Monday, November 24, 2014
Check out this post on Strategically Withholding Dissent which examines Justice Sotomayor’s decision to forcefully dissent in Fisher v. Texas. Some say timing is everything, and in the law that statement is more often true than not. Historically, we can see how attorneys have strategically filed appeals throughout history, particularly in the context of the civil rights movement. Consider, for example, Plessy v. Ferguson, Brown v. Board, Gideon v. Wainwright, and Loving v. Virginia, to name just a few. We can also see how the justices use the dissent and concurring opinions strategically to advance certain agendas, sway votes, or undermine the legal arguments of the majority. But the notion of strategically withholding dissent entirely is a curious one that requires analysis of the real impact of a dissent. In this blog post, the author concludes that Sotomayor’s dissent influenced the Court in such a way that it necessarily avoided ruling on the merits of Fisher back in 2013. The question now becomes what difference, if any, does a couple of years make? Maybe the Court will rule in exactly the same way it would have back in 2013 had it not been for Sotomayor’s dissent. Perhaps Sotomayor just bought some time since, without her dissent, the Court would likely have rendered a merits decision back in 2013. In which case, it may be that Justice Sotomayor accomplished the very purpose intended, and the only purpose that could have been—to delay an inevitable merits decision in Fisher. I guess only time will tell…
Tuesday, September 30, 2014
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.
Sunday, August 24, 2014
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.
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)
Friday, August 15, 2014
A trio of cases were posted recently as working papers on SSRN dealing with various issues related to the operation of the U.S Court of Appeals:
The most recent is Andrew Hewitt Smith's The Effect of Ideology and Proportionality of the U.S. Courts of Appeals on the Likelihood of Supreme Court Reversal (August 3, 2014) available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2475631. Abstract:
Although much work has been done on the interaction between the United States Courts of Appeals and the United States Supreme Court, few studies have examined how the ideological compatibility of the lower court and the proportion of cases heard from a federal circuit court affects the likelihood of the Supreme Court reversing that circuit. Using data from the Roberts Court (2005-2011), I examine whether greater levels of ideological disagreement and the proportion of appeals from a circuit that are granted certiorari affect the likelihood of Supreme Court reversal. I conclude that the proportion of cases reviewed by the Court does not significantly increase the likelihood of reversal, but greater ideological distance between the lower court and the Supreme Court significantly increases the likelihood of reversal.
Smith, a PhD candidate at the University of Tennessee, tests the interesting hypothesis of whether ideological distance between the appellate judges and Supreme Court judges affects the rate of reversal. The data-driven analysis turns on existing, and controversial, measures of judicial ideology, and reveals some interesting results. Examining decisions of the Roberts Court (which has seen a shifting membership throughout its six terms) does limit the results somewhat, but the results confirm earlier analyses and suggest further analysis of other panels of the Court may prove useful.
Second, Jeremy D. Horowitz's posted an analysis based on an interesting and under-used source, dissents from denial of rehearings: Split Circuits: Analyzing Polarization on the U.S. Courts of Appeals Using Dissent from Denial of Rehearing En Banc Coalition Data (July 21, 2014) available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2469237. Abstract:
Are the federal courts of appeals polarizing along with the rest of the government and American society more generally? This paper explores that question by exploiting a novel source of data: dissents from denial of rehearing en banc (DDRs). A DDR is a published opinion, often attracting concurrences from other judges, in which a judge criticizes her court for choosing not to rehear a case -- one the initial circuit panel ostensibly decided wrongly. DDRs have no precedential effect but offer a judge the opportunity to publicize her disagreement with the court’s result. As such, they are a pure expression of judicial preference. Using an original dataset of information collected from nearly 1,300 DDRs published between 1943 and 2012, I evaluate the ideological nature of DDR usage focusing specifically on two aspects of DDRs: the colleagues a judge joins with, and the panel authors she mobilizes against. I use these measures to examine the different patterns among the circuits, among different presidential cohorts, and in different decades to show trends in circuit court polarization and to explore the connection between polarization in the judiciary and in the elected branches. The paper finds that although the circuits vary widely in the way they use DDRs, a substantial number of them do so in a polarized fashion. Evaluating judicial cohort behavior over time indicates that the nominating presidents -- more than the increasingly polarized environment in the Senate and the general public’s own tendency toward ideological division -- are the primary force driving judicial polarization.
