Monday, August 14, 2017
The Supreme Court recently announced that on November 13, 2017, its electronic filing system will be up and running. Thankfully, the Court’s program will not be part of the PACER system. Rather, according to the National Journal, the Court’s main page will include a button for “Electronic Filing.” The filings will be “accessible without cost to the public and legal community.”
While this is a huge step forward for the Court, it will not, initially, eliminate the requirement that parties file paper copies. According to the Court’s press release,
Initially the official filing of documents will continue to be on paper in all cases, but parties who are represented by counsel will also be required to submit electronic versions of documents through the electronic filing system. The filings will then be posted to the Court’s docket and made available to the public through the Court’s website. Filings from parties appearing pro se will not be submitted through the electronic filing system, but will be scanned by Court personnel and made available for public access on the electronic docket.
E-filing has been around for some time, and is mandatory in most, if not all, federal courts. It is slowly taking over in the state courts too. The National Center for State Courts provides information on the state of e-filing in the states, including links to the various court rules.
While e-filing certainly has its strengths, it doesn’t mean that one can procrastinate to file a brief until minutes before it is due. Be sure to understand the requirements for e-filing in your jurisdiction, including any size limitations and the amount of time it takes to get a login.
Monday, July 10, 2017
Chief Justice John Roberts made headlines last week. It wasn’t a hot-button 5-4 opinion at the end of the SCOTUS term that caught the media’s attention this year. But, it was a piece of writing that the Washington Post called “[t]he best thing Chief Justice Roberts wrote this term.” So, what was it? Well, it was a graduation speech delivered to the graduating class at Cardigan Mountain School, where the Chief’s son Jack was graduating ninth grade.
It is hard to believe that the Chief’s son is graduating ninth grade. I remember seeing him “dance” at the press conference in July 2005, when President Bush announced John Roberts’ nomination to the SCOTUS. You can watch the video here. Apparently, young Jack was impersonating Spiderman.
What makes this speech so great? It is certainly funny (see this line: “You’ve been at a school with just boys. Most of you will be going to a school with girls. I have no advice for you.”). But that is not what makes the speech stand out. What makes the speech so unique, and what has drawn attention, is the section of the speech where Chief Justice Roberts tells the students that he hopes that they will be “treated unfairly” and have “bad luck.” He says:
Now the commencement speakers will typically also wish you good luck and extend good wishes to you. I will not do that, and I’ll tell you why. From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice. I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty. Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted. I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either. And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship. I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion. Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.
Chief Justice Roberts does offer the students some advice that I think relates to appellate advocacy. He reminds the students that, although they are “privileged,” they should not act like it. Rather, when they get to their new schools, they should “walk up and introduce [themselves] to the person who is raking the leaves, shoveling the snow or emptying the trash. Learn their name and call them by their name during your time at the school.” He also told them to smile and say “hello” to people that they do not recognize when taking walks. He said, “[t]he worst thing that will happen is that you will become known as the young man who smiles and says hello, and that is not a bad thing to start with.”
This exhortation to treat others with kindness is a lesson that many attorneys could stand to learn. When I was clerking, there was a story told around the courthouse about some attorneys looking for a courtroom. One of the judges, who was not in his robe, stopped to help them. But, when he told them that he only knew the courtrooms by carpet color (which is how all the judges, clerks, and court staff referred to the courtrooms) and not number, the attorneys were quite rude to him. He wasn’t on their panel, but I do believe that he spoke to the judges who were. A little kindness to the clerk’s office, the marshals, the janitorial staff, and the unknown person offering help, goes a long way!
The Chief offers some other great advice, so I encourage you to read his full remarks here.
Monday, June 19, 2017
Under the Rule 10 of the Supreme Court Rules, the Court will only grant a petition for a writ of certiorari for “compelling reasons.” In Rule 10, the Court provides three examples that “indicate the character of the reasons” that the Court considers in granting certiorari:
(a) a United States court of appeals has entered a decision in conflict with the decision of another United States court of appeals on the same important matter; has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with a decision by a state court of last resort; or has so far departed from the accepted and usual course of judicial proceedings, or sanctioned such a departure by a lower court, as to call for an exercise of this Court's supervisory power;
(b) a state court of last resort has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with the decision of another state court of last resort or of a United States court of appeals;
(c) a state court or a United States court of appeals has decided an important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by this Court, or has decided an important federal question in a way that conflicts with relevant decisions of this Court.
