Resources Abound on the Internet for Appellate Advocates
By Howard J. Bashman
Monday, June 11, 2001

The Internet offers a wealth of resources to lawyers interested in appellate litigation. Whether you seek prompt access to today's U.S. Supreme Court rulings or witty coverage of that Court's proceedings, the Internet will not disappoint. Many appellate courts, including the Philadelphia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and the state appellate courts of Pennsylvania, post their published opinions on their Web sites soon after issuance. One federal appellate court even provides Internet access to oral argument audiotapes, the parties' appellate briefs and the court's unpublished opinions.

The Internet sites pertaining to appellate litigation that I find most useful and/or entertaining are listed below, grouped by general subject matter. If I have omitted any appellate-related sites that you believe should have been included, please e-mail the link to me for possible mention in a future column. Unless otherwise noted, the sites listed below can be accessed free-of-charge.

Supreme Court of the United States: The U.S. Supreme Court's official Web site began operation in April of 2000 and has quickly established itself as indispensable. The Court announces its opinions at 10 a.m., and on days when opinions are released they are available for viewing, downloading or printing by midday. The Court's official site also provides access to orders, recent oral argument transcripts, docket information and oral argument schedule. In addition, the site contains case handling guides that are especially useful for lawyers who do not regularly practice there. The address of the U.S. Supreme Court's official Web site is www.supremecourtus.gov/.

If you are looking to access U.S. Supreme Court opinions over the Internet even more promptly after issuance, browse over to the Legal Information Institute of the Cornell Law School. Typically, U.S. Supreme Court opinions appear on the LII site within an hour after release by the Court. You can access the LII site at supct.law.cornell.edu/supct. The Internet has also made it simple to obtain access to most briefs filed in cases argued in the U.S. Supreme Court. Briefs filed in cases argued this Term and last Term are available for review at supreme.lp.findlaw.com/supreme_court/briefs/index.html. And, Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism operates a Web site entitled "On the Docket" that provides useful background information about the cases the U.S. Supreme Court has accepted for review. You can access the site at www.medill.nwu.edu/docket/index.html.

The Office of the Solicitor General of the United States consistently produces the highest quality appellate briefs being written today. While the OSG does not win every appeal, and while OSG attorneys can be uneven in the quality of oral arguments they deliver (see the transcripts on the U.S. Supreme Court's official Web site, if you desire proof), the OSG's appellate briefs are consistently top-notch. They are available for viewing, downloading and printing at the OSG's official Web site www.usdoj.gov/osg/briefs/search.html.

For insightful and often irreverent commentary on the Supreme Court, it is difficult to rival Dahlia Lithwick of Slate.com and John P. Elwood, formerly a law clerk to Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy and now a partner at Baker Botts, L.L.P. in Washington, D.C. Ms. Lithwick's most recent commentaries can be accessed at slate.msn.com/court/entries/01-04-25_104973.asp. A collection of Mr. Elwood's commentaries, which recently began appearing on law.com's U.S. Supreme Court Monitor, can be found at www.bakerbotts.com/practice/grouppubs.asp?type=15&groupid=2.

Law.com's regular Supreme Court coverage, by veteran reporter Tony Mauro, and its recurring feature predicting which cases the Court is likely to choose for review are quite informative. The predictions are based on input from youthful but experienced U.S. Supreme Court advocate and Court-watcher Thomas C. Goldstein, a sole practitioner in Washington, D.C. You can access law.com's U.S. Supreme Court Monitor at www.law.com/us_supreme_ct.

Should you tire of reading, the Internet also offers multimedia access to the U.S. Supreme Court. Northwestern University hosts The OYEZ Project, which provides access over the Web to numerous U.S. Supreme Court oral argument audiotapes. According to the site, "you can expect to find new audio materials on The OYEZ Project approximately 10 months following the Term in which cases were argued in the Court." The site's address is www.oyez.nwu.edu/. The cable television public affairs network C-SPAN broadcasts a weekly program entitled "America and the Courts" Saturday nights at 7 p.m. The program usually airs recent speeches given by U.S. Supreme Court Justices. Earlier this month, the program completed a nine-month series in which the first show of each month consisted of an in-depth profile of a different current Justice. You can view all nine episodes in this series, and other recent episodes of "America and the Courts," over the Internet at www.c-span.org/courts.