Another graduate student working paper, this time from University of California at San Diego, the article makes a compelling case for the revelatory power of DDRs. It is limited, as all work in this area, by challenge of establishing judicial political ideology for individual judges. That said, it takes the commonly accepted judicial ideology measurement and applies it sensibly. It builds on Horowitz's earlier work, Not Taking "No" for an Answer, 102 Georgetown Law Journal 59 (2013), which also looks at the utility and meaning of DDRs.
Finally, Mark A. Lemley and Shawn P. Miller have posted If You Can't Beat 'Em, Join 'Em? How Sitting by Designation Affects Judicial Behavior (June 12, 2014) as part of the Stanford Public Law Working Paper series. It's available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=2449349 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2449349 . Abstract:
Judges, lawyers, and scholars have long decried the high reversal rate district judges face in patent cases. Many have suggested greater district court specialization as a solution, and Congress in 2011 enacted legislation to promote such specialization. In this paper, we investigate the impact of a novel measure of experience – whether a district court judge has sat by designation on a Federal Circuit panel in a patent claim construction appeal – on the likelihood a district judge’s subsequent claim constructions are reversed. Before sitting by designation, judges who later do so actually have a slightly higher claim construction reversal rate than judges who never do so. After sitting by designation, the reversal rate of district court judges on subsequent claim construction appeals decreases by 50 percent. This decrease is not fully explained by other measures of experience, including the number of prior patent cases or years on the bench. Nor is it fully explained by the timing of the appeal, the particular district court judge or various other characteristics of the patents, the parties and the litigation. Our results suggest a simple way to reduce the reversal rate in patent and perhaps other sorts of cases. However, our evidence suggests this increased agreement is due to increased Federal Circuit trust in the decisions of individual judges who have sat by designation and not increased district judge understanding of claim construction.
This article makes a significant claim that the lower court judge's rate of reversal drops due to greater trust of the appellate panels rather than the lower court judge's better understanding of claim construction. Whether this greater trust is a legitimate or illegitimate reason to affirm a lower court's decision is certainly an interesting question.
Friday, August 1, 2014
Helen A. Anderson at University of Washington Law has a new article on SSRN: Frenemies of the Court: The Many Faces of Amicus Curiae. Given the rise in the number of amicus briefs, the phenomenon seems ripe for closer scrutiny. Anderson does just that by breaking up the singular concept of an amicus curiae brief into types that can be examined separately.
Amicus curiae occupy a unique place in the courts: non-parties who are nevertheless advocates, who are not bound by rules of standing and justiciability, and who can present the court with new information and arguments. Amicus participation has increased dramatically in recent years, and threatens to alter the adversarial process. Yet scholars and courts treat amicus curiae as a single category, not fully recognizing that this friendly term actually covers several very different types, ranging from court appointed advocates of a particular position, to friends of a party (sometimes paid by the party), to persons or groups who just missed qualifying as interveners.
To understand the reality of amicus practice, this article develops a taxonomy of amicus based on the relationship to the court and the parties. The article supports this taxonomy with a look at the history of amicus, and a survey of the rules and judicial attitudes in different jurisdictions. I also explore the persistence of a myth that amicus should be “disinterested,” a myth that has led to confused reasoning about the proper role of amicus.
The modern increase in friend of a party amicus has taken us far from the origins of amicus as one with special expertise or knowledge relevant to the litigation. The article concludes that the Supreme Court’s open-door amicus policy should not be mindlessly copied by our other courts. Friend of a party briefs by ambitious law reform and business advocates may exert great influence, particularly on elected courts. The growth in amicus briefs can lead to distorted views of appellate decision-making, so that a court’s work is seen more like legislation and amicus briefs more like lobbying. To preserve the usefulness of the amicus institution, courts should exercise their gatekeeping authority.