On June 1, the Trump Administration filed a petition for a writ of certiorari, asking the Court to hear the case Trump v. International Refugee Assistance Project, which is the Fourth Circuit case challenging President Trump’s Executive Order on visas from certain countries, commonly referred to as the travel ban. There is also a case in the Ninth Circuit challenging the ban. In both cases, the respective district courts enjoined the ban and the circuit courts largely affirmed those decisions.
Should the Court grant certiorari in these cases? My friend Professor Josh Blackman has argued in a June 11 op-ed in the New York Times that the Court should indeed grant certiorari and provide “finality.” Professor Blackman argues that the Court should hear arguments promptly and issue a decision “as soon as practicable.” He cites a several examples of separation of powers cases that were decided quickly by the Court (within about a month), including the Pentagon Papers Case, the Steel Seizure Case, and Bush v. Gore. Professor Blackman argues:
The legal status of President Trump’s executive order, and indeed that of his entire administration, needs finality, sooner rather than later. Even if five justices plan to strike down the executive order, they should do so now, and not in the fall, or worse, one year from now. The lower courts desperately need guidance. Should judges look to Mr. Trump’s Twitter feed to determine his true intent? Should the judiciary privilege statements from the commander in chief that conflict with those of the Justice Department? Are all of Mr. Trump’s actions that affect Muslims, at home and abroad, perpetually tainted by his campaign statements? If the Supreme Court signals that the answer to those questions is yes, then the lower courts may declare open season on this administration in contexts far beyond the travel ban. If a more circumspect Supreme Court signals that the answer is no, then, perhaps, the lower courts will fall into line.
Under Professor Blackman’s reasoning, the Court is facing “compelling reasons,” envisioned in Rule 10—namely, “an important question of federal law that has not been, but should be, settled by this Court.”
While I sympathize with the argument, I worry that “haste makes waste” or, more accurately, bad constitutional law. Many of the cases that been rushed through the Court on big separation of powers issues result in highly fractured decisions (think the Pentagon Papers Case, the Steel Seizure Case, and Bush v. Gore) and/or a lack of acceptance by a significant portion of We the People (think Bush v. Gore). I fear that any overly speedy SCOTUS decision in the travel ban cases would end up with a reputation like Bush v. Gore. Perhaps even a non-speedy decision would suffer the same fate. At a minimum, if the Court does decide to take the case, I hope that they devote all summer to it, not just July, even if it means August in D.C. I emailed this post to Professor Blackman before posting it and he said that he does not mind the Court taking August to decide the cases either, but he does not want to see the issue linger on for six months. Either way, we should know soon (maybe even later today) if the Court plans on hearing the case.
Thursday, June 15, 2017
This week, the newest justice on the United States Supreme Court issued his first authored opinion, Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc. The topic was debt collection, perhaps not a scintillating topic for most, but Justice Gorsuch opened with a catchy couple of lines - the most colorful of the opinion:
Disruptive dinnertime calls, downright deceit, and more besides drew Congress’s eye to the debt collection industry. From that scrutiny emerged the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a statute that authorizes private lawsuits and weighty fines designed to deter wayward collection practices.
The rest of the decision centers on statutory interpretation, and following in the footsteps of Justice Scalia as he does, Justice Gorsuch's textual approach does not diverge from that of the late justice. The issue in the case was whether a third party purchaser of a debt can fall within the statutory definition of a "debt collector." Because the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act defines a debt collector as one who collects a debt on behalf of another, the defendant in the case could not be called a debt collector, and so did not violate the Act. The petitioner sought to use grammatical reinterpretations of the Act's wording that did not comport with the plain meaning, and failing that, asserted policy arguments. But Justice Gorsuch did not buy it, saying:
All this seems to us quite a lot of speculation. And while it is of course our job to apply faithfully the law Congress has written, it is never our job to rewrite a constitutionally valid statutory text under the banner of speculation about what Congress might have done had it faced a question that, on everyone’s account, it never faced. See Magwood v. Patterson, 561 U. S. 320, 334 (2010) (“We cannot replace the actual text with speculation as to Congress’ intent”). Indeed, it is quite mistaken to assume, as petitioners would have us, that “whatever” might appear to “further[ ] the statute’s primary objective must be the law.” Rodri- guez v. United States, 480 U. S. 522, 526 (1987) (per curiam) (emphasis deleted). Legislation is, after all, the art of compromise, the limitations expressed in statutory terms often the price of passage, and no statute yet known “pur- sues its [stated] purpose[ ] at all costs.” Id., at 525–526. For these reasons and more besides we will not presume with petitioners that any result consistent with their account of the statute’s overarching goal must be the law but will presume more modestly instead “that [the] legis- lature says . . . what it means and means . . . what it says.” Dodd v. United States, 545 U. S. 353, 357 (2005) (internal quotation marks omitted; brackets in original).
