Thursday, November 20, 2014

Maryland Appellate Blog Post on Federal Judicial Vacancies

In a new post on the Maryland Appellate BlogSteve Keppler offers a useful reminder about federal judicial vacancy problem and offers some proposals for addressing it. As he suggests, "the next six months provide a window of time when Congress can reform judicial policy for the next president — before we have much of an idea who the next president will be." 

After a useful reminder about just how understaffed the federal bench is, he offers these three recommendations:  Empty Bench

  1. Create New Judgeships for the Next President to Fill 
  1. Encourage More Appellate Judges to Take Senior Status and to Maintain a Higher Workload.
  1. Don’t Make Consensus Nominees Wait for Floor Votes.

The first has the support of the Judicial Conference, which issued a set of Judgeship Recommendations to that effect. The second is a reform of an already growing practice of employing senior judges in a more active role. The third recommends a change to Senate practice that would encourage the President to nominate consensus nominees. All interesting proposals with some opportunity to side-step political barriers and address the issue.

You can read details of these proposals at the Maryland Appellate Blog: Three Things Congress Should Do in 2015 About Judges.

November 20, 2014 in Appellate Court Reform, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Nevada Votes for Intermediate Appellate Court

Following up on my earlier post regarding the Nevada ballot question regarding the addition of an intermediate appellate court in Nevada, voters in that state approved the measure by only a slight margin. Ballotpedia has this summary.  This move leaves only nine states without an intermediate appellate court.

Seah Whaley of the The Las Vegas Review Journal reports that legislative appropriation is underway and seems uncontroversial. Applications for newly created judgeships are being taken by the Nevada Commission on Judicial Selection with interviews planned for early December and appointment by the Governor in early 2015.  The court will sit in both Carson City and Las Vegas.

Appeals will apparently still be filed with the Nevada Supreme Court, which will then assign some cases to the intermediate appellate court. This strikes me as an unusual arrangement.

November 9, 2014 in Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (4)

Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Sixth Circuit Throws a Split on Same-Sex Marriage

Today the Sixth Circuit issued its decision in DeBoer v. Snyder and created the circuit split that the Supreme Court has presumably been waiting for.  In a carefully reasoned opinion, the Sixth Circuit narrowly interpreted precedent and the most recent line of Supreme Court decisions on marriage and sexual relations.  Early in its opinion the Court stated, “What we have authority to decide . . . is a legal question: Does the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibit a State from defining marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman?”  On this question, the Court ruled in favor of the State.

In the opinion, the Sixth Circuit walks through the role of the intermediate appellate courts and the requirement to defer to U.S. Supreme Court precedent.  Looking to Baker v. Nelson, 409 U.S. 810 (1972), the court reasoned that it had not been overruled either explicitly or implicitly by United States v. Windsor, 133 S. Ct. 2675 (2013).  In fact, it determined that Windsor was not a case about the right to marry, but rather a case about the right to enjoy a privilege granted by a state.  The court went as far as to reconcile the two cases stating that “Windsor invalidated a federal law that refused to respect state laws permitting gay marriage, while Baker upheld the right of the people of a State to define marriage as they see it.”  In support of its decision, the Court also relied on originalism and rational basis review. 

Boiled down, the Sixth Circuit basically views the question as one that ought to be decided through the state democratic processes rather than through the courts.  These three lines sum it up best: “History is replete with examples of love, sex, and marriage tainted by hypocrisy. Without it, half of the world’s literature, and three-quarters of its woe, would disappear. Throughout, we have never leveraged these inconsistencies about deeply personal, sometimes existential, views of marriage into a ground for constitutionalizing the field. Instead, we have allowed state democratic forces to fix the problems as they emerge and as evolving community mores show they should be fixed.”

November 6, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Sixth Circuit Judicial Conference - Save the Date

Monday, October 20, 2014

Inspiration for Creating an Appellate Brief Problem

For those of you working on developing an appellate brief problem for this academic year, take a look at City of Los Angeles v. Patel.  The U.S. Supreme Court just granted the petition for writ of certiorari today, and it has the trappings of a good problem for two reasons.  First, the two issues, one jurisdictional and the other substantive, are well-separated.  Second, it involves an intriguing question about Fourth Amendment protection of hotel guest registries.  I could see a fun and interesting pop-culture problem developing out of these issues.  

When creating good appellate brief problems, it can sometimes be difficult to manage the ripeness factor.  You want to choose a current issue, but not one that will necessarily be resolved before your students complete the assignment.  You also want to be careful about creating a problem where your students will have easy access to professionally-written briefs. These potential pitfalls can easily be avoided, though, by creative fact development.

When creating a problem from a recent cert. grant, the first step is to outline the issue(s) you want to use.  Next, you should identify how the split(s) have come down.  Once you have broken apart the pending case, you have a good framework for rebuilding a problem that has sufficient legal similarities without too much factual similarity.  The students can then find many relevant legal sources for solving the problem, but they won't be able to just pull legal arguments out of professionally-written briefs because the facts will be too nuanced for the legal analysis to hold up verbatim in the simulated setting.  Additionally, when the facts are sufficiently distinct from the original problem, the issue you have created may still be ripe or resolvable even if the Supreme Court rules on the actual case before the end of the semester.  

Though problem-creation can seem like an intimidating challenge, it is a highly rewarding aspect of our work as law professors.  Have fun as you create a packet that will be enjoyable and interesting for both you and the students.  Be inspired.

October 20, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Law School, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Judge Richard Kopf has this post on his blog, Hercules and the Umpire, regarding the late Judge Richard S. Arnold's near appointment to the Supreme Court by President Clinton in 1994. Reproduced in that post is a draft speech prepared for President Clinton to announce the nomination. Consideration of Judge Arnold for the Supreme Court is not news; it was mentioned both in President Clinton's autobiography, "My Life," and Jeffrey Toobin's book on the Supreme Court, "The Nine." But this particular document is interesting reading, and some additional lauding of Judge Arnold is well-deserved.

Judge Arnold's opinion in U.S. v. Anastasoff, 223 F.3d 898 (8th Cir. 2000) and his law review article on the topic, Richard S. Arnold, Unpublished Opinions:  A Comment, 1 J. App. Prac. & Process 219, 221 (1999) stand as an articulate and principled denunciation of the practice of issuing "unpublished" and "non-precedential" opinions. His work undoubtedly energized the movement toward permitting citation of such opinions in the federal appellate courts and opened an entire vein of scholarship examining the practice. Hopefully, it also planted the seed that will eventually bear fruit in the form of an end to the practice of issuing purportedly non-precedential opinions. His work on this issue was but a small sliver of his accomplished career, but it's one that, I think, exemplifies the fine qualities as jurist that are often ascribed to him.

October 12, 2014 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

U.S. Supreme Court Grants Stay on Early Voting Issue in Ohio

The Washington Post has reported that yesterday five of the U.S. Supreme Court Justices agreed to enter an Order granting the State of Ohio’s Application for Stay and Request for Preliminary Injunction to stop enforcement of a court order preventing implementation of Ohio’s plan to reduce early voting.  Earlier this year, the State of Ohio’s legislature enacted a plan to reduce the number of early voting days from 35 to 28.  Opponents of the law argue that the reduced number of early voting days will discourage voter turn-out.  This matter came before U.S. District Court Judge Peter C. Economous earlier this month.  He ruled against the State reasoning that the poor and persons of color are disproportionately negatively impacted by the reduction in early voting days because these populations tend to vote early and in-person more often than white voters.  Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan would have denied the application for stay.  

September 30, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Brown Bettman on Ohio v. Quarterman on Failure to Preserve Constitutional Issues for Appellate Review

The Ohio Supreme Court issued an opinion last week in State v. Quarterman regarding the failure to preserve constitutional issued for appellate review. Marianna Brown Bettman (University of Cinncinnati) has this post detailing the decision on Legally Speaking Ohio. She does an excellent explication of the case: describing the details of the case, the arguments at both levels of appellate review, and the Ohio Supreme Court's decision.

The case involved serious issues regarding Ohio's mandatory bind-over statutes for juveniles - statutes that allegedly conflict with growing state and U.S. practice regarding the treatment of juveniles. That the Ohio Supreme Court rejected the appeal on procedural grounds should warn trial and appellate advocates about the importance of preserving issues on appeal and raising issues (such as alleging plain error) early and clearly.

Brown Bettman's post provides a valuable and detailed discussion of the case with several useful citations and links. It's worth a read by appellate advocates.

/hat tip Professor Jeremy Telman @ Contracts Prof Blog

September 28, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Nevada Ponders Intermediate Appellate Court

The November ballot in Nevada will include the opportunity to vote for a constitutional amendment to create an intermediate appellate court.

