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Federal Law Research Guide   Tags: federal  

The Federal Documents Collection at Thurgood Marshall Law Library
Last Updated: Oct 5, 2017 URL: Print Guide RSS Updates

Case Law Print Page

Case Law

U.S. Supreme Court

Print: U.S. Supreme Court opinions are published in the official case reporter United States Reports, from 1875-. United States Reports are available in PDF format from the Supreme Court from 1991 to present, with a 5-year embargo. In addition, opinions are published unofficially in West's Supreme Court Reporter (1882 to present), Lawyer's Edition (1790 to present) and United States Law Week (1933 to present). 

The following table summarizes the three main Supreme Court reporters and gives the citation abbreviation:

U.S. Court



Supreme Court

United States Reports (1875- )


Supreme Court Reporter  (1882- )

S. Ct.

United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition (1790- )

L. Ed.
L. Ed. 2d

Earlier United States Reports are available in print in our library and on HeinOnline. Volumes 1-90 were named after the the Reporter of Decisions: 

  • Dallas (1789-1800)
  • Cranch (1801-1815)
  • Wheaton (1816-1827)
  • Peters (1828-1842)
  • Howard (1843-1860)
  • Black (1861-1862)
  • and Wallace (1863-1874).

Online: In addition to the United States Reports sources, Supreme Court opinions are searchable and have star pagination on Google Scholar from 1754-present. Opinions are also on the Supreme Court website, which provides access to the most recent slip opinions.

Subscription-based services: Supreme Court opinions are available to subscribers on Lexis and Westlaw (1790 to present) shortly after their release. Supreme Court opinions are also avialable for a subscription from Versuslaw, Fastcase and Loislaw.

U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal and U.S. District Courts

The United States is divided into 12 regional judicial circuits, each of which has a federal court of appeals. Use the U.S. Courts Court Locator Map to find a federal court location. The 12 circuits are further divided into 94 districts, each fo which has a federal district court. The federal appellate courts hear appeals from the district courts located within its circuit (and appeals from decisions of federal administrative agencies).

The federal district courts are the federal trial courts, and they hear both civil and criminal matters. Of the 94 federal judicial districts, there is at least one district in each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, as well as in three territories of the United States -- the Virgin Islands, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. Find a district court using this Printable Circuit/District map (pdf).

Special trial courts: Bankruptcy courts make up a separate unit of the district courts, and have exclusive jurisdiction over bankruptcy cases (meaning bankruptcy matters cannot be filed in state court). The Court of International Trade, a special trial court, has nationwide jurisdiction over cases involving international trade and customs issues. Another special trial court, the United States Court of Federal Claims, has nationwide jurisdiction over most claims for money damages against the United States, disputes over federal contracts, unlawful "takings" of private property by the federal government, and a variety of other claims against the United States.

Print: Major Federal Reporters--This list does not include some specialized courts.

U.S. Court



Courts of Appeal

West's Federal Reporter, 3d Series (1988-present)


Federal Reporter, 2d Series (1925-88)


Federal Reporter (1880-1924)


Federal Appendix (2001-present)  

F. App'x

District Courts

West's Federal Supplement, 2d Series (1988-present)

F. Supp. 2d

Federal Supplement (1933-88)

F. Supp.

Federal Rules Decisions (1941-present)


Bankruptcy Courts

West's Bankruptcy Reporter


Online: U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeals and District Court opinions are searchable online through Google Scholar (1920s-present). 

Subscription-based services: Opinions available through subscription-based legal research systems such as Bloomberg LawLexisWestlawLOISFastcase, and Versuslaw, provide extensive coverage, annotations and sophisticated search options.

Court Docket Files

The U.S. Supreme Court website provides searchable Supreme Court docket files for the current and prior terms by party name, Supreme Court docket number or a lower court's docket number.

PACER is the federal online repository case filings of U.S. District Courts (varies, but generally from 2005 to present), including the full text of pleadings, orders and other documents in the "Record on Appeal." PACER charges a small fee per page. Bloomberg Law provides the same Docket Sheets as PACER, but for subscribers the fee is waived. Westlaw allows full text searching of select briefs and pleadings for cases starting in 1975.


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