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Free Legal Resources : Federal Cases

How Federal Cases Are Published

Cases are published in books called reporters. Although today cases are usually accessed online, case citations still refer to print reporters.

For example, Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) means the case begins on page 483, volume 347, of the United States Reports (U.S.) 

The United States Reports is the official reporter for U.S. Supreme Court cases.

Other federal cases are published unofficially by the private publisher Westlaw as summarized below:

 Chart showing names, abbreviations, and publishing dates of Federal reporters. Supreme Court cases are reported officially in United States Reports, abbreviated U.S., and unofficially in Supreme Court Reports, abbreviated S. Ct. Appellate cases are reported in the Federal Reporter, abbreviated as F. from 1880, F. 2d from 1925, and F. 3d from 1988. District court cases are reported in the Federal Supplement, abbreviated as F. Supp. from 1933 and F. Sup. 2d from 1988.

Federal Case Law

Cases are decisions made by courts in lawsuits or criminal prosecutions. Cases interpret and apply statutes and regulations and may also create and refine "common law" (laws created solely by the courts.)

Sources of federal cases include:

Federal Dockets and Court Documents

Dockets are lists of court documents filed by the parties in a case. Most federal dockets and court documents can be accessed for a fee through the federal court systems' PACER website:

Several free websites provide PACER documents for free or provide additional documents not available on PACER: