What is a Court Docket?

A docket is a “formal record in which a judge or court clerk briefly notes all the proceedings and filings in a court case.” After a case is filed, the court assigns it a docket number, which is the court’s case number or tracking number. The docket lists the judge, parties, and the attorneys of record, along with a summary of each document filed in the case, the date when it was filed, and the court case number assigned to the document.

Historical Evolution

The evolution of the docket is a fascinating journey that originated in England. Initially recorded as “Doggett” in 1485, it later took on various forms like “Docket” and “docquet.” In the late nineteenth century, it referred to a large folio book in which clerks meticulously recorded all filings and court proceedings for each case. The usage, however, was discontinued in modern English legal practices. Understanding the historical evolution provides context to its significance in contemporary legal systems.

Components of a Court Docket

Court dockets include certain key pieces of information and documents filed for every case. Understanding the components that make up a docket helps in accessing case information.

Docket Number

Courts assign each new case filed a unique docket number. This docket number typically communicates key details about the case in an abbreviated format. For example, a hypothetical federal court docket number might appear as:

3:04cv04321 ABC(XYZ)

In this docket number:

  • 3 indicates location (federal courthouse #3 in district)
  • 04 means the case commenced in year 2004
  • cv signals a civil action case type
  • 4321 refers to the sequential case number for 2004 civil cases
  • ABC are initials of judge assigned
  • XYZ are magistrate judge’s initials

This docket number may get shortened to just 04cv4321 in common usage. However, the full docket always retains details on case type, year, sequence number, and judge assignment.

Docket Sheet

The docket sheet, sometimes called the register of actions, provides the chronological case summary. This critical component of a court docket lists in date order all documents filed in relation to a case.

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For each filing, the docket sheet captures vital details like:

  • Date of filing
  • Date of entry
  • Party submitting filing
  • Description of document
  • Assigned docket item number

So a docket sheet allows anyone to reconstruct the step-by-step progress and events that occurred on a case from start to finish.

Contents Found in a Court Docket

Dockets hold all filings associated with a legal proceedings, though access restrictions may apply. Exact contents found in a docket include items like:

  • Motions and Briefs: Formal requests and legal arguments filed by parties
  • Affidavits and Declarations: Signed statements by parties or witnesses
  • Exhibits: Supporting documents, records, images, or objects presented as evidence
  • Court Orders and Rulings: Decisions issued by judges before, during, or after trial

So dockets create a comprehensive written account of everything substantively occurring related to the case.

Online Access to Court Dockets

The public availability of court dockets online varies between federal and state court systems.

The Importance of Court Dockets

Court dockets serve a vital function in documenting legal proceedings from start to finish. Access supports transparency around cases working through the judicial system. Dockets provide the unique receive into all substantive actions occurring in the course of legal proceedings.

Understanding what court dockets contain and how they get maintained offers insight into this fundamental component of the United States legal apparatus. Ongoing efforts to improve public access to court dockets aim to balance openness and privacy while upholding confidence in equal justice under law.

Federal Court Dockets

Court records include the case file, docket sheet, all case documents, trial transcripts, jury instructions, etc. Online availability depends on the court.

Subscription & Fee-Based Sources

Bloomberg Law

Broad coverage of federal court dockets and filings.

To check docket currency, note “Current As Of” date and click “Update Docket.”

To see available dockets, dates covered, go to Litigation > Docket Coverage.

To check remaining annual academic docket charges ($1,500 cap), go to Account > My Dockets Billing.

CourtLink (Lexis)

Covers federal court dockets including Supreme Court, Courts of Appeals, District and Bankruptcy Courts.

Westlaw Dockets

Covers federal court dockets including Supreme Court, Courts of Appeals, District and Bankruptcy Courts.

Usage in England

In England, the docket served as a courts summary, digest, or register. Notably, there was an official position called the Clerk of the Dockets in the early nineteenth century. This highlights its extensive use for legal purposes, emphasizing the role it played in documenting and organizing information related to legal proceedings.

Evolution in Legal Language

The transition of the term in modern English legal usage brings attention to the distinction between “docket” and “calendar.” While both terms are often used interchangeably, a usage note from 1893 clarifies that they are not synonymous. Understanding this linguistic evolution is crucial for a comprehensive grasp of the docket’s role in legal contexts.

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United States Perspective

In the United States, court dockets hold the status of public records. Various public records databases and directories include references to court dockets, emphasizing the transparency of legal proceedings. Rules of civil procedure mandate the court clerk to record specific information “on the docket” when key events occur during a case.

Recording Information on Dockets

The responsibilities of court clerks extend to recording pertinent information on the docket. This meticulous recording is a vital aspect of maintaining an accurate account of the case’s progression. Rules of civil procedure guide the clerk in documenting critical events, ensuring a comprehensive and accessible record.

PACER System

The advent of technology has revolutionized docket management in the United States. The Public Access Court Electronic Records (PACER) system stands as a testament to this progress. This system houses dockets and documents related to all federal civil, criminal, and bankruptcy cases, providing public access for a fee.

