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AAS 2540: African American Studies

to accompany Dr. Bayyinah Jeffries African American Studies class 2450 on the History of Injustice. Specific focus on the final assignment.

Finding Transcripts of Court Cases

Historians often seek to look for “cases” rather than “case law.”  By cases, usually the researcher wants to get to the documents generated as part of the litigation: transcripts of testimony, the complaint, the answer, motions and briefs, and other documentary evidence used in the case.  Historians hope to use these materials to learn about the events leading to and during a trial.  These are documents that are not found in the body of case law discussed above.

As easy as case law is to find, is as difficult these litigation documents are to find, especially for historic cases.  It is first important to note that transcripts are often not included, and not available.  Although transcripts are often made by the court reporter, he or she is a private contractor who sells the transcripts to the parties and the court.  Sometimes portions of these transcripts are included in the motions and documents that are part of the official litigation documents, but for the most part, full transcripts will not be available to researchers.  Rather these documents will consist of the complaint, the defendant’s answer, and then all the motions and briefs submitted to the court as part of the litigation.  These can be helpful to researches because they will include a lot of the facts and circumstances surrounded the case that may not be include in a court opinion, if one exists.

The litigation documents are generally considered public documents, but traditionally the only way to retrieve them was to go to the court house, request them from the clerk, and photocopy them.  This is still the primary way to get litigation documents. (cited from US Government Libguide, David Hollander, Law & Legal Studies Librarian/U.S. Documents Librarian).