Research Our Records

U.S. Supreme Court Appellate Case Files

refer to caption

Article III of the U.S. Constitution

National Archives Identifier 1667751

Article III, Section 1, of the Constitution established and empowered the judicial branch of the Federal Government, including the Supreme Court of the United States. The Supreme Court's jurisdiction over lower courts was established by authority of the Judiciary Act of September 24, 1789 (1 Stat. 73).

The National Archives Building in Washington, DC (Archives 1), houses U.S. Supreme Court appellate jurisdiction case files beginning in 1792. We receive new case files annually, usually from the term two years immediately prior to the present. For example, in 2019, we received case files from the 2017 Term.

Appellate case files are found in Entry A1-21 of Record Group 267, Records of the Supreme Court of the United States (National Archives Identifier 301668).

Note that this series primarily contains textual records. For audio recordings of oral arguments, see U.S. Supreme Court Oral Arguments.

Contents of Appellate Case Files

refer to caption

Judgment for Brown v. Board of Education

National Archives Identifier 596300

Appellate case files in Entry A1-21 can include the following documents, although not every file contains every document:

  • Petitions for writs of error or certiorari
  • Transcripts of record from lower courts
  • Exhibits
  • Briefs*
  • Motions
  • Orders
  • Judgments
  • Mandates
  • Opinions (majority, concurring, and/or dissenting)
  • Administrative correspondence

*Not all briefs are housed at the National Archives. For some cases, related briefs are housed at the Law Library of Congress. There is usually no way to know if a case file in Entry A1-21 contains a particular brief without checking the file.

Accessing Appellate Case Files

Researchers can view U.S. Supreme Court appellate case files in person in the Archives 1 research room or order copies of case files by emailing archives1reference@nara.gov.

However, to request the file in person or remotely, researchers must know the case file number assigned to the case when it was docketed.

Appellate case files in Entry A1-21 are numbered and arranged differently depending on the time period.

Accordion

From 1792 through the 1933 Term, U.S. Supreme Court appellate case files are numbered in one continuous numerical sequence (1–38,700).

For example, the case file number for Dred Scott v. Sandford (decided in 1857) is 3230.

To identify case file numbers, consult the following microfilm publications:

  • For the years 1792–1909, consult Microfilm Publication M408 , Index to Appellate Case Files of the U.S. Supreme Court. This microfilm is available online through the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 1537559).
  • For the years 1910–1933, consult Microfilm Publication M216 , Dockets of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1790–1950. This microfilm is available online through the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 1524561).

Note: All appellate case files for the years 1792–1831 are reproduced as Microfilm Publication M214Appellate Case Files of the United States Supreme Court, 1792–1831. M214 is available in the National Archives Catalog.

From the 1934 October Term through the 1970 October Term, U.S. Supreme Court appellate case files are arranged by docket number and the October Term.

For example, the case file number for Brown v. Board of Education is 1 October Term 1954, meaning that the case was the first one docketed in the Court's 1954 Term.

The case file numbering system can be tricky for this time period. If the United States Reports notes that the decision was issued in March 1941, the October Term may be 1940. However, if the decision was issued in December 1941, the October Term may be 1941.

The best way to confirm the term and the docket number is to consult the dockets for the relevant years. Check Microfilm Publication M216 for the years 1934–1950 and Microfilm Publication M2116 for the years 1950–1970. Both publications are available in the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 1524561).

Note that the 1970 October Term case file numbers can be expressed as either 200 October Term 1970 or 70-200.

From 1970 to the present, U.S. Supreme Court appellate case files are arranged by the October Term and then by a case file number assigned numerically depending on the type of case.

The term is expressed in an abbreviated format. For example, the 1995 Term is expressed as 95. 

For each term, in forma pauperis (IFP) cases are numbered in a continuous sequence beginning with 5,000. For example, the first IFP case filed in the 1995 Term would be 95-5001.

All remaining (non-IFP) cases are numbered in a continuous sequence beginning with 1. For example, the first non-IFP case filed in the 1995 Term would be 95-1.

To identify the case file number, consult the following microfilm and digitized resources:

  • For the years 1970–1982, consult Microfilm Publication M2116 , Engrossed Dockets of the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term 1950 through October Term 1982. This microfilm is available in the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 1524561).
  • For the years 1996–2006, consult the series, "Electronic Dockets for Closed Appellate Cases, 1996–2006." This series is available in the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 4325222).

After 2006, check the United States Reports or the Supreme Court's website.

 

United States Reports

refer to caption

Brown v. Board of Education Decision (347 U.S. 483)

Law Library of Congress

The United States Reports are the official reports of decisions made by the U.S. Supreme Court. Beginning roughly in the late 1950s  they can also include the case file number needed to access records in Entry A1-21.

Note that the case file number is not the same as the U.S. Reports citation number. The U.S. Reports citation first indicates the volume in which the Court's decision is published, followed by the page number where the decision appears.

For example, the U.S. Reports citation for Brown v. Board of Education is 347 U.S. 483. This means that the decision in this case is published in Volume 347, page 483, of the U.S. Reports.

However, the case file number assigned to Brown v. Board of Education when it was docketed is 1 October Term 1954. This is the case file number needed to access case records in Entry A1-21.

Accessing U.S. Reports

The U.S. Reports have been digitized and made available online:

More recent Court decisions are published on the Supreme Court's website as slip opinions until they are published in the United States Reports. 

Related Microfilm

The following microfilm publications include early and landmark cases, as well as dockets and indexes that can be used to identify case file numbers for Entry A1-21. Lists of attorneys admitted to practice before the Supreme Court ("attorney rolls") are also available.

Each microfilm publication is available at Archives 1. Some publications have been digitized and made available online through the National Archives Catalog or a partner website.

Accordion
  • M215, Minutes of the United States Supreme Court, 1790–1950
    • Available in the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 607809)
  • M216, Dockets of the United States Supreme Court, 1791–1950
    • Available in the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 1524561)
  • M408, Index to Appellate Case Files of the United States Supreme Court, 1792–1909
    • Available in the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 1537559)
  • M2116, Engrossed Dockets of the Supreme Court of the United States, October Term 1950 through October Term 1982
    • Available in the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 1524561)
  • M214, Appellate Case Files of the United States Supreme Court, 1792–1831
  • M1843, Appellate Case File No. 1631, Charles River Bridge Co. v. Warren River Bridge Co., 36 U.S. 420 (11 Peters 420), Decided February 14, 1837, and Related Records
  • M1954, Appellate Jurisdiction; Case files of Brown et al. v. Board of Education of Topeka et al., No. 1 to 5 October Term 1954
  • M2012, Appellate Case File No. 2161, United States v. The Amistad, 40 U.S. 518 (15 Peters 518), Decided March 9, 1841, and Related Lower Court and Department of Justice Records
    • Available online through Fold3.com (database title: "Amistad – Supreme Court records")
  • M2013, Appellate Case File No. 3230, Dred Scott v. Sandford, 60 US 393 (19 Howard 393), Decided March 6, 1857, and Related Records
  • M217Attorney Rolls of the U.S. Supreme Court, 1790–1951
    • Available in the National Archives Catalog (National Archives Identifier 12486501)
Top