Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
Regent University School of Law

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Asian-American rock band, The Slants, seek its day in Court

January 18, 2017. That's the day the rock band, The Slants, gets to make its case on trademark to the United States Supreme Court.

Slants-Article-201612071447

The band has been battling the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office since 2006 in its quest to trademark the name of the band. The USPTO has refused to grant the trademark on the grounds that "slant" is a racist slur. 

"For us, this case has always been about civil rights." The trademark office rejected the band's trademark application, citing a section of the Lanham Act that prohibits registration of trademarks that may disparage "persons, living or dead, institutions, beliefs or national symbols, or bring them into contempt or disrepute." The Slants claim the provision violated the First Amendment. After losing before a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, the en banc court in December 2015 sided with The Slants and struck down the ban on disparaging marks as an unconstitutional regulation of speech.

The Slants seek to protect its First Amendment rights, but underlying the case is the idea of reclamation. Words that have been historically used to disparage minorities are sometimes, and to some degree, reclaimed by those groups as a sign of empowerment. Simon Tam, the band's leader is the named party in the suit, makes the following point in reclaiming, or reappropriating, insulting words:

Tam's brief in the case Lee v. Tam defends the name as part of "the long tradition of 'reappropriation,'" whereby minority groups reclaim insulting words and turn them into "badges of pride." Words like "queer" and "nigger" have been transformed in that way, to varying degrees.


"The Slants' fans are not racists eager to denigrate Asian-Americans," the brief states. "Only an uninformed philistine could find the band's name disparaging."

The Slants' members are all Asian-American and assert that it is their right to use this word as representative of their freedom of expression and celebration of their heritage. They've also written an open letter to the USTPO contesting its decision here.

To get the word out and seek funding, The Slants released the video above and have also released a new song to gain exposure. A few words:

There's no room/ For your backward feelings/ And your backyard dealings/ We're never gonna settle/ We're never gonna settle.... So sorry if you take offense/ But silence will not make amends/ The system's all wrong/ And it won't be long/ Before the kids are singing our song.

The song is titled "From the Heart." 

December 8, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 14, 2016

2016 Election Recap--State Supreme Courts

Last week I blogged on the impact of the 2016 presidential election on the U.S. Supreme Court.  On Friday, once the results were in, Dan linked to several articles discussing the results.  Today I want to focus on the impact of the election on the state supreme courts by looking at the 2016 state supreme court elections:

Alabama:  In Alabama, Michael F. "Mike" Bolin (Republican), Tom Parker (Republican), and Kelli Wise (Republican) won reelection as an Associate Justice on the state supreme court.  

Alaska:  Supreme Court Justices Joel Bolger and Peter J. Maassen won retention elections in Alaska.  Both men were originally appointed by Republican governors.

Arizona:  State Supreme Court Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer won retention election.  She was appointed by a Republican governor.

Arkansas:  Arkansans elected two Supreme Court Justices in the March 2016 primary.  John "Dan" Kemp, a circuit court judge, defeated Associate Justice Courtney Goodson for the chief justice seat.  Circuit Court Judge Shawn Womack defeated Clark Mason, a Little Rock attorney, in the other state supreme court election.

Colorado:  William W. Hood won a retention election to continue service on the Colorado Supreme Court.  He was appointed by a Democratic governor.

Florida:  Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, Justice Charles Canady, and Justice Ricky Polston all won retention election.  All three were appointed by a then-Republican governor (Charlie Crist).

Georgia:  David Nahmias won a retention election to hold his seat on the Georgia Supreme Court in May of this year.  Additionally, on November 9, Republican Governor Nathan Deal appointed three justices to the states supreme court—Solicitor General Britt Grant and Court of Appeals Judges Michael Boggs and Nels Peterson. 

Idaho:  Attorney Robyn Brody defeated Republican State Senator Curt McKenzie for a seat on the Idaho Supreme Court.

Iowa:  Chief Justice Mark Cady and Associate Justices Daryl Hecht and Brent Appel won retention election.  Chief Justice Cady was appointed by a Republican governor and Justices Hecht and Appel were appointed by a Democratic governor.

Kansas:  Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justices Marla Luckert, Carol Beier, Daniel Biles, and Caleb Stegall were all retained.

Kentucky:  State Appeals Court Judge Larry VanMeter, a registered Republican, defeated another state appellate judge, Glenn Acree, a registered Democrat.

Louisiana:  Incumbent Marcus Clark (Republican) won an unopposed election for the Fourth District seat on the state supreme court.  Additionally, Republican James Genovese defeated Republican Marilyn Castle for the Third District seat. 

Michigan:  Incumbent Republicans David Viviano and Joan Larsen survived election challenges to remain on the state supreme court.

Minnesota:  Incumbent Natalie Hudson beat attorney Michelle L. MacDonald for a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court.  Justice Hudson was appointed by a Democratic governor.

Mississippi:  Three incumbents won reelection to the Mississippi Supreme Court.  Incumbent Jim Kitchens beat State Appellate Court Judge Kenneth Griffis.  Incumbent Dawn Beam beat Michael Shareef.  Incumbent James D. Maxwell won an unopposed election.  Additionally, Robert P. Chamberlin won a four-way race for the state supreme court.

Missouri:  Justice Richard Teitelman, a Democrat appointee, was retained for his seat on the state supreme court.

Montana:  In June, Chief Justice Mike McGrath and Justice Jim Shea both ran unopposed for their seats, which was treated per Montana law as a retention election.  Shea had been appointed by a Democratic governor.  Additionally, on November 8, Kristen Juras beat Dirk M. Sandefur for the vacancy caused by Justice Patricia O’Brien Cotter’s retirement.

Nebraska:  Chief Justice Michael Heavican and Justices John Wright and William Cassel all were retained.  Chief Justice Heavican and Justice Cassel were appointed by Republican governors, while Justice Wright was appointed by a Democratic governor.

Nevada: Justices James Hardesty and Ron Parraguirre were both retained on the state supreme court.

New Mexico:  Justice Barbara J. Vigil, a Democrat, was retained to the state supreme court and Republican incumbent Judith Nakamura, a recent appointee, defeated Democrat Michael Vigil.

North Carolina:  Incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds, a Republican, lost to Mike Morgan, a Democrat, in North Carolina’s nonpartisan supreme court election.  This gives Democrats a majority on the state supreme court, but the state legislature is allegedly considering expanding the size of the court.

North Dakota:  Justice Lisa Fair McEvers, an incumbent, ran unopposed for her seat on the state supreme court.  Jerod Tufte defeated Robert V. Bolinske, Sr., to replace Justice Dale Sandstrom on the state supreme court.

Ohio:  Republican Justice Maureen O’Connor won an unopposed election for the chief justice seat.  Republican Pat DeWine defeated Democrat Cynthia Rice for a seat on the Supreme Court.  Republican Pat Fischer holds a narrow lead over Democrat John O’Donnell in the other supreme court race.