The opinion writer has been criticized for not being sensitive to a broader policy of consumer protections, and while that may be true, it was a unanimous Court that agreed the statute's definition of debt collector did not include the type of defendant before the Court. The Court, all nine now, agreed upon one thing - the plain meaning of the statute as written. Further, the Court did not veer off the beaten path. It affirmed the decision of the Fourth Circuit, which had affirmed the decision of the lower district court. It seems that this reading of the statute wasn't any rogue opinion, and instead placed the responsibility of writing clear law back in the hands of Congress.
Friday, December 9, 2016
As we do every Friday, the Appellate Advocacy Blog presents a few tidbits of news and Twitter posts from the past week concerning appellate advocacy. 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).
Ruling in Samsung v. Apple
On Tuesday, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in favor of Samsung in Samsung v. Apple, the patent infringement suit brought by Apple, sending the case back to the Federal Circuit for further consideration. In the case, Apple alleged that Samsung infringed on patents covering specific design elements of Apple's iPhone, including the rectangular front face with rounded corners and colorful grid of icons. Federal law provides that companies found to have infringed design patents on an "article of manufacture" are liable for their total profits. The lower court had awarded Apple $399 million in damages for Samsung's design patent infringement. In the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the operative phrase in the statute, "article of manufacture," could sometimes be the entire product (the phone) and sometimes be the components found to have infringed the design patent. The Supreme Court opinion held that the Federal Circuit erred in ruling that the "article of manufacture" must always be the end product (the phone), but did not resolve whether the article of manufacture in the case was the whole phone or parts of it.
Ruling in Salman v. United States
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Salman v. United States, a significant insider trading case that raised the question of whether gifts of confidential information from business insiders to family members without direct financial benefit violate securities law. The Court ruled in favor of prosecutors, ruling that gifts to friends or relatives, whether in the form of cash or a tip of information, sufficiently "benefit" the insider to be considered a violation of securities law.
Takeaways from 2016 SCOTUS Oral Arguments So Far:
Adam Feldman writes on the Empirical SCOTUS blog about "Four Takeaways From this Term's 2016 SCOTUS Oral Arguments" so far. There is a wealth of great information about the Justices' interactions with one another and with advocates during the first 1/3 of this term's oral arguments, including which Justices tend to speak the most (or the least), the issues that interest the Justices the most, and the tendencies of some of the best and most frequent advocates to appear before the Court.
Highlights from Appellate Twitter: #PracticeTuesday
On Tuesdays the brilliant tweeters of #AppellateTwitter post a variety of useful tips, strategies, guidelines, advice, etc. Here are a few of the highlights from this week, where the topic was mythbusting -- conventional wisdom with which experienced appellate practitioners disagree:
- Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) argued against the myth that a law student should take "any" clerkship, regardless of location, judge, etc. He argued that young graduates should definitely consider costs to family, significant others, and other factors when deciding whether a clerkship is really the right opportunity to pursue.
- Rachel Gurvich (@RachelGurvich) argued against one of my personal favorite myths, that being on Law Review is some kind of prerequisite to a successful legal career. I always tell students that law review is not for everyone and is not a magic bullet -- the key is to find something that catches a potential employer's eye and once you get your foot in the door, you can explain why you didn't go the law review route.
- Bryan Gividen (@BryanGivi) argued against the myth that a young associate should never so no to an assignment -- because if you don't learn how to say no to assignments that you cannot perform well, you are sure to start alienating colleagues and clients with poor work product.
- Jennifer Romig (@JenniferMRomig) argued against one that is dear to my heart, as an educator -- the myth that law school conclusively reveals whether someone will be a good lawyer. I've known many students who were "average" or even below in performance in law school, but went on to be fine and highly successful members of the legal community -- even some who took a couple of tries to pass the bar exam. I've known students who excelled in classes, but not so much in the real world. There's just more to it than that.
- Finally, Supreme Court Places (@SCOTUSPlaces) called for the debunking of a myth that is near and dear to the hearts of anyone who has ever clerked for an appellate court -- "There must be a case for that simple, seemingly incontrovertable proposition." It's amazing how often you think that but research seems to come up empty!
