, December 1999

Copyright 1999 Robert J. Ambrogi
Getting To Know The Supreme Court

By Robert J. Ambrogi

Time was, it was a big deal to get Supreme Court opinions via the Internet. Today, opinions are only the tip of the online iceberg of Supreme Court information. Briefs, arguments, biographies, calendars and more are available at the click of a mouse.

The latest Web offering to focus on the high court is a free library of all briefs filed with the court beginning with the October 1999 term. Provided by the legal portal Findlaw, the library includes all the briefs filed in each case the court agrees to hear – those from the parties as well as from amicus curiae. Briefs are added to the library weekly.


With lawyers allowed only 30 minutes to make their oral arguments, their briefs become the best source for fully understanding the arguments in a case and the court’s eventual ruling, Findlaw suggests, making them an invaluable research tool for lawyers.


The briefs are part of Findlaw’s Constitutional Law Center and can be found at:


If you would rather listen to the arguments than read the briefs, the Web accommodates. Jump over to Northwestern University’s Oyez Project,, where you can hear the actual, complete oral arguments. (You will need to have the free RealPlayer installed on your computer.)


Created by Northwestern professor Jerry Goldman in 1996 with a few dozen recordings, the Oyez project has grown into a significant multimedia database dedicated to the court, with more than 900 hours of audio materials, 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.


The project takes its name from the phrase by which the marshal of the court calls the courtroom to order. While at the site, you can place an order of a different sort – for the “Greatest Hits” CD. These Supremes won’t have you dancing in the aisles, but if your listening pleasure leans more towards Rehnquist than Ross, this CD lets you do it offline.


For one-stop shopping of Supreme Court information, Jurist: The Law Professors' Network, recently introduced a comprehensive guide to the court, Compiled by Bernard J. Hibbitts, associate dean for communications & information technology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, the page is an index of links to Supreme Court resources.


From here, you can jump to the court’s latest decision in full text, then see 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/she recently wrote, and finish up with a review of the court’s coming schedule of arguments.


For a more academic perspective on the court, visit Supreme Court Web Buzz, part of the ongoing legal-lecture series presented by University of Ottawa Law Professor Michael A. Geist in conjunction with Lexis Publishing,


Geist presents a regularly updated guide to the most prominent cases on the Supreme Court’s schedule. These are not lectures, in a strict sense,but guides to using the Web to understand each case and the issues it involves.

Of course, there are times when you really do want the opinion itself. On the Web, there is no shortage of places to find it. In fact, the Supreme Court has been disseminating its opinions electronically for a decade.

The best place to find the court's current opinions is through the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School, It contains all Supreme Court 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.


For sheer breadth, the best of the free sites is Findlaw. It houses a searchable database of all Supreme Court decisions since 1893. Cases can be browsed by year and U.S. Reports volume number or searched by citation, case title and full text. It is at:


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


USSCPlus is a commercial site, charging $49 a year for its database that includes all Supreme Court decisions since 1922 and selected cases as far back as 1793. But the site also offers various free libraries providing access to current-term opinions and to the court’s “top 1,000” opinions – the opinions most frequently cited by the court itself. You can find it at:


If all this surfing of Supreme Court Web sites is giving your mouse motion sickness, you can opt to sit back and have the court’s news delivered directly to your computer. The Legal Information Institute provides a free service that automatically sends you via e-mail syllabi of court decisions on the day they are issued.


These are official syllabi prepared by the court's reporter of decisions. If you wish to obtain the full text of a decision, you e-mail back a request and the decision is e­mailed back to you – again, at no cost.


To subscribe to this service, send an e-mail message to: Your message should read: "subscribe liibulletin Your Name" (substituting your name).


Others offer similar, free services. Findlaw spnsors its own e-mail service with abstracts of Supreme Court opinions as they are released. You can subscribe to this through Findlaw’s Web site. Another is sponsored by USSCPlus, and includes a one-paragraph summary of each opinion and a link to the full text in Adobe Acrobat format.


Copyright 1999 Robert J. Ambrogi