Oklahoma:  Justices James R. Winchester and Douglas L. Combs were both retained to the state supreme court.

Oregon:  Justice Lynn Nakamoto won an unopposed election to remain on the state supreme court. In May, Justices Rives Kistler and Jack Landau also won unopposed elections.

Tennessee:  Three state supreme court justices were retained in August—Justices Holly Kirby, Jeff Bivins, and Roger A. Page.  All three were appointed by a Republican governor.

Texas:  Texas has two high courts—the state supreme court and the Court of Criminal Appeals.  For the state supreme court, the three Republican incumbents—Debra Lehrmann, Paul Green, and Eva Guzman—defeated their Democratic challengers Mike Westergren, Dori Contreras Garza, and Savannah Robinson.  On the Court of Criminal Appeals Democrat incumbent Larry Meyers was defeated by Republican Mary Lou Keel.   Incumbent Republican Michael Keasler defeated Democrat Robert Burns.  For the open seat, Republican Scott Walker defeated Democrat Betsy Johnson.

Washington:  Incumbents Mary Yu, Barbara Madsen, and Charlie Wiggins defeated challengers David DeWolf, Greg Zempel, and Dave Larson to remai on the state supreme court.

West Virginia:  In May, incumbent Republican Brent Benjamin faced a five-way race for his seat involving two Republicans and three Democrats.  He lost to Republican Beth Walker.

Wisconsin:  In April, incumbent Rebecca Bradley defeated JoAnne Kloppenburg to remain on the state supreme court.

Wyoming:  Justices Kate M. Fox, William U. Hill, and Keith G. Kautz, all appointed by Republican governors, were retained.

November 14, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Current Affairs, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup

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Here are a handful of tidbits on appellate practice from around the web this past week.  As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send Dan a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).

Presidential Election and the Courts:

The Presidential election dominated news this week, in blogs, online news sites, and Twitter.  As a result, the biggest discussion point this week regarding appellate practice was the variety of thoughts about how Donald Trump's election will impact the courts -- the Supreme Court and other federal courts.

Here at the Appellate Advocacy Blog, Tessa posted on the topic in a post on Monday:  The Election and the Courts.  But that discussion ramped up even more starting midweek, after the election and Donald Trump's victory.  Discussions of how the Supreme Court is likely to change under a Trump presidency made headlines at The Economist, Bloomberg, the New York Times, NPR, and other sites. A list of the potential candidates from which Trump might pick a replacement for Justice Scalia (and other potential vacancies) is on the Trump/Pence website.  The National Law Journal expanded the discussion to remind us of the 52 nominees for open federal court seats already put forth by President Obama but not acted on.

Appellate Judges Education Institute:

The 2016 Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit begins today in Philadelphia. The annual summit provides a variety of educational opportunities specifically designed for appellate judges, lawyers, and staff attorneys.  When I worked for the Nebraska Court of Appeals, I was fortunate enough to attend the summit one year, and it is without a doubt one of the best appellate-specific educational opportunities there is.

#AppellateTwitter Swag:

If you are an appellate practice person -- lawyer, judge, casual fan -- you are likely already aware of the Twitter hashtag #AppellateTwitter.  It's continuing to grow, and is a source of some really great Twitter users, posts, and practice tips and discussion.  Jason Steed (@5thCircAppeals) recently indicated an interest in creating some #AppellateTwitter swag -- starting with coffee mugs.  And he's following through on it. He posted on Twitter this week how you can order your own #AppellateTwitter coffee mug, paying through Paypal.  Sign me up.

November 11, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 28, 2016

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup

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Here are a handful of tidbits on appellate practice from around the web this past week.  As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send Dan a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).

Continuing Impacts of the Supreme Court Vacancy 

This week, Lyle Denniston (@lylden) took a look at three Supreme Court cases that were accepted right before Justice Scalia's death, but haven't received an oral argument date yet.  Denniston noted that the cases have intentionally been bypassed as hearings have been scheduled, and argued that the most likely reason for the intentional bypassing of these three cases – which have been waiting the longest to be argued – is that the Justices are inclined to think that they would wind up in 4-to-4 splits. 

One of the cases, Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley, is about school access to a state government program for turning tires into playground sufaces.  The case implicates state constitutional clauses in more than 30 states that deny equal access to government benefits for an organization that is a house of worship or is directly affiliated with one. 

The second case, Murr v. Wisconsin, involves the question of how private property is defined when the government seeks to prevent or regulate development because of environmental concerns. 

The third case, Microsoft v. Baker, involves suit by a group of consumers in Washington against Microsoft, in which they complain that the Xbox 360 had a defect that caused its optical disc to damage the machine to the point that it was unplayable.  Although the plaintiffs in the suit were denied class action status, they managed to get the case dismissed in a manner that allowed them to appeal as a class. 

Each of the three cases involves matters in which Justice Scalia had been outspoken in decisions in recent years.  

Posner Declares the Supreme Court "Awful" 

Judge Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals made headlines again this week.  This time, the headlines stemmed from a recent appearance at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Chicago, in connection with the launch of a biography on Posner. 

At the event, Posner said that he was working on a new book about the federal judicary. He said that he had "about ten pages on the strengths and about 320 pages on the weaknesses."  Posner continued to say that he was "very critical" and that he does not "think the judges are very good. [He thinks] the Supreme Court is awful. . . . Probably only a couple of the justices, Breyer and Ginsburg, are qualified. They're okay, they're not great." 

Posner criticized federal judges, including the Supreme Court Justices, as lacking intellect – suggesting that they are appointed for appearance purposes and use clerks to do much of their work.  He asserted that the Supreme Court Justices lacked extensive trial experience.  And he criticized their writing, suggesting that Breyer and Ginsburg are the only ones who author readable opinions.  He also took issue with formalisms like res judicata and continued reliance on precedent. 

Posner even took issue with the fact that judges call their offices "chambers," attributing the practice to fourteenth century French language. 

(Video of Posner's Comments )

(Hat Tip:  Above the Law @atlblog )

Clarence Thomas' Majority by Dissent and Jeffrey Toobin's Disdain 

Adam White had a piece this week at the Weekly Standard where he discussed Jeffrey Toobin's latest critical piece about Justice Clarence Thomas.  Toobin's latest piece in the New Yorker reflected on Justice Thomas' 25-year anniversary with the Supreme Court. White noted that Toobin's premise in the latest piece is that Thomas does not write any significant majority opinions and instead focuses mostly on dissenting from others' opinions and has been "on a Court of his own" for his career with the Supreme Court.  

White disagrees with the premise.  White notes that Thomas has written dozens of majority opinions, including ones in cases "on questions of state sovereignty, the First Amendment, antitrust, and . . . administrative law." White also contends that it doesn't matter how many majority opinions he has written – because Thomas authors concurrences and dissents, spelling out his own reasoning, and emphasizing his view of original intent in Constitutional thinking. Thomas also notes that while Toobin has praised other justices, like Ginsburg, for being "influential in different ways," he seems to turn a blind eye to that same thought when looking at Justice Thomas. 

