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Citation Styles Playbook

The purpose of this playbook is to help you cite the sources used in your academic research.

Introduction

  • While there are specific citation styles for legal sources,the Modern Language Association recommends that students and scholars working in nonlegal fields use the MLA style to document legal works.
  •  To put together a citation for a legal source, use the MLA’s Core Elements, just like you do for any other citation.

Guidelines for Titles

  •  Italicize the names of court cases
    • Marbury v. Madison
  • Capitalize the names of laws, acts, and political documents like titles and set them in roman font.
    • Public Law 111-122
  • When a legal source is contained within another work—for example, when the United States Code appears on a Web site with another title—style the title in italics if it is the name of a court case, and in roman if it is a law or similar document. Do not insert quotation marks around the title.
    • United States Code. Legal Information Institute, Cornell U Law School, www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text.
  • In the names of court cases, use the abbreviation v. consistently, regardless of which abbreviation is used in the version of the work you are citing.
  • To determine the name of a court case, use only the name of the first party that appears on either side of “v.” or “vs.” in your source; if the name is a personal name, use only the surname.
  • To shorten the name of a court case in your prose after introducing it in full or in parenthetical references, use the name of the first-listed nongovernmental party.
    • Example: the case NLRB v. Yeshiva University becomes Yeshiva.
  • If your list of works cited includes more than one case beginning with the same governmental party, list entries under the governmental party but alphabetize them by the first nongovernmental party:
    • NLRB v. Brown University
    • NLRB v. Yeshiva University
  • Refer to the nongovernmental party in your prose and parenthetical reference, alerting readers to this system of ordering in a note.

United States Supreme Court Decisions

Example:

Let's cite the following historical U.S. Supreme Court opinon: Brown v. Board of Education

We will get it from Cornell's Legal Information Institute

 

screenshot of Brown v. Board of Education from Cornell's Legal Information Institute

 

MLA style citation

United States, Supreme Court. Brown v. Board of Education. 17 May 1954. Legal Information Institute, Cornell U Law School, www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/347/483/USSC_PRO_347_483_1.

Core elements

Author Element: United States, Supreme Court.

Title Element: Brown v. Board of Education.

Date Element: 17 May 1954.

Container Element: Legal Information Institute

Publisher Element: Cornell U Law School

Location Element: www.law.cornell.edu/supremecourt/text/347/483/USSC_PRO_347_483_1.

United States Supreme Court Dissenting Opinion

When U.S. Supreme Court justices disagree with the majority decision, one or more may write dissenting opinions. These are not part of the decision, and they are written by a single author as opposed to a group author.

Example

Ginsburg, Ruth Bader. Dissenting opinion. Lily Ledbetter v. Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. United States Reports, vol. 550, 29 May 2007, pp. 643-61. Supreme Court of the United States, www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/boundvolumes.aspx.

 

Citing Federal Statutes (United States Code)

To cite federal statutes, you have two choices:

  • Choice 1 -  Cite the whole code in the Works Cited section, then mention specific sections of the code (for example, Title 17, section 304) in the text. This is a more convenient  and time-saving way to cite, especially if you will be mentioning several sections in your text:
    • United States, Congress, House. United States Code. Office of the Law Revision Counsel, 14 Jan. 2017, uscode.house.gov.
  • Choice 2 -  Cite specific sections. If you will reference several sections in your text, you will have to cite each one in your Works Cited section.
    • United States, Congress, House. United States Code. Title 17, section 304, Office of the Law Revision Counsel, 14 Jan. 2017, uscode.house.gov.

How to Cite Some Common Legal Sources

Public Laws

United States, Congress. Public Law 111-122. United States Statutes at Large, vol. 123, 2009, pp. 3480-82. U.S. Government Publishing Office, www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/STATUTE-123/pdf/STATUTE-123.pdf.

Federal Appeals Court Decisions

United States, Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit. Moss v. Colvin. Docket no. 15-2272, 9 Jan. 2017. United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, www.ca2.uscourts.gov /decisions.html. PDF download.

Federal Bills

United States, Congress, House. Improving Broadband Access for Veterans Act of 2016. Congress.gov, www.congress.gov/bill/114th-congress/house-bill/6394/text. 114th Congress, 2nd session, House Resolution 6394, passed 6 Dec. 2016.

Hearings

United States, Congress, House, Committee on Education and Labor. The Future of Learning: How Technology Is Transforming Public Schools. United States Government Publishing Office, 16 June 2009, www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CHRG-111hhrg50208/html/CHRG-111hhrg50208.htm. Text transcription of hearing.

Executive Orders

United States, Executive Office of the President [Barack Obama]. Executive order 13717: Establishing a Federal Earthquake Risk Management Standard. 2 Feb. 2016. Federal Register, vol. 81, no. 24, 5 Feb. 2016, pp. 6405-10, www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/FR-2016-02-05/pdf/2016-02475.pdf.

State Court of Appeals, Unpublished Decisions

Minnesota State, Court of Appeals. Minnesota v. McArthur. 28 Sept. 1999, mn.gov/law-library-stat/archive//ctapun/9909/502.htm. Unpublished opinion.

State Senate Bills

Wisconsin State, Legislature. Senate Bill 5. Wisconsin State Legislature, 20 Jan. 2017, docs.legis.wisconsin.gov/2017/related/proposals/sb5.

Constitutions

If a constitution is published in a named edition, treat it like the title of a book:

The Constitution of the United States: A Transcription. National Archives, United States National Archives and Records Administration, 28 Feb. 2017, www.archives.gov/founding-docs/constitution-transcript#toc-article-iv-.

The Constitution of the United States, with Case Summaries. Edited by Edward Conrad Smith, 9th ed., Barnes and Noble Books, 1972.

References to the United States Constitution in your prose should follow the usual styling of titles of laws:

the Constitution

But your in-text reference should key readers to the appropriate entry:

(Constitution of the United States, with Case Summaries)

If the title does not indicate the country of origin, specify it in the entry:

France. Le constitution. 4 Oct. 1958. Legifrance, www.legifrance.gouv.fr/Droit-francais/Constitution/Constitution-du-4-octobre-1958.

Treaties

Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. United Nations, nfccc.int/resource/docs/convkp/kpeng.pdf. Multilateral treaty.

United States, Senate. Beijing Treaty on Audiovisual Performances. Congress.gov, www.congress.gov/114/cdoc/tdoc8/CDOC-114tdoc8.pdf. Treaty between the United States and the People’s Republic of China.

Content adapted from style.mla.org.