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Supreme Court Insight Help Files: Content Types and more

Amicus Curiae Brief  

“Friend of the court” brief submitted by a person or group not a party to the case, but with a strong interest in the matter.  The amicus curiae brief can be submitted on behalf of the petitioner or respondent, or on behalf of neither in situations where the amicus seeks to put forward knowledge or information pertinent to the case. Amicus briefs may be submitted during both the petition stage and the merit stage of a case.

Brief Filed by Petitioner  

The petitioner (appellant) is the party who petitions the Supreme Court to review the case. Briefs filed by the petitioner put forth the legal case concerning the issue on which the Court granted review and may also respond to the other party’s position. The initial brief putting forth the legal position is the Petition for Writ of Certiorari (PWC) which asks the higher court to review a lower court decision. Typically less than 5% of the PWCs are granted.

All case names before the Court are styled Petitioner v. Respondent.

Brief Filed by Respondent  

The respondent (appellee) is the party who responds to the claim filed by the petitioner. Briefs filed by the respondent respond to the legal case put forward by the petitioner.

All case names before the Court are styled Petitioner v. Respondent.

Case Characterization

Supreme Court Insight includes three “case characterization” options to help researchers narrow their results.

  • Landmark Cases
    Cases of historical and legal significance which may establish a new legal principle or concept or otherwise substantially change the interpretation of existing law.
  • In Forma Pauperis (IFP)
    Cases in which the Court has granted the indigent petitioner IFP status entitling them to a waiver of normal costs. Many individuals who petition for IFP status are incarcerated inmates.
  • Per Curiam Cases
    Cases where the opinion is delivered in the name of the Court (or at least a majority of the court) acting collectively and unanimously, rather than specific judges. From the Latin, per curiam means "by the court."

Searches can be limited to these characterizations by using the checkbox on the Advanced search or by using the post-search filter.

Court of Origin  

Cases brought to the Supreme Court can originate in either a state or a federal court. 


A record of proceedings for a case showing all the official actions, such as the filing of briefs and orders from the Court.

Joint Appendix  

Submitted according to Court rules by the petitioner following the granting of the petition for writ of certiorari. The appendix includes relevant docket entries from the lower courts; relevant pleadings, jury instructions, findings, conclusions, and opinions; the decision, judgment, or opinion under review; and any other information the petitioner or the respondent wish to bring to the Court’s attention.

If the required information is already included as part of the Petition for Writ of Certiorari (PWC) or the PWC appendix, it does not need to be reprinted in the joint appendix. The joint appendix table of contents, provided as a separate PDF with the full joint appendix, is a good place for the researcher to look to determine the availability of lower court information, as it may point to the page within the appendix where the specific information is located or direct the user to the PWC.

Not all histories will have a Joint Appendix; since some will be sealed (and therefore not included), and in other instances, the parties waive the right to file.

Landmark Case  

Landmark Cases - Cases of historical and legal significance which may establish a new legal principle or concept or otherwise substantially change the interpretation of existing law.

Examples of topics of historical significance include abortion law, freedom of speech issues, right to die, separation of church and state, affirmative action, religious freedom, racial discrimination, sex discrimination, terrorism, presidential powers, due process, campaign finance, and powers of Congress.


The opinions included are slip opinions back to the 2004 term. Beginning with the 2003 term and back, they are U.S. Reports decisions.   

When a case is decided, the court initially issues a bench opinion which may be edited before it is sent to the printer as the “slip opinion.”  The bench opinion and slip opinion contain the same elements, but the slip opinion may include corrections. Once the opinion is published officially, the U.S. Reports citation is added to our Supreme Court Case History to allow users to retrieve the case by searching by the official citation from the Search by Number form.

Note that the post-search opinions filter allows users to filter for per curiam case opinions.

Oral Argument  

Written transcripts of the oral arguments heard by the Court.

Subject Terms

Harmonized subject indexing allows both novice and sophisticated users to locate cases in an area of interest.

  • Our subject-based tagging will allow users to jump into Supreme Court research from familiar entry points by searching on popular topics like “civil rights” and “abortion” as well as more “legal” terms such as “due process of law” or “separation of powers”
  • The subject terms are high level, intended to facilitate the retrieval of a results set containing Supreme Court cases with similar or related questions
  • To create our subject terms for Supreme Court Insight, our editorial team compared several open web sources as well as Supreme Court indexes to compile our list of terms. The indexing has been harmonized with Congressional subject indexing as appropriate. It is applied throughout our Supreme Court product by human indexers with programmatic assistance.

Supreme Court Case History  

Compilation of all documents filed for a specific Supreme Court case, including dockets, petition and merit stage briefs, joint appendices, oral arguments, and opinions. Each history summarizes the key elements of the case, which may include questions presented, questions heard, the ruling, case details (petitioner, respondent, court of origin, key dates, case characteristics etc.), vote and opinion information, and hyperlinked subject terms. Precise filtering options allow you to customize each case history to meet your research needs. The default history is organized by stages, but the display can be changed to a straight chronological sort.

Supreme Court Insight Topic Pages

These curated pages compiled by Supreme Court Insight editors provide users with a place to both start and continue their research, as well as a place to begin teaching and learning about specific areas of administrative law. Each page includes a timeline featuring selected heard cases.  They also include selected Certiorari Denied cases in a separate section.

Topics include abortion, capital punishment, consumer financial protection, freedom of speech, labor union rights, Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Second Amendment rights, tribal jurisdiction, and more. Topic Pages provide curated examples and are not meant to be exhaustive.