My experience with Nevada courts is limited to involvement with some cert petitions from the Nevada Supreme Court to the U.S. Supreme Court, but my sense is that the Nevada Supreme Court is overworked and could use the relief and reflection that an intermediate appellate court could provide. I'd be interested in opinions of Nevada appellate attorneys.

A similar proposal was narrowly defeated in 2010 (53% against/47% in favor).

September 24, 2014 in Appellate Court Reform, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 19, 2014

Cool Tool for Legal Research - and it's FREE!

This week my first year students are learning the basics of legal research, and I asked our librarians to present a session on free/economical electronic legal research tools as part of the training.  I always love hearing from the librarians because they are familiar with the latest and greatest, and I always learn something new.  This year was no different, I am happy to report. The librarians introduced us to Ravel,  an online search engine that provides graphical histories of cases. 

For appellate attorneys, this resource is particularly helpful in quickly identifying the key cases related to a given legal question.  The graphical interface is much more user-friendly as compared to the linear lists provided through most other commercial database providers.  Ravel also includes at least four filters so that practitioners can sort information in a way that is most pertinent and useful to a particular project.

Here are some of the pros:

  • Demonstrates a case’s historical relevance at a glance
  • Free for all federal cases
  • User-friendly interface
  • Hyperlinks to full-text of cases
  • Places footnotes beside the relevant text for easy on-screen reference

This database is a good supplement to other research engines because it saves an attorney significant time when wading through precedent and subsequent history to find the most important cases.  There are other packages of state case materials available for a subscription fee.  As of now, Ravel does not include citators or statutory or secondary sources, so it is not currently comprehensive enough to replace other commercial databases.  They are constantly adding new materials and indexing systems, though, so it is definitely a resource to keep your eye on.

September 19, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

BP Counsel Fiddles With Line Spacing in Federal Filing

This is the kind of basic advocacy blunder that is hard to believe, but it's being reported that BP's counsel fiddled with the formatting to file an over-length brief without permission.While this happened in federal district court, it's a fundamental advocacy issue worth reporting here. In a filing related to the Deepwater Horizon oil rig spill in 2010, BP's counsel tried to slip one past Eastern District of Louisiana Judge Carl Barbier. He was not fooled or amused.

After noting that it had already allowed BP to file a brief ten pages longer than the usual twenty-five-page limit, the Court explained:

"BP’s counsel filed a brief that, at first blush, appeared just within the 35-page limit. A closer study reveals that BP’s counsel abused the page limit by reducing the line spacing to slightly less than double-spaced. As a result, BP exceeded the (already enlarged) page limit by roughly 6 pages. The Court should not have to waste its time policing such simple rules—particularly in a case as massive and complex as this. Counsel are expected to follow the Court’s orders both in letter and in spirit. The Court should not have to resort to imposing character limits, etc., to ensure compliance. Counsel’s tactic would not be appropriate for a college term paper. It certainly is not appropriate here. Any future briefs using similar tactics will be struck."

Judge Barbier was far more generous than I would have been. Still, even without a harsh penalty, this will make good material for my appellate advcocacy class lesson on ethos in a few weeks. For a company that wants to be viewed as one that follows the rules and cares about details, this kind of angle-shooting by its counsel seems counter-productive.

A former clerk for Judge Barbier, Alabama Law Professor Montré Carodine, reads between the lines to suggest: "The subtext seems to be Judge Barbier saying, 'Look, every time I give you an inch you take a mile, and I'm tired of it,'" (as quoted in the NPR piece on the matter). I'm not sure what evidence exists to show repeated offenses, but fiddling with the formatting after being allowed to increase your brief by 40% does seem to be the kind of presumptious greed Carodine's idiom suggests. 

I wonder how often this occurs. Does it slip past judges with any frequency? Is there any creditable explanation for changing the formating? Any one want to defend the practice?

 

Hat tip to reader Maryanne Heidemann

September 17, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (5)

Friday, September 12, 2014

Indiana Supreme Court Refuses to Allow Citation of Memorandum Decisions

Professor Joel Schumm noted on The Indiana Law Blog that the Indiana Supreme Court recently rejected a proposal to permit citation of memorandum decisions for as "persuasive precedent." The Indiana high court rejected even this compromise position without a single dissenting vote, making this the official Indiana position for the foreseeable future. 

