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2021

Special thanks to Rebecca Sharp, Archives Specialist and Rose Buchanan, Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, DC, for collaborating on this blog post.

 

Article III, Section 1, of the Constitution established and empowered the judicial branch of the Federal Government, including the Supreme Court of the U.S. The Supreme Court's jurisdiction over lower courts was established by authority of the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789 (1 Stat. 73).

 

The National Archives in Washington, DC, provides access to U.S. Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction case files beginning in 1792. Case files can contain the following documents, although not all case files contain all of these documents: petitions for writs of error or certiorari; transcripts of record from lower courts; exhibits; motions; orders; judgments; mandates; opinions (majority, concurring, and/or dissenting); and administrative correspondence. A general overview of Supreme Court records at the National Archives is available online.

 

Case files from 1792-1831 are available online in the National Archives Catalog (originally microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M214). Records are arranged by the court assigned docketed case file number. To find the case file number, you will first need to check the digitized index in the National Archives Catalog (originally microfilmed as National Archives Microfilm Publication M408). See blog post Locate a Supreme Court Case File Number for guidance about how to interpret the index cards.

 

How to Make a Request

Successful requests for Supreme Court Case Files contain the following information.

Send requests to archives1reference@nara.gov.

 

Helpful Hints

  • NARA can only provide copies of an entire case file. If you are seeking copies of select documents, you will need to conduct on-site research and make your own self-service copies. You are also welcome to hire an independent researcher to perform this work your behalf.
  • The citation from the U.S. Report is not the case file number. (See blog post Locate a Supreme Court Case File Number using Online Resources for more information.)
  • Case file contents can vary greatly.

 

Examples of Records in Case Files from Loving v. Virginia, Case 395 OT 1966

Decision

Telegram to Bernard Cohen Announcing the Verdict

Copy of Appeal (Page 1 of 4)

Special thanks to Rebecca Sharp, Archives Specialist and Rose Buchanan, Archivist at the National Archives in Washington, DC, for writing this blog post.

 

The National Archives in Washington, DC, provides access to U.S. Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction case files beginning in 1792. To make a successful request for a specific Supreme Court record, you must first determine the case file number and provide the number to our staff. This number is crucial for us to be able to search for and locate the appropriate case file(s). An overview of Supreme Court records at the National Archives is available online.

 

Below is an explanation of three online sources for identifying the case file number.

 

Search Tips

  • If you do not find a case listed in the year that it was decided, check the year before and after the decision.
  • If the case is "Miscellaneous" make sure to include "Miscellaneous" as part of the case file number.
  • If you are researching a case involving a ship, search various terms including: ship, schooner, brig, the name of the ship, the name of the ship’s owner, etc.
  • Search for both the defendant’s and the plaintiff’s names.

 

Index Cards, 1792 – 1909

The Index to Appellate Case Files of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1792-1909 is available digitally through the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 1537559). To begin searching, click on the “search within this series” button. The cards are arranged alphabetically by party's name.

 

Below is an example of an index card for Plessy v. Ferguson. The file number 15248 is the case file number.

Engrossed Dockets, 1792 – 1995

Three microfilm series of Engrossed Dockets of the U.S. Supreme Court have been digitized and are available through the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 1524561). Click on the “Search within this series” button. Browse until you find the appropriate year span. If the docket book does not include an index, you will need to search page-by-page and line-by-line until you find the case file number of interest.

 

From 1792 through 1933, the case file numbers are strictly numerical. For example, the case file number for Schneck v. United States is 26484.

From 1934 through 1970, the case file number consists of the docket number and the October Term (O.T.). For example, the case file for Korematsu v. United States is 22 O.T. 1944.

The filing scheme transitions in 1970. A 1970 case file may be either the docket number and October Term or the last two digits of the year followed by a dash and then the docket number. From 1971 through the present, the case file number is the last two digits of the year followed by a dash then the docket number. For example, the case file number for Roe v. Wade is 70-18 (filed in 1970).

 

Reports, 1957 – Present

A citation from the U.S. Reports is insufficient for staff to locate a case file as it only includes the volume number followed by the page number.

 

Beginning ca. 1957, U.S. Reports include the case file number. The case file number will be listed near the top of the first page related to the case. The October Term should be listed at the top of the page (or the top of the opposite page) as well.

 

For example, the U.S. Reports citation for the case Epperson v. Arkansas is 393 U.S. 97. From 1934 through 1970, the case file number consists of the docket number, the October Term (O.T.), and filing year. The court issued case file number for Epperson v. Arkansas is 7 O.T. 1968--this is the number that National Archives staff need to locate the record.

The citation in the U.S. Reports for Roe v. Wade is 410 U.S. 113. Starting partway through 1970 to present, case file numbers consist of the last two digits of the year followed by a dash then the docket number. The case file number for Roe v. Wade is 70-18--this is the number that National Archives staff need to locate the records.

 

U.S. Reports for the years 1792 through 2003 are available online through the Library of Congress. The remaining portions of the 2014 term are available through in a preliminary print version. U.S. Reports for the years 1991 through 2014 part are available through the Supreme Court of the United States. The remaining portions of the 2014 term are also available online in a preliminary print version.

 

Electronic Dockets for Closed Appellate Cases, 1996 - 2006

The Electronic Dockets for Closed Appellate Cases of the U.S. Supreme Court, is available through the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 4325222). To begin searching, click on the “search within this series” button. The dockets are organized by term year during which the docket was closed. The Supreme Court term year begins on the first Monday of October and lasts until the first Monday in October of the next year. Questions about these records should be emailed to the National Archives Electronic Records staff at cer@nara.gov.

 

Below is an example of the docket for Texas v. Sierra Club, et al. The Court assigned case file number is 96-3.

 

See Request a Supreme Court Case File for how to make a record request.