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-Spencer L. Simons, former Director, O'Quinn Law Library and Associate Professor of Law

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Dred Scott v. Sanford & Legal Research

Today (March 6, 2010) marks the 153 anniversary of Dred Scott v. Sanford (60 U.S. 393). Much have been said about the shameful U.S. Supreme Court decision. Here is one for the legal research business:

Althought the U.S. Supreme Court posts on its website the dates of the oral argument were Feb. 11-14 and Dec. 15-18, 1856; and the original decision was handed down on March 6, 1857, one would not be able to find these dates in the Westlaw version. The only date available on Westlaw (1856 WL 8721) is "December Term, 1856." And the pdf file for this case currently is not available. Lexis posts another problem: 1856 U.S. LEXIS 472 states: "March 5, 1857, Decided; December 1856 Term." Online researcher beware!


  1. A follow-up:

    As indicated on the SCTUS web page (link in the posting), there is not date of opinion in the first 107 volumes of US Reports. In this case Westlaw simply posts the opinion without "value added". Lexis may have made a typo. In this case the only authority is the SCTUS page. While SCTUS online slip opinions are not to be considered the controlling version, it seems that legal Researchers should still check out the SCTUS website frequently.

  2. The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd ed.) asserts on page 887 that Scott v. Sandford was “decided 6-7 Mar. 1857…” The Oxford Companion is not an official source, of course, but I wonder why it gives the date in that fashion.