The proposal, which had the support of three sections of the Indiana Bar, is consistent with the modern trend of allowing citations of all court opinions. For example, Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 32.1 permits citation of all opinions issued after its passage. By rejecting the proposal, the Indiana Supreme Court continues to support "a rule that defies the modern reality of 'memorandum decisions' being easily accessible." I would add that it defies the historical reality: denying precedential value to some of a court's decisions flies in the face of the common law system. It also denies the practical reality that both judges and lawyers recognize the value of all decisions and will find ways to cite them regardless of the written rules. The federal appellate system's experience with a citation bar should be Exhibit A.

Joel Schumm's blog post offers Indiana lawyers some creative ideas for how to deal with the restriction. I find all of them to be fair game, but then, I question whether any U.S. court has the authority to: 1) bar citation of its own opinions or 2) strip a decision of precedential value at the time of its issuance. Such actions seem to run afoul of various constitutional provisions and the fundamental nature of judicial power.

The late Judge Richard S. Arnold predicted that the federal rule against citation was doomed to fail. He recognized, long before others did, that judicial decisions were the very stuff of our system of justice. There is no substitute for them, and they are the kind of information that even a gag rule cannot fully suppress. He was right. In the federal system, unpublished opinions were routinely cited by both advocates and courts, and ultimately, the citation ban was abolished as untenable and undesirable.

One can hope that Indiana's Supreme Court will come to a similar conclusion the next time it confronts the issue. For now, however, Indiana appellate advocates will have to contend with Appellate Rule 65. I predict that Indiana appellate decisions marked "not for publication" will continue to be cited by advocates and judges alike, and the more that courts decide to sanction lawyers for violation of Appellate Rule 65, the louder opposition to the rule will grow.

September 12, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Tenth Circuit orders exhaustion of remedies in Muskogee (Creek) Tribal Court

6274849487_d891da93b3_mAppellate practitioners know the more common exhaustion and abstention doctrines, such as exhaustion of administrative remedies. Few are aware, however, that similar concepts operate between federal and tribal courts and even between state and tribal courts, and that they can arise out of comity, court rule, or other sources, depending on the jurisdiction. Ignorance of those concepts can sometimes lead to inadvertent or even open disregard for tribal judicial systems.

Turtle talk reports this week on a current example from the Tenth Circuit, which deferred to the Muskogee Tribal Court when litigants in an election dispute tried to jump ship to federal court. See the post regarding Thlopthlocco Tribal Town v. Stidham on Turtle Talk.

Image: bradleypjohnson, cc by 2.0 license

 

September 6, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, Tribal Law and Appeals | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Opinion Is Out In Baskin v. Bogan

Just nine days after hearing argument, the Seventh Circuit has issued its opinion in Baskin v. Bogan.  Unsurprisingly, the court affirmed the district court judgments “invalidating and enjoining . . . prohibitions of same-sex marriage.”  In the 40-page opinion, Judge Posner took time to address the ineffectiveness of the arguments advanced by the petitioners. He wrote, “the only rationale that the states put forth with any conviction—that same-sex couples and their children don’t need marriage because same-sex couples can’t produce children, intended or unintended—is so full of holes that it cannot be taken seriously.”  (emphasis in original). Even though the states had significant legal precedent on their side, at the time of the oral arguments it did not seem like the Seventh Circuit was likely to be persuaded by any of those arguments.  This opinion is final confirmation.

The opinion is lengthy but well-written and soundly reasoned.  I’d like to highlight just a few characteristics.  First, it is an excellent example of issue-framing to achieve a desired result.  Rather than getting too bogged down in the minutiae of rational basis, Judge Posner effortlessly frames the question in such a way as to mandate a higher level of scrutiny.  Specifically, he reasons that “more than a reasonable basis is required because this is a case in which the challenged discrimination is . . . ‘along suspect lines.’”  Second, Judge Posner ably relies on scientific (non-law) data to support his conclusions.  He even relates that data, through the “kin selection hypothesis” (or “helper in the nest theory”), to evolution by arguing that “[a]lthough it seems paradoxical to suggest that homosexuality could have a genetic origin, given that homosexual sex is non-procreative, homosexuality may, like menopause, by reducing procreation by some members of society free them to provide child-caring assistance to their procreative relatives, thus increasing the survival and hence procreative prospects of these relatives.”   Finally, Judge Posner makes effective use of tabulation to smoothly advance the argument and signpost the logical connections of his reasoning.  It’s a fantastic exemplar of writing that simplifies complex legal arguments in a sophisticated and accessible way.  Definitely a fascinating and worthwhile read.