What do you think? Is the increasing amicus briefing giving appellate courts a more legislative, lobbying-susceptible character?
August 1, 2014 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, July 6, 2014
Today's post is a guest piece by Daniel L. Real, a career judicial staff attorney for the Nebraska Court of Appeals since 1995 and a legal research and writing professor at Creighton University since 1999. Dan's prior work is on the issues of appellate practice and judicial independence. He shares his thoughts with us on the U.S. Supreme Court's recent decision in Wheaton College v. Burwell:
There has been plenty of quick commentary on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision from last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. ___ (2014). You can form your own opinions on whether the decision was correct, where you stand on the subjects of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and religious freedom. I don't have an interest in discussing those specific topics here. Something related, however, did catch my eye this weekend.
I suspect that there will be quite a bit of discussion in the next week or so about the Supreme Court's last-minute ruling on the application for injunction filed by Wheaton College in Wheaton College v. Burwell, but for now there has not been a particularly wide-ranging discussion of it. Perhaps the lateness of the ruling on July 3, coupled with the July 4 holiday, caught some off guard. Nonetheless, it was a noteworthy ruling that is worth looking at and considering.
In Hobby Lobby, the Court held that certain closely-held corporations could assert the same religious freedoms as individuals and addressed whether certain provisions of the ACA requiring employers to provide health-insurance coverage for specific methods of contraception that violated the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies' owners were in violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA). The Court held ACA provisions concerning four specific contraception methods imposed a substantial burden on the religious freedom of the closely-held corporations. Under the RFRA, such a substantial burden would be permissible only if the government could show a compelling state interest and if the government's action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving that compelling interest.
The Court assumed, without specifically deciding, that the government had a compelling interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to the particular contraceptive methods. The Court held, however, in a 5-4 decision, that the challenged ACA provisions did not constitute the least restrictive means of serving that interest and held that the ACA provisions violated the RFRA with respect to the closely-held corporations.
In explaining why the ACA provisions did not constitute the least restrictive means, the Court had to make a decision that often faces appellate courts and had to discern how much explanation to provide to support the Court's conclusion. In writing for the majority, Justice Alito noted at least two "less restrictive" ways for the government to achieve its compelling ends. First, the Court noted that "[t]he most straightforward way . . . would be for the Government to assume the cost of providing the four contraceptives at issue to any women who are unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers' religious objections." Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., 573 U.S. ____, *41 (2014).
After analyzing potential objections to the theoretically viable creation of a new government-funded program to provide the contraceptives, however, the Court concluded that it "need not rely on the option" to conclude that the ACA provisions were not the least restrictive alternative. The Court noted that "[Health and Human Services (HHS)] itself has demonstrated that it has at its disposal an approach that is less restrictive than requiring employers to fund contraceptive methods that violate their religious beliefs." Id. at *43. The Court noted that "HHS has already established an accommodation for nonprofit organizations with religious objections," wherein the organization can self-certify that it opposes providing insurance coverage for the particular contraceptive services and require the organization’s insurance issuer or third-party administrator to provide coverage for the contraceptive services without any cost-sharing by the objecting organization. Id.
The Court specifically cautioned that it was not deciding whether this option "complies with RFRA for purposes of all religious claims," but very specifically held that "[a]t a minimum . . . it does not impinge on the plaintiffs' religious belief that providing insurance coverage for the contraceptives at issue here violates their religion." Id. at *44. In footnote 40, the Court even responded to the dissenting opinion's characterization of the Court as being noncommittal about the viability of this alternative and the Court commented that "[T]he less restrictive approach we describe accommodates the religious beliefs asserted in these cases." Id.
