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U.S. Government Legal Information: Case Law

Supreme Court Opinions: Free Internet Sources

What is Case Law?

Case law is the law of reported judicial opinions. Opinions are also known as reports or decisions. NOT all opinions published; trial court opinions are seldom published. A reported judicial opinion may include: majority or plurality opinion, concurrences or dissents, and a prefatory syllabus.

"Stare Decisis" (or precedent) is the basic concept of case law (common law) in which courts look to statutes and regulations and prior court decisions to formulate opinions. One method of determining prior law is to "Shepardize" a citation, using Shepard's Citations.

West view of the Supreme Court Bldg, with cherry blossoms

West view of the Supreme Court building, with cherry blossoms. Supreme Court of the United States website.

Federal Courts

Court Reporters (Reports)

  • Contain published or reported opinions of the court
  • Are arranged chronologically
  • Are published by jurisdiction. Delaware is in Atlantic region and Third Circuit.
  • United States Reports -- the reporter of the Supreme Court. Abbreviated: U.S. (Published by the federal government)
  • Reporters for other jurisdictions are commercially published
  • One case may be published in more than one reporter; citations to additional sources are called parallel citations
  • For a listing of the most popular reporters and their digests, see the tab:  Case Law Reporters & Legal Citations

Information About Opinions (Supreme Court) 

Bound volumes of U.S. Reports

Bound U.S. Reports

Bound volumes of U.S. Reports

Bound volumes of United States Reports contain the fourth and final generation of the Court's opinions and additional materials. The volumes consolidate opinions for an entire Term. These are the Official Reports of the Supreme court and are published by the Government Publishing Office.

It takes a long time to publish the bound volumes (6-8 years). For more current opinions, see Preliminary Prints, and Slip opinions (Public Laws)..

Preliminary Prints of U.S. Reports

Preliminary Prints of  U. S. Reports

The preliminary prints  are the third generation of opinion publication and dissemination. These are brown, soft-cover "advance pamphlets" that contain, in addition to the opinions themselves, all of the announcements, tables, indexes, and other features that make up the U. S. Reports.

Slip Opinions of the U. S. Reports

Slip Opinions of  U. S. Reports

Slip opinions are the first publicly available version of  opinions. Several days after an opinion is announced by the Court (the bench opinion), it is printed in a 6" x 9" self-cover pamphlet called a "slip opinion." Each consists of the majority or plurality opinion, any concurring or dissenting opinions, and the syllabus. It may contain corrections not appearing in the bench opinion.

Digests and Regional Digests

LexisNexis Academic and  HeinOnline (Library Databases) both offer keyword searching and in many situations replace using a digest.

Digests

  • Are multi-volume subject indexes to case law
  • Are arranged alphabetically by subject (points of law). Each Digest has a multi-volume "Descriptive Index" to assist laypersons in finding points of law
  • Are compiled by state, geographic area, or jurisdiction. Delaware is in Atlantic region and Third Circuit
  • Are commercially published
  • Are updated by pocket parts and pamphlets
  • Include table of cases and plaintiff-defendant and defendant-plaintiff case indexes
  • West's digests use topic and key number classification, keyed to the West's published court opinions.

Subject Librarian

Rebecca Knight's picture
Rebecca Knight
Contact:
Associate librarian
Reference and Instructional Services Department
Morris Library, Room 117H

Subjects: U.S. Government Information,
Delaware, census, family studies, RefWorks, APA style, and genealogy.


Education:
B.A., History. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 1973.
M.S., Library Science. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 1981.

Names of Court Reporters

Example of citation to a court reporter, formatted as a universal citation. From AALL publication Universal Citation Guide, Version 2.1.

Words and Phrases