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What is Constitutional Law?
- The topic of constitutional law deals with the interpretation and implementation of the United States Constitution.
- As the Constitution is the foundation of the United States, constitutional law deals with some of the fundamental relationships within our society.
- The area of judicial review is an important subject within Constitutional Law (see also "Judicial Review" from the University of Missouri-Kansas City website "Exploring Constitutional Conflicts."
- The Supreme Court has played a crucial role in interpreting the Constitution.
- The study of Constitutional Law focuses heavily on Supreme Court rulings.
Text from "Constitutional Law" at the website of the Cornell University Law School.
Evolution of a printed Court decision
The Supreme Court’s opinion goes through several printed drafts before the final opinion is published in the U.S. Reports. In order of printing:
(1) “Bench” Opinion – Directly from the court, it is printed immediately following the decision. It contains information on the opinion (i.e. who concurred or dissented); and a summary of the opinion (a.k.a. syllabus).
(2) Slip Opinion – printed late on the day of the bench opinion, includes all the information of the bench opinion plus initial corrections (i.e. grammar). Citation does not yet include the United States Reports page number.
(3) Preliminary Prints - Published in paperback (2 volumes of the preliminary prints will make up one bound volume of the final U.S. Reports) the Slip Opinions are pulled together and final information is inserted (i.e. lawyers for the case).
(4) U.S. Reports is the official record of the Supreme Court. Three or four volumes are produced each term of the Court, which is October to October. In addition to final drafts of a decision the U.S. Reports volume may include: announcements of Justices’ investitures and retirements; memorials proceedings for deceased Justices; a table of cases; a topical index; Rules; a table summarizing case activity for three court terms, etc.
How to read a legal citation
How to read a legal citation:
- Case name. Cases are named according to the parties involved. When there are two parties, the first name is the petitioner, or the party filing the lawsuit against the second party, the respondent.
- Volume of the report series in which the full decision is officially documented.
- Name of the report series in which the decision is documented: “U.S.” stands for the U.S. Report, which is printed by the Supreme Court. Sometimes a case name refers to an independently published series, such as “S. Ct.,”which refers to the Supreme Court Reporter published by West Publishing.
- Page number in the referenced volume on which the decision begins
- Year the opinion was released.
The decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court are collected in United States Reports (abbreviated as: U.S. in legal citations).
Additional information can be found on the following websites:
United States Code
The U.S. Code is a compilation of all general and permanent laws currently in effect. Every six years public laws are incorporated in the US Code. The US Code is arranged by subject and displays the current status of a law.
United States Code
Same as above, but from Cornell University's Legal Information Institute.
Statutes at Large
The official compilation of all public and private laws and resolutions passed by Congress. The laws and resolutions are listed in chronological order of enactment and arranged by public law number. The Statutes at Large is issued approximately a year after the end of each Congress. 1951-2010 through FDsys.
Supreme Court Rules
The United States Supreme Court is governed by sets of rules that specify how procedures in the court are processed and handled.
Additional Supreme-Court Related Info
Supreme Court Decisions
"The Supreme Court issues one or more written opinions in every case it decides, to explain the legal grounds and reasoning of the ruling. An opinion joined by at least a majority of the justices is called the 'opinion of the Court' and its holding and reasoning are regarded as precedent ["a decided case used by a court as a basis for ruling on an identical or similar case" (Kenneth Jost. The Supreme Court A to Z. (Thousand Oaks: CQ Press, 2012), 372). Justices who disagree with the majority ruling or reasoning may issue separate opinions to explain their views of how the case should have been decided. If no opinion commands a majority of the justices, the judgment of the Court is announced in the opinion joined by the largest number of justices, known as a plurality opinion" (Kenneth Jost. The Supreme Court A to Z. (Thousand Oaks: CQ Press, 2012), 345-346).
Note: Official Supreme Court case law is found only in the print version of the United States Reports. Information on the following websites is provided for general informational purposes only.
United States Reports, from the U.S. Supreme Court Website
United States Reports contain the final version of the Court's opinions.The materials collected here contain not just opinions, but the full text, from cover through index, of bound volumes 502 (1991) to 561 (2009), including all of the opinions, orders, and other materials.
United States Supreme Court Cases
From FindLaw.com, a searchable database of U.S. Supreme Court decisions from 1760 to the present. Supreme Court opinions are browesable by year and U.S. Reports volume number, and are searchable by party name, case title, citation, full text and docket number.
Supreme Court Decisions - Recent, By Year, By Volume
From the Justia.com website. Opinions available from 1759 to the present. Most years include the syllabus, the majority opinion, and the dissenting opinion (when written). Cases can be browsed by Recent, By Year, or by Volume.
U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs, 1832 - 1978
"Approximately 150,000 Supreme Court cases are featured, the majority consisting of those for which the Court did not give a full opinion.... It covers every aspect of law: civil rights law; constitutional law; corporate law; environmental law; gender law; labor law; legal history and legal theory; property law; taxation; trademark and intellectual property law, among other subjects. "
U.S. Supreme Court Library from Hein Online
This link will take you to an alphabetical list of all of the titles in the U.S. Supreme Court Library available in the HeinOnline database. Links at the top of the page allow you to narrow your results to specific items, including Official Reports, Books on the Court, Periodicals on the Court, and CRS - Congressional Research Service Reports (reports created to provide research support to Congress on Supreme Court decisions).
Supreme Court Decisions, 1990-present
From the Legal Information Institute, Cornell University Law School.
The Oyez Project is a multimedia archive devoted to the Supreme Court of the United States and its work. It includes biography, portrait, and links to opinions for all Justices.
Blog devoted to Supreme Court issues, cases.
Supreme Court Briefs
"A brief is the document in which an attorney sets out the facts and legal arguments in support of the position of the attorney's client or clients in the case. Briefs in Supreme Court cases must be filed with the Court weeks before the case is formally argued. The form and organization of the brief are covered by the rules of the Supreme Court" (Kenneth Jost, The Supreme Court A to Z. (Thousand Oaks: CQ Press, 2012), 60). For more information, check out the following Guide on Briefs from the Cornell University Law Library.
Supreme Court Briefs, 1982-2015
From the website of the United States Department of Justice.
US Supreme Court Briefs, 1999-2007
From the Findlaw website. Access to briefs is by term of oral argument and then alphabetically by case name.
U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs, 1832 - 1978
Comprehensive online collection of records and briefs brought before the nation's highest court by leading legal practitioners — many who later became judges and associates of the court. It includes transcripts, applications for review, motions, petitions, supplements and other official papers of the most-studied and talked-about cases, including many that resulted in landmark decisions. Note that between 1832-1853, the U.S. Supreme Court was required to print only the transcripts of records for a case, therefore, briefs for these dates will not be included in the database.