The Supreme Court of Louisiana holds the distinction of being the state's highest court, or, as it is often called, the court of last resort in Louisiana. By order of the Court on November 4, 1976, its historical archives-defined as those records created from the Court's inception in 1813, when Louisiana's first state constitution became effective, through 1920-were deposited in the Earl K. Long Library at the University of New Orleans "to ensure their preservation and safety."
The archives consist mainly of manuscript case files appealed from lower state courts to the Supreme Court of Louisiana. Occupying approximately 2,730 linear feet, case files range in extent from several pages to thousands of pages. Rules required that the Court be provided with a complete transcript of lower court files and evidence; thus the case files include maps, surveys, printed briefs, and a host of other documentation. Often these are the only extant copies, not only of appellate arguments and decisions, but also of records that originated with lower courts, for many lower-court copies have been lost to fire, theft, and age-related deterioration.
Case files include a small number of legal documents, dating between 1769 and 1812, which were used as exhibits or in transcripts, and dockets for some cases which were "unreported", meaning that the opinion was not published in Louisiana Reports. Supplementing these case files are docket books, which serve as a sort of index to the case files, and minute books, which summarize particular cases and record the Court's disposition of them.
In addition to the winter and spring sessions held in New Orleans, until 1894 the Supreme Court met elsewhere in the state during the summer and fall, at times in Opelousas, Alexandria, Baton Rouge, Monroe, Natchitoches, and Shreveport. Each location maintained its own docket-numbering system. Several times, coinciding with new state constitutions, one numbering system was discontinued and another was begun. Many case files, docket books, and minute books for Court sessions held outside New Orleans are missing. Since 1898 the Court has held its sessions only in New Orleans.
One of the easiest ways to locate a relevant case, available on most campuses, is LexisNexis Academic's Legal Research. On the main page of "LexisNexis Academic", click on the "Legal" navigational tab at the top of the page, then click "Federal & State Cases" on the navigation links along the right-hand side of the page. To further narrow your search, select "LA Federal & State Cases, Combined" from the drop-down menu next to "Sources", expand "Show options to search specific document sections", select "Court" from the drop-down menu next to "Section", and type in "Louisiana High Court". To ensure that only the years covered by UNO's holdings are searched, enter "1812" and "1921" as the date range under "Specify Date".
Researchers should note that not all of the court's opinions were published. For example, if the judges applied well-established principles to a case with no novel facts, they did not bother to publish the opinion as it had no value as a precedent. But what is of little interest to the lawyer might be of great interest to the historian or anthropologist. The files of these "unreported" cases are a potential gold mine, but accessing them can be difficult as there is no published reference to them, other than the list of "Cases Not Reported" in the front of the annual legal reports after 1865. Besides the annual reports, researchers may consult the docket indexes to the New Orleans sessions to discover these cases involving individuals, companies or institutions from that portion of the state. Thomas C. Manning's Unreported Cases Heard and Determined by the Supreme Court of Louisiana, from January 8, 1877, to April, 1880, Digested, Reported, and Condensed (St. Louis: Nixon-Jones Printing Co., 1884), a copy of which is in the Dart Collection (Mss 140), is another useful source.
Researchers using the collection to study various historical and cultural topics should keep in mind that this is a collection of materials related to law and should familiarize them-selves with the precise legal vocabulary used by the court. For example, historians interested in placage, the antebellum practice of white men keeping a black mistress, will not find any cases if they search for "placage" in LexisNexis. The appropriate legal term is "concubinage," and a search using that word yields fifty-five cases where the term occurs before 1865. An excellent source for checking the terms you wish to search is any edition of William K. Dart and Edward F. White's Louisiana Digest Annotated (1917; Second series, 1937; new 1951; the latter is in our Reference Collection KFL 57.L66), which gives case citations as well as cross-references to other useful terms. Another good source is West's Louisiana Digest 1809 to Date (Reference Collection KFL 57 .L66).
Another very useful tool for finding case files that deal with portions of the state's constitution or legislative acts is Theodore Roehl's Annotations to the Statute Law of the State of Louisiana (New Orleans: F. F. Hansell & Bro., Ltd., 1917), a copy of which is in the Dart Collection (Mss 140). This breaks down the Civil Code, Code of Practice, Constitutions (1812-1913), and Acts of the Legislature (1822-1916) into their articles, sections, and acts, and lists the legal citations for all Supreme Court cases that deal with these individual components.
Circuits have been given an "index" letter to ease searching. To browse by a particular circuit and time period, please follow the links provided below.
A. New Orleans (Eastern District) 1813-1846
E. New Orleans (Eastern District) 1846-1861
J. New Orleans 1921-1983
You may also select "Browse Historical Archives of the LA Supreme Court" or "Advanced Search" above.