September 4, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Judges Reading Appellate Materials on Electronic Devices

There is an interesting post today at Legal Research & Writing Pro Blog about how judges read appellate materials in the ever-expanding age of electronic resources. As the post notes, as federal courts and an increasing number of state courts have moved to electronic filing, judges have also moved toward reading materials, including briefs, on electronic devices such as laptops and iPads.

The post notes that changes in how judges are reading briefs -- from paper to electronic -- comes with a potential for real differences in impact.  There are studies suggesting that readers tend to skim electronic materials more than they do paper materials, but also that active engagement with the electronic material can substantially improve comprehension.

As the post suggests, there are also some potential new advantages to the prevalence of electronic resources in appellate practice.  Citations can be hyperlinked to research sources so that judges can quickly and effectively jump right to the authority; similarly, annotations to the appellate record can be hyperlinked to the relevant part of the record in jurisdictions that have invested in the necessary software. An April post on Cite Blog included thoughts about those kinds of hyperlinks.

A couple of years ago I presented at a symposium at Washburn Law School where there was a presentation from an attorney who did a great deal of practice in various federal courts across the country.  He talked about embedding digital information in briefs, including hyperlinks to video excerpts from video depositions, hyperlinks to exhibits, etc., in addition to the more conventional hyperlinks that could appear to authorities.  It certainly seems that the continuing development of digital practice would point to a future with vast opportunity to connect the appellate materials in profound ways.

For some additional thoughts, see a post from back in January over at Volokh Conspiracy, with additional discussion in the comments.

Thoughts?  Is the increased use of digital resources by courts impacting the way you present arguments in your appellate briefs?  Have you seen this as a good development, or one with significant pitfalls?  And is legal education keeping up with these kinds of trends?  Share your thoughts in the comments!

September 3, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Monday, September 1, 2014

Colleen Barger Named Ben J. Altheimer Distinguished Professor of Law

Professor Coleen Barger was recently named as the Ben J. Altheimer Distinguished Professor of Law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock William H. Bowen School of Law.  Readers of this blog may know Colleen as a founding member of the peer-edited Journal of Appellate Practice and Process. Colleen has served continuously as the Journal’s Developments Editor since its inaugural volume in 1998.

Coleen-BargerColeen is also the author of the newly revised ALWD Guide to Legal Citation (5th ed. 2014).  She has served the legal writing community in many other capacities over the last two decades, providing hard work, leadership, and support. Colleagues at UALR report that she has repeatedly won school excellence awards for both her teaching and service.

Congratulations on the much deserved honor, Colleen!

September 1, 2014 in Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Opening Lines and Judicial Opinion Writing

Michael Doyle, McLatchy Washington Bureau, has a brief blog post today comparing the opening lines of these D.C. Circuit opinions issued today. He juxtaposes two fact-oriented openings, one that makes terrific use of short, declarative sentences, with a law-oriented opening containing multiple mid-sentence citations.

It’s an interesting dichotomy. This eye-catching difference invites further inquiry into: 1) what is the standard model of judicial opinion writing and 2) what difference does it make in the application of the law. Perhaps further study is warranted by some enterprising scholar, beyond the single day’s anecdote out of the D.C. Circuit, but it seemed worth passing along.

August 29, 2014 in Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Courtroom Decorum in Baskin v. Bogan

Yesterday the 7th Circuit heard argument in Baskin v. Bogan, a case involving Indiana’s same-sex marriage ban.  These arguments provide some noteworthy lessons in decorum.  Appellant’s counsel began his argument by articulating a precise roadmap in simple, comprehensible terms.  He was barely able to finish the first sentence of his first point, however, before being interrupted by one of the judges.  Certainly interruptions are to be expected during oral arguments. This interruption, however, initiated a parade of horribles so grand that it left appellant looking like a monster.  Throughout the argument, appellant’s counsel struggled to finish a single response before getting pounced with additional questions.  When he attempted to advance his own argument in response to a question, he was immediately admonished to answer the question.  At one point, another judge even explicitly said the court had no intention of allowing him to advance his own argument.  Curiously, the court was not interested in the rich logos arguments appellant was attempting to advance. The judges wanted to know about the pathos arguments like the psychological impact on the children of same-sex couples and the various sociological, anthropological, and psychological literature available on the issue. 

Appellant’s counsel professionally withstood the barrage of questions, although his frustration at times was evident in his voice.  Toward the end of the argument, though, he became much more adamant in his disagreement with the court’s hypotheticals.  His frustration showed both in his word choice and tone of voice.  By comparison, both attorneys for the appellee came across much more composed.  Granted, the court appeared to favor that side, so their argument was more readily received.  The moral of the story is that attorneys should be prepared to frame logos arguments in pathos terms when the logical argument leads to a necessary result the court is reluctant to adopt.

