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Court Briefs, Oral Arguments & Dockets Research Guide: Finding Briefs

Finding Briefs: Contents

|   Online Subscription Databases   |   Free Websites   |   Print & Microform   |   Research Guides   |

Briefs: Online Subscription Databases

Gale U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs (1832-1978)  - This is the most comprehensive online resource available for U.S. Supreme Court records and briefs.

Lexis Advance - Under all Content Type which is located under the Search Box, you can specifically search for only briefs, pleadings, and motions. You can also narrow your search by picking the jurisdiction and topic. These are all included under the Search Box. If there is a specific brief you want from a case, search for the case.  On the left hand side, there should be a link to all of the briefs. This usually only applies to the most current cases. 

Westlaw - From the Westlaw homepage, Click on Briefs under the All Content section. The briefs are broken into 3 sections: Federal, State, and Topical.

Bloomberg Law - Court Briefs can be found by going Search & Browse -> All Legal Content -> U.S. Courts -> Court Briefs. Collection features briefs filed in the United States Supreme Court from 1942 to current.

  • Another way to find briefs are under dockets if you have a specific case. Search for the case under docket search. Once you clicked on the case, at the bottom of the page there should be the docket. If you want a brief click on the number to the left. The number will be either blue or green. If it is blue it means it is available now. However, if it is green still click on it and all you have to do is send an email and Bloomberg will retrieve it to you within minutes.

LLMC Digital - A searchable collection of archival legal literature, case reports, statutes and documents. LLMC Digital provides online records and briefs for selected California and New York cases. Records and briefs for the New York Court of Appeals cover the time period 1863-1991. California case records and briefs are available for various dates, with some as early as the nineteenth century.

Briefs: Free Websites

There are a few free online sources for court briefs but none of them are comprehensive. 

  • US Supreme Court - To access the briefs, click "Merits Briefs." Merits Briefs (not including amici curiae briefs and joint appendices) for the term are available through the Court's web site link to the American Bar Association's Supreme Court Preview. These electronic versions are unofficial. The official briefs are printed versions filed with the Court. Available for current term only.
  • RECAP Archive - The Free Law Project is attempting to download all of the opinions and orders that are available on PACER, and make them freely accessible.
  • Office of the Solicitor General - provides access to government briefs filed on behalf of the United States. All briefs filed by the Solicitor General with the Supreme Court on or after July 1, 1998, except for responses to petitions in "in forma pauperis" or "IFP" cases. Selected briefs from 1982-1986. OSG also provides a glossary, which provides helpful definitions of terms and explanations of Court procedures.
  • SCOTUSblog - reports Supreme Court cases and provides links to some decisions and briefs. (September 29, 2002 - present) For a specific term click here.
  • American Bar Association - In their Supreme Court Preview, access to briefs from 2003 to current term are available.
  • Findlaw (Supreme Court Center) - Selected briefs are available for the 1999- 2007 terms. For briefs, click on Supreme Court Briefs.
  • LLRX.com - Features Free and Fee Based Appellate Court Briefs Online
  • Court Records Free Reference and Directory - provides direct links to U.S. trial courts, some of which provide downloadable documents.

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Briefs: Print & Microform

It is difficult to find briefs before 1832 because the Supreme Court did not order records in cases to be printed until the January Term 1832 (i.e., 6 Peters). We recommend contacting the National Archives and Records Administration regarding its records and briefs holdings.

The Library does have an Index of Cases before 1832 in the book Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States: Constitutional Law - KF 101.9 L36. The cases listed are:

  • Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 Dallas 419 (1793)
  • Ware v. Hylton, 3 Dallas 199 (1796)
  • Marbury v. Madison, 1 Cranch 137 (1803)
  • Ex parte Bollman, 4 Cranch 75 (1807)
  • Fletcher v. Peck, 6 Cranch 87 (1810)
  • Martin v. Hunter's Lessee, 1 Wheaton 304 (1816)
  • McCulloch v. Maryland, 4 Wheaton 316 (1819)
  • Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheaton 518 (1819)
  • Cohens v. Virginia, 6 Wheaton 264 (1821)
  • Gibbons v. Ogden, 9 Wheaton 1 (1824)
  • Osborn v. Bank of the U.S., 9 Wheaton 738 (1824)
  • Ogden v. Saunders, 12 Wheaton 213 (1827)
  • Brown v. Maryland, 12 Wheaton 419 (1827)
  • American Insurance Co. v. Canter, 1 Peters 511 (1828)
  • Cherokee Nation v. Georgia, 5 Peters 1 (1831)

The library has available, in paper or microform, records and briefs for the following jurisdictions:

  • United States Supreme Court - Paper (1839-1891 & 1913-1979); Microform (1832-1896 & 1976-2011). Note: While extensive in scope, this set does not include briefs for all cases.  Summary disposition and certiorari denied cases are included in the 1976-2001 microfiche set.
  • United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit - Paper (1891-1980); Microform (1985 – 1987; 1989-1994). Note: this set is incomplete.
  • United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals - Paper (1831-1979)
  • California Supreme Court - Paper (1906-1974); Microform (1895-mid 1930’s; 1959-1964; 1969-1995; 1998-2014)
  • California Court of Appeal - Paper Volumes 1-3000Volumes 3001-4649 (1906-1978); Microform (1895-mid 1930’s; 1969-2014 )

The print collection of briefs is shelved in limited access off-site compact shelving.  These bound volumes for the federal courts are arranged by term and docket number. Special indexes for the bound volumes of California records and briefs are located at the Reference Desk.

All of the micrographic holdings are in the 4th floor Micrographics Room, except for the 1996-2014 California briefs, which are in limited access 5th floor storage.  The currency of the microform records and briefs differs by jurisdiction and is dependent on the microform publisher. Users should consult with a reference librarian for assistance in locating the records and briefs for specific opinions.


A Union List of Appellate Court Records and Briefs: Federal and State, by Michael Whiteman & Peter Scott Campbell

Appellate court records and briefs are a useful resource for legal research, offering a wealth of background information on cases that may explain the reasoning behind judicial opinions.  This book highlights the availability of both free and fee-based resources, and also includes information about libraries and archives that maintain briefs in print and microform. This book is divided into four sections: United States Supreme Court, United States Circuit Courts of Appeals, State Final Appellate Courts, and State Intermediate Appellate Courts.

Briefs: Research Guides

U.S. Supreme Court - Where to Find Briefs
Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States - Index
American Assoc. of law Libraries - A Union List of Appellate Court Records and Briefs
Georgetown Law Library - Briefs, Oral Arguments & Other Court Documents Research Guide
Boston University School of Law - Strategies for Finding Briefs
Duke Law - Court Records and Briefs
LexisNexis - Zimmerman's Research Guide
Law Library of Congress - U.S. Supreme Court Records & Briefs
LLRX.com - The Skinny Briefs
Harvard Law School - Records, Briefs & Court Findings
Gallagher Law Library  - Court Briefs & Oral Arguments: U.S. Supreme Court