Often when writing a legal memo I come to a point where I want to recite a widely accepted rule of law, like a canon of statutory interpretation. For example, when interpreting a statute the court must determine and give effect to the intent of the legislature. I know there are hundreds of cases which recite this principle. But in legal writing any rule of law should be supported by citation to authority. Running a search on LexisNexis or Westlaw could be expensive. The solution is to search the Illinois Supreme Court website for an opinion supporting the rule of law. Here’s how to do it:
- The Illinois Supreme Court website does not make it easy to find the opinions search page. If you click on the opinions link from the main page, you come to a list of recently released opinions. Scroll to the bottom of the page and find the “For opinions older than 90 days, please go to our Opinions Archive page.” Click on Opinions Archive. Then scroll to the bottom of that page and you’ll finally find the search opinions search box.
- Now search for the proposition or rule of law. Use quote marks when appropriate to get the best results. Here I typed “legislative intent” (quote marks included).
- Click Search
- Click on the first result (note that the first result may change as new opinions are added to the website).
- Its a 2002 case from the Fifth District Illinois Appellate Court (Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka)
- Use your web browser’s search function (Ctrl-F in Firefox) to find “legislative intent” within the current page.
- That finds the following paragraph:
- “The cardinal rule of statutory interpretation, to which all other rules are subordinate, is to ascertain and give effect to the intent of the legislature. People v. Maggette, 195 Ill. 2d 336, 348 (2001). In determining the legislative intent, a court should first consider the statutory language. This is the best means of determining the legislative intent. Maggette, 195 Ill. 2d at 348. A court must consider the entire statute and interpret each of its relevant parts together. If legislative intent can be ascertained from the statute’s plain language, that intent must prevail without resort to other interpretive aids. Paris v. Feder, 179 Ill. 2d 173, 177 (1997).”
If I wanted to cite to Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka in the above example I would:
- Go back to the opinions search page and search for “Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka” (quotes included).
- Click on the first result.
- It is the 2003 Second District case (People v. Harrell).
- You can tell its a 2003 case because the url: http://www.state.il.us/court/opinions/appellatecourt/2003/2nddistrict /august/html/2020026.htm is in the 2003 folder on the court’s website.
- “Moreover, we must construe criminal statutes narrowly in favor of the accused (In re Detention of Tiney-Bey, 302 Ill. App. 3d 396, 400 (1999)) and so that no portion of the statute is rendered meaningless (Balmoral Racing Club, Inc. v. Topinka, 334 Ill. App. 3d 454, 459 (2002)).”
This method of finding a reporter citation to a case does not work when searching for a case that is relatively new because that case is not yet likely to be cited in other cases.