How to Write Footnotes for Court Cases in MLA

According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, the Modern Language Association, or MLA, prefers that footnotes be reserved for bibliographic information. This makes the footnote the ideal way to refer to a particular court case without sacrificing the flow of your essay. Footnotes that reference court cases should contain a rationale for their inclusion as well as the author and, if applicable, relevant page numbers.

In-Text Numbers

MLA requires that footnotes be referenced by Arabic numerals in superscript. Numerals should appear before the em-dash, but only after any other form of punctuation. Here are two examples:

  1. Civil rights groups argue that voter discrimination has continued, citing the proliferation of Voter I.D. laws and the shortage of absentee ballots.^1
  2. Citing Voter I.D. laws and the shortage of absentee ballots^2 -- both of which proved problematic in 2012 -- civil rights groups argue that voter discrimination continues to this day.

Footnote Formatting

The Online Writing Lab at Purdue notes that while the seventh edition of the MLA Handbook offers no instructions regarding the formatting of footnotes, the sixth does.

Rather than change the format, then, it is best to adhere to the guidelines iterated in the sixth edition. Footnotes should begin four lines below the last line of text.

Like the rest of the document, the footnotes should be double-spaced, with the first line indented and all other lines flush with the left side. Add a period after each number.

Unless otherwise specified, maintain your font and font size.

Footnote Text

Footnote numbers should correspond with the numbers that appear in the essay body. Phrase references in the imperative and add a short tag depicting the relevance of the footnote.

According to the University of Washington guideline, you should refer to the court case by italicized name and year. Here are two examples:

  1. Though the Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act in 2013, Justice Ginsberg and others made a strong case for its continuation. See Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder 2013, 32-68.
  2. See Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder 2013, 32-68 for Justice Ginsberg's defense of the Voting Rights Act.

Works Cited

Be sure to include the court case on your Works Cited page. Begin with the name of the case in italics, followed by the U.S. reports citation, the court and the year of the decision, the name of the website, the word "web," and the day you retrieved it. Here is an example:

Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder. 570 U.S. ___. Supreme Court of the United States. Docstoc. Web. 31 July 2013.

Court cases constitute public records, so you should have no trouble finding their full text online. Check the resources section if you have difficulty.