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Historical Archives of the Supreme Court of Louisiana

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Historical Note

The Supreme Court of Louisiana holds the distinction of being the state's highest court, or, as it is often called, the court of last resort in Louisiana. By order of the Court on November 4, 1976, its historical archives-defined as those records created from the Court's inception in 1813, when Louisiana's first state constitution became effective, through 1920-were deposited in the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orleans "to ensure their preservation and safety."

The archives consist mainly of manuscript case files appealed from lower state courts to the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Occupying approximately 2,730 linear feet, case files range in extent from several pages to thousands of pages. Rules required that the Court be provided with a complete transcript of lower court files and evidence; thus the case files include maps, surveys, printed briefs, and a host of other documentation. Often these are the only extant copies, not only of appellate arguments and decisions, but also of records that originated with lower courts, for many lower-court copies have been lost to fire, theft, and age-related deterioration.

Case files include a small number of legal documents, dating between 1769 and 1812, which were used as exhibits or in transcripts, and dockets for some cases which were "unreported", meaning that the opinion was not published in Louisiana Reports. Supplementing these case files are docket books, which serve as a sort of index to the case files, and minute books, which summarize particular cases and record the Court's disposition of them.

In addition to the winter and spring sessions held in New Orleans, until 1894 the Supreme Court met elsewhere in the state during the summer and fall, at times in Opelousas, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Monroe, Natchitoches, and Shreveport. Each location maintained its own docket-numbering system. Several times, coinciding with new state constitutions, one numbering system was discontinued and another was begun. Many case files, docket books, and minute books for Court sessions held outside New Orleans are missing. Since 1898 the Court has held its sessions only in New Orleans.

Research Tips

The University of New Orleans houses cases from 1813 to approximately 1920. Some cases and court materials from 1920 until 1940 are archived at the Louisiana State Archives. Cases dating from 1935 to the present are located at the Louisiana Supreme Court Clerk’s Office. One of the easiest ways to locate a relevant case, available on most campuses, is LexisNexis Academic's Federal & State Cases. To ensure that only the years covered by UNO's holdings are searched, enter "1812" and "1921" as the date range under "Specify Date."

Researchers should note that not all of the court's opinions were published. For example, if the judges applied well-established principles to a case with no novel facts, they did not bother to publish the opinion as it had no value as a precedent. But what is of little interest to the lawyer might be of great interest to the historian or anthropologist. The files of these "unreported" cases are a potential gold mine, but accessing them can be difficult as there is no published reference to them, other than the list of "Cases Not Reported" in the front of the annual legal reports after 1865. Besides the annual reports, researchers may consult the docket indexes to the New Orleans sessions to discover these cases involving individuals, companies or institutions from that portion of the state. Thomas C. Manning's Unreported Cases Heard and Determined by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, from January 8, 1877, to April, 1880, Digested, Reported, and Condensed (St. Louis: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1884), a copy of which is in the Dart Collection (Mss 140), is another useful source.

Researchers using the collection to study various historical and cultural topics should keep in mind that this is a collection of materials related to law and should familiarize them-selves with the precise legal vocabulary used by the court. For example, historians interested in placage, the antebellum practice of white men keeping a black mistress, will not find any cases if they search for "placage" in LexisNexis. The appropriate legal term is "concubinage," and a search using that word yields fifty-five cases where the term occurs before 1865. An excellent source for checking the terms you wish to search is any edition of William K. Dart and Edward F. White's Louisiana Digest Annotated (1917; Second series, 1937; new 1951; the latter is in our Reference Collection KFL 57.L66), which gives case citations as well as cross-references to other useful terms. Another good source is West's Louisiana Digest 1809 to Date (Reference Collection KFL 57 .L66).

Another very useful tool for finding case files that deal with portions of the state's constitution or legislative acts is Theodore Roehl's Annotations to the Statute Law of the State of Louisiana (New Orleans: F. F. Hansell & Bro., Ltd., 1917), a copy of which is in the Dart Collection (Mss 140). This breaks down the Civil Code, Code of Practice, Constitutions (1812-1913), and Acts of the Legislature (1822-1916) into their articles, sections, and acts, and lists the legal citations for all Supreme Court cases that deal with these individual components.

For more information on Louisiana Supreme Court Minute Books, please consult The First Minute Book of the Supreme Court of the State of Louisiana 1813 to May, 1818: An Annotated Edition by Sybil Boudreaux.

DSpace Search Tips

The Louisiana Supreme Court Digital Archives contains court cases from 1813-1878. The circuits that have been digitized are Alexandria; Baton Rouge (1813-1846); Monroe; and New Orleans. Not all cases from each circuit have yet been digitized.

Browse

Browse cases by Case Date, Title, Circuit, and Docket Number. Please also note that some inconsistencies exist in the numbering of the dockets; this is a known issue and we are working to resolve it.

Advanced Search

The Boolean advanced search feature can be found on the left hand navigation bar at the top, under “Search DSpace.” Search by Case Date: Enter the year (ex. 1858) or search by year and month (ex. 1858-04). Some inconsistencies also exist in the month/date convention. However, searching by a specific year should bring up all cases, in all circuits, which correspond to that date.

Search by Docket Number: Enter a docket number using six placeholders. For example, if a case is number one, enter it as 000001. If it is number 12, enter it as 000012. Some docket numbers may not follow this convention; enter them without commas as standard numbers. Please note that multiple cases may come up within a search, if the number was re-used for another circuit.

Search by Title: Titles are entered as the court recorded them. DSpace will sort the search results by the most relevant case title first, but may also include a number of false hits if the names are common (i.e. LeBlanc). If your search is not bringing up any results, try searching by only the name of the plaintiff or defendant.

Search by Keyword and Circuit: The court cases are not full-text searchable. Utilizing the other search and browse fields are likely to yield better results.

If you are having trouble locating a case, please contact the Louisiana & Special Collections Department at (504) 280-6544 or email us at libspec@uno.edu.

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