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More on SCOTUS

For the last two days, as The Legal Genealogist struggles to emerge from the fog of jetlag, we’ve been talking about the Supreme Court of the United States and its published opinions.

Which, inevitably, led at least one reader — Doug Bell — to ask: “Are there files for SCOTUS cases beyond these court reporters that may be in NARA?”

To which the answer is, of course, yes, yes and yes indeed!

SCOTUS, of course, is the acronym for the Supreme Court of the United States, and NARA the acronym for the National Archives and Records Administration.

And from the very earliest records of prize and capture cases heard by a special Court of Appeals in the 1780s — “placed in the custody of the Supreme Court by an act of May 8, 1792 (1 Stat. 279)”1 — through to modern records of the Court, Supreme Court records are held by NARA in Washington, D.C.

Archives I, the main National Archives building in downtown Washington, D.C., is the key repository for the permanent SCOTUS records, in Record Group 267, Records of the Supreme Court of the United States. An overview of what that Record Group contains can be found on the NARA website in the web version of the Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States.

In total, there are 14,435 items in 26,647.454 cubic feet of storage space in RG267, with more of that being at Archives I. A few items, mostly maps and charts and sound recordings, are held at Archives II in College Park, Maryland.

And what a wealth of materials. For the Court itself:

• Engrossed minutes, 1790-1954. Rough minutes, 1790-1985. Journals, 1890-1981. Engrossed dockets and docket cards, 1791-1991. Microfilm copy of docket cards, 1982 (2 rolls). Rough dockets, 1803-1923. Manuscript opinions of Chief Justice John Marshall and Justices Joseph Story, Smith Thompson, and John McLean, 1832. Engrossed opinions, 1835-1914. Memorandums of pending cases, 1796-1974. Transcripts of oral arguments, 1968-88, 1990-95. Correspondence of the Committee on Equity Practice, 1911-12. Correspondence of law clerks, 1927-38.

• Appellate jurisdiction Case files, 1792-1993, with index, 1792-1909. Manuscript and revised printed opinions, 1808-1913. Mandates to lower courts, 1830-1905. Certiorari cards, 1935-52.

• Original jurisdiction Case files, 1792-1993. Manuscript and revised printed opinions, 1835-1909.

• Papers in habeas corpus cases heard in chambers, 1861, 1869, 1881, and 1882. Ex parte and miscellaneous case files, 1925-53. Applications for action by the court, 1929-91.2

And from the Court Clerk:

• General correspondence, 1791-1941. Letters to and from justices, 1791-1940. Correspondence relating to the appointment of stenographic clerks, 1888-1940; the Administrative Office of the United States Courts, 1939-42; and the appointment of advisory committees on rules of criminal and civil procedure, 1941-42. Correspondence with the General Accounting Office, 1949- 56. Subject file, 1800-1910. Oaths of office of justices, 1823- 1910; and Supreme Court officers, 1827-1907. Orders concerning Supreme Court rules, 1792-1959. Allotment orders of circuits to justices, 1796-1946. Records relating to printing and binding, 1865-1954. Scrapbooks, 1880-1935. Indexes to names of attorneys admitted to the bar of the Supreme Court, 1790-1955. Attorney rolls, 1790-1961.

• Fee books, 1818-1934. Fee bonds, 1832-89. Bills and accounts of costs against the United States, 1803-86; and private parties, 1830-1900. Receipts for disbursements, 1827-90. Printers’ bills, 1831-1957. Records of deposits for printing, 1888-96. Record of daily receipts and expenditures (“Day Book”), 1898-1926. Correspondence relating to the Clerk’s accounts, 1856- 1938.3

And from the Office of the Marshal:

• Subject files, 1864-1913. Applications and endorsements for positions, 1867-1909. Accounting records, 1867- 1936. Correspondence relating to books, 1887-1910. Library accounting records, 1896-1910. General correspondence, 1867-1940.4

The vast majority of the SCOTUS case files are textual records only, not digitally available at all, meaning a road trip to NARA and review in person. But there are some that have been digitized and are available on the NARA website. Just as a few examples of the records available as “Archival Descriptions with Digital Objects,” check out:

• The documents from the case of United States, Appellants, v. The Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad, the case from 1841 involving the rebellion of African slaves on a Cuban ship.5

• The Draft of Motion Rule for Marbury v. Madison.6

• The documents in Loving v. Virginia, the case that ultimately struck down the ban on interracial marriages in the United States.7

So yes, indeedy, there’s more to research in SCOTUS records than just the published opinions.

There are files upon files upon files just waiting at the National Archives…


  1. Record Group 267, Records of the Supreme Court of the United States, Guide to Federal Records in the National Archives of the United States, ( : accessed 28 Mar 2018).
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. See “Educator Resources > Teaching With Documents > The Amistad Case,” ( : accessed 28 Mar 2018).
  6. See “Today’s Document from the National Archives, Document for February 24th: Marbury v. Madison, ( : accessed 28 Mar 2018).
  7. See generally Francisco Macias, “Loving v. Virginia: “Banished” for Love,” In Custodia Legis, posted 12 June 2017 ( : accessed 28 Mar 2018).
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