There has been much discussion about the Hobby Lobby decision, its implications, whether it is the start to a "slippery slope," how it might impact the ACA as a whole. But what has potentially gone largely unnoticed to this point is what happened just three days later, when the Court issued its ruling on Wheaton College's application for injunction in Wheaton College v. Burwell, 573 U.S. ___ (2014).
The "less-restrictive" alternative described by the Court in Hobby Lobby allows groups with a religious objection to the ACA mandates to self-certify a religious objection and pass the obligation to pay for coverage for the contraceptives to the insurer or third-party administrator. To obtain this accommodation, however, groups are required to fill out a federal form to register their objections. As the Washington Post noted in a July 3 article (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/2014/07/03/622f7b12-02f8-11e4-8572-4b1b969b6322_story.html?hpid=z1), a number of colleges, including Wheaton, objected to the requirement to complete the form. The colleges alleged that the act of signing the form and authorizing third parties to provide the contraceptive coverage made the colleges complicit in the action of providing the contraceptives and that even that offended the college's religious beliefs.
In its ruling on Wheaton's application for injunction, the Court held that Wheaton need not fill out the previously required form and, instead, need only notify the government "that it meets the requirements for exemption from the contraceptive coverage requirement on religious grounds." Wheaton v. Burwell, 573 U.S. ___, *2 (2014). The Court noted that "[n]othing . . . precludes the Government from relying on this notice, to the extent it considers it necessary, to facilitate the provision of full contraceptive coverage under the Act." Id.
Justice Sotomayor authored a dissent to this ruling, in which Justices Ginsburg and Kagan joined. The dissent noted that earlier in the week the Court had described the very accommodation that Wheaton was challenging as being an alternative that was less-restrictive than the ACA provisions in achieving the government's compelling interests. The dissent characterized the ruling in Wheaton as "evinc[ing] disregard for even the newest of [the] Court's precedents and undermin[ing] confidence in the institution." Id. at *4.
The apparent conflict between what the Court suggested in Hobby Lobby—that the accommodation was a legitimate and permissible means for the government to achieve its compelling interests that demonstrated that the ACA provisions were not the least-restrictive alternative—and what the Court suggested three days later in Wheaton—that the accommodation itself imposes a sufficient burden on religious freedom to merit injunctive relief—has been discussed briefly in a few articles, and they are a good starting point if you're interested in a more thorough look at the Wheaton dissent.
Dahlia Lithwick and Sonja West addressed it for Slate in an article titled, "Quick Change Justice." (http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2014/07/wheaton_college_injunction_the_supreme_court_just_sneakily_reversed_itself.html). Robert Barnes addressed it for the Washington Post in an article titled, "Supreme Court Sides with Christian College in Birth Control Case." (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/2014/07/03/622f7b12-02f8-11e4-8572-4b1b969b6322_story.html?hpid=z1). Adam Liptik addressed it for the New York Times in an article titled, "Birth Control Order Deepens Divide Among Justices." (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/07/04/us/politics/supreme-court-order-suspends-contraception-rule-for-christian-college.html?_r=1). And Daniel Fisher addressed it for Forbes in an article titled, “Hobby Lobby Decision Begins to Contort Under its Own Logic.” http://www.forbes.com/sites/danielfisher/2014/07/04/hobby-lobby-decision-begins-to-contort-under-its-own-logic/).
While the Hobby Lobby decision will be the subject of much commentary, the very quick development of a potentially contrary ruling of the Court later the same week is somewhat remarkable. As is the lengthy dissent signed by the Court's three female justices on an unsigned order in Wheaton. It's a safe bet that the discussion and debate is only beginning.
Thursday, June 12, 2014
Following the Adam Liptak piece on Professor Richard Lazarus' new study, that I mentioned in my last post, a clever coder has developed a way to monitor, identify, and publicize any changes to U.S. Supreme Cout opinions. David Zvenyach, general counsel to the Council of the District of Columbia, has launched @SCOTUS_servo, to help identify any changes. The Twitter feed reports the result of comparison of the prior verison of court opinions to those now appearing. The code that does this, a crawler, checks every five minutes for a change and makes an automated post to the Twitter account reporting any change that has been made. Zvenyach then makes a manual tweet detailing and highlighting the actual change.
This is a useful service for forcing transparency regardless of how important any individual change might be to the followers of@SCOTUS_servo. More details available at this Gigaom post by Jeff John Roberts.
Monday, June 2, 2014
Adam Liptak has a terrific, if deeply disturbing, piece in the New York Times: Final Word on U.S. Law Isn’t: Supreme Court Keeps Editing last week.
The Supreme Court has been quietly revising its decisions years after they were issued, altering the law of the land without public notice. The revisions include “truly substantive changes in factual statements and legal reasoning,” said Richard J. Lazarus, a law professor at Harvard and the author of a new study examining the phenomenon.
The article identifies a handful of cases that received more than typographical or editing changes. While none of the changes located actually reverse the Court's decision, some certainly alter substantive comments of the Court and involve language already under discussion by the bench, bar, and legal academia. These identified changes are almost certainly only the tip of the iceberg. The NYT piece is worth reading, and hopefully Lazarus' study will make some waves.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court has just given Freddie Lee Hall another chance to live. With an IQ of 71, Mr. Hall was sentenced to death row in 1978 for the kidnap, beating, rape, and murder of a 21-year-old pregnant newlywed. Shortly after this murder, Mr. Hall and his co-defendant also killed a sheriff’s deputy. In 2002, the Supreme Court held that the execution of individuals with intellectual disabilities violates the protections of the Eighth and Fourteenth Amendments to the Constitution. Atkins v. Virginia, 536 U. S. 304, 321 (2002). Based on this decision, Mr. Hall appealed his conviction. The Florida Supreme Court affirmed his conviction holding that Mr. Hall’s 71 IQ was above the threshold mark of 70 and Mr. Hall was therefore not intellectually disabled. Now, in an opinion authored by Justice Kennedy, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared that use of such a rigid measure does not preserve the value of human dignity, and it “creates an unacceptable risk that persons with intellectual disability will be executed, and thus [it] is unconstitutional.” Hall v. Florida, 572 U. S. ____ (2014).
Wednesday, April 30, 2014
Oral arguments in Riley v. California and United States v. Wurie have revived the discussion about the future of cellphone searches by law enforcement. Amy Howe over at SCOTUSblog has an excellent plain English summary of the arguments.
In a pair of posts last fall (here and here), I discussed examining the issue with my Advanced Appellate Advocacy class. These cases present a question of when law enforcement may search a cellphone seized at the time of arrest without seeking a warrant. I noted then that one way to conceptualize the debate is to attempt to categorize the cellphone as either an "item associated with the arrestee" (which may be freely searched) or merely an "item within the arrestee's control" (which may be searched only with some justification). The government in these cases, particularly Wurie, seemed to employ a bright-line classification argument. That is, the government proposed that a cellphone in the possession of an arrestee should be classified as an "item immediately associated with the arrestee," similar to a wallet or pager, and, therefore, subject to search without limitation. The litigation history at that time suggested the government pushed hard for this classification with very little attention devoted to a fallback or alternative argument. This was in contrast to the defense approach, again, particularaly in Wurie's appellate briefing, of providing alternative arguments for rejecting cellphone searches.
The recap at SCOTUSblog suggests that the Justices did not seem inclined to credit either party's categorical classification argument. Instead, they seemed to be searching for a logical way to draw a line between a permissible and impermissible search. As Howe explains:
Given the lack of support for either bright-line rule, it comes as no surprise that the Justices spent a good chunk of the two hours today mulling over a possible middle ground. But here too there wasn’t much in the way of consensus, as the Court struggled to find a compromise that would genuinely protect privacy.
While the pull of a strict categorical approach is strong, (it was especially strong for my students as new advocates), judges concerned with practical application and balancing the interests often seek out some middle ground. This is even more true in areas of the law concerned with balancing interests, such as the Fourth Amendment's reasonable search arena. Ultimately, the Court in Riley and Wurie will have to find that consensus position, even if it did not find it among the advocates' arguments yesterday.