Local Appellate Courts: The Web site of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently changed its address to www.ca3.uscourts.gov/. The Third Circuit posts its published opinions on the site late each afternoon on the day of their release. The site also provides access to the court's rules and furnishes some information about upcoming oral arguments. The Third Circuit recently terminated the free-of-charge access it had been providing to its computerized docket entries. Now, to access the Third Circuit's case dockets, you need a PACER account and password, and you will be charged seven cents per printed page. To access the Third Circuit's PACER docket entries, visit pacer.ca3.uscourts.gov.

You can access the Web sites of the Supreme, Superior and Commonwealth Courts of Pennsylvania at www.courts.state.pa.us/. Each of these courts' Web sites provides access to published opinions soon after their release, and the Superior Court has begun to provide Internet access to its case dockets. The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania, through its site, provides access to orders deciding petitions for allowance of appeal.

For timely coverage of notable Third Circuit or Pennsylvania appellate court decisions, nothing rivals The Legal Intelligencer's Web site, www.law.com/pa. Generally speaking, the next business day's articles are posted by 10:30 p.m. the night before, and, by clicking on the link entitled "more news this week," you can gain access to articles printed several days earlier.

Other Noteworthy Federal Appellate Web Sites: What the Web site of the St. Louis, Missouri-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit lacks in visual splendor it more than makes up for in content. The Eighth Circuit's site provides access not only to published opinions, but also makes available each day's unpublished opinions. Faithful readers of this column know that I await with anticipation the day when the Third Circuit finally decides to make its unpublished opinions more readily available. Two other features combine to make the Eighth Circuit's Web site truly unusual: the site provides Internet access to oral argument audiotapes in all argued cases and makes the parties' appellate briefs available for viewing, downloading and printing. You can access the Eighth Circuit's site at www.ca8.uscourts.gov/.

Similarly, it is high-quality content that causes me to visit regularly the Web site of the Chicago-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. The Seventh Circuit is fortunate to have as judges on its court three individuals who in my view are the best appellate opinion writers working today. The three -- Circuit Judges Richard A. Posner, Frank H. Easterbrook and Terence T. Evans -- are such talented thinkers and writers that they are all but incapable of producing a boring published opinion. Indeed, many of their opinions will rank among the best you will ever read. It is not easy to produce an appellate opinion that is thought provoking, entertaining and well written. To access appellate opinions by Circuit Judges Posner, Easterbrook and Evans that consistently exhibit these qualities, visit the Seventh Circuit's Web site at www.ca7.uscourts.gov/.

Additional Appellate Resources: The Federal Judicial Center maintains on the Internet the Federal Judges Biographical Database, which, according to the site, "contains the service record and biographical information for all judges who have served on the U.S. District Courts, U.S. Circuit Courts, U.S. Courts of Appeals, and the Supreme Court since 1789." The site is updated on a daily basis and permits you to access the biographical information of current and former federal judges simply by searching the first letter of a judge's last name. The site also provides historical information about each federal appellate and district court. You can access the site at air.fjc.gov/history/judges_frm.html.

The unacceptably high rate of vacancies on the federal bench has been the subject of much attention recently. You can track current judicial vacancies and pending nominations to fill them at www.uscourts.gov/vacancies/judgevacancy.htm. Moreover, federal judges who provide advance notice of their retirement or acceptance of senior status, or who have been nominated for elevation from a district court to a court of appeals, are on a list of future vacancies accessible at www.uscourts.gov/vacancies/futurevacancy.htm.

Update: Several months ago this column argued that Presidential recess appointments to the federal judiciary are unconstitutional because recess appointees lack the Article III attributes of life tenure and protection from salary diminution. More recently, this column reported that President Bush had withdrawn former President Clinton's nomination of recess appointee Roger L. Gregory to a permanent post on the Richmond, Virginia-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit. On May 9, 2001, President Bush re-nominated Judge Gregory to a life tenured position on the Fourth Circuit.

President Bush's recent flurry of nominations to the federal appellate bench also included five highly talented and experienced appellate litigators currently in private practice or academia: Jeffrey S. Sutton to serve on the Sixth Circuit; Michael W. McConnell and Timothy M. Tymkovich to serve on the Tenth Circuit; and John G. Roberts, Jr. and Miguel A. Estrada to serve on the D.C. Circuit. While some of these five nominees have already drawn opposition from interest groups, it is clear that these experienced appellate advocates -- all of whom served as appellate law clerks -- possess the qualifications necessary to serve as distinguished federal appellate judges.


This article is reprinted with permission from the June 11, 2001 issue of The Legal Intelligencer 2001 NLP IP Company.

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