Briefs, Oral Arguments & Other Court Documents Research Guide
This guide collects sources for appellate briefs, oral argument transcripts, and other documents from state and federal courts.
The word "brief" has two meanings in law:
- "A written statement setting out the legal contentions of a party in litigation, especially on appeal; a document prepared by counsel as the basis for arguing a case, consisting of legal and factual arguments and the authorities in support of them." (Black's Law Dictionary, 7th Edition, p.186)
- An analytical summary of a court opinion
This guide focuses on the first kind of brief: written legal arguments submitted to a court. This guide lists reliable sources for briefs by court level. It also recommends a few handbooks on how to write briefs.
Where to Find...
This guide focuses on electronic, print and microform resources readily available in the Georgetown Law Library. Michael Whiteman and Peter Scott Campbell's A Union List of Appellate Court Records and Briefs: Federal and State (1999) KF105.9 W49 lists print and microform collections of federal and state appellate court records and briefs by level of court and by state.
U.S. Supreme Court Briefs
Supreme Court records and briefs provide facts of the case, the arguments advanced by both sides, and the positions taken by those filing amicus briefs. The library has briefs from all cases decided by the Supreme Court from 1832 to the present. The library also has briefs from cases where the Court denied review beginning in 1982. The National Archives maintains a collection of briefs for cert. denied cases prior to 1982.
Current briefs are available online through the US Supreme Court site, and 6-8 weeks later in microfiche. For cert. denied cases, briefs are available on microfiche approximately 8-10 weeks after the date the Court denied review and are not available online.
U. S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs 1832-1978 is an electronic resource offering access to PDF files searchable by Case Name, Author, Keyword or Full Text.
Lexis and Westlaw. The full text of merit briefs (1979-present) and amicus briefs (1979-1994) in cases where the Court has granted review are available on LEXIS (Legal > Federal Legal - US > Supreme Court Cases & Materials > U.S. Supreme Court Briefs). Lexis has selected coverage from 1936 to 1979. Westlaw has Supreme Court briefs coverage beginning with briefs filed during the 1930 term. Briefs are available online prior to oral argument. They are usually online within a few weeks of the date they were filed. The following are examples of searches that will retrieve all the briefs for a case:
|Type of Search||Lexis Segment Name||Westlaw Field Name||Search|
Lexis: NAME(United States and Alfonso Lopez)
Westlaw: TI("United States" & "Alfonso Lopez")
Follow this path All Legal Content>U.S. Courts> Court Briefs>Federal Court Briefs>Supreme Court Briefs
- US Supreme Court. To access the briefs, click "Merits Briefs." Merits Briefs (not including amici curiae briefs and joint appendices) for the term are available through the Court's web site link to the American Bar Association's Supreme Court Preview. These electronic versions are unofficial. The official briefs are printed versions filed with the Court. Available for current term only.
- Office of the Solicitor General. All briefs filed by the Solicitor General with the Supreme Court on or after July 1, 1998, except for responses to petitions in "in forma pauperis" or "IFP" cases. Selected briefs from 1982-1986.
- SCOTUSblog reports Supreme Court cases and provides links to some decisions and briefs. (September 29, 2002 - present)
- American Bar Association In their Supreme Court Preview, access to briefs from the current term are available.
- Findlaw (Supreme Court Center) - Selected briefs are available for the 1999- 2007 terms.
- Briefs filed in major constitutional law cases since 1793 are also available in paper in Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States KF 101.9 .L3 In recent years, this set has covered 10-15 cases each term; fewer cases were covered in earlier years. The first two volumes cover about 15 cases decided between the years 1793 and 1849. Only summary of oral argument is available for each case covered. Since then, selected amicus briefs, oral arguments and merit briefs are included. (Georgetown cancelled its subscription in 2004.)
- Antitrust Law: Major Briefs and Oral Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1955 term-1975 term / edited by Phillip B. Kurland, Gerhard Casper KF1641 .A57 1979
Media Services (First Floor) has an extensive collection of older Supreme Court briefs:
- 1832-1896. On Microfilm in Row D, Cabinets 18-27. Access to briefs from this time period requires the use of an index. There are 5 indexes covering 1832-1860 (Part I), 1861-1870 (Part II), 1871-1880 (Part III), 1881-1890 (Part IV), 1891-1896 (Part V). The index reel is located at the end of the part.
- 1897-1972. On Microfiche in Row D, Cabinets 18-27. The briefs are arranged by the official US Reports citation, e.g. Miranda v. Arizona, 384 US 436.