Supreme Court Docket

The docket of the United States Supreme Court holds a unique position. Unlike other courts, the Supreme Court exercises almost complete discretion over the cases it chooses to hear. From a substantial number of cases, only a limited few, typically ranging from 70 to 100, make it onto the docket. The Solicitor General plays a pivotal role in deciding which cases to present on behalf of the federal government.

Free Sources

Free Law Project: CourtListener’s RECAP Archive

Searchable collection of PACER documents gathered through RECAP browser extensions.

Justia: Dockets & Filings

Selected coverage of federal Courts of Appeals, District and Bankruptcy Courts.


Links to court sites and dockets organized by jurisdiction.

Supreme Court Docket Search

Search Supreme Court docket by case name, docket number, case status, etc.

Historical Federal Court Records

National Archives Records

Holdings date to 1790 but generally less than 15 years old. Contact courts directly for more recent records.

Federal Court Records Disposition Schedules

Retention schedules set by Judicial Conference and National Archives.

State Court Dockets

Subscription & Fee-Based Sources

Bloomberg Law

Selected state court dockets and filings. Coverage varies.

CourtLink (Lexis)

Selected state court dockets and filings. Coverage varies.

Westlaw Dockets

Selected state court dockets and filings. Coverage varies.

State Court Docket Systems and Sites

National Center for State Courts

Links to each state’s courts and judiciary.


Links to court sites and dockets by jurisdiction.

Solicitor General’s Role

The decision-making process in selecting cases for the Supreme Court docket falls under the purview of the Solicitor General. This key figure determines the cases presented on behalf of the federal government, impacting the nature and scope of legal discussions at the highest level.

Public Access to Dockets

The transparency of court proceedings is underscored by the accessibility of court dockets to the public. However, this access is not without limitations, often requiring fees for detailed information. Balancing transparency with financial considerations remains a challenge in ensuring widespread access to this crucial aspect of legal documentation.

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Importance of Dockets in Legal Journalism

The term “crowded dockets” frequently finds its way into legal journalism and commentary. Understanding the implications of a court’s workload provides insights into the challenges faced by the legal system. It serves as a gauge for the efficiency and effectiveness of the legal processes.

Specialized Docket Services

Docket Navigator

Covers Patent, Copyright, Trademark, Trade Secret, Antitrust, and Securities dockets. Email for academic account.

Lex Machina

Provides legal analytics. View training demo to obtain student account.

Challenges and Criticisms

As with any system, court dockets are not without challenges. Overloaded dockets can lead to delays in proceedings, raising concerns about the timely delivery of justice. Calls for docket management reforms echo within legal circles, emphasizing the need for a balanced and efficient system.

Technological Advancements

In addressing the challenges faced by court dockets, technology emerges as a crucial ally. The integration of technology in docket management has the potential to enhance efficiency and accessibility. Streamlining processes through digital means could alleviate some of the burdens associated with manual record-keeping.

Future Trends

Looking ahead, the future of court dockets is poised for further transformation. Predictions indicate a continued reliance on technology, with advancements in artificial intelligence potentially playing a role in streamlining processes. These shifts could influence not only how court proceedings are documented but also how information is accessed and utilized in legal contexts.



Court dockets track case proceedings and documents. Docket availability and coverage vary. Many options exist to access state and federal court dockets, both free and paid.

Additional Resources

For help finding a specific court’s docket, talk to a reference librarian. GW Law students have access to Bloomberg Law, Lexis, Westlaw and other resources.


Is a court docket the same as a court calendar?

No, a court docket and a court calendar are distinct. While the docket summarizes proceedings, the calendar outlines the schedule of appearances and hearings.

How can the public access court dockets?

The public can access court dockets through systems like PACER, but it often involves a fee.

What is the role of the Solicitor General in the Supreme Court docket?

The Solicitor General decides which cases to present on behalf of the federal government, influencing the composition of the Supreme Court docket.

Are court dockets only relevant to the legal community?

No, court dockets have broader implications, influencing legal journalism and providing insights into the efficiency of the legal system.

How do technological advancements impact docket management?

Technology enhances efficiency and accessibility in docket management, offering solutions to challenges such as overloaded dockets and delays.

What is contained in a court docket?

Court dockets include the official chronological listing of all documents filed, court orders issued, hearings held, and any other procedural events occurring on a legal case.

What details are included in federal court docket numbers?

Federal court docket numbers communicate details on filing year, case type, location, sequence number, and judge assignment in an abbreviated format. For example, 08cv943 JKL indicates a 2008 civil case filing, the 943rd such case that year, assigned to Judge JKL.

Who has access to court dockets?

It varies. Federal court dockets can be accessed online through PACER, with fees, though some sensitive materials may be excluded. State courts have individual policies governing public access to dockets.

Why are court dockets important?

Court dockets create vital ongoing records of all substantive events in the life cycle of a legal proceeding. Access serves transparency and accountability.

How can you look up a federal court docket?

The PACER Case Locator website allows free searches to find a federal case docket number. PACER accounts can then view docket sheets and documents, with user fees applied.

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