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.
- Case file number from an index or docket (See blog post Locate a Supreme Court Case File Number using Online Resources for more information.)
- Party names/case file name, e.g. Schneck v. United States
- Your contact information--name, email, mailing address, and telephone number.
Send requests to firstname.lastname@example.org.
- 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