The following is a guest blog post by Andrew Winston, Senior Legal Reference Librarian at the Law Library of Congress, and Brian Kaviar, an intern at the Law Library of Congress.
The Federal Courts Web Archive, recently launched by the Library of Congress Web Archiving Team and the Law Library of Congress, provides retrospective archival coverage of the websites of the federal judiciary. The websites in this archive include those of the Supreme Court of the United States, as well as federal appellate courts, trial courts, and other tribunals. These sites contain a wide variety of resources prepared by federal courts, such as: slip opinions, transcripts, dockets, court rules, calendars, announcements, judicial biographies, statistics, educational resources, and reference materials. The materials available on the federal court websites were created to support a diverse array of users and needs, including attorneys and their clients, pro se litigants seeking to represent themselves, jurors, visitors to the court, and community outreach programs.
The federal courts were created under the United States Constitution. Article III, section 1 provides for the U.S. Supreme Court, and such lower courts that Congress may establish. These lower courts include the U.S. Courts of Appeals, the U.S. District Courts, and the U.S. Court of International Trade. In addition, other federal courts have been established under Article I, section 8 of the Constitution, including the U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, U.S. Court of Federal Claims, U.S. Tax Court, U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims, and U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces.
The types of cases heard by these federal courts are summarized below:
- Supreme Court of the United States. The highest court in the land, the U.S. Supreme Court hears cases on appeal regarding matters of constitutional or federal law. The Court also has original jurisdiction over certain matters, meaning that cases between states or cases involving ambassadors are tried before the Supreme Court rather a lower court.
- U.S. Courts of Appeals. Twelve U.S. Courts of Appeals hear appeals from the decisions of U.S. District Courts within their respective circuits, which are groupings of U.S. District Courts by region. Another, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, hears appeals nationwide concerning specialized subjects, such as international trade, patents, trademarks, and veterans’ benefits, among others.
- U.S. District Courts. The U.S. District Courts are the general trial courts for the federal government. There are 94 District Courts, with at least one District Court for each state and the District of Columbia.
- U.S. Bankruptcy Courts. U.S. Bankruptcy Courts, located in the districts of the District Courts, hear cases on personal, business, and farm bankruptcies.
- U.S. Court of International Trade. The U.S. Court of International Trade hears cases involving international trade and customs law.
- U.S. Court of Federal Claims. The U.S. Court of Federal Claims hears claims for money against the United States, such as including contract claims, bid protests, military and civilian pay claims, tax claims, Indian claims, and other claims.
- U.S. Tax Court. The U.S. Tax Court heads cases about federal income taxation between taxpayers and the Internal Revenue Service.
- U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims. The U.S. Court of Appeals for Veterans Claims reviews decisions of the Board of Veterans’ Appeals that have been appealed by claimants.
- U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces hears cases appealed from the Courts of Criminal Appeals for the armed services.
To learn more about federal courts, the cases they hear, and how the work of the federal judiciary is performed, we recommend visiting USCourts.gov.
Court websites support the activities of a number of participants in the judicial system, including attorneys and their clients, pro se litigants seeking to represent themselves, jurors, visitors to the court, and community outreach programs. In meeting the needs of these different groups, court websites generate a number of resources, including (among many others) the following:
- Slip opinions. Slip opinions are unbound decisions distributed ahead of more formal publication. While Supreme Court slip opinions are often the most commonly seen, many federal courts have come to post slip opinions in PDF format on their websites as well.
- Transcripts. Transcripts are written records of testimony and court proceedings. Some courts may also have audio recordings of oral arguments in cases available on their websites.
- Dockets. Court dockets provide information about the proceedings in a court case, from the initial complaint or charges, to motions on various issues, to the final decision. Dockets are presented online in a variety of formats, with differing levels of detail, and are often indispensable for understanding the chronology and development of a particular case. To learn more about how to research and read dockets, you may wish to consult “Docket Research,” a research guide prepared by the Yale Law Library.
- Court rules. Court rules govern the procedures for the conduct of business before the courts. They can concern formal matters such as the format of a document filed with a court, to more substantial issues, such as the grounds for making an appeal. The Duke Law Library has prepared a helpful research guide on court rules.
- Calendars and announcements. Calendars and announcements can provide valuable information about the amount of work that the court is undertaking in a given period, as well as notices of important developments that affect litigants and their attorneys, such as amendments to court rules, reassignment of cases to other judges, and fee increases.
- Judicial biographies. Court websites typically provide biographies of their judges. While not every biography is especially detailed, some can include not only information about the judge, but also their staff, their courtroom, and their preferences for litigants appearing before them.
- Statistics. Court websites can include statistics on the number of cases heard by the court each year, the types of cases heard, pending caseloads, how long it takes for cases to be decided, and other matters.
- Educational resources. As part of community outreach efforts, a number of federal courts provide educational resources for area youth, teachers, and people with a general interest in learning more about courts and the law.
- Reference materials. Some federal courts provide reference materials, especially for pro se litigants seeking to represent themselves, such as glossaries of legal terms and model jury instructions.
The Federal Courts Web Archive provides a fascinating look at the business and operations of the nation’s federal courts, and how their websites have developed to respond to technological changes and the use of online resources in the practice of law. We invite you to review the Federal Courts Web Archive, as well as other Library of Congress web archives including legal and legislative materials, like the International Tribunals Web Archive, Legislative Branch Web Archive, and the Legal Blawg Archive.
We would like to thank the Library of Congress Web Archiving team for helping to make this new collection possible!