A docket is a "record providing the whole history of each case in the form of concise chronological entries summarizing the court proceedings," according to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts. Every case has a distinct docket number that can be used by researchers to locate details like the participants' names, the dates of their court appearances, and an overview of the allegations or charges.
The underlying documents (pleadings, motions, briefs, etc.) filed in a case are known as court filings, and a docket is helpful for finding them. While dockets and court filings are not regarded as "case law" and do not set precedents, the data found in these sites might occasionally aid scholars in understanding why a court issued a specific decision or opinion.
Researchers can access dockets and court filings by using the information and links provided below for a few federal, state, and subscription services. See the Law Library's associated research guides for thorough instructions on where to locate briefs, transcripts of oral arguments, and docket data for cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and federal appellate courts:
- U.S. Supreme Court Records and Briefs
- U.S. Federal Appellate Courts: Records and Briefs
Scholars should be aware that third-party websites frequently post or link to dockets and court filings for specific topics and cases of interest, including very recent examples. For instance, the Election Law at Ohio State External website posts court filings in significant outstanding election issues, as does the Turtle Talk Blog External, which routinely posts court documents pertaining to Indian and Tribal law.
When conducting an online search using the case name or topic and terms like "court filings" or "court records," researchers can frequently uncover these materials. Nonetheless, the veracity of court records published on unofficial government websites should always be compared to pleadings and decisions that can be obtained from the court clerk or on those websites.
- Federal Courts: PACER and RECAP
Although certain federal courts have made a limited number of records and briefs accessible through their websites, the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) service and the RECAP Archive:
Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER)
The official service for the general public to electronically access federal court records and documents is known as PACER. Users must set up an account and may be charged for accessing PACER depending on how frequently they utilize it.
RECAP Archive External
Court documents found on PACER are archived on a private website called The RECAP Archive. The RECAP Archive is completely searchable, free to access, and available to everyone (although not every court filing on PACER is available on RECAP).
- State Courts
Electronic access to state court dockets and filings varies from state to state.
For more information, visit: National Center for State Courts: State Court Websites External
In this resource, the National Center for State Courts External has compiled a list of state and local court websites. A prior iteration of this website provided direct links to state and local court websites with public electronic access to their dockets and filings.