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Communication Studies


Legal Research on Free Speech

This guide will help you locate court decisions and background material on legal issues pertaining to free speech.  Be sure to ask for help at the Public Services Desk if you’d like it! 

Dictionaries  |  Encyclopedias  |  JMU Library Catalog  |  Finding Cases  |  Explaining Your Case  |  Internet Resources

View a Word version of this guide for printing.

A few legal dictionaries that may help you decipher and use legal jargon.

Black's Law Dictionary  (REF KF156 .B53 1999)

The best general legal dictionary in publication.


Burton’s Legal Thesaurus (REF KF156 .B856 1998)

Synonyms and related terms.


Dictionary of Modern Legal Usage (REF KF156 .G367 1995)

Not as many definitions as the others, but offers advice on how to use legal jargon. 


Media Law Dictionary  (REF KF2750 .A68 M87)

The definitions include a citation to the court cases relevant to the term. The index includes full case citations and an index to terms by case.


Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary of Law

Good, online dictionary for non-lawyers.  Part of FindLaw (see Internet Resources, below).


Oran’s Dictionary of the Law (REF KF156 .O69 2000)

Excellent definitions for non-lawyers.


Bieber's Dictionary of Legal Citations (KF246 .P73 1997) and

Dictionary of Legal Abbreviations Used in American Law Books (KF246 .B46 1985)


When a simple definition is not enough.  Excellent sources for explanations of laws and cases, biographies and history.

Censorship (REF Z658 .U5 C38 1997)

Three-volume source that contains case entries as well as topics related to censorship throughout history.


Corpus Juris Secundum (REF KF154 C65)

Comprehensive entries, alphabetically arranged and extensively footnoted, relate points of law pertaining to each subject. Cited as CJS.


Encyclopedia of American Journalism (REF PN4855 P26 1983)

Three-volume source that contains case entries as well as topics related to censorship throughout history.


West’s Encyclopedia of American Law (REF KF154 .W47 1998)

Excellent legal resource for non-attorneys.

JMU Library Catalog
Use LEO to find books, encyclopedias, videos, government documents, etc. in the JMU Libraries’ collections. Some suggested subject headings include:


Free press and fair trial

Freedom of information

Freedom of speech Freedom of the press

Government and the press


Journalists -- legal status, laws, etc.

Libel and slander

Obscenity (Law)

Press and politics

Press law

Privacy, right of

Finding Cases
If you'd like to identify cases on a given topic, there are a number of tools (both print and electronic) for finding cases.

LexisNexis Academic  

Full text, searchable database of state and federal court opinions. Under the “Legal Research” section, choose the “Get a Case” link to search for a case for which you already know the name or citation. Otherwise choose a jurisdiction (federal or state) and select a court in which to search.


Media Law Reporter (REF KF2750 A513)

Provides full-text, indexed coverage of all U.S. Supreme Court decisions and significant federal and state court and administrative agency decisions in the field of media law. A topical index can be found at the front of each volume.

Explaining Your Case:  Law Review and News Articles
Once you find a case, you may need help in summarizing the legal points being addressed in the decision. Often a law review article will dedicate itself to explaining a single case. Sometimes you will find news stories on more prominent cases.

LexisNexis Academic  

In the “Legal Research” section, choose either “Law Reviews” or “Legal News.”  You can also use the “News” section of LexisNexis Academic to find articles published in national newspapers, magazines, and non-law journals.

**Important Note about Printing: Some law review articles can exceed 200 pages in length!

Internet Resources
Don’t believe everything you read on the Internet!  Rely on good lists of sources to help identify good sites!


Reputable source for finding legal resources freely available on the Internet.


Law on the Net  (REF KF242 .A1 E94 1996)

If you like to read about websites in a book, here’s a good source.  Remember that websites change frequently, so not all information in this source will be accurate.





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Kathy Clarke
(540) 568-2911
115 Carrier Library


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This page last reviewed by Kathy Clarke on 10/29/2011
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