How we process cases

For each included case, we gather available crucial documents, including: the docket sheet, which indexes the litigation's progress in court from filing to termination; the complaint, which initiated the litigation; any decrees issued by courts or agreed to by parties; and any published opinions. If we know about other case-related resources—website, case studies, and the like—we post them. Finally, the law students who work on the site also summarize each case: where, when, what was involved, outcome.  More specifically:

  • For federal cases, we have obtained the district court docket sheet if it is available via the courts' PACER system (Public Access to Court Electronic Records). Usually, a docket sheet is available from PACER only if the case in question had litigation activity in 1993 or later.
  • At least in recent years (and in some districts going back over a decade), judicial orders and the parties' pleadings are also available from PACER. In that event, we have gathered and posted what seemed to us to be the most important of these orders and pleadings, including the complaint (the document that starts litigation), any available opinions, and settlements and/or decrees.
  • We also link to, which aggregates freely-available documents for recent federal cases.
  • We post judicial opinions in copyright-unrestricted forms.
  • In a few older cases, we have been able to obtain the docket sheet from the National Archives and Records Administration. Documents are posted as soon as we obtain them.

Then law students tag and summarize the cases, explaining who, what, when, and where. We update the dockets in close-to-real time. Law students revisit each open case periodically to update other aspects of the record.

Special document/case sources

The Civil Rights Litigation Clearinghouse has been the grateful recipient of documents and information from a large variety of sources, in addition to the publicly accessible sources described above:

  • The ACLU's National Prison Project generously shared many complaints and decrees from its files, forming the core of the Clearinghouse when it started.
  • We have many documents—official correspondence, complaints, and decrees—from the files of the Special Litigation Section of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division.
  • The Impact Fund shared with us its collection of large class action employment complaints and settlements.
  • The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission provided a list of all of its cases brought from 1997 to 2006; we retrieved documents from all the large cases and a random sample of the others, for a total group of over 2000.
  • The Institute for Women's Policy Research and the Wage Project conducted a study of equal employment consent decrees and collaborated with us in assembling the list of cases and their documents.
  • In many instances, we have documents from attorneys who handled civil rights cases, including over a thousand documents from lawyers who (usually decades ago) worked in the Civil Rights Division.
  • A collaboration with the National Disability Rights Network is facilitating inclusion of briefs and other documents from cases involving disability rights Protection & Advocacy organizations nationwide.