Photo Credit: Adrian Clark
Tuesday, April 15, 2014
Joan Steinman, Distinguished Professor of Law at Chicago-Kent School of Law, posted a piece on SSRN: The Puzzling Appeal of Summary Judgment Denials: When are Such Denials Reviewable? Steinman is a co-author of the excellent text, Appellate Courts, Structures, Functions, Processes and Personnel (2d ed. & 2009 Supp.). In this article, she examines the fractured state of the law regarding appeals of summary judgment denials, in particular those appeals brought after a trial and final judgment. She identifies both inter-circuit and intra-circuit splits on the appealability of such denials and some confusion over which types of denials are appealable. She notes that the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in on the issue in dicta in Jordan v. Ortiz, 131 S.Ct. 884 (2011), but argues that:
the Court’s approach was off-the-cuff, its thought process superficial and in some respects flatly in error, and its dicta seriously misguided, with the result that the intermediate federal courts of appeals were left in a quandary over whether to follow the dicta. An additional layer of splits among the circuits resulted. Few legal scholars have made a foray into this morass.
Steinman wades into the morass and offers observations, criticism, and a proposed approach to summary judgment appeals. This thoughtful piece is recommended to trial and appellate advocates alike.
Friday, January 17, 2014
Earlier this week, Lyle Denniston reported and Josh Blackman commented on Tuesday's Supreme Court oral argument in Marvin Brandt Revocable Trust v. United States. Apparently, there was a "are you talkin' reading to me?" moment between Justice Scalia and one of the advocates. Steven J. Lechner, the lawyer for the trust, had barely begun his argument when Justice Scalia interrupted him to brusquely ask: "Counsel, you are not reading this, are you?" Lechner didn't immediately answer, and Justice Breyer intervened, commenting, "It's all right." Lechner continued his argument and no further mention was made of the issue, though Denniston suggests Lechner was understandably somewhat faltering in the rest of his argument, likely on account of this rough start.
Blackman regards this comment by Scalia as a "dick move," and others proposed we give Mr. Lechner a break. Inversecondemnation suggested:
You know, we've all been there in some venue, haven't we? We're all not übermensch Supreme Court litigators who can do this without a net and who have the stones to go to the lectern sans notes. Heck, we won't even go down to muni court naked (so to speak). Especially when what's at stake is the language in an otherwise obscure 1875 federal statute, where it's important to get the language just so.
The blogosphere and twitterverse were awash in comments, some facepalming at Lechner's reading, some Scalia-blaming, and some genuine sympathy for Mr. Lechner. These all seem appropriate reactions. It's widely known and probably universally taught that judges, at any level, do not appreciate being read to by counsel. Advocates in every legal writing program and moot court organization across the country are taught not to read from a prepared text except when necessary to quote some legally relevant text. The Supreme Court actually has a rule, Rule 28, stating: "Oral argument read from a prepared text is not favored." Similarly, Federal Rule of Appellate Procudure 34(c) states: "Counsel must not read at length from briefs, records, or authorities."
And yet, Scalia could have acheived the goal of taking the advocate off his notes with a substantive question or at least allowed the advocate a bit more time to move to extemporaneous commentary. The man was still giving his introduction, after all. Finally, I, for one, sympathize with Mr. Lechner, not just for the discomfort caused by Justice Scalia's comment but also because of the extensive media commentary that followed, dubbing it, at best, an embarrassing moment.
What can advocates learn from this experience? Well, obviously, that the Supreme Court, or at least some members, have no tolerance for reading prepared statements. And, appellate rules forbid, or at least discourage, reading from prepared texts at the lectern. But more generally, that the instruction to avoid reading to the court is not just something your legal writing or trial ad professor tells you to make your life more difficult. Reading at length to the court is ineffective in building a rapport with the bench, but it also violates a very deeply-rooted tradition about how oral arguments are conducted.