter. The second citation refers to the Supreme Court Reporter, published by West, and is considered an "unofficial" reporter. The third cite refers to U.S. Supreme Court Reports, (often called simply the "lawyers'" edition), also an "unofficial" reporter. In this library we have the U.S. Reports (located in Government Documents) and the Supreme Court Reporter (located in Reference). All three editions contain the decision and opinion of the justices; the two unofficial editions also contain annotations.

Locating A Specific Case With Case Citation Only
If you have only a case citation, i.e., 105 S.Ct 2479:

  1. First find the set, Supreme Court Reporter under the call number: Ref. KF 101 .A322
  2. Locate volume 105; beginning on page 2479 you will find the facts of the case, the court's decision, the opinion of the justices, and annotations which may be helpful in further research on that case or related cases.

Locating A Specific Case With Case Name Only
To find a citation when you have only the name of the case (i.e., Roe v. Wade) you would use a case digest. Since there are case digests covering many jurisdictions and geographic areas, it is important to know in which court (or jurisdiction) your case was decided. For Supreme Court cases, you would use West's Federal Practice Digest, Table of Cases volumes. These case names are arranged alphabetically by plaintiff's name. Following each case name, you will find the 3 parallel citations, one of which will be the Supreme Court Reporter cite (abbreviated as S.Ct.).

Compiled by Wendy Roberts, Spring 1988
HTML by Robert Delaney

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