Friday, November 11, 2016
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.
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.
Friday, November 4, 2016
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).
#AppellateTwitter Threads of the Week:
BobLoeb, of Orrick's Supreme Court and Appellate Litigation practice, started a thread on Twitter this week asking for training or advice tips that were useful to appellate practitioners when they first got started. Lots of great appellate advocates weighed in with some great tips.
While the #AppellateTwitter hashtag has really started to take off, one of its contributors, UNC Law Professor Gurvich, announced plans to start a #PracticeTuesday hashtag for weekly conversations about discussions related to best practices and tips for effective appellate practice. Readers of this blog will surely want to look for that hashtag and tune in.
Just before this past week (Friday, October 28), the Supreme Court announced that it would hear a challenge to a Virginia school district's anti-transgender restroom policy. The case, Gloucester County School Board v. G.G., arises out of a school district policy mandating that students use the restroom matching their biological sex. A transgender student sued, with the support of the ACLU. The trial court ruled in favor of the school district, but the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in the student's favor. More information available at the ACLU website and at SCOTUSBlog.
The Miami Herald reported this week on an interesting case where the United States and Venezuala are joining on the same side against a U.S. oil company. The case, Bolivarian Republic of Venezuala v. Helmerich & Payne International, was heard on Wednesday of this week. In the case, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit determined whether U.S. courts have jurisdiction over a lawsuit against a foreign government by looking only at whether the claim was insubstantial or frivolous. More at SCOTUSBlog.
Earlier this week, the Supreme Court rejected an appeal for Alabama death row inmate Bill Kuenzel. The case involved Kuenzel's claims that evidence was withheld by prosecutors, and gained some national attention when former Attorney General Edwin Meese weighed in and suggested that Kuenzel is "very likely actually innocent." The AP reported.
Finally, Billboard magazine reported this week that the Supreme Court has asked for the U.S. Solicitor General to provide the government's view about a nearly decade-old dispute between a mother who posted a 29-second video clip on YouTube of her toddler dancing to the Prince hit, "Let's Go Crazy." She received a takedown notice, and the mother sued and raised misrepresentation of copyright and fair use issues. Neither side was satisfied with the mixed opinion of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court has not yet granted review in the case, but the request of the Solicitor General suggests there is a possibility that such a grant could be forthcoming.
Obama's Judicial Legacy:
Law.com ran a feature this past week, including lots of graphics, analyzing how President Obama's judicial appointments have shaped the federal courts and where changes have started to be evident. Charleston Law professor Jennifer North wrote about that topic right here at the Appellate Advocacy Blog earlier this week.
Friday, October 28, 2016
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.
(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."
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.
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.
Friday, October 21, 2016
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.
Thursday, October 13, 2016
It's always interesting when Supreme Court justices speak "off the record" and outside of their regular mode of communication - the Court opinion. Lately, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg has made a few newsworthy statements, and this week a lengthy interview with Katie Couric gives us even more insight to the Notorious RBG.
Topics discussed were Colin Kaepernick's National Anthem protest, her relationship with Scalia, whether she would discuss a potential ban on Muslims, and some thoughts on confirming Merrick Garland for the empty seat on the Court. See the full interview here.
Friday, September 30, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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.
Hat Tip: Howard Bashman (@howappealing)
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.
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."
Friday, September 23, 2016
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.
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.
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.
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?)"
Friday, September 16, 2016
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.
Friday, March 20, 2015
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.
Tuesday, February 10, 2015
In a post last Monday on Prawfsblawg, entitled, On Not Creating Precedent in Plumley v. Austin, Richard M. Re asks, "what’s so wrong with deliberately declining to create precedent?" By his answer, an implied "nothing" because "[d]oing so conserves scarce resources and reduces the risk of mistaken or sloppy precedent," he seems to be asking, "what's the harm?"
There are a couple other bases for finding the practice "wrong," such as whether the practice is legitimate, constitutional, or just. But first, what's the harm in treating some circuit decisions as non-precedential? This is something I discuss in my works on the topic, especially: Overturning the Last Stone: The Final Step in Returning Precedential Status to All Opinions, 10 J. App. Prac. & Process 61 (2009) and Draining the Morass: Ending the Jurisprudentially Unsound Unpublication System, 92 Marq. L. Rev. 685 (2009).