 

Adnan Syed's Lawyers Motion for Bail 

Adnan Syed, whose murder case was spotlighted on the popular podcast, "Serial," in 2014, has remained incarcerated despite a ruling more than three months granting him a new trial. This week, his lawyers filed a motion asking that he be released on bail. The filing asserted that "Syed has now served more than 17 years in prison based on an unconstitutional conviction for a crime he did not commit." 

(NY Times Article

ABA's Unease Over Trump Article Results in First Amendment Debate 

A media lawyer in California, Susan Seager, authored an article reviewing Donald Trump's history as a libel plaintiff.  In the article, Seager called Trump a "libel bully" and a "libel loser," because of his record of losing such cases.  Her article was originally supposed to run in Communications Lawyer, a quarterly newsletter of an ABA member group.  In mid-October, however, discussion between ABA deputy executive director James Dimos, the newsletter's editors, and Seager, resulted in Seager pulling the piece and having it published online at medialaw.org. 

Among the suggested edits were recommended deletions of "direct references to Trump as a bully, a description of Trump as 'orange haired and orange tinged,' and a statement that Trump lacked a sense of humor."  Additionally, the suggested edits included changing the proposed title of the article from "Donald J. Trump is a Libel Bully but also a Libel Loser," to "Preseidential Election Demonstrates Need for anti-SLAPP Laws." 

Although the ABA disputes that its expressed concerns and suggested edits to Seager's language amounted to blocking the initial publication, media lawyers have expressed concern and called the situation an example of censorship. 

According to the ABA, the concerns expressed about the language of the article were based on concerns about whether the pointed language in the article amounted to "[n]ame calling and questioning Mr. Trump's mental capacity," were "ad hominem attacks [that could] increase the risk of the ABA being sued by Mr. Trump," and were inconsistent with the ABA's strong policy of being a nonpartisan organization. 

(Article

SCOTUS Celebrity News 

Apparently Chief Justice Roberts and his wife recently purchased a second home on an island off the midcoast of Maine.  Although the price was not disclosed, a 15-year mortgage for $1Million was filed.  

(Hat Tip:  Howard Bashman @howappealing) 

#AppellateTwitter Weighs in on Golden Rules of Legal Writing 

Joe Fore (@Joe_Fore), Co-Director of the UVALaw legal writing program, asked for #AppellateTwitter's help this week in boiling down legal writing into aa few golden rules – broad take-homes – for his legal writing class.  And #AppellateTwitter did not disappoint. 

(Twitter Thread)

 

October 28, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, October 21, 2016

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup

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Here are a handful of tidbits on appellate practice from around the web this past week.  As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send Dan a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).

Presidential Debate:  SCOTUS as a Topic

The third and final debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump was this week, hosted by Chris Wallace.  And SCOTUS was a topic.

Law.com ran a story early in the week, in which it reported on the results of efforts by Law.com reporters to reach out to Supreme Court practitioners and other lawyers about what the candidates should be asked about SCOTUS.  The ARTICLE highlighted some of the responses.

Law.com followed up after the debate with a review of how the topic was actually handled.  Although SCOTUS was scheduled as one of six, 15-minute topics for the debate, moderator Chris Wallace struggled to get the candidates to provide much in-depth discussion about where the Court might go in the next several years and how they viewed the Constitution.   Clinton emphasized that she hopes to see the Court "not reverse marriage equality, not reverse Roe v. Wade, and . . . stand up against Citizens United." Clinton also urged Congress to go forward with the process of considering Merrick Garland's nomination to the Court. Trump's vision for the Court included observations that "[t]he justices [he's] going to appoint will be pro-life, they will have a conservative bent, they will be protecting the Second Amendment . . . [and] will interpret the Constitution the way the Founders wanted it."

More on the intersection of the election and SCOTUS and the future of the Court can be found in this week's Thursday Round-Up at SCOTUSblog.

Follow-Up on Donald Trump vs. The New York Times

Last week's Weekly Roundup included the "disagreement" between Donald Trump and the NYT concerning the Times article about women accusing Trump of inappropriate behavior.  The letters exchanged between Trump's lawyer and the Times' lawyer went viral

This week, the author of the Times response to Trump, David McCraw, penned a piece for Times Insider, in which he described his reactions to the response letter going viral.  See:  "I Hardly Expected My Letter to Donald Trump to Go Viral."  McCraw notes that he wrote the response letter "in about 45 minutes . . . between a meeting on the company's emergency operations plan and a conference call about a new patent suit." After that, McCraw and three colleagues from the Legal Department spent "about 30 minutes, talking about whether the overall point and tone were right, whether words should be tweaked, whether the ending was right." McCraw notes that when he was ready to publish the letter, he jokingly told his legal department colleagues to "[s]tand by [their] Twitter accounts." Then the letter went viral.

McCraw took note of the Internet debate over things like his comma usage and whether there should be one or two spaces after a period. he received hundreds of emails in response to the letter, mostly from strangers but also from former students, colleagues, and law school classmates. He noted that his intent was not to get into politics, but to focus on the basics of press freedom, in a way merited in many cases removed from the spotlight of Donald Trump.  But he also heard from a number of women who felt his letter was also speaking on their behalf, standing up for the women who had come forward to make the accusations against Trump.

According to McCraw, his "favorite email was the one that ended: 'As my sister put it, I've never wanted to hang a paragraph from a lawyer on my fridge before.'"

Washington University Law's Supreme Court Database

First Mondays (@FirstMondaysFM), a seasonal podcast on the Supreme Court, hosted by Ian Samuel (@isamuel) of Harvard Law School and Dan Epps (@danepps) of Washington University St. Louis Law, discussed this resource from Washington University Law in this week's podcast.

The Supreme Court Database is described on Washington University Law's website as "the definitive source for researchers, students, journalists, and citizens interested in the U.S. Supreme Court." It "contains over two hundred pieces of information about each case decided by the Court between the 1791 and 2015 terms."

Put a couple of logs in the fireplace, make some hot cocoa, and settle in for a fall weekend of browsing this resource if you are a fan or follower of SCOTUS.  There's just so much great information there.

Hat Tip:  Bob Loeb (@BobLoeb).

On the Lighter Side

Jason Steed (@5thCircAppeals) rejoiced this week at discovering a California appellate court published an opinion using Century Schoolbook font.  See SoCal Appellate News Blog.

 

 

October 21, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 30, 2016

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup

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Here are a handful of tidbits on appellate practice from around the web this past week.  As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send Dan a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real). 

Upcoming SCOTUS Term 

SCOTUS kicks off its new term on the first Monday in October.  As a result, the week before usually results in quite a bit of chatter, speculation, and discussion about the coming term and what can be expected.  Here are a few tidbits in that regard: 

SCOTUS Order List: 

On Thursday, SCOTUS released an Order List adding eight cases to its new term, to start next week.  SCOTUSblog provided a good / quick writeup about the list and a little preview of each case. 

