Library Q&A: How to find underlying briefs for U.S. Supreme Court cases

Q: What is the best way be to access some documents from a U.S. Supreme Court docket – for example, the Petition for Certiorari – if they are not all available through the SCOTUS website? Would they be available on Westlaw?

A: When a plaintiff wants the U.S. Supreme Court (nicknamed SCOTUS by many) to hear their case, they must ask the Court to do so by petitioning the Court. If the Court accepts the case, the parties will write a legal document called a brief to describe the legal issue being argued and advocate for how it thinks the Court should rule. Read more about this process.

The SCOTUS website, as the questioner notes, will have some but not all the information for a case. Here is a page where they describe finding the briefs. This page includes several free resources that provide briefs for selected periods.

Since you ask about a paid resource, I will describe how to use one to find the briefs in Westlaw. I start with a citation search for the case and I will use Lozman v. The City of Riviera Beach, Florida (Justia) as my example. This gives me the citation, which is 568 U.S. 115 (2013). In Westlaw, I search for the citation and then see a tab for Filings (41). That means that Westlaw includes 41 different underlying filings for this case, including 24 appellate court documents, 13 trial court documents, and 4 dockets.

The appellate court documents can be further limited to briefs. In this list, I can find the briefs by both appellant and the respondent as well as the briefs that other interested parties submitted to the Court. Other legal research databases contain briefs, but all may vary in terms of the content they collect.

More good help: