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Case Law: Official and Unofficial Publication

Basic Legal Research Concepts

Official and Unofficial Publication

Official and Unofficial Publication


Hardbound court reports and advance sheets are published both officially and unofficially. For example, United States Reports is the official publication of the United States Supreme Court. The Supreme Court Reporter is an unofficial publication of the commercial publisher West Publishing (now Thompson Reuters) containing the cases of the United States Supreme Court and other helpful research aids.


Official court reports are those reports published under the authorization of the legislature (or the court). The reports do not need to be published by the legislature to constitute official court reports, but can be published by a commercial publisher. Private publication is common and occurs when there is no official designation by the government. At one time all states published official court reports. Many of these official publications have now ceased publication of case reports and have instead adopted the publication of a commercial publisher as being official. Most West publications are unofficial but some small states have outsourced all their official publication to West. This varies from state to state.


Official publication of advance sheets and court reports are frequently delayed, often by 2 years, or more. As a result, legal researchers frequently prefer unofficial reports because the publication of the decisions is faster, and the unofficial publication has value-added editorial features. The language of the opinions contained in the official publication and the unofficial publication is identical.


A nominative reporter is an early American court report named for the individual who compiled or edited the reports. It may be either an official report or an unofficial report. Many of these reports have been renumbered to conform to the official jurisdictional numbering. For example, 1 Cranch is now 5 United States Reports.

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