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Collecting the data

These data contain information on the 48,524 memoranda and opinion drafts that Justices circulated to their colleagues during the opinion-writing process on the U.S. Supreme Court between the 1969 OT and the 1985 OT. We located the original documents in the personal papers of Justices who served during the Burger Court. We acquired and coded all documents found in the papers of former Justices Hugo L. Black (Library of Congress), William O. Douglas (Library of Congress), John M. Harlan (Princeton University), William J. Brennan, Jr. (Library of Congress), Thurgood Marshall (Library of Congress), Harry A. Blackmun (Library of Congress), Lewis F. Powell (Washington & Lee University), and William H. Rehnquist (Stanford University).

Each observation in the spreadsheet catalogs a single document. On occasion, a Justice would send a single memo pertaining to several distinct cases (e.g., a memo joining several opinions written by a colleague). Even then, when the document related to several cases, the data contains a single entry for that document. In other instances, albeit not often, a Justice would not apparently circulate any documents pertaining to a case. This might be due to a handwritten response on an opinion draft returned to a Justice whose papers are not yet available (i.e., Warren E. Burger, Byron R. White, William H. Rehnquist [1975 OT to 1985 OT], John Paul Stevens, or Sandra Day O'Connor). It is worth noting that when a Justice did not have a document in a case, that means that none of the Justices' personal papers included such a document.

We include documents from any case in which the Justices have a case file. These may include cases that were not orally argued or even accepted for review (e.g., draft dissents from denial of certiorari). We then coded every document in the file that a Justice sent to another Justice, including handwritten notes. Some of the files included draft letters or draft opinions that may not have been circulated to other Justices. If there was evidence that a document was uncirculated, we excluded that document from these data (e.g., handwritten note saying "Cancelled" or "Not Circulated"). In a few instances, when it was not clear whether a Justice circulated a document, we have a remark field that reflects that assessment.

Support for this project came from the National Science Foundation's Law and Social Science Program through awards SES-9906629 and SES-9906811 (Collaborative Research: Documenting Collegial Interaction in Opinion Writing on the U.S. Supreme Court, 1969-1986 Terms). We are grateful for the assistance of Maeve Carey, Rachel Paine Caufield, Aaron Dusso, Thomas Hansford, Tom Holyoke, Alistair Howard, Jonathan Hutzley, Brendan Johnson, Danka Rapic, Jon Rodeback, and Phillip Stalley. We also thank John Jacobs at Washington & Lee University and the staff at Princeton University, Stanford University, and the Library of Congress.


Justice Hugo L. Black (Library of Congress)
Justice William O. Douglas (Library of Congress)
Justice John M. Harlan (Princeton University)
Justice William J. Brennan, Jr. (Library of Congress)
Justice Thurgood Marshall (Library of Congress)
Justice Harry A. Blackmun (Library of Congress)
Justice Lewis F. Powell, Jr. (Washington & Lee University)
Justice William H. Rehnquist (Stanford University)