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The Serial Set, Part 3: Supreme Court Nominations

Serial Set SCtOur first two Serial Set Posts discussed HeinOnline’s new database content of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set, and the differences in the online offerings of Hein and Lexis. Now, for the last installment of our series, we dive into the documents themselves, since none of this would be worth the bother at all if the Serial Set didn’t offer the most vivid view of the history of the nation.

With the sting of Supreme Court nominations so recently in mind, the Year-End Report, 1st session of 97th Congress (1981) [Report of Senate Comm on the Judiciary, Nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor. Executive Report No. 97-22.], regarding the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor, reminds us that consensus was once easier to achieve. Speaking about the recommendation to the full Senate (17 aye, one present), Senator Thurmond, then Chair of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, summarized those hearings [at p. 147]:

…The Committee recommended the approval of the first woman to be nominated to the United States Supreme Court. In providing the background and recommendation on which the Senate could fulfill its Constitutional duties, the Committee held three days of hearings and considered the views of a wide range of witnesses. On the recommendation of the Committee, the Senate unanimously confirmed the nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court

Twelve years later, in 1993, the nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg was sent to the Senate Floor with a unanimous recommendation to confirm, with a final Senate vote of  93-3. [Nomination of Ruth Bader Ginsburg to Supreme Court, Report from Senate Comm on the Judiciary, Aug 5, 1993]

Serial set 3

And in-between, in 1991, was the highly charged hearing on the nomination of Clarence Thomas as an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court, with testimony given by Anita Hill of a pattern of sexual harassment by the nominee. With contemporary articles pointing out the all-but-too-close parallels to the conduct of the Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh hearings, the Serial Set refreshes history, and our memory, with the report of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which ultimately made no recommendation on the nominee, and with the Committee vote tied at 7 to 7. [Nomination of Clarence Thomas, Report of Comm of Judiciary, no recommendation 7-7. Sept 19, 1991]

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Among the many speeches by Senators who rose to explain their vote, Senator Robert Byrd took to the floor with a singular and powerful eloquence, explaining why, in the end, he could not vote to confirm Clarence Thomas — ultimately rejecting the nomination in favor of the grace of the Court itself. [Senator Robert C. Byrd on the nomination of Clarence Thomas]

Even after the final vote, 52-48, the narrative continued, with a potent shift to the another part of the story.  A Temporary Independent Counsel was immediately appointed to investigate the leak of the confidential Anita Hill information, the disclosure of which triggered the public airing of the sexual harassment she detailed, and the hyper-charged televised hearings that followed.

Serial set 3b

The subsequent Report of the Temporary Independent Counsel summarized all the key players, and yet in the end concluded that it was unable to identify the source of the disclosures. [Independent Counsel after Clarence Thomas hearings, part 1]

This report of the Temporary Independent Counsel was accompanied by a 172-page collection of exhibits. Among other materials, it included the Anita Hill statement, photographs of Anita Hill arriving at the Senate hearings, deposition testimony from the NPR legal affairs correspondent, Nina Totenberg, editorial cartoons, and press reports and newspaper articles on colleagues of Anita Hill supporting her veracity. [Exhibits to Report by Temporary Independent Counsel.May 1992]

The Serial Set has all this and more.

As the 116th Congress, convened on January 3, 2019, begins its work, all the records of whatever comes across Congressional sightlines will be also eventually be added and indexed and become a part of the U.S. Congressional Serial Set.


Databases at the San Francisco Law Library, including HeinOnline and the Lexis are open to the public for free access at the San Francisco Law Library.

For more questions about research in the U.S. Congressional Serial Set or about the scope of other San Francisco Law Library resources, please contact the Reference Team at sfll.reference@sfgov.org   or 415:554-1772.

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The Serial Set, Part 2: HeinOnline v. Lexis

Serial Set 2

HeinOnline is not the only player in the game when it comes to the U.S. Congressional Serial Set. Lexis also includes U.S. Congressional Documents 1777-present (U.S. Serial Set), with its own advanced search functions. You may be thinking this is overkill (isn’t one of these enough?), but for any researcher who has something specific in mind and cannot easily fish it out, it is a boon to be able to have all sources at hand and algorithmic search variables to multiply the means to compare and locate possibilities.

As valuable as a specific Serial Set Identification Number may be, the problem with a very special number is that even a small anomaly in the citation may mean a blank wall within one or the other databases. As one example: the Senate Committee on Judiciary Report on the Nomination of Sandra Day O’Connor is available on both Lexis and HeinOnline.  The Serial Set citation given on HeinOnline is 13406 S.rp. 22 and on Lexis the report is designated as 13406 Exec. Rpt. 22. Neither will bring up the other solely on the assigned number.

Serial set 2 cite

Fortunately, both Serial Set databases also offer keyword and title searches, with advanced filters. The true charm of having this content both within HeinOnline and on Lexis is the power to search across the entire Serial Set based on whatever level of information is already known to the researcher.

In the current Phase I of the HeinOnline Serial Set, search results indicate whether the material is downloadable as full text content, or preliminarily indexed as part of Phase I, with the Serial Set citation and other information given.

Serial Set Part 2

In Lexis, searches facilitated by its own advanced search functions bring up detailed summaries of results, with the option of downloading the original text as “Replica of Original Proceedings.”

If you can’t make it to the library to use HeinOnline and Lexis, there is yet another congressional resource collection: the ProQuest Congressional database offers coverage from 1970 for some congressional reports, and later dates for other document types. Online access is available for free to any CA resident with a library card issued from the San Francisco Public Library.

Next up: an in depth look at available Supreme Court nomination materials