Overview

The U.S. Supreme Court Database traces its history back about two decades ago, when Harold J. Spaeth asked the National Science Foundation to fund a database that would be so rich in content that multiple users - even those with vastly distinct projects and purposes in mind - could draw on it. Professor Spaeth's goal was at once refreshingly simple and extremely ambitious: to produce a database that would include and classify every single vote by a Supreme Court justice in all argued cases over a five-decade period. After securing the funding, Spaeth collected and coded the data, performed reliability checks, and eventually amassed the Database. In the late 1980s, he made it (and the documentation necessary to use it) publicly available.

Since then, Professor Spaeth has not only updated it each term; he has also continued to perform reliability analyses, thereby ensuring its integrity with each release, and added new variables. Today's version of the Database houses 247 pieces of information for each case, roughly broken down into six categories: (1) identification variables (e.g., citations and docket numbers); (2) background variables (e.g., how the Court took jurisdiction, origin and source of the case, the reason the Court agreed to decide it); (3) chronological variables (e.g., the date of decision, term of Court, natural court); (4) substantive variables (e.g., legal provisions, issues, direction of decision); (5) outcome variables (e.g., disposition of the case, winning party, formal alteration of precedent, declaration of unconstitutionality); and (6) voting and opinion variables (e.g., how the individual justices voted, their opinions and interagreements).

Case Centered data provides case level information; i.e., each row in the database corresponds to a dispute. These data do not contain specific justice vote information.

A tremendously helpful resource for learning more about the dataset is the codebook: http://supremecourtdatabase.org/documentation.php?s=1.

Harold J. Spaeth, Lee Epstein, Andrew D. Martin, Jeffrey A. Segal, Theodore J. Ruger, and Sara C. Benesh. 2016 Supreme Court Database, Version 2015 Release 02. URL: http://Supremecourtdatabase.org

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Field Descriptions

Key List of... Comment Example Value
3 judge dc? Integer number False
admin action.id Integer number -1
admin action.state String ""
agency String "unknown"
area String "Economic Activity"
authority 1 String "statutory construction"
authority 2 String ""
case String "1946-001"
case issues String "1946-001-01-01"
case.disposition String "reversed"
chief String "Vinson"
date argued.day Integer number 9
date argued.full String "1/9/1946"
date argued.month Integer number 1
date argued.year Integer number 1946
date reargued.day Integer number 23
date reargued.full String "10/23/1946"
date reargued.month Integer number 10
date reargued.year Integer number 1946
date.day Integer number 18
date.full String "11/18/1946"
date.month Integer number 11
date.year Integer number 1946
decision.direction String "liberal"
decision.type String "court opinion"
disagreement? Integer number False
disposition String "affirmed"
dissent agrees Integer number False
docket Integer number 24
end.day Integer number 23
end.full String "August/23/1949"
end.month Integer number 8
end.year Integer number 1949
id.docket String "1946-001-01"
issue.id Integer number 80180
jurisdiction String "rehearing or reargument"
laws.id Integer number 6
laws.type String "Infrequently litigated statutes"
led String "91 L. Ed. 3"
lexis String "1946 U.S. LEXIS 1724"
lower court.direction String "conservative"
majority Integer number 8
majority assigner.id Integer number 78
majority assigner.long name String "Black, Hugo ( 08/19/1937 - 09/17/1971 )"
majority assigner.name String "HLBlack"
majority writer.id Integer number 78
majority writer.long name String "Black, Hugo ( 08/19/1937 - 09/17/1971 )"
majority writer.name String "HLBlack"
minority Integer number 1
name String "HALLIBURTON OIL WELL CEMENTING CO. v. WALKER et al., DOING BUSINESS AS DEPTHOGRAPH CO."
natural court.id Integer number 1301
origin.id Integer number 51
origin.name String "California Southern U.S. District Court"
origin.state String ""
period Integer number 1
petitioner.entity String "oil company, or natural gas producer"
petitioner.id Integer number 198
petitioner.state String ""
precedent altered? Integer number True
reasons String "to resolve question presented"
respondent.entity String "inventor, patent assigner, trademark owner or holder"
respondent.id Integer number 172
respondent.state String ""
sct String "67 S. Ct. 6"
source.id Integer number 29
source.name String "U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit"
source.state String ""
split on second Integer number False
start.day Integer number 24
start.full String "June/24/1946"
start.month Integer number 6
start.year Integer number 1946
term Integer number 1946
text String "patents and copyrights: patent"
unclear Integer number False
unconstitutional String "no unconstitutionality"
unusual Integer number False
us String "329 U.S. 1"
vote String "1946-001-01-01-01"
winning party String "favorable disposition for petitioning party"