- 1973-present. On Microfiche in Row D, Cabinets 18-27. The briefs are arranged by docket number, e.g. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, et al., v. Casey et al, 91-744. The docket number can be found right after the caption of the case, near the date. Its format is "term year - number".
Circuit Court Of Appeals Briefs
Appellate briefs for most cases are available on Lexis and Westlaw. Appellate Courts are also starting to load their briefs on their web sites.
Search the Legal> Briefs, Motions, Pleadings & Verdicts> Federal Briefs, Motions & Pleadings
WestlawNext has a link to BRIEFS on their main page which includes selected briefs filed in the United States Courts of Appeals. You can also search individual circuit briefs by selecting the link to U.S. Court of Appeals Briefs. Additionally, they also have topical databases that collect selected U.S. Supreme Court, Federal courts and State courts briefs on certain topics.
Follow this path All Legal Content>U.S. Courts>Court Briefs>Federal Court Briefs>U.S. Court of Appeals
Also, try LLRX: Free and Fee Based Appellate Court Briefs Online as this site is divided into two sections. The first section directs researchers to sources for free access to appellate court briefs, while the second section includes fee-based sources.
Some Federal Department web sites provide access to briefs filed by the department, e.g.:
- Department of Justice's Antitrust Division web site has selected briefs from 1993 to the present http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/public/appellate/appellate.htm
Some legal associations and advocacy groups post briefs which they have filed on their web sites. Finding Briefs on the Web, a web site set up by an attorney in Massachusetts, includes links to these web sites.
Media Services (First Floor) has the following microform collections:
- District of Columbia Circuit Records and Briefs (from 1891) Media, First Floor, KFD 1252.A6 R4 Micro
- Federal Circuit Records and Briefs (from 1990) Media, First Floor, KF 113.9 .R4 Micro
- Second Circuit Records and Briefs (from 1974) Media, First Floor, KF 117.9 2nd .A19 Micro
If you cannot find the briefs you are looking for, contact a reference librarian. Librarians have access to a pay-per-use database called PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) which contains case and docket information from most (but not all) Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts.
District Court Briefs/Memoranda
Trial filings from selected district courts are available
Westlaw: CourtDocs > Trial Filings (pleadings, motions, and other filings combined) > District Court Filings.
Follow this path All Legal Content>U.S. Courts>Court Briefs>Federal Courts Briefs>U.S. District Courts
Selected district court briefs are also available on some free web sites. It is worth your while to search the Internet as some interest groups follow cases related to their areas and load briefs and opinions for their readers. One such example is:
- Brief Bank (Samuelson Law, Technology, and Public Policy Clinic, Boalt Hall School of Law, UC Berkeley)
This web site includes only a selective number of briefs (related to technology and civil liberties) from some Federal Appellate and District Courts, and from some state courts.
If you cannot find the briefs you are looking for, contact a reference librarian. Librarians have access to a pay-per-use database called PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) which contains case and docket information from most (not all) Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts.
State Court Appellate Briefs
State Court appellate briefs are more difficult to find than federal appellate court briefs. Almost all state court briefs, at least from recent years, are now available on Westlaw: CourtDocs > Briefs> Briefs by State Jurisdiction.
Print and Microforms
The library has published briefs of a few high profile cases. You can find them by searching by keyword: briefs and the name of the case or the court. e.g. In the Matter of Karen Quinlan, R726 .I5 1975 .
If all the above sources fail to provide you with the briefs you are looking for, please consult a reference librarian. You can also consult A Union List of Appellate Court Records and Briefs: Federal and States KF 105.9 .W49 1999 to find out which library has an archive of the briefs you are looking for.
STATE TRIAL FILINGS
Filings from selected trial courts are now available at Westlaw: CourtDocs > Trial Filings (pleadings, motions, and other filings combined) > State & Federal Trial Court Filings.
"An advocate's spoken presentation before a court (esp. an appellate court) supporting or opposing the legal relief at issues." (Black Law Dictionary, 7th Edition, p. 1122)
U.S. Supreme Court Oral Arguments
LEXIS and Westlaw
Westlaw has a database, SCt-OralArg, with the transcript of oral arguments beginning in 1990; Lexis has coverage beginning with the 1979 term (Legal > Federal Legal - U.S. > Supreme Court Cases & Materials > United States Supreme Court Transcripts). Transcripts are available approximately 15 days after the oral argument.
The Supreme Court provides transcripts of oral arguments beginning with the 2000 term; arguments are available within 10-15 days after the transcripts are completed. The transcripts will be permanently archived on the Court's web site.
