Law’s greatest hits — among legal researchers

We hear about bestseller lists, the Top 40 and all sorts of measures of popularity of various items in our culture. But what about in the world of American law? What kind of top 10 list would there be?

LexisNexis, which provides online legal research services among other things, has arrived at one such list. It has compiled the Top 10 most frequently accessed U.S. Supreme Court decisions. According to LexisNexis, this list is of the cases “most often downloaded by legal researchers for various purposes.” I’m not sure if that means the list is limited to those cases that are actually downloaded nor is there a specific time period mentioned. Regardless, it’s an interesting slice of what’s popular in American law and it has some surprising entries.

Here’s the countdown:

10. Burlington Industries v Ellerth (1998) — Perhaps for employment law geeks lawyers only. The case deals with whether an employer can be held liable for a hostile work environment created by a supervisor.

9. Anderson v. Liberty Lobby, Inc. (19865) — Decided the same day as number 8, a procedural biggie for civil litigation lawyers. Sets the standards for how a trial court is to evaluate summary judgment motions, specifically in libel actions.

8. Celotex Corp. v. Catrett (1986) — This is sort of a companion case to number 9, as it helped set the current standards for summary judgment motions, although this one does not involve the heightened level of proof required in some libel actions.

7. Roe v. Wade (1972) — If I have to tell you what this is, you’ve been under a rock for the last 35 years.

6. Campbell v. Acuff-Rose Music (1994) — Established that a parody — 2 Live Crew’s take on Roy Orbison’s “Oh, Pretty Woman” — can constitute “fair use” of copyrighted material even if done for commercial purposes.

5. Gonzales v. Raich (2005) — The “medical marijuana” case, in which the Supreme Court held that the federal government may ban the use of marijuana even where states approve it being used for medicinal purposes.

4. Morse v. Frederick (2007) — School district’s suspension of a student for displaying a banner reading “BONG HiTS 4 JESUS” during school-related event did not violate the student’s First Amendment rights.

3. Bell Atl. Corp. v. Twombly (2007) — Definitely for antitrust law geeks lawyers only. Deals with how to plead a conspiracy claim under the Sherman Antitrust Act.

2. Tinker v. Des Moines Indep. Cmty. Sch. Dist., No. 21 (1969) — The seminal student free speech case dealing with students who wore black armbands to school to protest the Vietnam War.

1. Terry v. Ohio (1968) — Recognized the validity of “stop and frisk” searches by law enforcement.

I would certainly think if a list of the most sought after cases by the general public were compiled, it would be much different. For example, the Miranda decision would likely be on the list and Roe v. Wade would be higher. At the same time, the fact Tinker and Morse are in the top four indicates that the First Amendment rights of students continues to be a persistent issue.

…where a police officer observes unusual conduct which leads him reasonably to conclude in light of his experience that criminal activity may be afoot and that the persons with whom he is dealing may be armed and presently dangerous … he is entitled for the protection of himself and others in the area to conduct a carefully limited search of the outer clothing of such persons in an attempt to discover weapons which might be used to assault him.

Terry v. Ohio

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