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U.S. Supreme Court Research Guide: General Research

General SCOTUS Sources

This page links to major publications, databases, and websites that offer Supreme Court opinions and other primary materials.

Major Sources of Supreme Court Materials

Find Opinions in Reporters

Historically, the term "reporter" described the individual person who compiled, edited, and published volumes of case law. Now "reporter" refers to the published books containing judicial opinions.

Below are the three main reporters of United States Supreme Court opinions. They can be found in print in the Law Library or online using on the Major Databases listed on this page. 

Note that there is an approximately 5-year delay between the date of a Supreme Court decision and its publication in the official U.S. Reports; the Supreme Court publishes Slip Opinions and Preliminary Prints long before bound volumes of U.S. Reports. During this window of time, you may cite to the unofficial reporters listed below, which publish much more quickly.

The following Digest is a useful tool for beginning research into print Reporters.

Find Docket Filings in Records and Briefs

Records and briefs are the papers submitted to or generated by a court in a particular case, including complaints, motion papers, court orders, and briefs filed by litigants and other interested parties. Availability varies for records and briefs pre-dating digital preservation, but the collections below provide access to the bulk of available Supreme Court records.

Most of these materials are found through the docket sheet. The docket for the case is the formal record, maintained by the court, which lists all of the proceedings and filings in a particular case - usually in reverse chronological order. Each filing in a case is given a docket number. The docket sheet allows a researcher to find the document they are looking for, and the date it was filed.

Finding the Docket Number

  • If you have the citation to a case, look up the case in U.S. Reports, Supreme Court Reporter, or Lawyer’s Edition (see "Reporters" on this page), or in an electronic format. The docket number appears in the preliminary information at the head of the case. 
  • If you do not have the citation to the case, look up the case by name in the “Table of Cases” volumes in the Federal Practice Digest or in the United States Supreme Court Digest to get the citation; then look up the case to obtain the docket number. The docket number appears in the preliminary information at the head of the case.
    • The Library's subscription to these print Digests ended in 2013. Docket numbers for more recent SCOTUS cases are available online through the Supreme Court's website (under "Case Documents") and SCOTUSBlog (under "Merits Cases").

These databases include the full text of every published opinion of the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as additional filings and docket material, secondary sources, and other tools for SCOTUS research.

These websites provide free access to Supreme Court opinions. Availability of documents and years of coverage vary by site.

The websites below are dedicated to research and analysis of the Supreme Court.

About Opinions

The Supreme Court’s opinions and related materials are disseminated to the public by means of four printed publications and two computerized services. Prior to the issuance of bound volumes of the U.S. Reports, the Court's official decisions appear in three temporary printed forms: bench opinionsslip opinions; and preliminary prints.

Phase One: Bench Opinions
On days that opinions are announced by the Court from the bench, the text of each opinion is made available immediately to the public and the press in a printed form called a "bench opinion." The bench opinion pamphlet for each case consists of the majority or plurality opinion, any concurring or dissenting opinions written by the Justices, and a prefatory syllabus prepared by the Reporter's Office that summarizes the decision. 

Phase Two: Slip Opinions
Several days after an opinion is announced by the Court, it is printed in a pamphlet called a "slip opinion." Each slip opinion 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. The slip opinion pamphlets are distributed by the Court's Public Information Office and sold by the GPO. The text of each slip opinion is also disseminated electronically via posting on the Supreme Court's website, usually within minutes after the opinion is announced. 

Phase Three: Preliminary Prints
The preliminary prints of the U.S. Reports 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. The contents of two or three preliminary prints will eventually be combined into a single bound volume. Thus, the title of each preliminary print includes a part number, e.g., Preliminary Print, Volume 577, Part 1. 

Phase Four: Bound Volumes
The fourth and final generation of opinion publication is the casebound set of law books entitled United States Reports. The opinions and other materials contained in the preliminary prints are republished in this series of books. Prior to publication, all of the opinions and other materials that make up each volume undergo a final editing and indexing process.

In case of discrepancies between the print and electronic versions of these bound volume materials, the print versions control. Only the bound volumes of the United States Reports contain the final, official text of the opinions of the Supreme Court.

Opinions of the Court, or majority opinions, are agreed to by more than half of the Justices and ar the official Opinion of the Supreme Court. The two types of opinions discussed below are written by individual Justices and go through the same four-phase publication process described above.

In-Chambers Opinions

Each Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States is assigned as the "Circuit Justice" to one or more of the 13 judicial circuits, and is tasked with addressing certain types of applications arising within the Circuit. The Circuit Justice for each circuit is responsible for dealing with certain types of applications that, under the Court's rules, may be addressed by a single Justice.

Most often, a Justice will dispose of such an application by simply noting that it is "Granted" or "Denied," or by entering a standard form of order unaccompanied by a written opinion. However, a Justice may elect to author an opinion explaining his or her reasons for granting or denying relief. Such an opinion is referred to as an "in-chambers opinion" or an "opinion in chambers."

An in-chambers opinion is written by an individual Justice to dispose of an application by a party for interim relief, e.g., for a stay of the judgment of the court below, for vacation of a stay, or for a temporary injunction.

Opinions Relating to Orders

The Court regularly issues orders in connection with cases. In contrast with opinions, orders are short rulings, usually resolving motions or petitions in a summary fashion. 

Opinions may be written by Justices to comment on the summary disposition of cases by orders, e.g., if a Justice wants to dissent from the denial of certiorari or concur in that denial.

This information was adapted from the Information About Opinions page of the U.S. Supreme Court website, located here: and last accessed October 30, 2018.

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