Do you know which justices wrote the Supreme Court’s opinions in Brown v. Board of Educ., Roe v. Wade, and Bush v. Gore? Unlike many APA Style references, you don’t need to know the author’s name to write a basic reference for court decisions. This blog post discusses what you do need to know.
Here are the three basic elements for an APA Style reference for most court decisions:
1. Name of the case: Name v. Name
2. Source reporting the decision: Volume Source Page
3. Court and date of the decision: (Court Date)
Name of the Case
Start the reference with the name of the case as listed at the beginning of the written court decision. In most cases, this is the name of the parties involved.
Give the name of the first party listed on each side. If Chomsky and Piaget are suing Skinner and Thorndike, and if the names are in that order on the court decision, the case name is Chomsky v. Skinner.
Abbreviate the word versus as v. in case names. This is an exception to the usual APA Style rule for abbreviating versus.
Other abbreviations for terms used in case names can be found in The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation. Some commonly used abbreviations are Ass’n (Association), Co. (Company), Int’l (International), Rehab. (Rehabilitation), and Univ. (University).
Here are a few examples of case names.
Lessard v. Schmidt Brown v. Board of Educ.
Reporting the Decision
You’ll often find court decisions printed in bound volumes called case reporters. These reporters are the second element of the reference.
Identify the volume number, the name of the reporter, and the first page number of the case.
Abbreviate the name of the reporter as shown in The Bluebook. Check the first few pages of the reporter; some reporters list their abbreviated names there, in the front matter. You may also find the abbreviated name in the running head of the book or on the official web pages of the reporter.
Here are some examples of sources, including volume numbers, abbreviated case reporter names, and first page numbers:
627 F. Supp. 418 Federal Supplement, volume 627, page 418 239 Va. 312 Virginia Reports, volume 239, page 312 347 U.S. 483 United State Reports, volume 347, page 483
Court and Date of the Decision
Finish the reference with the name of the court, the court’s geographical jurisdiction (if needed), and the date of the decision, all in parentheses.
Court. Omit the name of the Supreme Court and its jurisdiction in references to the Supreme Court Reporter (S. Ct.) and United States Reports (U.S.). Likewise, omit the court’s name and its jurisdiction if (a) the deciding court is the highest court of a state or (b) the name of the case reporter already conveys the name of the court and its jurisdiction.
Abbreviate the court’s name and jurisdiction as shown in The Bluebook. Here are a few examples:
2d Cir. United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit S.D.N.Y. United States District Court in the Southern District of New York N.Y. App. Div. New York State Supreme Court Appellate Division N.Y. Fam. Ct. New York Family Court
Date. For the date, use the year that the case was decided. If that’s not available, use the year of the court term.
Here are some examples of correctly formatted courts and dates.
(10th Cir. 1984) United States Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit, decided 1984 (Tex. Ct. App. 1992) Texas Court of Appeals, decided 1992 (Mich. 1999) Michigan Supreme Court, decided 1999/PRE>
Name v. Name, Volume Source Page (Court Date) Lessard v. Schmidt, 349 F. Supp. 1078 (E.D. Wis. 1972) Blystone v. Pennsylvania, 494 U.S. (1990) People v. Armour, 590 N.W.2d 61 (Mich. 1999)
Text Citation Example
To cite the reference in text, give the case name, in italics, and the year.
Name v. Name (Year) (Name v. Name, Year) Lessard v. Schmidt (1972) (Lessard v. Schmidt, 1972)
Beyond the Basic Format
Court cases can have long, complex histories that require more information than the basic reference format can convey. You may need a reference that mentions multiple courts and court dates, that identifies sources other than the primary case reporter, and that includes explanatory information, such as a note that a decision was overruled, reversed, or affirmed.
Other court decisions never appear in case reporters. Some are reported in slip opinions, and some are available only in electronic databases, in periodicals, or on the Internet.
Appendix 7.1 of the APA Publication Manualshows reference examples for a case affirmed by the appeals court, a case published as a slip opinion, and a case published in an electronic database (see the examples on p. 218 in the sixth edition of the APA Publication Manual).
For more examples, consult The Bluebook, which covers all of these reference variations and more.