Welcome to the SCOTUS Search guide.
Version 1.2 (November 23, 2015)
This post is likely to be updated over time.
Thank you for visiting SCOTUS Search!
The site is still in beta. What does this mean in practice? Several things, actually:
- The database of oral argument transcripts is neither exhaustive nor 100% error-free. As Oyez notes, the Supreme Court only “installed an audio recording system in 1955.” (You can see a visual representation of this lack of transcripts prior to 1955 in the graph displayed on the SCOTUS Search home page.) While Oyez has compiled a truly astounding library of transcripts, there are still many blank cases from 1955 onward that we have therefore been unable to include in SCOTUS Search — as our only sources for transcripts so far are Oyez and the Supreme Court itself. Moreover, as the above link makes clear, the official recordings have endured various hiccups over the subsequent decades that had an impact on transcribers’ ability to ensure perfect quality at times.
- For example, in many cases, justices and attorneys are not identified by name in the transcripts and are referred to, instead, as “Unidentified Justice” or “Unknown Speaker.” In other cases, the same speaker is identified differently across cases: “Justice Scalia” and “Justice Antonin Scalia,” for example. Elsewhere, we found examples of misidentification, as when John Roberts was referred to in one transcript as “Chief Justice John Roberts” even though the case was argued prior to his appointment in OT 2005 and Roberts was actually appearing as an attorney arguing before the Supreme Court at the time. Finally, there are also straight-up typos, as pointed out here and here, for example. (Speaking of which, please let us know whenever you find any errors!)
- We have attempted to correct as many of these ambiguities and errors as possible. But given the scale of the data, we expect to find hundreds or even thousands of similar examples in various other cases. In the near future, I hope to add an “error correction” form so that registered users can submit changes to transcripts, which we can then review and approve to ensure high accuracy.
- There are a lot of “search type” options — eight, to be precise. All of them are case-insensitive: your capitalization, or lack thereof, doesn’t matter at all. But they are sensitive to spelling, typos, spaces, and so on. E.g. A search for “Superman” ≠ “Super man”. This is another weakness I plan on addressing in the future. Anyway, for most people’s purposes, the three most useful search types will be:
- Oral argument: Exact phrase. This search type works exactly as advertised: for example, typing “in my underwear” (without quotes!) will bring you to the sole result for a very confusing, and confused, rumination on bullying and the frailty of human memory by Justice Stephen Breyer.
- Oral argument: All search words. This is very similar to the above search type, except the words in the phrase don’t have to be adjacent to each other in the transcript text. If you type, “baseball hockey,” for example, the results will return all statements containing both words, whether or not they were said immediately consecutively.
- Oral argument: Any search words. This will return any statement containing any of the words in the search box.
Oh, and one more thing:
Sign up as a user! You don’t have to do it to use SCOTUS Search, but here are some of the benefits:
- It’s free.
- You get to write notes on individual cases and statements, as well as favoriting them (for bookmarking purposes). You can even decide whether to make your notes private (viewable only to yourself, which is the default) or public (which can be viewed by any other registered users), and you can look at other users’ public notes as well.
- You can export the case titles and metadata of search results (to CSV or XLS format), instead of simply viewing them on the site.
- You can save all your searches and set your default search type.
- You can receive email alerts any time a case transcript is added or updated (and, as an added bonus, the emails let you know when SCOTUS Map — our sister project — has been updated too).
- You can embed individual statements right into your web page or blog, and SCOTUS Search will automatically keep track of how many times they've been viewed and where.
- You get to set your own time zone preferences and text font size! Which is, I suppose, pretty cool.
Thanks again for checking out SCOTUS Search.