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What are the United States Reports?

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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 15 September 2017
  • Copyright Protected:
    2003-2017
    Conjecture Corporation
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The United States Reports or US Reports are records of all proceedings of the US Supreme Court. These may include decisions, opinions, and court orders. The United States Reports date back to the earliest days of the Court's operations, and provide vital information as to the practice and intent of each Supreme Court since the birth of the nation.

The practice of creating and publishing the United States Reports dates back to 1790, though at first these reports were unofficial. An independent reporter named Alexander J. Dallas began recording the decisions and proceedings of the court for publication, though he was neither paid nor much appreciated. Dallas produced the first four volumes of the United States Reports, though was regularly attacked for not being particularly fast or accurate. William Cranch, nephew to John Adams, took over the post in 1801, despite it still being an unpaid position. In 1816, the US Congress created the position of Reporter of Decisions, a post which records and edits Supreme Court decisions and opinions and continues to produce the United States Reports in modern times.

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The US Reports serve as a vital reference for all Supreme Court activity. Lawyers and legal professionals rely almost solely on the publication as the record for Supreme Court decisions. The basic citation system for the United States Reports list the abbreviated title of the case, the volume and page of the United States Reports, and the year of the decision or opinion. Thus the 1955 case where the United States petitioned the Supreme Court versus Richard Isaac Menasche, which is found on page 528 of the US Reports volume 348, would be cited as United States v Menasche 348 US 528 (1955).

Not only do these reports serve as an important guide to decisions of the past, they also serve as a fascinating look into history. The recordings of the Supreme Court, traditionally made up of nine individuals, provides a complex and interesting look at how judicial character and decision-making has changed throughout the years. From the early days of defining copyrights and constitutional delineation of power, through the civil rights battles of the mid-20th century, to the fight between judicial activism and judicial restraint in the 21st century, the US Reports provide an inside look at the composition and character of the ever-shifting Supreme Court. Though technically a guide only to rulings and opinions, the United States Reports also stand as one of the most important historical documents of American history.

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