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January 2000

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Web Watch

Online Access to the Nation's Highest Court

Find just about anything about the U.S. Supreme Court with a bit of Web surfing.

by Robert J. Ambrogi

TIME WAS, it was a big deal to get Supreme Court opinions via the Internet. Today, opinions are only the tip of the iceberg of online information from or about the nation's ultimate arbiter. Briefs, arguments, biographies, calendars and more are available at the click of a mouse.

The Web's most recent offering on the Supreme Court is a free library of all briefs filed with the court beginning with the October 1999 term. Provided by the legal portal Findlaw, it includes all briefs filed in each case the court has agreed to hear -- those from the parties as well as from amicus curiae. Briefs are added weekly.

With lawyers allowed only 30 minutes to make oral arguments, their briefs become the best source for fully understanding the arguments in a case and the court's eventual ruling, Findlaw suggests. This makes them an invaluable research tool for lawyers.

The briefs are part of Findlaw's Constitutional Law Center.

Oyez Project

If you would rather listen to the arguments than read the briefs, the Web accommodates. Jump over to Northwestern University's Oyez Project where you can hear the actual, complete oral arguments. (You will need to have the free RealPlayer installed on your computer.)

Created by Northwestern professor Jerry Goldman in 1996 with a few dozen recordings, the Oyez project has grown into a significant multimedia database dedicated to the court, with more than 900 hours of audio materials, summaries of 1,000-plus Supreme Court opinions, biographical materials on all 108 justices, and a panoramic, virtual-reality tour of the Supreme Court building.

The project takes its name from the phrase by which the marshal of the court calls the courtroom to order. While at the site, you can place an order of a different sort -- for the "Greatest Hits" CD. These Supremes won't have you dancing in the aisles, but if your listening pleasure leans more towards Rehnquist than Ross, this CD lets you do it offline.

Professors' Network

For one-stop shopping of Supreme Court information, Jurist: The Law Professors' Network, recently introduced a comprehensive guide to the court. Compiled by Bernard J. Hibbitts, associate dean for communications & information technology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, the page is an index of links to Supreme Court resources.

From here, you can jump to the court's latest decision in full text, then see what the nation's major media had to say about it, surf over to a biography of the opinion author, see what other decisions he or she recently wrote, and finish up with a review of the court's argument schedule.

Academic Perspective

For a more academic perspective on the court, visit Supreme Court Web Buzz. It's part of the ongoing legal-lecture series presented by University of Ottawa Law Professor Michael A. Geist in conjunction with Lexis Publishing.

Geist presents a regularly updated guide to the most prominent cases on the Supreme Court's schedule. These are not lectures, in a strict sense, but guides to using the Web to understand each case and the issues it involves.


Of course, there are times when you really do want the opinion itself. On the Web, there is no shortage of places to find it. In fact, the Supreme Court has been disseminating its opinions electronically for a decade.

The best place to find the court's current opinions is through the Legal Information Institute at Cornell Law School. It contains all Supreme Court decisions since 1990, posted shortly after their release. You can search for a decision by key words or topic, and decisions are indexed by party name, date and docket number.

For sheer breadth, the best of the free sites is Findlaw. It houses a searchable database of all Supreme Court decisions since 1893. Cases can be browsed by year and U.S. Reports volume number or searched by citation, case title and full text.

A more limited library of older Supreme Court cases is available at the FedWorld/FLITE Supreme Court Decisions Homepage. It provides more than 7,000 Supreme Court opinions issued between 1937 and 1975.

USSCPlus is a commercial site, charging $49 a year for all Supreme Court decisions since 1922 and selected cases as far back as 1793. But the site charges nothing for opinions from the current term and also offers free access to the court's "Top 1,000" -- the opinions most frequently cited by the court itself.

If all this surfing is giving your mouse motion sickness, you can opt to sit back and have the court's news delivered to you by e-mail. The Legal Information Institute provides a free service that sends you official syllabi of court decisions on the day they are issued. If you want the full text, you send back a request and the decision is returned -- again, at no cost.

To subscribe to this service, send an e-mail to: Your message should read: "subscribe liibulletin Your Name" (substituting your name).

Both Findlaw and USSCPlus offer similar services for free. You can find out more at their Web sites.

Robert J Ambrogi is director of American Lawyer Media News Service.

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