Notes from the Technology Trenches - Internet Resources for Tracking Information on the Supreme Court

Roger Skalbeck is the Technology Services Librarian and Webmaster at George Mason University School of Law in Virginia, and he is a web committee member for the Law Librarians' Society of Washington, D.C.  Opinions expressed in this column do not necessarily reflect those of his employer or any other organization. This column, of course, is 100% free of any legal advice.

Every Fall starts a new term in the Supreme Court of the United States, with a whole new group of petitions, order lists, filings, oral arguments and eventually written decisions to track. For people with a keen interest in the court, there are a plethora of sources on the Internet for tracking the business of the court. As several resources have become available on the Internet since the final written decisions of the last term, I have decided to dedicate this month’s column to an update on places to find information about the Supreme Court. Decisions of the Supreme Court were amongst the first primary materials to appear on the Internet, and they are now available for as far back as 1893. In this column, I’ll focus primarily on other sources of information from and about the court.

Calendar, Order Lists, Briefs and Oral Arguments

The most important site to come out since the start of the previous October term is the official site of the Supreme Court. The court now provides docket sheets, order lists, a calendar and recent opinions directly on the Internet. Much of this information had previously been available for free through the court’s dial-up service, but users outside of metropolitan Washington D.C. still had to pay for the long-distance call. The official site of the Supreme Court also includes information on admission to the court, copies of current rules and a host of background documents describing the court.

One type of document unavailable on the court’s official site is the briefs filed for matters before the court. Thankfully other sites provide access to these materials, with the most useful free collection provided by FindLaw, covering the October 1999 and 2000 terms. In addition to this, the Office of the Solicitor General also has an online collection of briefs filed with the Supreme Court, which can be searched by key word or viewed by filing type or subject matter. Selected Merits Briefs from the Solicitor General’s site go back as far as 1982, and a complete collection of filings are available from July 1998 to the present.

Expanding on materials now available directly through the court, two of the best sources for tracking the court’s calendar and obtaining order lists are provided by academic universities. Cornell’s Legal Information Institute has been providing copies of Supreme Court materials since at least the early 1990s, and they continue to improve this collection. Of particular interest for tracking the most recent activities are links for "this month’s decisions" and "this month’s order lists". There is also a dynamic list of "all cases scheduled for argument from the current date forward", which incorporates docket information as well as links to case-specific details provided by the Medill School of Journalism as a part of their On the Docket site.

On the Docket is provided in conjunction with The Oyez Project at Northwestern University, which provides recordings of selected Supreme Court oral arguments. On the Docket presents an impressive hyperlinked court docket for each case, incorporating links to underlying court decisions on FindLaw or official court sites, briefs available on government and commercial sites, as well as additional limited links if relevant to a specific case. The On the Docket site is not as polished or refined as that of the Legal Information Institute, but this does not at all detract from the relevant and "on-point" nature of the links provided with each case. By all means, On the Docket is a great starting point for getting primary legal materials associated with current Supreme Court cases.

Because the oral argument materials in The Oyez Project don’t typically appear until nine or ten months after the close of the previous session, practitioners will often require faster and more in-depth access. Beginning with the current term, the Supreme Court thankfully provides transcripts of oral arguments for free on their web site. An interesting situation arose in researching this article, in that I found transcripts available on the court’s site before appearing on Lexis-Nexis or Westlaw.

The Supreme Court site provides information on the availability of oral argument transcripts, and the easiest access to a historical collection of argument transcripts is probably through Lexis-Nexis or Westlaw. Online, Westlaw coverage goes back through 1990, and Lexis-Nexis has them available from the beginning of the 1979 term. To obtain official transcripts of oral arguments, you will probably need to get them directly from Alderson Reporting Company. Alderson Reporting currently holds an exclusive contract for transcribing Supreme Court oral arguments, and they also supply transcripts to Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw. The first place where the most current transcripts can be ordered is found directly on the Alderson Reporting web site.

Commentary on Supreme Court Cases

Several newspapers and media organizations provide current and wide-ranging coverage and analysis of cases before the Supreme Court. These sites provide by far the some of the most up-to-date and in-depth, analytical coverage of the courts. Interestingly, the sites for three major newspapers, which are presumably close competitors, have incorporated substantial content from FindLaw for the related primary legal materials. On each of these sites, FindLaw content appears in a format incorporated into the stylistic framework of each newspaper’s site, with materials actually being hosted by FindLaw under URL addresses such as: http://supreme.usatoday.findlaw.com/supreme_court/resources.html. Following are links to each of these resources, along with press release information from FindLaw about each media partnership.

Some additional sources worth mentioning include Law.com’s Supreme Court Monitor. Along with other sites and services in the Law.com family, this collection is rich in content provided by American Lawyer Media publications such as the Legal Times and the National Law Journal, so it sure to have analysis geared towards practicing lawyers. The C-SPAN site also has a topical page entitled Issue: Law/Courts, which includes multimedia coverage from C-SPAN radio and television broadcasts. Though other courts are included, by far the majority of them are from the Supreme Court.

One final site for Supreme Court news is: Yahoo! News Full Coverage- Supreme Court News. This incorporates links to stories in national newspapers such as the Washington Post or the Boston Globe as well as wire services such as the Associated Press. They also incorporate links to audio and video content, and in the spirit of all Yahoo! sources, they provide a concise collection of links to other places to find information on the court.

I did not intend this to be a comprehensive list of sources for Supreme Court materials, but I do hope that this provides you with some new suggestions of where to find information about the highest court in the land. If you have suggestions for other sources, or if you have any comments on this column, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Copyright © 2000 Roger V. Skalbeck. All Rights Reserved.