Westlaw Keycite and the SCOTUS gay marriage cases

October 10, 2013

samesex marriageAs we prepare for the next Supreme Court session, I wanted to share with you some of what the Legal Editorial Operations team does to help make your legal research more successful.

This summer we were all anxiously awaiting a number of decisions, including Windsor and Perry. Minutes after they were announced from the bench, I felt the ripples of the June 26th Supreme Court marriage ruling at my desk halfway across the country in Minnesota. As a Westlaw KeyCite Analyst, I’m a link in the middle of a chain which ends with a fully-analyzed and headnoted Supreme Court decision. My job is to process the direct and indirect history on the cases, and the clock started ticking as soon as copies of the decisions landed on my desk.

The challenge of linking direct and indirect history to Supreme Court cases lies in the realms of speed and accuracy. Where district court cases often send us on a hunt for references, Supreme Court cases are generally straightforward. The direct history affirming or reversing the lower court is laid out at the beginning of the case by the Reporter of Decisions. The vacated history from Hollingsworth v. Perry 133 S.Ct. 2652, for example, put a red flag on the vacated Ninth Circuit decision. Any indirect history is usually found within the first few pages; in the case of Perry, a distinguishing reference to Karcher v. May, 108 S.Ct. 388 was spotted on page 3. After the history is linked, a second set of eyes insures accuracy. For the marriage cases, my colleague Sara Johnson came through with the assist before we sent the decisions on for headnotes.

From the point of view of a KeyCite Analyst, the nuts and bolts of processing a Supreme Court decision are much like any other federal case. The steps are identical to what we do every day with district and court of appeals cases. The difference on a Supreme Court decision day is an increased emphasis on speed, which is accomplished through teamwork. On this day direct history for both marriage cases was available to customer on Westlaw within 14 minutes of our receiving the decisions.