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Legal Provisions Considered by the Court
Variable Name
Spaeth Name
8 [ view ]

This variable and its components (lawSupp and lawMinor) identify the constitutional provision(s), statute(s), or court rule(s) that the Court considered in the case. The difference between them is that lawSupp and lawMinor are coded finely; they identify the specific law, constitutional provision or rule at issue (e.g., Article I, Section 1; the Federal Election Campaign Act; the Federal Rules of Evidence). lawType is coded more broadly (e.g., constitution, federal statute, court rules). Do not assume that these three legal provisions are ordinally ordered. They are not. Any one of them can be considered more important to the Court's decision than either of the others. And that also applies to the issue and issue area of the case. Importance is a matter to be determined by the user's objectives.

Because of our ignorance of the overall contents of the pre-1946 decision making, we simply adhered to the structure and distinctive characteristics of the modern Court. Accordingly, we created a modernized interface that did not adequately comport with the distinctive features of the heritage cases. Not only did they treat distinctive constitutional provisions as one (e.g., upholding or voiding governmental action on the combined basis of due process and equal protection), with the interstate commerce clause thrown in for good measure. Furthermore, these early Courts also created a much used non-textual constitutional provision: freedom of contract, which was treated independently of the Constitution's contract clause.

Relatedly, we mistakenly allowed for only one type 0f legal provision (i.e. Constitution, constitutional amendment, federal statute, court rules, other, infrequently litigated statutes, and state or local law) per case record.) If a second or third legal provision warranted inclusion into the case record, entirely new and separate records needed to be created. This is not a serious problem with the post-1946 Courts, but it definitely is with the preceding ones.

At the other extreme, this database does allow for the inclusion of infrequently litigated federal statutes, but not those of the state and local governments. Users interested in the Court's treatment of the states are likely interested in the sort of state laws at issue and the result of Supreme Court action. E.g., did the Court treat all morals legislation the same; i.e., temperance, prostitution, obscenity, gambling, regardless of states or human litigants? Consult the variables 'origin of case State' and 'source of case State.' To determine the specifics of state or local law, consult the opinion of the case itself. Although a major objective of this database was to make it self-standing, we were not able to achieve this objective because of inadequate oversight and limited resources. To have included this datum would have been a counsel of perfection. Unfortunately, the other principle investigators and I are incapable of attaining such a status.

The basic criterion to determine the legal provision(s) is the "summary" in the Lawyers' Edition. Supplementary is a reference to it in at least one of the numbered holdings in the summary of the United States Reports. This summary, which the Lawyers' Edition of the U.S. Reports labels "Syllabus By Reporter Of Decisions," appears in the official Reports immediately after the date of decision and before the main opinion in the case. Where this summary lacks numbered holdings, it is treated as though it has but one number.

Be aware that the Reports do not cite a given statute the same in every case. Hence, the total number of cases in which a case is the legal provision considered by the Court may be higher than the database reports.

Observe that where a state or local government allegedly abridges a provision of the Bill of Rights even though it has not been made binding on the states because it has not been "incorporated" into the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, identification is to the specific guarantee rather than to the Fourteenth Amendment.

The legal basis for decision need not be formally stated. For example, a reference in the summary to the appointment of counsel under the Constitution or to the self-incrimination clause warrants entry of the appropriate code. (E.g., United States v. Knox, 396 U.S. 77; Lassiter v. Department of Social Services, 452 U.S. 18).

Also note that occasionally a holding may pertain to more than one legal basis for decision. In such cases, the additional basis or bases are specified as though they are numbered holdings, or as though they are a holding without numbers.

By no means does every record have an entry in the lawType variable. Only constitutional provisions, federal statutes, and court rules are entered here. This variable typically will have no entry in cases that concern the Supreme Court's supervisory authority over the lower federal courts; those where the Supreme Court's decision does not rest on a constitutional provision, federal statute, or court rule; provisions of the common law; decrees; and nonstatutory cases arising under the Court's original jurisdiction.

