U.S. Supreme Court Database

So far as I can tell, we’ve not talked about the (U.S.) Supreme Court Database on Slaw, even though it’s about twenty years old. The current version offers the researcher:

247 pieces of information for each case, roughly broken down into six categories: (1) identification variables (e.g., citations and docket numbers); (2) background variables (e.g., how the Court took jurisdiction, origin and source of the case, the reason the Court agreed to decide it); (3) chronological variables (e.g., the date of decision, term of Court, natural court); (4) substantive variables (e.g., legal provisions, issues, direction of decision); (5) outcome variables (e.g., disposition of the case, winning party, formal alteration of precedent, declaration of unconstitutionality); and (6) voting and opinion variables (e.g., how the individual justices voted, their opinions and interagreements).

Unlike the original database, this newer form doesn’t require that researchers use a statistical software package. Now people without that sort of special skill can access it and can even download the entire thing in Excel, for example.

The database currently reaches back to the 1953 term, and will be enlarged “historically” over time.

Although it’s not necessary to know how to use a stats program, getting what you want from such a sophisticated bank of data isn’t quite as easy as falling off a log. You might want to start with the Analysis Specifications page, which allows you to set parameters to filter records.

Nothing except a serious dose of hard work prevents Canada from having a similar database for the decisions of our Supreme Court.

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