Order List: 

https://www.supremecourt.gov/orders/courtorders/092916zr_b97d.pdf 

SCOTUSblog Article:  http://www.scotusblog.com/2016/09/justices-add-eight-new-cases-to-docket-for-upcoming-term/ 

SCOTUS 2016 Term: By the Numbers 

Bloomberg broke down the upcoming term "by the numbers" -- including how many cases had been docketed at the beginning of the week (out of the 75 or so likely to make up the full docket for the year), the number being heard on direct appeal vs. discretionary grants of cert, original jurisdiction, etc. The article also breaks down civil vs. Criminal cases on the docket, the possibility of the 9th Circuit becoming the most reversed court for this term, etc. 

Article:  http://www.bna.com/scotus-2016-termby-n57982077532/ 

5 Facts about the Supreme Court 

Pew Research Center summarized five facts about how Americans view SCOTUS as this year's term looms on the horizon.  Americans' opinions of the Court hit a 30-year low last year, but have rebounded; there is a significant partisan gap in views of the Court; those partisan views include sharp divisions about how the Court should interpret the Constitution; voters closer to the conservative end of the Republican spectrum or the liberal end of the Democratic spectrum (as opposed to moderates) view court appointments as more important to their vote in the upcoming presidential election; and most Americans disagree with the current Senate's decision not to hold hearings on the nomination of Merrick Garland.  See the article for more in-depth explanation of these five points. 

Article:  http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/09/26/5-facts-about-the-supreme-court/ 

Hat Tip:  Robert Barnes (@scotusreporter

How Clinton's or Trump's Nominees Could Affect the Balance of the Supreme Court 

Adam Liptak and Alicia Parlapiano had an article in the NY Times that provided an interactive guide and links to a new study prepared by Lee Epstein of Washington University in St. Louis, Andrew D. Martin of the University of Michigan, and Kevin Quinn of the University of California-Berkeley, discussing predictions about each candidate's potential nominees. 

Article:  http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2016/09/25/us/politics/how-clintons-or-trumps-nominees-could-affect-the-balance-of-the-supreme-court.html?_r=0 

Hat Tip:  Howard Bashman (@howappealing

#TwitterTuesdays Here 

This week's edition of #TwitterTuesdays here at the Appellate Advocacy Blog focused on Supreme Court related Twitter accounts to keep you informed about all thing SCOTUS. 

Link:  http://lawprofessors.typepad.com/appellate_advocacy/2016/09/twittertuesday-scotus-edition.html 

Judge Clears Path for PACER Overcharge Suit 

An article on Law.com this week highlighted that a U.S. Court of Federal Claims judge has denied the government's request to dismiss a class action suit alleging that a computer glitch caused the Public Access to Court Electronic Records (PACER) system to erroneously overcharge users for accessing and viewing federal court docket information.  The basis for the government's claim was an assertion that the plaintiffs in the suit were required to exhaust administrative remedies before pursuing the action in court; the judge disagreed. The underlying action is based on "claims for breach of contract, breach of an implied covenant of good faith and fair dealing, and illegal exaction." 

Article: http://www.law.com/sites/almstaff/2016/09/26/judge-clears-path-for-pacer-overcharge-suit/?cmp=share_twitter&slreturn=20160827104313 

Hat Tip:  Zoe Tillman (@ZoeTillman) and Jason P. Steed (@5thCircAppeals

September 30, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Calling All Appellate Movers and Shakers

This week the west coast firm of Munger Tolles & Olson LLP announced that well-known former Solicitor General Donald Verilli will lead the opening of its new Washington, D.C., office. Verilli is moving back into private practice after several years at the Department of Justice. He plans to continue his appellate practice but also to build an office that is broad in its reach regarding regulatory issues, counseling, and negotiation. 

For Verrilli, heading to Munger Tolles represents a return to private practice. Before his time in government, he worked for Jenner & Block LLP, where he chaired the telecommunications, appellate and Supreme Court practices and developed expertise in areas such as patent law, technology, content and copyright, health care and energy. He also served as deputy White House counsel, and as an associate deputy attorney general at the U.S. Department of Justice before his June 2011 confirmation.

Verilli argued some of the biggest cases ever before the Court:

As the nation’s 46th solicitor general, Verrilli argued the landmark 2012 National Federation of Independent Business v. Sebelius decision, in which a 5-4 majority upheld the constitutionality of most parts of the Affordable Care Act. That, along with 2015's King v. Burwell decision over state health care exchange subsidies, are some of his proudest moments from his service, Verrilli said.

“We were defending social policy of enormous consequence and the stakes could not have been higher,” Verrilli said. “I thought in both those cases, the lawyering really made a difference in the case, and I’m very proud of that work and that I had a chance to do it.”

Arguing cases defending the right to marriage equality was an "enormous privilege," Verrilli said. During his tenure, he argued against the federal ban on same-sex marriage in the Defense of Marriage Act in the 2013 U.S. v. Windsor case and against state bans on same-sex marriage in the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges case, in which the majority found a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

Verilli, formerly of Jenner and Block - a Supreme Court powerhouse law firm - is bringing some legal firepower to the new office. Michael DeSanctis, a former partner at Jenner and Block, and Chad Golder, at DOJ and formerly at Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, will be joining Verilli at the D.C. office. Verilli is also known for his skill in building talented legal teams. 

While this "start up" might be a little new to the scene to make the Appellate Hot List for this year, it will likely be a frontrunner before long. The National Law Journal is currently taking nominees for law firms that have done exemplary, cutting-edge appellate advocacy: 

Potential nominees must be able to point to least one significant appellate win since January 2015, plus an impressive track record overall. A "significant win" means prevailing before the U.S. Supreme Court, a U.S. circuit court of appeals or a state court of last resort when the financial stakes were high or an important legal principle was at stake.

Munger Tolles & Olson with Verilli at the helm will likely lead the contenders in years to come, but who are your picks for this year?

September 29, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 23, 2016

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup

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Here are a handful of tidbits on appellate practice from around the web this past week.  As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send Dan a quick email at DReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real). 

Will the Supreme Court's Vacancy Issues Ever Become an Election Issue?

Chris Geidner had an article on BuzzFeed News this week asking the question.  The article recounted how, for a brief moment last weekend, it appeared as if the topic of the vacancy on the Supreme Court and Congress's decision not to consider and vote on President Obama's nominee to fill the vacancy would became a real issue in this year's Presidential election.  Hillary Clinton was asked a question about it; a member of Donald Trump's campaign allegedly had been told that he would be a nominee in a Trump administration; Senator John Cornyn (chair of the Judiciary Committee's subcommittee on the Constitution) spoke about hopes of confirmation for a set of lower court nominees back by Republican senators. But the focus quickly shifted away, again. Nonetheless, as the article notes, there are still some key dates coming up that might shift focus back to this topic as a key in the race for the White House, including the Court's new term opening in October, as well as upcoming debates. 

