Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Keeping up with the Supremes

As summer turns into fall, we approach "First Monday," the start of the Supreme Court term. The Supreme Court does not ease into the new term – there are arguments scheduled on Monday, October 1st! Luckily, there are plenty of resources for keeping track of the latest Supreme Court action all year long.


First, you need to know what cases the Supreme Court is considering. Luckily, the Court does a good job of keeping its website updated with current information. For instance, it posts its argument calendar months in advance. The blog SCOTUSblog and the newsletter U.S. Law Week (subscription required) also have the calendar and have the added benefit of including case previews. Keep in mind that just because a case was appealed to the Supreme Court, it will not necessarily mean the case will be heard. To check if the court did grant certiorari to a case you are tracking, or disposed of it without a hearing, you can look over the Supreme Court's Order Lists to see its dispositions in many cases at once, or just Shepardize or KeyCite your particular case.


If you want a preview of the arguments that the parties' attorneys will make, or at least try to make, at oral argument, the best place to look is briefs filed in the case. The Court itself does not host the briefs filed in any of the cases it hears. Those briefs are on the American Bar Association website with its Supreme Court Preview, but only those for the current year. The ABA has briefs from the parties as well as briefs from amici in the case. Older briefs are available on Westlaw and Lexis.


If you want to see a Supreme Court hearing, you have to go to Washington, D.C. – the Court does not televise its proceedings, and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. However, you can listen to an audio recording of the arguments. The Supreme Court puts them online at the end of every week.

If the end of the week is too long to wait, the SCOTUSblog posts daily updates from hearings, with summaries of the arguments and the questions asked by the Justices. SCOTUSblog also maintains a page with convenient summaries of all of the term’s cases, in chronological order.


After hearings, it can take the Court months to actually decide a case. The Justices and their clerks are very tight-lipped about their deliberations, meaning that it is hard to even find rumors of how a case is being decided. Then, they don't even pre-announce the day that they are going to decide a particular case; the Court announces that there will be opinions handed down on a day, and then you have to tune in (not literally - see above) to see what cases they decide. Once a case is decided, the case is quickly put online with the Court's other recent slip opinions. Lexis, Westlaw and many other legal databases also post them within a day. Don't hold your breath waiting for them in print. The official source of Supreme Court opinions, U.S. Reports, is several years behind in printing cases.

Knowing The Rules


Just as it is hard to follow football without knowing the rules, following the Supreme Court is more satisfying if you know the rules of the game. The Court posts its rules on its website. However, if you want a full analysis of not just the rules, but how they play out in real life, check out the book Supreme Court Practice. It's 1500 pages long, but there is no better source for explaining the intricacies of Supreme Court procedure.

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