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August 2003

A Supreme Collection of High Court Resources

By Robert J. Ambrogi

One controversy not on the Supreme Court's agenda when it begins its new term the first Monday in October is the legality of downloading MP3s. Too bad. Had it been, you could have downloaded the oral arguments in this popular audio file-sharing format.

The Oyez Projecthas provided streaming audio of Supreme Court arguments since 1996. But it took a leap forward in June by adding Supreme Court audio in MP3 format. The first set of releases included 51 cases, with more being added regularly.

Oyez continues to provide streaming access to more than 2,000 hours of Supreme Court audio. It includes all audio recorded in the court since 1995 and selective audio before then. The project's aim is to create a complete collection of all audio since 1955.

Created by Northwestern University professor Jerry Goldman in 1996 with a few dozen recordings, Oyez has grown into a significant multimedia database dedicated to the court. Besides the audio collection, it includes summaries of 1,000-plus Supreme Court opinions, biographical materials on all 108 justices, and a panoramic, virtual reality tour of the Supreme Court building.

Dockets, Briefs and More

It was not all that long ago that just getting Supreme Court opinions over the Internet seemed like a big deal. As Oyez demonstrates, we've come a long way. Today, opinions are only the tip of the online iceberg of Supreme Court information. Briefs, arguments, biographies, calendars and commentary are available at the click of a mouse.

In fact, it was not until 2000 that the Supreme Court launched a site of its own, www.supremecourtus.gov. It includes opinions beginning with the 1999 term. It also features the court's automated docket, through which users may access information about cases, both pending and decided. Beginning in October 2000, the court added transcripts of all oral arguments to the site, where they will be archived permanently. Other features include orders, an argument calendar, the court's schedule, the Rules of the Supreme Court, bar admission forms and instructions, visitors' guides, case handling guides, special notices, press releases and general information.

One resource it does not include is briefs. Those you can find at FindLaw's Supreme Court Center, which has all briefs filed with the court beginning with the October 1999 term. Besides briefs, FindLaw provides a broad array of resources. It includes all the court's opinions since 1893; the court's docket, including summaries of the questions presented and links to the lower court opinions; the court's orders; its calendar; its rules; a filing guide; and biographies of all the justices. FindLaw columnists provide commentary on the court.

For one-stop shopping of Supreme Court information, Jurist: The Law Professors' Network offers a comprehensive index of links to Supreme Court resources, . From here, you can jump to the court's latest decision, then read what the nation's major media had to say about it, surf over to a biography of the opinion author, see what other decisions he or she recently wrote, and finish up with a review of the court's coming schedule of arguments.

On the Docket, a project of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism, offers a journalist's perspective on the Supreme Court. The site lists pending and prior-term cases, with a story on each case, additional feature stories on selected cases, links to Web sites relevant to the cases, information provided by attorneys and parties in the cases, the dates for scheduled oral arguments, the questions presented to the court, names of the attorneys in the cases, and citations for the lower court opinions. Coverage dates back to the 1998-99 term.

Another useful resource for information about the goings on at the Supreme Court is Appellate.net, the Web site of Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw's appellate and Supreme Court practice group. The site covers a range of appellate courts, but its Supreme Court coverage focuses on cases of interest to the business community, as well as on cases in which Mayer, Brown attorneys played a role.

If you prefer to look back at what the Supreme Court did in the past, visit the Web site of The Supreme Court Historical Society. This fascinating site looks at the history of the Supreme Court through features such as "Supreme Court Decisions and Women's Rights," which explores how the court has reviewed laws that discriminate by sex, and "FDR & the Court-Packing Controversy," a Flash documentary about FDR's 1937 attempt to enlarge the court.


Of course, there are times when all you want are the court's opinions. On the Web, there is no shortage of places to find them.

As noted, the Supreme Court's own site includes its opinions beginning with the 1999 term. And for sheer breadth, FindLaw's collection is the best of the free sites, with a searchable database of all decisions issued since 1893. Cases can be browsed by year and U.S. Reports volume number or searched by citation, case title and full text.

The court's current opinions are also available through the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School. It contains all decisions since 1990, posted shortly after their release. You can search for a decision by key words or topic, and decisions are indexed by party name, date and docket number. Read the decision in your choice of HTML or Adobe Acrobat format.

A more limited library of older Supreme Court cases is available at the FedWorld/FLITE Supreme Court collection. It provides a database of more than 7,000 Supreme Court opinions issued between 1937 and 1975.

USSCPlus is a commercial site, charging $39 a year for its database that includes all Supreme Court decisions since 1879. The site offers free access to current term opinions.

If you prefer to have the court's news delivered directly to your computer, the Legal Information Institute provides a free e-mail service that delivers syllabi of court decisions the day they are issued. These are official syllabi prepared by the court's reporter of decisions. Subscribe to this service at http://liibulletin.law.cornell.edu.

Others offer similar free services. FindLaw provides daily abstracts of Supreme Court opinions by e-mail. You can subscribe here: http://newsletters.findlaw.com. USSCPlus offers an e-mail service that includes a one-paragraph summary of each opinion and a link to the full text in Adobe Acrobat format. Subscribe at the company's Web site.

In May, the LII began offering summaries of Supreme Court decisions delivered via an RSS feed. There are two feeds. One includes only decisions handed down that day. The other includes recent decisions, which, when the court is in session, means the most recent 30 days. The daily RSS feed is at: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/rss/0.91/supct_today.rss. The recent decisions feed is at: http://supct.law.cornell.edu/supct/rss/0.91/supct_recent.rss.


© 2003 to 2007 Robert J. Ambrogi.