Link:  https://www.buzzfeed.com/chrisgeidner/the-supreme-court-almost-became-an-issue?utm_term=.ng7AOelBk#.vm7vjmoN1 

 

Related, Jason P. Steed (@5thCircAppeals) tweeted a link to his April blog post about "Duty" and the Constitution, discussing the debate over whether the Constitution imposes a "duty" on Congress to consider and vote on a nominee to fill a vacant seat on the Court.  The post raises some great discussion points about the intersection between whether the Constitution specifically imposes such a duty and whether it's acceptable to conclude that it does not if that conclusion arguably threatens the very function of the Constitution itself. 

Blog Post:  https://formalegalis.org/2016/04/18/duty-and-the-constitution/ 

Twitter Post:   https://twitter.com/5thCircAppeals/status/778269922430365696 

  

Finally, Cornell Law Professor Michael Dorf had a post on Justia.com titled, "The Future of the Supreme Court, Regardless of Who Wins the Election." In the piece, he makes the case that although "it is tempting for those of us who follow the work of the high Court to play a waiting game" and acknowledges that "with respect to some important issues, uncertainty . . . warrants caution" he also argues that "Supreme Court watchers who are fearful about the outcome of the 2016 election can take comfort from the fact that it may not matter as much as we expect." He argues that there are "vast swaths of our public life about which the Court has almost nothing to say" and that "[s]ome areas of Supreme Court jurisprudence will likely be unaffected by the next appointment(s) because they rest on broad cross-ideological consensus." While acknowledging that "who appoints the next several justices to the Supreme Court is [not] an unimportant question" he argues that we should not think "that everything is up for grabs" because, at the end of the day, "the Court still decides many more cases unanimously than by a single vote" and also points out that history should tell us that "[e]ven when we know who will apoint justices . . . [and] even when we know who those justices are," their ultimate voting habits with the Court are often unexpected. 

Justia article:  https://verdict.justia.com/2016/09/21/future-supreme-court-regardless-wins-election 

Dorf on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/dorfonlaw 

 

Oral Argument Preparation Thoughts 

Bryan Gividen (@BryanGivi) started a good twitter discussion about oral argument preparation process and tips.  David Feder (@davidjfeder) had previously posted an image showing the Solicitor General's process for oral argument prep in cases before SCOTUS. The comments and responses to both provide some great practical thoughts from folks who regularly engage in oral argument preparation. 

Gividen Twitter Discussion Link: https://twitter.com/BryanGivi/status/777896705161170944 

David Feder Twitter Post: https://twitter.com/davidjfeder/status/777650613114974208 

 

How Many Issues to Raise on Appeal 

Mike Skotnicki (@MSkotnicki) tweeted a link to a 2014 blog post he wrote about determining how many issues to raise on appeal.  In the post, he discusses striking the balance between raising every issue that you can possibly find and only raising one or two really good arguments, arguing in favor of raising "every argument deemed to have real potential to be found meritorious" and capable of passing the "'red face test' (would you blush raising the argument during questioning at oral argument?)" 

Blog Post:  https://brieflywriting.com/2014/04/03/so-how-many-issues-do-you-raise-on-appeal/ 

Twitter:  https://twitter.com/MSkotnicki/status/778284106920693760 

 

September 23, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 16, 2016

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup

  WeeklyRoundup

This is the first edition of a new regular feature here at the Appellate Advocacy Blog:  The Weekly Roundup.  Each Friday, we’ll post links to some of the best appellate practice content that we’ve come across in the past week.  If you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send Dan a quick email at DReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real). 

 How Not to Argue About Extrinsic Evidence 

600 Camp – a blog about commercial litigation before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit – had a brief post on September 12 about the Fifth Circuit’s unpublished opinion in SmithGroup JJR, PLLC v. Forrest General Hospital.  The brief opinion addressed the importance of preserving at the trial level arguments to be raised on appellate review.  The particular issue at hand involved the admission and use of extrinsic evidence in the interpretation of a contract. 

Blog Post:            600 Camp Blog Post 

Fifth Circuit Opinion:       SmithGroup v. Forrest General Hospital Opinion

Hat Tip:                 @David Coale

 The 5 Edits I Make Most Frequently 

Mark Herrmann, formerly a partner at a leading international law firm and now responsible for litigation and employment matters at a large international company, authored a post at Above the Law this week recounting common editing moves in the writing of briefs.  There is a wealth of good advice there, based on real experience. 

Blog Post:            Above the Law Blog Post 

Hat Tip:                 Raymond P. Ward

 A Worthwhile, Four-Day Appellate CLE Is Coming to Philadelphia  

Howard Bashman (featured in this week’s “Twitter Tuesday” has written a great post discussing the annual Appellate Judges Education Institute Summit, an annual four-day program hosted by the judicial division of the ABA and the Southern Methodist Dedman School of Law.  In a lot of ways it is like a big CLE over several days, featuring a large group of judges and appellate practitioners.  This year’s event is being held in Philadelphia in November.  If it fits your schedule, it’s a highly beneficial event to attend and participate in.   

Blog Post:            Bashman Blog Post 

Hat Tip:                 @howappealing

Combination of Clement/Bancroft firm with Kirkland & Ellis 

A big news item this week concerns the breaking news that Paul Clement and the Bancroft firm are going to combine with Kirkland & Ellis.  This news was reported and discussed in a variety of places, including an article in the National Law Journal, where another prominent SCOTUS bar practitioner was quoted as calling it “the biggest shake-up in the Supreme Court bar since [Clement] left King & Spalding in 2011.”  

Article:                 National Law Journal Article 

Hat Tip:                @tessadysart

Twitter Thread About Getting Into Appellate Practice 

Jason Steed, who was recently mentioned in our Twitter Tuesday feature and who is an appellate practitioner who blogs and tweets about appellate practice (especially in the 5th Circuit), started a twitter thread and discussion about getting into appellate practice that has some great discussion and thoughts.  You can follow Jason’s other posts about appellate practice at @5thCircAppeals. 

Link:       Jason Steed Twitter Thread

September 16, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Writing, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, August 26, 2016

To Swear or Not to Swear, that is the Question....

Should judges and lawyers quote profanity in their opinions, briefs, and oral arguments?  Zoe Tillman tackled this touchy issue in a recent article on Law.com.  The article, aptly entitled "In Quoting Profanity, Some Judges Give a F#%&. Others Don't," Tillman includes several quotes from federal judges on the use of profanity in judicial opinions.  Well some try to avoid it at all costs, others don't mind including it, especially if it is relevant to the case.

Tillman notes:

Profanity has become increasingly prolific in court opinions. Since 2006, the word “fuck” was quoted in approximately 445 federal appeals court opinions, according to a search of court records. That’s nearly as many as the preceding four decades combined.

