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How do I Research Discrimination Case Law?

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  • Written By: Pablo Garcia
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 December 2016
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Researching discrimination case law can be done using legal reference books called digests. Legal digests are organized specifically for case law research, and through them can be found the court opinions on which case law is based. Although slightly different and resulting in fewer full court opinions, Internet searches can lead to case summaries and other information in the area of discrimination case law.

In common law countries, case law is derived from the written decisions of appeals courts deciding legal questions brought before them. It is judge made law as opposed to statutory law created by a legislature, though sometimes case law involves the interpretation of a statute’s scope or meaning. Appeals court decisions then become “precedents,” for other courts to follow. The collected volumes of these written decisions make up the body of case law.

Discrimination case law research is done mainly using legal digests. These are reference books organized by areas of the law and keywords and phrases. The general term is followed by the specific term. For instance, “sex discrimination” would be found under “discrimination.” Legal digests also list court cases that refer to the keyword, and beneath the case name is a brief summary of how the keyword relates to the decision in the case. Each case name is followed by a citation that indicates the case reporter in which the decision, also called an opinion, can be found and read.

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Case reporters in the US consist of numbered volumes of appeals court decisions for a particular state or region. A state reporter is the “official” reporter for a state, while regional reporters combine decisions from several states within a region. For example, In the Matter of John Doe, 113 N.M. 111, 1 S.W. 1 (1901) indicates the decision is found in volume 113 of the New Mexico Reporter at page 111, and that the same case can be found in the Southwestern Reporter in the same way. Genuine case citations would look like the example above, and all state and federal reporters are organized this way.

Opinions begin with a case caption that lists the parties, the case number, and the court that made the decision. There is also a brief summary of the case followed by “headnotes,” which contain the keywords and a short description of the legal principal associated with the keyword. The opinion gives the case history in the lower court and explains what the issues are on appeal. This is followed by the relevant facts in the case. The court then applies the law to the facts and renders a decision on the questions involved.

Internet research of discrimination case law also works on the principle of using specific keywords or phrases to find out what a case says or stands for legally. For example, entering the search term “sex discrimination cases” can yield articles and factual summaries about sex discrimination cases. Law schools and legal advocacy organizations often have web pages devoted to particular legal issues. These sites sometimes contain a summary of the facts of a case, the legal issues involved, and comparisons to other court decisions.

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