West publishes federal cases in chronological order in federal reporters. It also publishes the Federal Practice Digest to help you find the cases published in the federal reporters. If you have access to print reporters and digests, there are five key methods for finding federal cases in print:
1. by citation;
2. by party name;
3. by words or phrase;
4. by subject using an index; and
5. by West Topics & Key Numbers
You may have the cite to a relevant case because someone gave it to you; you found it cited in another case; you found it cited in a secondary source; or you found it referenced in the annotations to a federal statute.
Case citations contain the case name, volume, reporter, and page number where the case begins. For example you can find the United States Supreme Court opinion below in volume 137, page 988 of the Supreme Court Reporter. The official United States Reports (U.S) has yet to be published.
U.S. Supreme Court "slip" opinions are posted daily when the Court is in session (October through June or July). The slip opinions for the current term of court are available to browse on the Supreme Court's website until they are published in the bound volumes of the official United States Reports (currently volume 502 (1991) through volume 572 (2013)).
Decisions from the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina are appealed to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals. (along with N.C., Va., W.Va & Md). The website for the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals allows you to search opinions back to 1996. You can search the text of the opinions or retrieve opinions by case name, number, or date. You can also browse opinions for today, this week, and last week.
To access free written opinions from the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, you must create an account in the federal court's PACER system.
Google Scholar is a search engine for state and federal cases that allows you to choose a jurisdiction or select courts to conduct a combined search. You can also limit and sort your results by date.
JUSTIA's US Case Law page provides free browse-able access to many years of federal cases, including Fourth Circuit and South Carolina U.S. District Court opinions back through the 1920s.
South Carolina colleges and universities and public libraries may provide access to all federal cases through subscriptions to Westlaw or LexisNexis.
Some public library systems in South Carolina offer public access to Westlaw for its members. The University of South Carolina subscribes to NexisUni™ (formerly LexisNexis Academic).
With access to Westlaw or NexisUni, you can search for federal cases by citation, by party name, by keyword search and using the headnotes from one good case. Westlaw uses West topics and key numbers, while NexisUni uses LexisNexis headnote topics.