Database Methodology

From individual and democratic rights, to criminal procedure, to environmental protection, state constitutional law is developing rapidly. Understanding these changes is in the public interest, but tracking state constitutional development in all 50 states is difficult. All 50 states have their own systems and practices for publishing their dockets and court opinions, with varying degrees of public access. To make key legal rulings available to scholars, practitioners, judges, law students, journalists, and the public, State Court Report offers a curated database of state supreme court decisions that address state constitutional law and pending cases that raise significant state constitutional issues.

State high courts issue thousands of decisions each year, but only a fraction raise questions of state constitutional law, and even fewer represent significant state constitutional development. This database compiles decisions state supreme courts have issued since January 2021 that develop state constitutional law in significant ways. This includes decisions in which the court’s majority opinion elaborates on one or more state constitutional provisions in connection with a matter of first impression, where it is departing from or extending precedent, or where the constitutional provision is new or has never been interpreted. The database also includes decisions in which a dissenting or concurring opinion has a substantial discussion of state constitutional law.

The database does not include decisions that only reference the state constitution in passing, dismiss state constitutional claims without significant discussion, or address a state constitutional claim in a way that appears to be a straightforward application of existing precedent. The database reflects State Court Report’s editorial judgments and consideration of factors such as the length of the court’s analysis of the state constitutional claim and whether the subject matter at issue is one of significant public interest.

To facilitate filtering of cases in the database, each case is tagged with one or more of the following issues:

  • Civil Due Process (e.g., procedural and substantive due process, access to courts, standing)
  • Civil Rights (e.g., discrimination based on age, disability, sex, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or gender identity)
  • Criminal Law (e.g., criminal procedure and due process, search and seizure, sentencing, death penalty, right to counsel, bail, fees and fines, police misconduct and qualified immunity claims stemming from the rights of criminal defendants and prisoners, criminal jury rights, rights of prisoners)
  • Economic & Labor Rights (e.g., employer, industry, and labor regulations; state takings clauses; other property rights)
  • Education (e.g., school funding, right to a quality education, school discipline, or other education-related claims whether they relate to K-12 or colleges/universities)
  • Elections (e.g., voting, money in politics, redistricting, election results)
  • Environment (e.g., water rights, protected habitats, climate change, pollution)    
  • Government Structure (e.g., separation of powers, home rule disputes between states and localities, gubernatorial authority)
  • Reproductive Rights (e.g., abortion, fertility, contraception)
  • Speech & Religion (e.g., freedom of speech, association, assembly, religion, protest, boycott; religious establishment)
  • Torts and Liability (e.g., products, workers, and other liability; damages caps; civil statutes of limitations; jury instructions in tort cases)

Pending cases are cases that parties have filed in a state court that raise potentially significant state constitutional issues but that the state’s supreme court has not yet decided. The pending cases in the database are only a selection of the most significant cases pending in state courts today and include cases currently before lower, intermediate, and high courts. Users are encouraged to check the current status of any pending cases of interest, as there may be developments that are not yet reflected in the database.

State Court Report has also designated as “Cases of Note” those cases deemed especially noteworthy for the extent or novelty of their discussion of state constitutional law and related to a subject matter likely to be of heightened public interest.

State Court Report has partnered with Fastcase to identify and conduct an initial review of decided cases for potential inclusion in the database. State Court Report identifies pending cases through news reports and tips from practitioners and readers. State Court Report has collected briefing materials in the database from state courts, law libraries, other public sources, and directly from litigants.

If you know of a pending or decided case that should be included in the database, or believe you have identified an error in the database, please submit tips to database [at] statecourtreport [dot] org (database[at]statecourtreport[dot]org)

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A project of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law