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 building, with cherry blossoms. Supreme Court of the United States website.
Information About Opinions (Supreme Court)
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
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 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.
B.A., History. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 1973.
M.S., Library Science. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. 1981.
Example of citation to a court reporter, formatted as a universal citation. From AALL publication Universal Citation Guide, Version 2.1.