The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation is a well-known legal citation style guide in the US. Other systems have been introduced in recent years, challenging the dominance of The Bluebook, but if you’re a law student you’ll almost certainly encounter Bluebook-style citations at some point.
In this post, we provide an “anatomy” of a Bluebook case citation to make sure you can reference legal sources clearly and correctly in your written work.
Basic Citation Format
The basic citation format for a legal case in Bluebook referencing includes four elements: the parties’ names, the case citation, the court, and the year of the ruling. This is presented with the following format:
Year of Decision
DeBoer v. Snyder,
973 F. Supp. 2d 757
You will then give citations in the main body of your text or in a footnote immediately following the relevant passage (accompanied by a signal).
In the rest of this post, we’ll look more closely at each of the above elements.
The parties’ names are the title of the case, so you should italicize them and separate them from the rest of the citation with a comma. The case name should also be shortened using approved abbreviations.
The case citation usually includes a volume number for where the case was published, the abbreviated reporter identification, and the first page of the case. In DeBoer v. Snyder, the case citation can be broken down as follows:
F. Supp. 2d
This indicates that the case is reported in volume 973 of the Federal Supplement, Second Series, starting on page 757. Alternatively, if available, you can give a medium-neutral citation instead.
Court and Year
The ruling court and year of decision should be included in parentheses after the case citation. The name of the court is abbreviated here (e.g., “Eastern District Michigan” becomes just “E.D. Mich”). If you’re using a medium-neutral citation or a case citation that already mentions the ruling court and/or year of decision, you don’t have to to duplicate it here.
Further to the above, Bluebook referencing allows for inclusion of a second set of parentheticals after the court and year for extra information. Usually, this is either substantive information or detail regarding the weight of the authority:
1. Substantive Information
This is information provided to clarify the relevance of a citation, either via a direct quotation of the passage in question or a brief explanation. Explanatory phrases should begin with an “-ing” verb.
2. Weight of Authority
This concerns the precedential value of the cited case, including factors such as the relevance of the authority (e.g., whether the ruling was en banc, per curiam, etc.) or other cases cited to support the decision.