Today we are pleased to be back with another exciting chapter of Research Guides in Focus. We are introducing our newest guide, Legal Research: A Guide to Case Law. This guide covers strategies and resources to aid researchers as they navigate one of the fundamental pillars of judicial structures in the tradition of English Common Law systems: precedential case law.
The guide begins with an overview of the concept of stare decisis (a Latin phrase used to describe precedent), detailing the framework and hierarchy of the various state and federal courts in the United States. The guide highlights the different case opinion reporters for both federal courts and state courts, including online resources. It also provides resources for proper citations and information about researching topically, with the help of digests, and electronic access to court dockets and filings.
Legal researchers recently have been interested in the litigation resulting from the 2020 election. The different resources highlighted in the guide for dockets and filings can be used to research these cases. As an example, the Texas case (in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit) of Hotze v. Hollins is illustrative of the power of docket resources.
The PACER (Public Access to Court Electronic Records) system administers official federal district, bankruptcy, and appellate case dockets. However, there can be a charge for PACER usage depending on how many documents a researcher accesses. For older cases, and popular newer cases, a service called RECAP Archive, hosted by CourtListener, provides free access to docket information. We can find docket information for Hotze v. Hollins through the search feature of RECAP Archive. From the Docket Page, we can find filings from the initial case, heard in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas.
This guide builds upon some of the strategies described in our How to Find Free Case Law Online guide, and we recommend reviewing both guides to aid your research into case law and precedent, and the many resources available. As always, we can be reached through the Ask-a-Librarian portal should you have further questions about the resources in this guide, or if you have comments or feedback.