There are several online access routes for full-text decisions of the United States Supreme Court. If you are looking for very recent decisions-for example, decisions you read about in the newspaper-the quickest source is the Supreme Court's own web site.
Another good source for recent decisions is Cornell University's Legal Information Institute, which has links to recent decisions on its Supreme Court home page. The Cornell site is also an easy way to find decisions using the case name, the name of the Justice who authored the opinion, or the subject matter. The Cornell database includes all cases decided since 1990.
If you know the legal citation for a decision, you can find it quickly on FindLaw, a commercial web site that makes its content available free of charge. The FindLaw database includes all Supreme Court decisions since 1906.
Because of the volume of lower federal court decisions, there are no free web sites that aggregate them all. Two large (and expensive) commercial databases, Westlaw and Lexis, sell access on a subscription basis. The Office of General Counsel maintains a subscription to selected libraries in the Westlaw database and can assist you in locating the texts of recent decisions from the lower federal courts.
Federal cases are typically heard in trial courts, which are called "United States District Courts." The nation is divided into 94 judicial "districts," identified by reference to the state in which the district is located. Delaware's federal trial court, for instance, is formally known as the "United States District Court for the District of Delaware," and is located in Wilmington. Larger states may have two, three, or more districts, identified geographically. The trial court in Philadelphia, for example, is called the "United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania," the one in Harrisburg is the "United States District Court for the Middle District of Pennsylvania," and the one in Pittsburgh is the "United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania."
Appeals from the decisions of the nation's district courts are taken to Circuit Courts of Appeals. The nation's fifty states are organized into 11 multi-state "circuits," and there is also a separate court of appeals for the District of Columbia. Delaware, along with Pennsylvania and New Jersey, is in the Third Circuit, and the appellate court that hears appeals from the District Court in Wilmington is called the "United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit." The Third Circuit's courtrooms are in Philadelphia.
Litigants are allowed to appeal decisions of the circuit courts to the United States Supreme Court, the nation's highest court. But unlike the district and circuit courts, which are obliged to decide every case that comes before them, the Supreme Court has the discretion to decide what cases to hear. In an average year about 10,000 so-called "petitions for certiorari" are filed with the Supreme Court seeking review of circuit court decisions, but the Supreme Court typically accepts less than 100 cases for its docket. For all intents and purposes, then, circuit courts serve as courts of last resort for the vast majority of cases filed in federal court.
Each federal court, district and circuit, maintains its own web site and posts recent decisions that can be downloaded free of charge. Here are links to the federal courts in Delaware:
For help in locating information on federal court decisions from other states, please contact our office.