First, deliberately declining to create precedent creates fewer precedents. Fewer precedents means a less definite law. At least since the time of Lord Coke, the law has been viewed as refined by renewed applications. With each new decision, the law is broadened, narrowed, or simply reaffirmed. The common law treats each case as binding but is also concerned about the accrual of such cases and the varying facts to which the rule is applied. This the understanding of precedent of Coke, Blackstone, Kent, Marshall, Story, and Llewellyn. It's how the common law, in principle, works. Never before in common law history has a court been able, at the time of decision, to remove its holding from the body of precedent. And no matter how the court phrases its opinion, it has ultimately been up to the later court to decide whether and how earlier opinions applied.
I am partial to Karl Llewellyn's explanation: "We have discovered that rules alone, mere forms of words, are worthless. We have learned that the concrete instance, the heaping of concrete instances, the present, vital memory of a multitude of concrete instances, is necessary in order to make any general proposition, be it rule of law or any other, mean anything at all." Karl Llewellyn, The Bramble Bush, 66-69 (1930).
The problem is not that there are too many precedents but that there are too few. Judge Posner wrote as much in The Federal Courts: Challenge and Reform, and his experience is echoed in the experiences of the federal judiciary. In a 1998 survey of federal district judges, about a third identified some area of circuit law as inconsistent or difficult to know on account of lack of binding circuit decisions on point. But even more telling than what judges say is what they do. The survey also revealed that nearly two-thirds of lawyers surveyed reviewed unpublishd opinions either generally within their practice area or in researching specific cases. During the citation ban era (1974-2006), courts and litigants frequently cited to unpublished and allegedly non-precedential opinions even in violation of the ban. They were, as Lord Coke might have described it, looking for greater refinement in the law that only comes by seeing it applied. Or as Llewellyn might have said, they saw the published, precedential grains of sand, but they wanted to see the heaps. The citation ban finally ended because it ran counter to a basic understanding of precedent shared by American lawyers and judges alike: each case has value in determining the scope of the law.
More applications of the principles of law to facts, such that those principles are tested and refined, improves our understanding of those principles and gives greater certainty to those seeking to conform their conduct to them. "Mistaken or sloppy precedent" can be corrected by more judicial oversight to their drafting, or should that fail, by the normal processes of the court. While conserving limited resources is important, expediency should not be our highest value. The federal judiciary, a co-equal third branch of our government is allocated a mere two-tenths of one percent of the total federal expenditures. Instead of asking our courts to do with less, we should give them the funds to do more.
Second, issuing some decisions as non-precedential creates the potential for blatantly conflicting published and unpublished opinions. A court may decide in favor of a party today but next year, on the exact same issue, decide exactly the opposite. If the earlier decision is unpublished, the later panel need not acknowledge the earlier decision or give a reason for the change. This was the case in a pair of cases in which the Dallas Area Rapid Transit authority (“DART”) received diametrically opposed decisions from the Fifth Circuit without explanation in a span of just three years. In 1999, a federal district court in the Fifth Circuit held that, “DART is a political subdivision of the state of Texas, and is therefore immune from suit under the Eleventh Amendment," which the Fifth Circuit affirmed without comment in an unpublished opinion. Anderson v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, No. CA3:97-CV-1834-BC, 1998 U.S. App. LEXIS, 15493 (N.D. Tex. Sept. 29, 1998) aff’d Anderson v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 180 F.3d 265, (5th Cir. 1999) (per curiam) (unpublished), cert. denied 529 U.S. 1062 (1999).
In Anderson, and two other unpublished opinions, the Fifth Circuit held that DART was a governmental unit or instrumentality of the State of Texas entitled to qualified immunity. The law on this point seemed so clear that in Williams v. DART, the district court felt this point was "firmly established." The Fifth Circuit disagreed and rejected DART's immunity claim dismissing the unpublished opinions as "neither binding nor persuasive," but failing to give any reason for the different treatment. Williams v. Dallas Area Rapid Transit, 256 F.3d 260, 261 (5th Cir. (Tex.) 2001). This decision drew a strong dissent noting that this kind of unreasoned about-face exposed a flaw in the concept of non-precedential opinions.
A conflict like this between two precedential opinions would be resolved by the second panel distinguishing the present matter from the prior one, or if that proved impossible, by an open declaration of conflict followed by a resolution by the court en banc. Which leads to a third category of harm non-precedential opinions cause.
