Law students can, of course, freely access all Supreme Court cases from Bloomberg Law, LexisNexis or Westlaw. However, there are various ways to find and download such cases at no cost without a “for pay” database password.
Free Websites for Opinions
There are several websites that provide the full text of U.S. Supreme Court opinions. Some sites make searching easier than others. Few sites provide full coverage of older decisions. These two “free to use sites” do have the text of all decisions from 1790 to the present.
Complete Historical Coverage
Justia has the full text of the opinions from 1790 to the present. The search capabilities are not as developed as the LexisNexis offering, but The Oyez Project does allow for keyword searches on its website.
Partial /Recent Coverage
Keyword searches of decisions dating from 1791 can be performed via Google Scholar. Users should click on the “Advanced Scholar Search” link, then use one of the two available links on the newly opened page to limit the search to Supreme Court cases.
The full text of more recent opinions can be found using FindLaw. The coverage on this site begins from 1893, or Volume 150 of the U.S. Reports. Cases can be retrieved by citation, parties or keywords.
Cornell Law School administers the Legal Information Institute, the LII. The site has full coverage of the U.S. Supreme Court opinions from 1990 to the present and also contains many older but historically important decisions. Keyword searching is allowed.
The official Supreme Court of the United States website also has coverage from 1990. Additionally, U.S. Reports volumes commencing at number 502 can be downloaded in PDF format.
PDF versions of single cases from 1754, the nominate reports, up to Volume 548, i.e. the 2005 term, can be found at HeinOnline. HeinOnline is not available to non-law students unless accessed from campus.
A bulk data download of Supreme Court cases between 1937 and 1975 is available the Government Printing Office’s Federal Digital System known as FDsys.
FedWorld (hosted by the U.S. Dept. of Commerce) also allows for keyword searches and contains coverage beginning in 1937.
Websites for Briefs, Oral arguments, and Additional Information
There is much additional Supreme Court related information available for free on the Internet. These range from the legal briefs filed by in a case by the parties and amicus curiae to historical data to actual videos of oral arguments held before the court.
A good starting point for accessing such information is a “research guide.” Such a guide is normally posted by a law school library and includes links and methodologies to use in searching for relevant information. There are too many such guides to list here. We suggest you begin with two guides from the Cornell University Law Library entitled Supreme Court Records & Briefs and Supreme Court Oral Arguments.
Cornell also provides a search engine for finding additional research guides, blogs and law related websites.
Fischer, Cheryl K, “Helping millennials find US Supreme Court cases online”, (download this source)