August 27, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Goldstein's Latest Amicus Brief

Last week, Tony Mauro had an article in the National Law Journal discussing the latest amicus brief filed by Goldstein & Russell's Thomas Goldstein.

As Mauro pointed out, what makes this particular amicus brief potentially noteworthy is not any particular argument it advances on behalf of either party in the case, nor is it the underlying issues of the case itself.  What makes this particular amicus brief potentially noteworthy is that it may be the first amicus brief ever submitted to the Supreme Court by a law firm on behalf of no client and in support of neither side. Instead, Goldstein authored and submitted the brief to test the waters concerning the utility of the bar providing assistance to the Court in unconventional ways, rather than simply as an advocate for a particular party or outcome in the case.

The case, M&G Polymers USA v. Tackett, involves health-care coverage for retirees and whether such coverage continues indefinitely when the underlying collective bargaining agreement governing the benefits is silent on the issue. In his amicus brief, Goldstein sought to provide the Court with data that he believed might not be presented by the parties or more traditional amici, including the results of a survey he conducted of collective bargaining agreements and different provisions reviewed by lower courts in similar cases.

Mauro quoted Goldstein as stating that "he didn't 'attempt to give the court any advice at all. It's just a bunch of data. I don't care who wins this case.'" Goldstein indicated that he felt the data he was providing might not be fully presented by the parties or more traditional amici with an interest in having the Court resolve the case one way or the other, but the data could be very useful to the Court in providing a workable rule.

Amicus Curiae is Latin for "friend of the court." The term has come to reflect briefs filed by a person or group who is not a party to the lawsuit, but has a strong interest in the resolution of the controversy presented by the case. As Goldstein noted in Mauro's article, however, sometimes amici are not truly acting as a friend of the court and, instead, "[t]hey have an ax to grind, a dog in the fight." Goldstein highlighted the uniqueness of his amicus brief in this case in the brief's opening paragraph, where he called it a "rare true 'amicus' brief" that was submitted "with no agenda or desire to direct the outcome of the case."

This caught my eye this weekend as I was preparing to teach a new batch of 2L students about appellate practice and advocacy at Creighton School of Law.   In my view, to be a successful appellate advocate it is crucial to always keep in mind that your primary goal is to help the court find a way to rule in favor of your client. That overarching focus underlies the importance of thorough research, of thoughtful organization, of painstaking editing, and, really, all aspects of presenting the appellate brief and argument.  If you can present the court with a well-thought "map" of exactly how the court could rule in your favor and explain its reasoning in a subsequent opinion, supported by authority and sound analysis, you are in a far better position than if you are simply urging an outcome that the court might find worthwhile but difficult or impossible to support in an opinion.

Amicus briefs can often serve those same purposes and assist the court.  As Goldstein noted, however, most amicus briefs may be submitted as "friends of the court" and provide assistance, but ultimately are assisting the court to rule a particular way. What makes this brief by Goldstein unusual is that it may truly provide meaningful assistance to the Court in a broader sense and without an eye to helping either side succeed.

It will be worth watching to see how the Court treats this kind of brief and, then, watching to see whether anyone else jumps on the bandwagon to author similar briefs in the future.  As Mauro's article noted, there may not be a clammoring of already busy attorneys to sit down and author briefs just to help the Court and not to further the interests of an actual client.

Links:

Goldstein's Amicus Brief in M&G Polymers USA, LLC v. Tackett. Hat Tip to Howard Bashman at How Appealing who reported the Mauro article last week. Tony Mauro's National Law Journal article, also available via Google News.

August 24, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Bashman Post on Word Limit Reduction Proposal

Howard Bashman has a new post on How Appealing examining the new proposal to reduce the word limit for principal briefs in the U.S. Courts of Appeals. The proposal is to reduce the current 14,000 word limit to 12,500. Allegedly, the current 14,000 word limit was based on a misunderstanding about how many words fit on a printed page.

Is this a beneficial reduction that will promote concision and clarity? Or another limitation on the role of advocacy before the courts of appeals?

The preliminary draft of proposed changes and call for comments is available here, and Howard invites comments, pro or con, through his site. This seems to me to be yet another procedural reform that streamlines, and arguably reduces, appellate advocacy and judicial consideration. I welcome your thoughts on the issue as I consider whether to comment.

August 21, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (1)