Legal Research | Section 2.4

Fundamentals of Legal Research by Adam J. McKee

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The Supreme Court of the United States

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Recall that the United States Supreme Court is the court of last resort at the federal level.  It is also the final authority on federal issues raised in state courts.  The Supreme Court is composed of one chief justice and eight associate justices (for a total of nine justices).  The justices are appointed for life by the President with the advice and approval of the United States Senate.  Justices of the Supreme Court can only be removed by impeachment.  In addition to serving as a court of last resort, the Supreme Court plays a supervisory role over all of the lower courts in the federal system.

The first reporters to contain Supreme Court cases were written by individuals and named for those individuals.  Because they were named for the individuals who collected the cases, they are referred to as nominative reporters.  Thus, the first ninety volumes of United States Reports are still sometimes cited by the names of the individual reporters.The official reporter of the Supreme Court is United States Reports, which is cited as U.S.  The official version of each case includes a syllabus, which is a summary of the facts and holding in the case.  The bound volumes of the official reports were notoriously slow to appear, taking up to three years to appear in print.  During the reign of bound books, the commercial versions became indispensable legal research tools because they were published much faster.

One of the most important commercial publishers of Supreme Court cases is Lawyers Co-operative Publishing Company.  This company publishes a set of reporters called U.S. Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers’ Edition.  This is often shortened to simply “Lawyers’ Edition.”  These reporters are cited as L.Ed.

After one hundred volumes, the Lawyers’ Edition was split into a second series of reporters.  The second series is cited as L.Ed.2d.   The editors publish their summary of the case along with their own headnotes.  Short summaries of the briefs of counsel are also provided.  These provide a synopsis of the legal arguments made by both sides in the case.

The major competitor to the Lawyers’ Edition is a series of reporters published by West Publishing called Supreme Court Reporter.  West prepares its own summary, which it calls a synopsis.   West also provides its “key number system” that links cases by topic to all related cases.

Modification History

File Created:  08/08/2018

Last Modified:  06/13/2019

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