In cases where the Court considers multiple legal provisions no attempt is made to order their appearance. Where the constitutionality of a federal law is challenged, to give either the constitutional provision or the statute primacy would be arbitrary. To the extent that any order characterizes these lawType entries, it likely is the sequence in which they appear in the summary.

Beyond the foregoing, observe that an entry should appear in this variable only when the summary indicates that the majority opinion discusses the legal provision at issue. The mere fact that the Court exercises a certain power (e.g., its original jurisdiction, as in Arkansas v. Tennessee, 397 U.S. 91), or makes reference in its majority opinion rather than in the summary that a certain constitutional provision, statute, or frequently used common law rule applies (e.g., the "equal footing" principle which pertains to the admission of new states under Article IV, section 3, clause 2 of the Constitution, as Utah v. United States, 403 U.S. 9, illustrates) provides no warrant for any entry.

There are three exceptions to this "discussion" requirement, the first of which dismisses the writ of certiorari as "improvidently granted" either in so many words (e.g., Johnson v. United States, 401 U.S. 846) or dismisses it on this basis implicitly (e.g., Baldonado v. California, 366 U.S. 417). In such cases, the code 508 should appear. More often than not, these cases have no summary. Note that the phrase is a term of art: 1) it overrides any substantive provision that the summary may mention (e.g., Conway v. California Adult Authority, 396 U.S. 107); 2) it does not apply where the Supreme Court takes jurisdiction on appeal.

In the second exception the Court, without discussion, remands a case to a lower court for consideration in light of an earlier decision. The summary of the earlier case is then consulted and the instant case coded with the entry that appeared there (e.g., Wheaton v. California, 386 U.S. 267). If a discussion in the summary precedes the remand, this variable should be governed by that discussion as well as the basis for decision in the case that the lower court is instructed to consider. Usually these bases will be identical (e.g., Maxwell v. Bishop, 398 U.S. 262).

The third exception to the "discussion" criterion involves the legality of administrative agency action without specific reference to the statute under which the agency acted. Inasmuch as administrative agencies may only act pursuant to statute, the majority opinion was consulted to determine the statute in question (e.g., National Labor Relations Board v. United Insurance Co. of America, 390 U.S. 254). The same situation may characterize the statute under which a court exercises jurisdiction (e.g., the Court of Claims in United States v. King, 395 U.S. 1).

As indicated, this variable should usually lack an entry if the numbered holding(s) indicates that the Court's decision rests on its supervisory authority over the federal judiciary, the common law, or diversity jurisdiction.

Note that where a state or local government allegedly abridges a provision of the Bill of Rights that has been made binding on the states because it has been incorporated into the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment, identification is to the specific guarantee rather than to the Fourteenth Amendment Due Process Clause.

International treaties and conventions, which rarely serve as the basis for the Court's decision, are identified (in the lawSupp variable) as a treaty (509), an interstate compact as Interstate Compact (510), an executive order as Executive Order (511), and a statute of a territory of the U.S., which is not in the U.S. Code or the Statutes at Large, as Territory Statute (512).

A case that challenges the constitutionality of a federal statute, court or common law rule will usually contain at least two legal bases for decision: the constitutional provision as well as the challenged statute or rule.

Where a heading concerns the review of agency action under a statute, but the statute is not identified, it is ascertained from the opinion (e.g., National Labor Relations Board v. United Insurance Co. of America, 390 U.S. 254). So also where the decision turns on the statutory jurisdiction of a federal court, and the holding does not specify it (e.g., United States v. King, 395 U.S. 1).
1 Constitution
2 Constitutional Amendment
3 Federal Statute
4 Court Rules
5 Other
6 Infrequently litigated statutes
8 State or local law or regulation
9 No Legal Provision
Identification Variables
Background Variables
Chronological Variables
Substantive Variables
Outcome Variables
Voting & Opinion Variables

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