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L, Library.

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall, James W. Ely Jr., Joel B. Grossman

From: The Oxford Companion to the Supreme Court of the United States (2nd Edition)

Edited By: Kermit L. Hall

From: Oxford Constitutions (http://oxcon.ouplaw.com). (c) Oxford University Press, 2023. All Rights Reserved. Subscriber: null; date: 07 June 2023


The Supreme Court Library has evolved into a significant collection of materials capable of supporting the most sophisticated legal research. The library was created by a congressional act of 1832, providing that law books in the Library of Congress be separated from other works and that a law library be established for the Supreme Court justices. This statute also gave the justices power to promulgate rules for the use of the library. In 1832 the library contained 2,011 volumes.

The Supreme Court’s librarian, Henry Deforest Clarke, was appointed in March 1887. A century later, the current librarian administers an institution that contains half a million volumes and has access to databases and other modern library technology. The library’s collections are similar to those of a large law school library, including comprehensive coverage of the primary legal materials of the United States and each of the fifty states.

The librarian, who is appointed by the chief justice, has the authority to choose assistants and to acquire such books, pamphlets, periodicals, and microfilm as required by the Court for its use and for the needs of its bar. The library is open to the personnel of the Court, members of the bar of the Court, members of Congress, and attorneys of the federal government. The collection is noncirculating, except to justices and members of their legal staffs.

The present library facility dates from 1935, when the Court first occupied a building of its own. The main collection is located on the third floor of the Supreme Court Building. The librarian is also responsible for a separate second-floor library used by the justices, the collections of material and databases located in justices’ chambers, and a 15,000-square-foot library located nearby in the Thurgood Marshall Building. The third-floor library consists of two rooms; the reading room contains the online catalog and circulation and reference areas. This is where the library houses its primary collections. The other room is the records and briefs room. It houses the most complete collection of the Court’s records and briefs from 1832 (when written briefs were first required) to the present.

Roy M. Mersky