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

JSON Path Type Comment Example Value
[0].voting.unclear bool False
[0].voting.minority int 1
[0].voting.majority int 8
[0].voting.majority assigner dict {u'long name': u'Black, Hugo ( 08/19/1937 - 09/17/1971 )', u'id': 78, u'name': u'HLBlack'}
[0].voting.majority writer dict {u'long name': u'Black, Hugo ( 08/19/1937 - 09/17/1971 )', u'id': 78, u'name': u'HLBlack'}
[0].voting.split on second bool False
[0].decision.case.unusual bool False
[0].decision.case.disposition unicode reversed
[0].issue.text unicode patents and copyrights: patent
[0].issue.id int 80180
[0].issue.area unicode Economic Activity
[0].origin dict {u'state': u'', u'id': 51, u'name': u'California Southern U.S. District Court'}
[0].voting dict {u'unclear': False, u'minority': 1, u'majority': 8, u'majority assigner': {u'long name': u'Black, Hugo ( 08/19/1937 - 09/17/1971 )', u'id': 78, u'name': u'HLBlack'}, u'majority writer': {u'long name': u'Black, Hugo ( 08/19/1937 - 09/17/1971 )', u'id': 78, u'name': u'HLBlack'}, u'split on second': False}
[0].lower court dict {u'reasons': u'to resolve question presented', u'disagreement?': False, u'direction': u'conservative', u'disposition': u'affirmed'}
[0].laws dict {u'type': u'Infrequently litigated statutes', u'id': 6}
[0].issue dict {u'text': u'patents and copyrights: patent', u'id': 80180, u'area': u'Economic Activity'}
[0].decision dict {u'precedent altered?': True, u'case': {u'unusual': False, u'disposition': u'reversed'}, u'direction': u'liberal', u'jurisdiction': u'rehearing or reargument', u'authority 1': u'statutory construction', u'authority 2': u'', u'admin action': {u'state': u'', u'agency': u'unknown', u'id': -1}, u'unconstitutional': u'no unconstitutionality', u'term': 1946, u'date': {u'full': u'11/18/1946', u'year': 1946, u'day': 18, u'month': 11}, u'winning party': u'favorable disposition for petitioning party', u'type': u'court opinion', u'dissent agrees': False}
[0].citation dict {u'sct': u'67 S. Ct. 6', u'led': u'91 L. Ed. 3', u'lexis': u'1946 U.S. LEXIS 1724', u'us': u'329 U.S. 1'}
[0].natural court dict {u'start': {u'full': u'June/24/1946', u'year': 1946, u'day': 24, u'month': 6}, u'chief': u'Vinson', u'end': {u'full': u'August/23/1949', u'year': 1949, u'day': 23, u'month': 8}, u'period': 1, u'id': 1301}
[0].source dict {u'state': u'', u'id': 29, u'name': u'U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit'}
[0].arguments dict {u'date reargued': {u'full': u'10/23/1946', u'year': 1946, u'day': 23, u'month': 10}, u'date argued': {u'full': u'1/9/1946', u'year': 1946, u'day': 9, u'month': 1}, u'respondent': {u'state': u'', u'id': 172, u'entity': u'inventor, patent assigner, trademark owner or holder'}, u'petitioner': {u'state': u'', u'id': 198, u'entity': u'oil company, or natural gas producer'}}
[0].3 judge dc? bool False
[0].docket int 24
[0].id dict {u'case': u'1946-001', u'vote': u'1946-001-01-01-01', u'docket': u'1946-001-01', u'case issues': u'1946-001-01-01'}
[0].name unicode HALLIBURTON OIL WELL CEMENTING CO. v. WALKER et al., DOING BUSINESS AS DEPTHOGRAPH CO.
