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B A 243: Social, Legal, and Ethical Environment of Business

basic legal research guide for B A 243

Search 1-2-3

A few things to know before beginning your search for a case related to your topic:

  1. Some issues tend to be a matter of state law, while others are federal. For example, in Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) the US Supreme Court ruled state bans on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, effectively making same-sex marriage legal nationwide. However, it wasn't until August 2018 that Pennsylvania instituted protections against discrimination based on sexuality or gender identity, though there are existing protections against discrimination based on sex, race, color, religion, and national origin. While same-sex couples could marry in PA, there were no federal or state protections against discrimination on the basis of sexuality or gender identity in the workplace, for example. 
  2. Is your case "good law"? The preference for finding US Supreme Court cases for this assignment is that this court is our nation's highest. Cases heard in lower courts may have been appealed and overturned, which wouldn't help your argument. However, depending on your topic, a state case might be the most appropriate. When in doubt, ask a librarian.
  3. The court's "Opinion" will explain their findings and conclusions. You may also find a "Dissenting Opinion" for Supreme Court decisions, explaining the reasons one or more judges voted in the minority. Since you have to present both sides of your issue, both the Opinion and Dissenting Opinion(s) may be useful to you... just be sure to identify the Dissenting Opinion as such! It provides perspective, but not law.

Steps for Finding a Case

  1. One the "Background Information" tab on the left, use one or both suggested sources to find background on your topic, including mention of important cases. Note the name and citation number.
  2. See if other things you are reading on your topic mention important cases. Note the name and citation number.
  3. If you have trouble finding the court's Opinion, ask a librarian. You might see cases referenced by name and year: Obergefell v. Hodges (2015) or Roe v. Wade (1973); or by citation number: 410 U.S. 113. This citation indicates volume 410 of the U.S. Reporter, starting on page 113. You can typically use either name or citation number to locate your case in the databases below.
  4. If you didn't find a case mentioned in your background or supporting research, try searching one of the databases below. Start with "Supreme Court Insight" or "Nexis Uni" (this has both federal and state law)... or ask a librarian.


Supreme Court Insight

Keyword Search Tips:

  • Enter keywords (may need to experiment)
  • Under "Case Characteristic" on the left, click on "Landmark" to see Landmark Supreme Court Cases
  • Click on a case to learn more
  • Read the "Opinion" document (at the bottom) to understand the final outcome of the case (ruling of the court); use this for your paper


Nexis Uni (Formerly Lexis-Nexis Academic)

CQ Supreme Court Collection

search tools in CQ Supreme Court Collection database with the "cases" option highlighted




Case Citation number highlighted on the background information page Tips

  • Click on a case name on the results list (for example: "United States v. Santos") to find background information on the case. 
  • From the background info page, click on the case citation number ("527 US 173") to be linked to the court decision in FindLaw.
    • The case citation number is a great KEYWORD to use in searches and you'll also use it in your APA style source citation.
    • Citation numbers tell you the volume and starting page for your case's court opinion, and the court reporter (book title) it was published in. In this example, the case can be found in volume 527 of the U.S. Reporter, starting on page 173. Even though you're looking for things electronically, it's still the key to finding it!

Hein Online and LoisLaw (cases and law review articles)

location of advanced caselaw search option


  • Use the "Advanced Caselaw Search" to limit to Supreme Court cases and other search options.

TipUS Supreme Court Library in Hein Online

  • Browse to the U.S. Supreme Court Library to limit your search to Supreme Court cases

Tip: Once you have your search results, on the left side of the page look for Edit Type. Check the boxes for "Peer-Edited" and "Refereed".

"Student Edited" articles are not technically scholarly, because students are not considered experts (they do not have a law degree yet!)

"Student edited" means a student run journal that does not send articles out for peer review.
"Peer edited" means a journal that is edited by professionals in the field
"Refereed" means a journal that routinely sends article submissions on for peer review by members of a diverse professional group.
Student edited or Peer edited journals may also be refereed, in which case the journal will be listed as "refereed". (Source)