May/June 2011
In Search of Historic Cases?

by Joan Voelker, Archives Librarian

Courts nation-wide have been asked by the AO to identify their important cases dating back to 1970. The Judicial Conference and the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) approved changes to the Judiciary’s records schedules to dispose of old paper case file records, while preserving those of historical significance. This project will help NARA determine retention of specific cases.

The AO outlines that cases of historic significance would involve particular issues such as state reapportionment cases, civil rights voting cases, treason, national security, family farm and historic bankruptcy cases, and death penalty habeas corpus cases. Judges and clerks of court also are asked to designate cases that:

• Involved a lawyer, litigant, or witness of historical interest or importance;

• Involved an issue of historical interest;

• Involved a matter of national interest separate from the issues in the litigation; or

• Received substantial media attention at the time.

The library would like to provide a few ideas for any courts currently working on this project.

• Look up your judges’ entries in Almanac of the Federal Judiciary. This two volume looseleaf set provides profiles and evaluations of Article III judges, and most of the profiles include summaries of noteworthy rulings. Volume one covers district judges and volume two covers circuit judges. Sets are held in the Des Moines, Fargo, Kansas City, Lincoln, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and St. Paul libraries, though not all have current subscriptions. Contact the St. Louis library if your branch does not have the title or if you need to access older entries. (The St. Louis library has superseded pages for some years in the Archives Collection.)


• Access Barclays United States Eighth Circuit service. Published 1984-1997, this biweekly looseleaf service provides a digest with concise summaries of all published opinions, amendments, and orders of the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals. Included are annually cumulative tables of cases, and the summaries of opinions list docket numbers, dates, judges before whom the case was argued, authoring judge, and principal attorneys arguing the case. While this service covers appeals cases, entries indicate lower court, so may be of use to district courts also. The St. Louis and Des Moines libraries hold this title. 


• Generate case lists by judge in Westlaw. For a list of your court’s judges since 1970, contact your branch librarian or the St. Louis library.


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