In General. The opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States are published officially in a set of case books called the United States Reports. See 28 U.S.C. §411. At the beginning of October Term 2012, the U.S. Reports consisted of 552 bound volumes and soft-cover "preliminary prints" of an additional 5 volumes; a final 10 volumes' worth of opinions also existed in individual "slip opinion" form. Volumes are added to the set at the rate of three to five per Term; they are generally between 800 and 1,200 pages long. In addition to all of the opinions issued during a particular period, a volume may contain a roster of Justices and Court officers during that period; an allotment of Justices by Federal Circuit; announcements of Justices' investitures and retirements; memorial proceedings for deceased Justices; a cumulative table of cases reported; orders in cases decided in summary fashion; reprints of amendments to the Supreme Court's Rules and the various sets of Federal Rules of Procedure; a topical index; and a statistical table summarizing case activity for the past three Court Terms. The U.S. Reports is compiled and published for the Court by the Reporter of Decisions. See 28 U.S.C. §673(c). Page proofs prepared by the Court's Publications Unit are reproduced, printed, and bound by private firms under contract with the U.S. Government Printing Office (GPO). The Court's Publications Officer acts as liaison between the Court and the GPO.
Generations of Opinions. The Supreme Court's opinions and related materials are disseminated to the public by means of four printed publications and two computerized services. Prior to the issuance of (1) bound volumes of the U.S. Reports, the Court's official decisions appear in three temporary printed forms: (2) bench opinions (which are transmitted electronically to subscribers over the Court's Project Hermes service); (3) slip opinions (which are posted on this website); and (4) preliminary prints.
1. Bench Opinions. On days that opinions are announced by the Court from the bench, the text of each opinion is made available immediately to the public and the press in a printed form called a "bench opinion." The bench opinion pamphlet for each case consists of the majority or plurality opinion, any concurring or dissenting opinions written by the Justices, and a prefatory syllabus prepared by the Reporter's Office that summarizes the decision. Bench opinions are printed at the Court, generally in 5 ½" x 8 ½" self-cover pamphlets. They are made available to the public by the Court's Public Information Office. The text of each bench opinion is also disseminated electronically via Project Hermes, one of the Court's two opinion dissemination systems (this website is the other). Hermes subscribers include universities, news media and publishing companies. A number of these organizations provide on-line access to the bench opinions via the Internet within minutes after they are released by the Court. Hermes subscribers who redisseminate bench opinions to the general public are identified in the file entitled "Where to Obtain Supreme Court Opinions."
Caution: In case of discrepancies between the print and electronic versions of a bench opinion, the print version controls. Moreover, bench opinions are replaced, generally within hours, by slip opinion pamphlets and, in case of discrepancies between the bench and slip opinions, the slip opinion controls.
2. Slip Opinions. Several days after an opinion is announced by the Court, it is printed in a 6" x 9" self-cover pamphlet called a "slip opinion." Each slip opinion consists of the majority or plurality opinion, any concurring or dissenting opinions, and the syllabus. It may contain corrections not appearing in the bench opinion. Slip opinion page proofs are sent to a commercial printing company under contract with the GPO, and the company prints the slip opinions in accordance with the Court's specifications. The slip opinion pamphlets are distributed free of charge, while supplies last, by the Court's Public Information Office. They are also sold by the GPO. The text of each slip opinion is also disseminated electronically via posting on this website, usually within minutes after the opinion is announced. Slip opinions remain posted here until the opinions for an entire Term are published in the bound volumes of the U. S. Reports. The number of slip opinions published each Term has varied over the years from as few as 75 to as many as 170.
Caution: In case of discrepancies between the print and electronic versions of a slip opinion, the print version controls. Moreover, individual slip opinions are cumulated and replaced within months by preliminary print pamphlets and, in case of discrepancies between the slip opinion and preliminary print version of a case, the preliminary print controls.
3. Preliminary Prints. The preliminary prints of the U.S. Reports are the third generation of opinion publication and dissemination. These are brown, soft-cover "advance pamphlets" that contain, in addition to the opinions themselves, all of the announcements, tables, indexes, and other features that make up the U.S. Reports. The contents of two or three preliminary prints will eventually be combined into a single bound volume. Thus, the title of each preliminary print includes a part number, e.g., Preliminary Print, Volume 545, Part 1. Prior to publication, all of the materials that go into a preliminary print undergo an extensive editing and indexing process, and permanent page numbers are assigned that will carry over into the bound volume. Copies of the page proofs to be published in a preliminary print are sent to a commercial printing company under contract with the GPO, and that company prints the pamphlets in accordance with the Court's specifications. Official versions of preliminary prints are sold to the public by the GPO. The number of preliminary prints published for each Term varies from as few as 6 to as many as 12 separate issues, depending on the number of opinions issued during the Term. "Sliplists" identifying cases to appear in upcoming preliminary prints, as well as Counsel Listings for those cases, are posted on this website.
Caution: Individual preliminary prints are cumulated and replaced about a year later by bound volumes and, in case of discrepancies between the preliminary print and bound volume versions of a case, the bound volume controls.
4. Bound Volumes. The fourth and final generation of opinion publication is the casebound set of law books entitled United States Reports. The opinions and other materials contained in the preliminary prints are republished in this series of books. Prior to publication, all of the opinions and other materials that make up each volume undergo a final editing and indexing process. The materials are then sent to a commercial printing company under contract with the GPO, and that company prints and binds the books in accordance with the Court's specifications. The official bound volumes are sold by the GPO. The number of bound volumes published each Term varies from as few as three to as many as five, depending on the number of opinions issued during the Term. Electronic versions of bound volumes issued for October Term 1991 and subsequent years are posted on this website after the printed bound volumes have been issued.
Caution: In case of discrepancies between the print and electronic versions of these bound volume materials, the print versions control. In addition, GPO Access includes, as a convenience to users, a database of unofficial versions of bound volume opinions issued between 1937 and 1975. This database was created by the Air Force and is made available as a finding aid only. Because neither GPO nor the Court has performed costly validation or authentication processes, the authenticity or completeness of the data cannot be verified. Only the bound volumes of the United States Reports contain the final, official text of the opinions of the Supreme Court.
Where to Obtain Opinions. Apart from the various print and electronic versions of the opinions and other materials published in the official U.S. Reports and sold by the GPO, a number of private companies sell unofficial versions of the opinions in print, microform, CD-ROM, and on-line formats. For information as to the availability of all official and unofficial sources of opinions, see the file entitled "Where to Obtain Supreme Court Opinions."
Caution: Only the bound volumes of the United States Reports contain the final, official text of the opinions of the Supreme Court of the United States. In case of discrepancies between the bound volume and any other version of a case--whether print or electronic, official or unofficial--the bound volume controls.