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Law Library News for February 7, 2000

Mary Whisner, editor

Law Library News Archive


The Supreme Court -- In Brief

by Cheryl Nyberg

Remember those "young adult" afternoon specials on TV? At the end of the program, one of the actors would urge you to "read more about it" by getting one of several books recommended by the Library of Congress.*

The next time you hear an evening news report on a Supreme Court ruling in some momentous case, you can "read more about it" by getting the briefs filed in the case. These briefs are written by the parties' attorneys, who try to persuade the court to their side. Often, organizations and government agencies that are not parties to the case are keenly interested in the outcome. They may submit amicus, or "friend of the court," briefs to encourage the Justices to decide the case in their favor.

You have several options for obtaining Supreme Court briefs, depending on the date of the case. The following list identifies print and online sources available at the Gallagher Law Library.


  • Findlaw Constitutional Law Center,, provides text of briefs for cases in the Court's current term. The briefs are arranged by the first-named party and include amicus briefs as well as the litigants' briefs. The briefs are presented in the Portable Document Format (PDF), which exactly reproduces the printed versions. Unfortunately, you have to click on a "next" button to move through the document; this annoying features means that you can only print two pages at a time.
  •,, is a commercial site that sells copies of briefs for cases from the Supreme Court (1984 to present). Each brief costs $25; this site also uses PDF software. The supplier intends to offer briefs from the U.S. Courts of Appeals, going back to 1981, and the New York and Pennsylvania high courts. The site offers free access to the Supreme Court calendar, questions presented summaries, rules, and selected other documents.
  • Westlaw's SCT-Brief database contains briefs from the parties for cases going back to the 1993-94 term and amicus briefs from the 1995-96 term.
  • LEXIS-NEXIS Genfed; Briefs file contains briefs from 1979 forward.


  • Landmark Briefs and Records of the Supreme Court of the United States (KF101.9.L36 at Reference Stacks) reproduces briefs from selected significant constitutional cases. The earliest case dates from 1793. Among the cases included are Plessy v. Ferguson, Roe v. Wade, and Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Dep't of Health.
  •  U.S. Supreme Court Briefs, beginning with the 1936-37 term, are shelved in the Basement of the Gallagher Law Library. They are arranged by term and then by docket number; please include this information on the retrieval request form available at the Circulation Desk. The Court ships briefs to the Library only twice a year and there may be a delay in unpacking and shelving these shipments.
  • On microfilm, the Law Library has briefs covering 1832 to 1896.
  • On microfiche, the Library's Supreme Court briefs collection covers from 1897 to date. These briefs are organized by docket number. The commercial provider of the microfiche set sends new material approximately fourteen times a year.

* Note: The Library of Congress still recommends books. See its "Read More About It! website,

[Editor's note: See our expanded page on Briefs and Oral Arguments for more sources.]

Washington State Bar News

You might want to look at the Washington State Bar News, even before you graduate, take the bar, and start getting it mailed to you each month.

What will you see and why should you care?

  • The ads include online services, consulting services, malpractice insurance, and temp agencies. It gives you an interesting peek at the economic realities of law practice. The classified ads can give you ideas for your own career.
  • The letters to the editor show what your future colleagues are worked up about.
  • Articles often cover new developments in the law -- for instance, a new Washington statute or an emerging trend in case law. The January 2000 issue includes a survey of U.S. Supreme Court cases on criminal law from the 1998-1999 term.
  •  Other pieces often discuss controversial topics. For instance, in January, paired opinion pieces (by Leonard W. Schroeter and Brian McCoy) discuss the role of government in providing legal services to indigent litigants. The January issue also has "Money and Ethics: The Young Lawyer�s Conundrum," by Patrick J. Schlitz, a law professor who shares some of his experience from practice.
  • The "Ethics & the Law" section offers useful discussions of ethical topics. The Disciplinary Notices show you how lawyers get into trouble. Learning from their mistakes can help you on the ethics section of the bar exam, as well as in practice.

Current issues of the Washington State Bar News are kept on Reserve, call number KF332.W3W354. (Older volumes are in the Classified Stacks on the fifth floor, at the same call number.)