The library has a microfiche set with transcripts of all oral arguments before the Court since 1969 and selected arguments from 1953-1968. The Complete Oral Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States KF 101.9 U542 Prior to 1969, oral arguments were not regularly transcribed. The transcripts are received once a year, usually about 6-8 months after the end of the term.
- Landmark Briefs and Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States KF101.9 .L3 contains transcripts of oral arguments for cases therein when available (1793-present).
- United States Law Week(also available in print, KF105 .U6) publishes summaries of selected oral arguments.
- Antitrust Law: Major Briefs and Oral Arguments of the Supreme Court of the United States, 1955 term-1975 term / edited by Phillip B. Kurland, Gerhard Casper KF1641 .A57 1979
- Argument: Argument: The Oral Argument Before the Supreme Court in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 1952-1955 / Leon Friedman, editor; introductions [by] Kenneth Clark and Yale Kamisar KF4155 .B7 1969
- OYEZ U.S. Supreme Court Multimedia has digitized recordings of the Court's proceedings. There are over 600 oral arguments from leading cases in constitutional law currently available with more added each year. The recordings of oral arguments at the National Archives provide the source material for this site. Available arguments begin in 1961 with Mapp v. Ohio and McGowan v. Maryland; there are a few arguments from the 1950s. Current arguments are not available until approximately 10 months after the end of a term. To access the arguments, you need Real Audio, which can be downloaded from the Oyez site.
- Audiotapes of oral argument in 23 well-known Supreme Court cases were released in 1993 and are available in the library. The tapes are titled May it Please the Court: The Most Significant Oral Arguments Made Before the Supreme Court Since 1955 KF4748 M39 1993. Among the cases included are: Gideon v. Wainwright; Miranda v. Arizona; Roe v. Wade; and the Nixon Watergate tapes.
- Audiotapes of oral arguments in Supreme Court cases since the mid-1950s are available at the Archives II building in College Park, Maryland. For information on hours and access to the tapes, call the Sound Recording Division at (301) 713-6790.
- The 2003 University of Michigan affirmative action cases were published by C-SPAN in 1 videocassette (featuring still picture images of the participants with audio only original broadcast on April 1, 2003 on C-SPAN Radio). The tape is titled Supreme Court Oral Arguments: [of University of Michigan affirmative action cases] KF4755.5 S86 2003 Video.
- C-SPAN's America and the Courts also has some oral arguments (featuring still picture images of the participants with audio) including Rasul v. Bush, Al Odah v. U.S., Cheney v. U.S. District Court, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, and Rumsfeld v. Padilla.
- The C-SPAN's Video Library includes judicial proceedings with oral arguments. Use the Advanced Search capabilities and search for "oral arguments".
Circuit Court Of Appeals Oral Arguments
Some Federal appellate court web sites provide access to selected oral arguments (audio files). They are:
- Third Circuit
- From 2007 -
- Fifth Circuit
- From May 21, 2008 -
- Seventh Circuit
- Click on "Case Information" and then "Oral Arguments," there are a few oral arguments from 1994-1998, more since 1999.
- Eighth Circuit
- From 2000, now available in MP3 format
- Ninth Circuit
- Audio from 2007 -present and some video files.
Oral Arguments From Other U.S. Courts
The library has published oral arguments of a few cases. You can find them by searching the online catalog in GULLIVER by keyword: oral arguments and the name of the case or the court. e.g. In the Matter of Karen Quinlan, R726 .I5 1975.
OTHER RESEARCH ON LOCATING BRIEFS & ORAL ARGUMENTS
- A Union List of Appellate Court Records and Briefs: Federal and State (Michael Whiteman and Peter Scott Campbell, 1999) KF105.9 .W49 1999
- Where to Find Briefs of the Supreme Court of the U.S.
- Transcripts and Recordings of Oral Arguments
- The Skinny on Briefs (Jan Bissett for LLRX)
- Appellate Briefs and Records - Underused Tools for Legal Research (Nancy Garner and Malgorzata Pawska) 23 Pennsylvania Law Weekly 429 (April 24, 2000)
- Finding Records and Briefs (Harvard Law School Library)
- Finding Free Legal Briefs on the Internet
BRIEF-WRITING AND ORAL ADVOCACY GUIDES
Court rules govern court procedures. Different courts will have different specific requirements on how and when briefs are written and submitted. It is important to check the rules of the court you are writing the brief for. For a research guide on court rules, check Federal Court Rules (Georgetown Law Library). Below is a list of guides on brief-writing and oral advocacy.
