The Federal Reporter is a case law reporter in the United States that is published by West Publishing and a part of the National Reporter System. It begins with cases decided in 1880; pre-1880 cases were later retroactively compiled by West Publishing into a separate reporter, Federal Cases. The third and current Federal Reporter series publishes decisions of the United States courts of appeals and the United States Court of Federal Claims; prior series had varying scopes that covered decisions of other federal courts as well. Though the Federal Reporter is an unofficial reporter and West is a private company that does not have a legal monopoly over the court opinions it publishes, it has so dominated the industry in the United States that legal professionals, including judges, uniformly cite to the Federal Reporter for included decisions. It was estimated in 1999 that the Fourth Series of the Federal Reporter would begin sometime around 2025. Approximately 30 new volumes are published each year.
The Federal Reporter has always published decisions only from federal courts lower than the Supreme Court of the United States, but not the Supreme Court itself. Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court are published in one official reporter and two unofficial reporters, which are, respectively, the United States Reports, Supreme Court Reports (a National Reporter System member published by West), and the United States Supreme Court Reports, Lawyers' Edition.
Features and print format
The Federal Reporter organizes court opinions within each volume by the date of the decision, and includes the full official text of the court's opinion. West editors add headnotes that summarize key principles of law in the cases, and Key Numbers that classify the decisions by topic within the West American Digest System.
Only decisions designated by the courts as "for publication—those with full precedential value for which citation in court filings is permissible—are included in the Federal Reporter. "Unpublished" decisions of the U.S. Courts of Appeals may be found in the Federal Appendix, also published by West. New opinions are first issued by West in weekly pamphlets called "Advance Sheets", to be eventually supplanted by the final hardbound, successively numbered volumes. Three series of Federal Reporter have been published to date.
Federal Reporter, Second Series
Federal Reporter, Third Series
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The Federal Reporter, including its supplementary material, is also available at websites including OpenJurist.org, on CD-ROM compilations, and on West's online legal database, Westlaw. Because individual court cases are identified by case citations that consist of printed page and volume numbers, the electronic text of the opinions incorporates the page numbers of the printed volumes with "star pagination" formatting—the numbers are boldfaced within brackets and with asterisks prepended (i.e., [*4]) to stand out from the rest of the text.
Though West has copyright over its original headnotes and keynotes, the opinions themselves are public domain and accordingly may be found in other sources, chiefly Lexis, Westlaw's competitor. Lexis also copies the star-paginated Federal Reporter numbering in their text of the opinions to allow for proper citation, a practice that was the subject of an unsuccessful copyright lawsuit by West against the parent company of Lexis.
- Olson, Kent C. (1999). Legal Information How to Find It, How to Use it. Phoenix, Arizona: Oryx Press. p. 185. ISBN 9780897749633.
- Barkan, Steven M.; Bintliff, Barbara A.; Whisner, Mary (2015). Fundamentals of Legal Research (10th ed.). St. Paul: Foundation Press. p. 68. ISBN 9781609300562.
- Martin, Boyce F. Jr. (1999), In Defense of Unpublished Opinions, 60, Ohio St. L.J., p. 177
- This court was redesignated as the United States Court of Federal Claims in 1993.
- The United States Court of Customs and Patent Appeals was subsequently merged into the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit.
- United States district court opinions after 1932 are covered in the Federal Supplement, also published by West.
- See Matthew Bender & Co. v. West Publ. Co., 158 F.3d 693 (2d Cir. 1999).