While judges may have the freedom to quote profanity in an opinion, what should an attorney do in writing a brief or in oral argument?  With respect to oral argument, one option is to call the court in advance and notify the court that you plan on using profanity.  According to First Circuit Judge Bruce Selya, who was interviewed for the article, his court always gives permission when attorneys ask.

With respect to briefs, I think that calling the court to ask how these issues have been handled in the past is always a good option.  It also doesn't hurt to do your homework and know the tenure of the court that you will appear before.  Finally, ask yourself if it is truly relevant to use the profanity in the brief.  

Apparently the Washington Redskins included a fair amount of profanity in their brief to the Fourth Circuit over the team's trademark.  According to a post on the Business Law Basics blog,

In support of the latter argument [that the Patent & Trademark Office arbitrarily enforces offensive trademarks], the team provides extensive lists of wildly offensive trademarks that the PTO has issued.  Certainly many of the issued trademarks mentioned in the brief are so salacious, crass, sexist and/or racist that we hesitate, on this family-friendly blog, to list them here.  Indeed, this opening brief is notable in being one of the most [not inappropriately] profanity-laden court filings we have ever seen, and is worth a look for that reason alone. 

 

 

August 26, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 1, 2016

SEALS 2016

The Southeastern Association of Law Schools 2016 Conference kicks off on Wednesday, August 3, in Amelia Island, Florida.  As always, Prof. Russell Weaver from the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law has put together an excellent program.  

There are several panels that may interest readers of this blog, including:

  • A discussion group on Equality & Identity in a Post-Scalia World (Wednesday, Aug. 3)
  • A discussion group on Justice Thomas after 25 years on the bench (Wednesday, Aug. 3)
  • Supreme Court Update:  Business, Administrative, Securities, Tax, and Employment Issues (Thursday, Aug. 4)
  • Supreme Court Update: Individual Rights (Thursday, Aug. 4)
  • The Scalia Legacy (Friday, Aug. 5)
  • Understanding the Effects of Judicial Selection on State Courts (Saturday, Aug. 6)
  • The First Amendment and the Changing Supreme Court (Sunday, Aug. 7)

I will be on a panel on Monday, August 8, called "The Road to Scholarship as Seen by Newer Professors," which was organized by Prof. Suzanne Rowe from University of Oregon School of Law.  This panel is designed to offer advice to newer law professors on what to do (and of course what not to do) to establish a good scholarly agenda.  SEALS typically offers great programming for new law professors and for those thinking about entering academia.

I encourage all those attending to check out the full program here.

Special recognition to Prof. Tim Zinnecker at Campbell for the most creatively named panel:  "God created the world out of nothing in six days; I'm only the academic dean."

 

August 1, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Advice on Writing Briefs from Judges Kozinski and Kopf

 

In a recent episode of the Legal Talk Network podcast Lawyer 2 Lawyer, hosts J. Craig Williams and Bob Ambrogi interviewed Judge Alex Kozinski from the United States Court of Appeals for The Ninth Circuit and Judge Richard Kopf from the U.S. District Court, District of Nebraska, to get the judges’ thoughts on the essential elements that go into persuasive legal writing.

 

If you have about half an hour, you should listen to the whole interview, available HERE via Soundcloud.  If you don’t have time to listen to the whole interview, or in the meantime, here are a few of the highlights:

 

One interesting perspective about the quality of brief-writing that the court comes from Judge Kozinski’s recognition at roughly the 6:30 mark of the interview, where he noted that the court realizes that lawyers are busy. Judge Kozinski noted that the court recognizes that staffing and economic factors certainly play a role in the quality of the briefs submitted by attorneys, and that quality is not solely a function of the lawyers’ abilities. He noted, for example, that staffing plays a role; larger firms with larger clients with larger budgets can devote more resources, including reviewers and editors, to fine tuning and polishing briefs than a solo practitioner representing an individual without deep pockets. He noted that sometimes the quality of briefs submitted to the court are not necessarily representative of failings of the individual lawyers, but are a matter of economic feasibility. Courts recognize that, and courts have their own staff to work on the case and provide additional assistance to the court in reaching the correct result.

 

At roughly 5:30 into the interview, Judge Kopf advises that attorneys writing briefs try to emulate what one might read in a “really well-written newspaper.” He identifies the three key attributes of effective brief-writing as that it be simple, precise, and readable.   

 

Simplicity is really important to Judge Kopf and, in my experience, most judges.  They are busy and are always trying to focus in on the essential aspects of the case to reach a timely and accurate resolution, usually in the most direct way possible. Judge Kopf explains starting at roughly the 11:00 mark of the interview that a litigant who spends a little time narrowing in and simplifying the issue right at the outset of a brief does the court a significant favor. He compares an example wherein a litigant starts a brief by noting that it is in support of “a motion for summary judgment” with one noting that it is in support of “a motion for summary judgment, limited to the issue of qualified immunity.” Simplifying and narrowing the focus at the outset helps the court to understand immediately where the rest of the discussion is going to go.

 

In cases involving complex technical issues or areas of the law, simplicity obviously becomes all the more important.  In class, I always stress to my students the importance of explaining the issues, the law, and the facts in the simplest and most straightforward way possible. I always tell my students that there is little risk of offending any judge by making something seem “too simple,” but there is great risk of a judge not fully understanding technical issues that are not simplified and explained. Judge Kopf echoes this thought at roughly the 30:15 mark of the interview by noting that a litigant writing a brief should “not assume [the judge is] smart.” Judge Kopf advises at roughly the 29:25 mark of the interview that a litigant writing a brief addressing a technical issue have “a real human being” read the brief before it is submitted – someone with no background in that technical area. If that person cannot understand it, the writer needs to reevaluate. 

 

The advice of seeking review by a reader who is not technically trained in the particular subject matter of the brief was also echoed by Judge Kozinski in his final thoughts, at roughly the 31:20 mark of the interview.  Judge Kozinski urged writers to ask themselves if they could explain the arguments presented in their briefs to an educated, smart person who is not an expert, in plain language. If not, the writer needs to go back and rethink the argument and rethink how to present it. As Judge Kozinski put it, “writing is thinking.”

 

 

November 10, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, October 31, 2015

The Importance of Following the Rules

I am constantly stressing to my appellate advocacy students the importance of not just excellent substance in their briefs, but also the importance of complying with the court’s technical rules.  There is nothing more frustrating as a legal writing professor than reading a brief that makes great legal arguments, but is so poorly formatted that the substance is lost in the technical errors. 

A few days ago one of my students sent me a post by Casey C. Sullivan on FindLaw’s Strategist Blog about an attorney in Indiana who requested permission to file a corrected Table of Contents and Table of Authorities in a case before the Court of Appeals of Indiana.  The court granted the request, but directed that “[n]o substantive changes . . . be made to the Amended Appellant’s Brief.”

