About the 9th Circuit Documents

9CHRIS provides an interface to digitized historical documents from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, a United States Appeals Court that presently covers the states of Alaska, Arizona, California, Hawaii, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, as well as Guam and the Northern Marianas Islands.

The documents in 9CHRIS span a range of dates from the the 9th Circuit Appeals Court's organization in 1891 to approximately the early 1970s.

These documents are of tremendous historical importance. The information they contain can help shed important light on life in the American West in the late 19th and much of the 20th century. While the documents may be useful to understand legal opinions and precedents, they also reveal much about topics including ethnicity, immigration, industrial activity (especially patents, mining, and logging), water and the environment, shipping and transportation, and a host of other topics. Trial transcripts allow historians a glimpse of voices from the past often lost otherwise. Unlike published case opinions, these documents were difficult for scholars to find and use before they were digitized because so few copies existed. As a result, they can now provide fertile ground for new historical insights.

Where did these documents come from?

The documents indexed by 9CHRIS were collected by the Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, part of the University of California system. Over many decades, Hastings librarians bound together individual soft-cover documents into large volumes, which they numbered consecutively. Based on gaps in the case numbers used by the Court that are written on the documents, Hastings did not save records from every case submitted for the court's consideration.

These volumes of bound legal documents were loaned to the Internet Archive to be digitized, page by page. 9CHRIS then made use of the Internet Archive's digital copies to create this index. Therefore, if a document was not collected or saved by Hastings, or if a volume was not digitized by the Internet Archive, it does not appear in 9CHRIS.

In particular, there are volumes missing in the sequence digitized by the Internet Archive. It is not presently known whether these exist in paper form and simply weren't digitized, or if they no longer exist at all. See the Errata page for more information about problems and missing volumes.

What kind of documents are they?

The documents consist of material that each side in a lawsuit would provide to the appeals court to help the judges evaluate their case. Most common are briefs that outline one side's argument about how the case should be understood. Also common are transcripts of earlier trials, usually at the district court level, often with descriptions of additional "exhibits" or evidence introduced at the original trial. Sometimes drawings, maps, or photographs are included as exhibits as well.

Nearly all of the documents have been printed and are not handwritten. They have been OCRd by the Internet Archive, but the quality of the character recognition can vary considerably. (The uncorrected errors in the title pages in 9CHRIS are clear examples!)

What is not covered?

9CHRIS does not index the published decisions and opinions of the 9th Circuit Court. Such decisions are probably what most people think of when they think of reading a court case. Such court decisions are collected in published "reporters." In fact, if you find an interesting document through 9CHRIS and just want to know how the case turned out, you need to find it in a reporter!

9th Circuit cases are published in the Federal Reporter and the Federal Reporter, 2nd Series, and can also be found in online repositories such as Lexis-Nexis and Westlaw. Many volumes in the Federal Reporter and Federal Reporter, 2nd Series have been digitized and are freely available from http://public.resource.org and/or http://openjurist.org.

You may need a table of case names in order to find the particular case you are after, because 9CHRIS typically does not include a citation to the published opinion. Each volume of the Federal Reporter has a listing of the cases it contains. The various editions of West's Federal Practice Digest have more comprehensive lists and can be very useful, but those are typically only available at a law library. The online repositories can also be search for case names. (If you find the case in a reporter or repository, please add the citation to the document's page, under "Notes," to help future researchers.)

How complete is the set of documents on 9CHRIS?

9CHRIS does not contain all the documents submitted to the 9th Circuit Court during the period of coverage, but it doesn't represent only high-profile cases either. Three stages impacted the collection:

  • What was (and wasn't) initially collected
  • What was (and wasn't) digitized by the Internet Archive
  • What was (and wasn't) discovered by the 9CHRIS tools

The initial selections were made by librarians at Hastings. Gaps in the sequence of docket numbers make it clear that not everything was saved for binding, and it is unknown how they made their choices. (Maybe they collected certain types of cases; perhaps they only received records from cases that were considered by the court; or--who knows?--maybe they only grabbed what was sitting on the coffee table in the lounge every Thursday.)

Moving from volumes in the Hastings library to digitized files at the Internet Archive also likely caused some documents to go missing. Hastings had numbered the volumes in sequence starting with 1, and judging by these numbers, there are several hundred volumes that didn't get digitized. (There are 3356 volumes covered by 9CHRIS, and the highest numbered volume is 3505, so some 150 volumes are not represented in the sequence -- see Errata for more details.) Maybe these volumes had been checked out the day the Internet Archive sent the truck to pick them up? Were they in use as doorstops that day? Or did an operator running a scanning machine get confused and put one on the "done" pile that wasn't? There is no way to know, but if these volumes are later located and scanned like the others, they can be added to 9CHRIS.

The third source of error is the 9CHRIS technology used to detect the documents within the volumes. It relies on an automated process to find the document title pages that does a good job but is by no means perfect. (If you're interested, a further discussion of the Technology behind 9CHRIS is available.) The good news is that the 9CHRIS machine-automated detection was just a starting point, and with input from users the listing of document title pages can improve over time.