[0].decision.admin action.state unicode
[0].decision.admin action.agency unicode unknown
[0].decision.admin action.id int -1
[0].natural court.start dict {u'full': u'June/24/1946', u'year': 1946, u'day': 24, u'month': 6}
[0].natural court.chief unicode Vinson
[0].natural court.end dict {u'full': u'August/23/1949', u'year': 1949, u'day': 23, u'month': 8}
[0].natural court.period int 1
[0].natural court.id int 1301
[0].arguments.respondent.state unicode
[0].arguments.respondent.id int 172
[0].arguments.respondent.entity unicode inventor, patent assigner, trademark owner or holder
[0].laws.type unicode Infrequently litigated statutes
[0].laws.id int 6
[0].decision.precedent altered? bool True
[0].decision.case dict {u'unusual': False, u'disposition': u'reversed'}
[0].decision.direction unicode liberal
[0].decision.unconstitutional unicode no unconstitutionality
[0].decision.authority 1 unicode statutory construction
[0].decision.authority 2 unicode
[0].decision.admin action dict {u'state': u'', u'agency': u'unknown', u'id': -1}
[0].decision.jurisdiction unicode rehearing or reargument
[0].decision.term int 1946
[0].decision.date dict {u'full': u'11/18/1946', u'year': 1946, u'day': 18, u'month': 11}
[0].decision.winning party unicode favorable disposition for petitioning party
[0].decision.type unicode court opinion
[0].decision.dissent agrees bool False
[0].natural court.start.month int 6
[0].natural court.start.full unicode June/24/1946
[0].natural court.start.day int 24
[0].natural court.start.year int 1946
[0].arguments.date reargued dict {u'full': u'10/23/1946', u'year': 1946, u'day': 23, u'month': 10}
[0].arguments.date argued dict {u'full': u'1/9/1946', u'year': 1946, u'day': 9, u'month': 1}
[0].arguments.respondent dict {u'state': u'', u'id': 172, u'entity': u'inventor, patent assigner, trademark owner or holder'}
[0].arguments.petitioner dict {u'state': u'', u'id': 198, u'entity': u'oil company, or natural gas producer'}
[0].voting.majority writer.long name unicode Black, Hugo ( 08/19/1937 - 09/17/1971 )
[0].voting.majority writer.id int 78
[0].voting.majority writer.name unicode HLBlack
[0].id.case unicode 1946-001
[0].id.vote unicode 1946-001-01-01-01
[0].id.docket unicode 1946-001-01
[0].id.case issues unicode 1946-001-01-01
[0].source.state unicode
[0].source.id int 29
[0].source.name unicode U.S. Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit
[0].arguments.date reargued.month int 10
[0].arguments.date reargued.full unicode 10/23/1946
[0].arguments.date reargued.day int 23
[0].arguments.date reargued.year int 1946
[0].voting.majority assigner.long name unicode Black, Hugo ( 08/19/1937 - 09/17/1971 )
[0].voting.majority assigner.id int 78
[0].voting.majority assigner.name unicode HLBlack
[0].arguments.petitioner.state unicode
[0].arguments.petitioner.id int 198
[0].arguments.petitioner.entity unicode oil company, or natural gas producer
[0].lower court.reasons unicode to resolve question presented
[0].lower court.disagreement? bool False
[0].lower court.direction unicode conservative
[0].lower court.disposition unicode affirmed
[0].natural court.end.month int 8
[0].natural court.end.full unicode August/23/1949
[0].natural court.end.day int 23
[0].natural court.end.year int 1949
[0].citation.sct unicode 67 S. Ct. 6
[0].citation.led unicode 91 L. Ed. 3
[0].citation.us unicode 329 U.S. 1
[0].citation.lexis unicode 1946 U.S. LEXIS 1724
[0].decision.date.month int 11
[0].decision.date.full unicode 11/18/1946
[0].decision.date.day int 18
[0].decision.date.year int 1946
[0].origin.state unicode
[0].origin.id int 51
[0].origin.name unicode California Southern U.S. District Court
[0].arguments.date argued.month int 1
[0].arguments.date argued.full unicode 1/9/1946
[0].arguments.date argued.day int 9
[0].arguments.date argued.year int 1946