Finding U.S. Court Cases
The U.S. Constitution creates a federal system of government in which power is shared between the federal government and the state governments. Due to this shared power, both the federal government and each of the state governments has its own court system. Written decisions on court cases (opinions) are published in sets called court reporters.
U.S. Supreme Court
Established in 1789, the United States Supreme Court is the highest federal court. The opinions of U.S. Supreme Court cases are initially published temporarily as individual decisions, called "slip opinions." After a few months, they are cumulated into paperback pamphlets called "advance sheets." Later, they are then bound into the official publication, the United States Reports. (The first four volumes of the historical official set include cases from courts in Pennsylvania.) Other sets with the same current cases are published more quickly by private companies, with additional notes, in two different series -- the Supreme Court Reporter and the Lawyers' Edition of the Supreme Court Reports. WTAMU faculty, staff, and students may use HeinOnline or Westlaw to find Supreme Court cases online. Patrons not affiliated with WTAMU should try the other, free resources listed below, such as the library's print set of the United States Reports.
- HeinOnline, U.S. Supreme Court Library (WTAMU only)
- Has complete coverage of the official bound volumes from 1754, which includes cases from the courts in Pennsylvania. Includes preliminary prints, slip opinions, and books and periodicals related to the U.S. Supreme Court. Click Advanced Search > select document type "Official Reports" > can then search Supreme Court cases by full text, case name, or date. Use quotation marks around phrases. Unlike Westlaw, cases are scanned PDFs that are also downloadable and searchable.
- Westlaw (WTAMU only)
- Has full text of all Supreme Court cases since 1790 and all Supreme Court briefs since 1930. Searchable by citation, case name, full text, or the West Key Number System. Path to search cases is: "Federal Materials" > "Federal Cases" > "U.S. Supreme Court." Type terms in the single search box. Search any phrase in "quotation marks." Numerous guided options via Advanced Search. Link to "Campus Help Guide" has tips for searching.
The Cornette Library does not receive slip opinions. Recent Supreme Court cases can be found online for free at:
- Supreme Court Opinions, 1991 - present
- From the Supreme Court's official website. May browse. Includes the text of about six years of the most recent Supreme Court slip opinions until hardbound volumes are published. (Can take over 5 years for an opinion to be published in an official, hardbound volume.) Updated as new opinions are reached. Organized by term and then by date. The bound volumes of the United States Reports are also available online from volume 502 (1991) to the present.
- Supreme Court Decisions, 1990 - present
- From LII (Legal Information Institute). Full text of all Supreme Court decisions from 1990 to the present. Updated as new opinions are released. Can search decisions. Be aware that some search results are LII Supreme Court Bulletins, in other words, objective summaries of the issues and arguments of a case, but not the Supreme Court opinion. Under "Archive of decisions," may browse by topic, opinion author, or party name (case name). The historic lists are alphabetical. Includes commercial ads.
Older Supreme Court cases can be found at:
- Selected Historic Decisions of the Supreme Court, 1793 - 1990
- From LII (Legal Information Institute). Collection of 631 of the Supreme Court's most important decisions before 1991. Indexes organized by topic, party name (case name), and opinion author. Also includes special subject collections: the "Amistad" case, administrative law, copyright, and patents.
- FindLaw: Cases and Codes: Supreme Court Opinions, 1760 - present
- Begins with volume 1 of the historical official bound volumes, with cases from the courts of Pennsylvania. Has United States Reports to the present. Browsable by year or volume number. Searchable by party name and by any word in full text. Also searchable by citation, under the Docket Number option.
- United States Reports (U.S.), 1789 - present
- JU 6.8: (Govt Docs)
- The official reporter for cases from the United States Supreme Court. Available in print.
U.S. Courts of Appeals
The United States Courts of Appeals consists of 12 Circuit Courts and the Federal Circuit Court. They are the intermediate appellate courts in the federal system. Texas is a part of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit, along with Mississippi and Louisiana. See map. WTAMU faculty, staff, and students may use Westlaw to find Courts of Appeals cases online. Other patrons could try the other, free resources listed below.
- Westlaw (WTAMU only)
- Full text of all Appeals Courts cases since 1891. Searchable by citation, case name, full text, or the West Key Number System. Path to search all Court of Appeals cases is: "Cases" > "U.S. Courts of Appeals." Path to search 5th Circuit cases is: "Cases" > "5th Circuit." Type terms in the single search box. Search any phrase in "quotation marks." Numerous guided options via Advanced Search. Link to "Campus Help Guide" has tips for searching.
- Open Jurist: Legal Research
- Free. U.S. Appeals Courts cases are published in the case reporter Federal Reporter. Open Jurist has the 1st, 2d, and 3d series of the Federal Reporter (1880 to present). May browse if citation is known. Has commercial ads.
- USCA5 Opinions
- Free. Archived decisions of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit from 1992 to the present. Searchable by title (case name or names), docket number, or last date updated.
- Court Website Links - U.S. Courts
- Map showing the regions administered by the various Circuit Courts and related federal sites. Includes links to the various Circuit Court websites.
U.S. District Courts
The United States District Courts are the trial courts in the 94 districts of the federal court system. Amarillo is part of the Northern District of Texas. District court cases were originally included in the Federal Reporter, but later published in the newly created Federal Supplement beginning in 1932. WTAMU faculty, staff, and students may use Westlaw to find District Court cases online. Other patrons can find selected notable decisions in the free resources listed below.
- Westlaw (WTAMU only)
- Full text of all U.S. District Court cases; coverage varies, for Texas has 1849 to present. Searchable by citation, case name, full text, or the West Key Number System. Path to search cases is: "Cases" > "Federal District Courts." Type terms in the single search box. Search any phrase in "quotation marks." Numerous guided options via Advanced Search. Link to "Campus Help Guide" has tips for searching.
- United States District Court, Northern District of Texas
- General information from the court; link to "Opinions" goes to some selected cases via govinfo.gov (mostly from 2005 to the present).
- Court Website Links
- Links to Circuit, District, Bankruptcy, and other courts and offices of the federal judiciary. May access by clicking on links listed.