According to the court’s opinion the new Table of Contents represented “at best, an abject failure to understand the most basic requirements of appellate briefing.”  The attorney expanded the one-page Table of Contents in her first brief to a whopping thirty-seven pages in the amended brief.  The Table of Authorities was expanded from four to eleven pages.  The court’s opinion contains a few snippets from both tables including this gem from the Table of Authorities:

Hirsch v. Merchants Nat’l Bank & Trust Co. of Indiana, 336 N.E.2d 833 (Ind. Ct. App. 1975) (providing eight percent interest in action for breach of lease).  When the parties’ contract does not provide an interest rate; therefore, the statutory interest rate of eight percent is applicable.  (cited in App. 75-76) [appearing on page] 12

Unfortunately for the attorney, not even the page number in this entry was correct, as page 12 of the brief contained no case citations at all and was actually part of the Statement of Facts.  According to the court, “the Table of Authorities fail[ed] at its basic and only purpose of informing us of the cases cited in the brief and directing us to where in the brief a particular case is discussed.”

The attorney’s failure to follow the rules came at a steep price—the court disregarded the entirety of both Tables—proving once again that formatting matters!

 

October 31, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, October 15, 2015

A Handful of Links to Tips and Thoughts on Appellate Brief Writing

With the Supreme Court’s new term now underway, there is likely to soon be much to discuss in the world of appellate advocacy and developments from cases heard by the Court.  In the interim, I thought I’d share a handful of links for those who are in practice or in law school settings, working on drafting an appellate brief, and looking for some little tidbits concerning ways to maximize effectiveness.  The following links cover a wide range of brief-writing topics and perusing them might offer some new thoughts or perspectives to increase your overall impact.

 Overview of Each Section:

The Duke Law School has a helpful guide to appellate advocacy on its website that includes a table of contents and then individual sections addressing various parts of an appellate brief, including the Question Presented, the Tables, the Statement of the Case, the Argument, and the Conclusion: 

Duke Law School Guide

 Finding Your Appellate Voice:

Noted appellate advocacy blogger Howard Bashman of How Appealing presented “Finding the Appellate Style and Voice That Works Best for You” back in September at The Legal Intelligencer: 

Bashman on Style and Voice

 Some Tips Regarding Your Statement of the Case / Fact Section:

Stephen V. Armstrong (Director of career Development at Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering, an international firm based in Washington, D.C. and former Director of Professional Development and Training at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison, a law firm based in New York City)  and Timothy P. Terrell (Professor of Law at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, and former Director of Professional Development a the law firm of King & Spaulding in Atlanta) present tips on “Organizing Facts to Tell Stories” in the  Winter 2001 edition of Perspectives

Armstrong & Terrell on Organizing Facts

Palmer Gene Vance II and Madonna E. Schueler (both of the firm of Stoll Keenon Ogden PLLC in Lexington, Kentucky) present “Ten Tips for Developing Your Case Theme” in the September/October edition of GPSolo, a publication of the American Bar Association: 

Vance II and Schueler on Case Theme

 Standard of Review:

Mike Skotnicki, an appellate attorney in Alabama, presented “The Standard of Review is the Lens Through Which You View Your Facts and Issues” on his appellate practice blog, Briefly Writing, back in January 2012: 

Briefly Writing: Standard of Review

 Point Headings:

Bryan Garner discussed the value of effective point headings in the September edition of Bryan Garner on Words at the ABA Journal: 

Garner on Point Headings

 Paragraph and Sentence Structure:

Mike Skotnicki presented “Borrowing a Fiction Writing Technique: Using Pacing by Paragraph and Sentence Length to Build to a Conclusion” on his appellate practice blog, Briefly Writing, back in March 2012: 

Briefly Writing: Pacing by Paragraph and Sentence

 Raymond Ward, an appellate lawyer in New Orleans,  linked to articles by Stephen V. Armstrong and Timothy P. Terrell from recent issues of Perspectives, concerning “Lessons in Paragraph Building” on his blog, the (new) legal writer

Ward: Armstrong and Terrell on Paragraph Building

 Editing to Meet Page Limits:

Lady (Legal) Writer presented a blog entry in September about “Editing to Meet Page Limits”: 

Lady (Legal) Writer on Editing to Meet Page Limits

 

If you have links to articles, blog posts, or other resources that you’ve found to be useful with tips and thoughts on ways to improve appellate brief writing, share them in the comments!

October 15, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fifth Circuit Appellate Advocacy Seminar

Readers may find this of interest:

On October 5 and 6, 2015, the Bar Association of the Fifth Federal Circuit will host our Annual Appellate Advocacy Seminar in New Orleans. The cost is $100 for 9.75 hours of Continuing Legal Education, including both an hour of Professionalism and an hour of Ethics. Attend a two-hour writing workshop to hone your brief-writing skills, observe oral arguments and get practice tips from seasoned attorneys and sitting judges. This seminar is an ideal introduction to federal appellate practice, with specifics about Fifth Circuit procedures.  http://www.baffc.org
 

September 15, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 22, 2015

Speaking With Some Authority

A reader kindly passed along this interesting link: The Art of Appellate Advocacy: A Conversation With the Supreme Court of Virginia.


The two-hour video, organized by Jeffrey A. Breit, adjunct professor at William & Mary Law School, offers members of the Virginia Supreme Court discussing brief writing, oral advocacy, structuring arguments, and the role of appellate courts. Inspired by the Bryan Garner series, interviewing U.S. Supreme Court Justices, this video may be similarly useful in legal writing and appellate advocacy classrooms. The video can be viewed in its entirety or in shorter, topic-specific segments.

 

June 22, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Bits and Pieces on Writing

Of interest on the topic of writing...

First, Bryan Garner has a column on the ABA Online, "First impressions endure, even in brief writing." In it, Garner makes use of social science research and the work of Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman to support three basic principles regarding good (legal) writing: "(1) little errors in a brief betoken bigger mistakes, (2) less is more, and (3) good briefs demand little physical or mental effort from the reader." While the advice isn't novel, the use of psychology and economic principles to support these ideas may be compelling to some readers.

Second, in a similar vein, "10 top writing tips and the psychology behind them," offers ten discrete pieces of writing advice and discusses why it matters, why we often fail to heed the advice, and how to fix our processes to follow that advice more consistency. The advice is mostly applicable to legal writing and the format, which tries to pull back the curtain on why we make the errors we do, is especially helpful.

Third, some amazing filings: dismissal of a complaint filed in D. Nebraska against "Homosexuals" and a filed in N.D. Georgia, a "Notice to F*ck this Court and Everything It Stands For."