- Brief Writing & Oral Argument / by Edward D. Re and Joseph R. Re, KF251 .R4
This guide includes "an explanation of the trial and appellate function, the structure of appellate courts, standards of appellate judicial review, frivolous appeals and the imposition of sanctions, stare decisis, legal reasoning, the distinguishing and analysis of cases, and a section on the interpretation and application of statutes."
- The Winning Brief: 100 Tips for Persuasive Briefing in Trial and Appellate Courts / Bryan A. Garner, KF 251.G37
Developed for a CLE course, the book is, as the title indicates, a collection of guidelines.
- Persuasive Written and Oral Advocacy in Trial and Appellate Courts / Michael R. Fontham, Michael Vitiello, David W. Miller, KF251.F658 2007
"This books is designed to provide law students and lawyers with practical instruction on persuasive legal writing and oral argument."
- Winning on Appeal: Better Briefs and Oral Argument / by Ruggero J. Aldisert, KF9050 .A935
Written by Senior Unitesd States Circuit Judge, Ruggero J. Aldisert, Winning on Appeal is "a practical guide (for lawyers) about how to avoid pitfalls that often prevent (their) written or oral argument from being considered on the merits."
- Just Briefs / Laurel Currie Oates, Ann Enquist, KF251.O18
Written for law students, Just Briefs also includes a chapter on oral advocacy.
- Introduction to Advocacy: Research, Writing, and Argument / edited by David Ware, Gregory Lantier, Mandana Dashtaki, KF281.A2 I57
Prepared by Board of Student Advisers of Harvard Law School, the first half of the short book focuses on general legal research and writing and the second half on wirting a memo, writing a brief and oral argument.
- The Amicus Brief: How to be a Good Friend of the Court/ Reagan Wm. Simpson and Mary Vasaly, KF8748 .S536
An ABA Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section (TIPS) publication on amicus briefs, the guide includes excerpts from examples of amicus briefs.
- National Moot Court Competition, KF8918 .N37 (1950-present)
It collects brief submissions to the National Moot Court Competition by different law schools.
OTHER COURT DOCUMENTS
Historically, most court records have been available for public access, but this usually meant contacting the Clerk of Court in person to obtain dockets, pleadings, etc. The advent of electronic case management systems has resulted in many court documents now being more readily accessible on the Internet. It is important to remember though, that you will not be able to find all court documents online and many of the services are fee-based. With that in mind, these web resources are a good starting point for obtaining court documents, as they will direct you to what is available electronically and provide contact information for the courts to obtain additional material not electronically available.
- BloombergLaw - Access to BloombergLaw, which offers dockets and other court documents, is available to members of the Georgetown Law Community who enter their law school info on the sign-on page or by contacting the HelpDesk at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- FDsys - A beta site has been set up for provide access to select appellate and district court documents. By clicking on the "more information" link when looking at a court opinion, researchers can access the docket with links to court documents.
- PACER Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) is an electronic public access service that allows users to obtain case and docket information from Federal Appellate, District and Bankruptcy courts, and the U.S. Party/Case Index via the Internet. This is a fee-based system which the library subscribes to, so to obtain court documents available on PACER, contact a Reference Librarian, who will conduct the search for you at no cost.
- JUSTIA Federal District Court dockets and filings are searchable on this web site. JUSTIA links researchers to actual court documents, which are usually available through PACER (for a fee).
- LLRX Court Rules, Forms and Dockets This site links to over 1,400 sources for state and federal court rules, forms and dockets. It can be searched by keyword.
- National Center for State Courts: Public Access to Court Records The National Center for State Courts points researchers to state court docket systems. Since all states have their own unique systems, this serves as a useful resource for public access to state court records.
- RECAP - This is a Firefox add-on that captures documents when downloading from PACER to create an archive of court documents which are searchable for free access. Coverage is not predictable, but a starting point for free access.
- Westlaw Court Docs Dockets, Pleadings, Motions, Memoranda, Briefs and Expert Testimony from selected courts are available in the Westlaw Court Docs databases. Remember to select a database to search, then input as much information as you can in the Template provided. Many of the documents are available in PDF format.
- Courtport.com Formerly LegalDockets.com, this site is an online portal to court records and filings from around the United States. The site collects thousands of links to courts, organized by jurisdiction, to direct users to the documents they are looking for. The site also indicates whether there is a charge for the documents before the user clicks on the link. Registration is required but the site is free for academic users with an .edu email address.
- D.C. Superior Court - remote access to docket information
Updated 2/13 (MK)
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