image image image image
image
Online Code Book Downloadable Code Book Code Repository SCDB Web 101
Online Code Book

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

This variable and the next (lawSupp) identify the constitutional provision(s), statute(s), or court rule(s) that the Court considered in the case. The difference between the two variables is that lawSupp is coded finely; it identifies 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). Note that a third variable, lawMinor, is reserved for infrequently litigated statutes. For those, lawMinor identifies the law at issue.

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.

Supplementing the Lawyers' Edition summary are subordinate decision rules. If the Reporters' syllabus has no numbered headings,treat it as though it has but one number. If more than one numbered heading pertains to a single constitutional provision, statute, or court rule, treat such legal provision as though it appeared in but one numbered heading. If separate numerical headings pertain to different sections of a statute under a given title in the United States Code which would not be governed by conventional use of "et seq.," treat them as separate legal provisions. (Note that this occurs very rarely.) If a numbered heading refers to more than a single constitutional provision, statute, and/or court rule, treat them as separate legal provisions. (This not uncommonly occurs.)

Observe 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.

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 an unnumbered 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 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 Fourteen 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).
 
Values:
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
Introductory
Identification Variables
Background Variables
Chronological Variables
Substantive Variables
Outcome Variables
Voting & Opinion Variables

  CONTACT   TOP
Online Code Book Downloadable Code Book Code Repository SCDB Web 101
image The Supreme Court Database has been generously supported by the National Science Foundation.
Creative Commons License