 

May 7, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Savannah Law School Professor Cited by SCOTUS

Congratulations to Savannah Law School Professor Caprice Roberts who was recently cited by Justice Thomas in his dissent in Kansas v. Nebraska, 135 S. Ct. 1042 (2015).  The case involved a dispute between the states of Nebraska and Kansas over the apportionment of river water.  In his dissent, Justice Thomas disagrees with the majority’s reliance on Restatement (Third) of Restitution §39 (2010).  This section “proposes awarding disgorgement when a party’s profits from its breach are greater than the loss to the other party.”  Kansas, 135 S. Ct. at 1068 (J. Thomas, dissenting).  Thomas asserts that the Court has never relied on Section 39 because the theory of disgorgement is not supported in law. His analysis relies on Professor Roberts’s description of Section 39 as a “’novel extension’ of restitution principles that ‘will alter the doctrinal landscape of contract law.’”  Id. at 1068-69(quoting Roberts, Restitutionary Disgorgement for Opportunistic Breach of Contract and Mitigation of Damages, 42 Loyola (LA) L. Rev. 131, 134 (2008)).  According to Justice Thomas, the majority’s decision has in fact altered the doctrinal landscape of contract law.

March 20, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

NY Times on Unpublished Federal Court Decisions

Just a real quick tip that in yesterday's NY Times online, Adam Liptak penned a piece about the practice of the federal courts issuing unpublished decisions and what their effect is. In the piece, Liptak quotes the Appellate Advocacy Blog's own David Cleveland on the subject, a subject David has written extensively about. The piece touches on the recent Supreme Court opinion that David wrote about last week.

The link for Liptak's article:  http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/03/us/justice-clarence-thomas-court-decisions-that-set-no-precedent.html?_r=0

February 3, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Nebraska Supreme Court Procedural Ruling on Pipeline Case

    The Nebraska Supreme Court recently issued an opinion concerning the Keystone XL oil pipeline proposed in 2008 by TransCanada Keystone Pipeline, L.P., to carry crude oil products from Canada to the Texas coastline. The opinion is not interesting because of any actual resolution of the highly charged political questions surrounding the pipeline. Rather, the opinion, found at https://supremecourt.nebraska.gov/sites/supremecourt.ne.gov/files/sc/opinions/s14-158.pdf, is interesting because of the highly unusual interplay between jurisdictional standing requirements and constitutional limitations on the authority of the Court to declare legislative action unconstitutional.

 Background of the Lawsuit:

    TransCanada's original proposal called for the pipeline to pass through Nebraska's Sandhills, which raised concerns about potential environmental damage.  At least partly in response to those concerns, Nebraska's Governor in 2011 called a special session of the Nebraska Legislature to discuss enacting siting legislation to specify standards to govern eminent domain power for oil pipelines. The Nebraska Legislature responded in the special session by enacting legislative bills that amended existing Nebraska law regarding approval of proposed pipeline routes crossing Nebraska.

    Without detailing all of the legislative procedural history, it suffices to note that the Nebraska Legislature eventually passed a legislative bill that allowed a pipeline carrier to seek approval of a proposed pipeline route from the Governor or to comply with other legislative provisions requiring approval through the Nebraska Public Service Commission.  The legislation also included provisions appropriating funds from the state's general fund to the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality to carry out various duties related to the approval process.

    TransCanada eventually submitted for approval a proposed route for the pipeline that would have avoided the Nebraska Sandhills. TransCanada submitted its request through the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality and sought approval from the Nebraska Governor, rather than through the Nebraska Public Service Commission. In January 2013, the Nebraska Governor approved the proposed route.

    In March 2013, a group of Nebraska landowners filed an operative complaint seeking a declaratory judgment that the legislative bill allowing the Governor, rather than the Nebraska Public Service Commission, to approve a proposed pipeline route  was unconstitutional. The taxpayers alleged that the bill violated equal protection, due process, and separation of powers provisions of the Nebraska Constitution; unlawfully delegated to the Nebraska Governor powers exclusively belonging to the Nebraska Public Service Commission and/or to the Nebraska Legislature; and unlawfully allocated taxpayer money to implement unconstitutional laws.  In response, the State alleged in part that the taxpayers lacked standing to bring the action.

    The trial court concluded that the taxpayers bringing the action had failed to demonstrate that their property was located in the path of the proposed pipeline and that, accordingly, they had failed to establish traditional standing to bring the lawsuit. The court concluded, however, that they had established taxpayer standing  and that the challenged legislation was unconstitutional. The State appealed the ruling to the Nebraska Supreme Court.

Nebraska Supreme Court's Decision:

            The Nebraska Supreme Court's decision in this case did not ultimately resolve the question of whether the underlying legislative bill was constitutional. Rather, the Supreme Court's decision ended up turning on the result of an unusual interplay between state law requirements concerning the Supreme Court's ability to rule legislative action unconstitutional and determinations of standing. In essence, the Court was split on the matter of whether the taxpayers had standing to challenge the legislative bill's constitutionality and, although a majority of the court ruled that there was standing, the majority was not sufficient in number to rule on the constitutionality of the legislation. As a result, because a minority of the Court concluded that there was a lack of standing and refused to consider the constitutionality of the legislation, the Court was unable to issue a ruling one way or the other on the matter.

            The first issue that the Nebraska Supreme Court had to resolve was the specific challenge to the taxpayers' standing to bring the suit in the first place. On that issue, a majority of the court concluded that the taxpayers had standing; a minority of three justices disagreed.

            The second issue, then, to be addressed was the challenge to the constitutionality of the legislation. It is at that point that the Nebraska Supreme Court's opinion takes some unusual and interesting twists and turns.

            Nebraska Constitution article V, section 2, provides in relevant part that "[a] majority of the members [of the Nebraska Supreme Court] sitting shall have authority to pronounce a decision except in cases involving the constitutionality of an act of the Legislature" and that "[n]o legislative act shall be held unconstitutional except by the concurrence of five judges."

            The three justices who concluded that the taxpayers lacked standing concluded that their decision with respect to the standing issue prevented them from expressing an opinion, one way or the other, on the constitutionality claim.  Their reading of the Nebraska Constitutional provision noted above was that it required at least five members of the Court to (1) conclude that the Court had jurisdiction to hear the case (including that the parties had standing to bring the case) and (2) determine on the merits that the legislative action is unconstitutional.

            The four judges and justices who concluded that the taxpayers had standing concluded that the justices who disagreed were "out-voted" on the jurisdictional question of standing and could, as a result, express an opinion on the underlying substantive issue of the constitutionality of the legislation. The majority's reading of the Nebraska Constitutional provision noted above was that it required a supermajority only on the actual issue of constitutionality, not on the preceding issue of jurisdiction.

Result:

            The unusual result is that, in this case, four members of the Court believed that the Court had jurisdiction to act and expressed an opinion that the underlying legislation was unconstitutional. The remaining three members did not suggest that the legislation was constitutional, but, rather, refused to express an opinion at all, believing that a supermajority was required to even have jurisdiction to consider the merits of the constitutional challenge. So, at the end of the day, three members of the Court concluding that there was a want of jurisdiction were able to preclude any substantive ruling on the merits of the action.

 

 

February 3, 2015 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)