Third, issuing some decisions as non-precedential increases the likelihood of intra-circuit conflict. Such conflict was especially acute in the citation ban era, because a litigant perceiving a conflict in a circuit's unpublished opinions was prohibited by rule from raising it with the court. For example, in the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's ruling in Almendarez-Torres v. United States, 523 U.S. 224, 118 S. Ct. 1219 (1998), an ambiguity arose about how to treat a defendant convicted of illegal entry following deportation. Over a two-and-a-half-year period, twenty Ninth Circuit panels ruled on this issue and split three different ways (most remanding for resentencing, some remanding for amendment of the original judgment, and a few foisting the responsibility for determining the proper course of action on the district court). The split continued for over two years, with identically situated defendants receiving different answers from the Circuit. The ongoing intra-circuit conflict was revealed only when a panel in United States v. Rivera-Sanchez, 222 F.3d 1057 (9th Cir. 2000) ordered a litigant to violate the Circuit's non-citation rule and provide a list of these unpublished opinions.
A circuit that does not view its unpublished opinions as binding can simply ignore those decisions for purposes of whether to hear an issue en banc. Yet, the unpublished opinion may be cited for persuasive effect (in all circuits since 2007), which merely increases the chance of creating the separate, conflicting lines of authority as in the Riveria-Sanchez scenario.
Fourth, inter-circuit conflict become more likely, too. In much the same way that intra-circuit conflict can arise undetected or unacknowledged within a circuit, such conflicts can arise between circuits. During the citation ban era, such conflicts were effectively hidden, because citation bans prevented their being raised. But even now, if the unpublished opinion is not treated as establishing the law of the circuit, it can be disregarded within its own circuit and by the other circuits. The Supreme Court takes only a tiny fraction of the cases seeking review each year. Just as with en banc panels, a case that does not establish the law of the circuit is unlikely to be the basis of an apparent conflict even if the conflict it creates is real. In that way, a conflict can exist indefinitely in a manner much like that described in Rivera-Sanchez.
Fifth, declaring some opinions non-precedential allows them to evade Supreme Court Review. As noted above, one line of authority, if present only in unpublished opinions can obscure or deemphasize the nature of the conflict. Two Justices believed that was the case in Waller v. U.S., where Justices White and O'Connor dissented from denial of cert noting that a circuit split existed if one took into account unpublished opinions. 504 U.S. 962, 964-65, 112 S. Ct. 2321 (1992) (White J. and O’Connor J., dissenting) (Mem); see also Hyman v. Rickman, 446 U.S. 989, 990-92 (1980) (Blackmun, Brennan, and Marshall, J., dissenting) (Mem) (dissenting from denial of certiorari on the grounds that the unpublished circuit opinion was in conflict with other circuits on the issue of right to appointed counsel). While the conflict was sufficient to catch individual Justices' attention, it was not sufficient to prompt Supreme Court review, similar to the result in Plumley v. Austin.
Supreme Court review is also less likely due to the signal an unpublished opinion sends. A circuit’s decision not to publish a given decision signals that that decision is routine, even when it is not. For example in United States v. Edge Broad. Co., the Fourth Circuit declared a federal statute limiting lottery advertising unconstitutional in an unpublished opinion. 956 F.2d 263 (per curiam) (4th Cir. 1993). In its reversal of that decision, the Supreme Court expressed surprise and dismay that the Circuit Court could perceive such a ruling as unworthy of publication. 509 U.S. 418, 425 n.3 (1993) (“We deem it remarkable and unusual that although the Court of Appeals affirmed a judgment that an Act of Congress was unconstitutional as applied, the court found it appropriate to announce its judgment in an unpublished per curiam opinion.”)
The hiding of cases from Supreme Court review also occurs because unpublished cases tend to create a less thorough record, which itself discourages Supreme Court review. For example, in County of Los Angeles v. Kling, the Supreme Court granted cert and issued a summary reversal on a case the Ninth Circuit had decided in a brief, unpublished, non-citeable opinion. 474 U.S. 936, 937-39 (1985). Justice Marshall dissented calling the Ninth Circuit’s practice “plainly wrong” and noting, "the Court of Appeals would have been well advised to discuss the record in greater depth. One reason it failed to do so is that the members of the panel decided that the issues presented by this case did not warrant discussion in a published opinion that could be 'cited to or by the courts of this circuit, save as provided by Rule 21(c).' That decision not to publish the opinion or permit it to be cited-like the decision to promulgate a rule spawning a body of secret law-was plainly wrong."
Justice Marshall continued by chastising the Court for engaging in the same type of shortcut decision making: "The brevity of analysis in the Court of Appeals' unpublished, noncitable opinion, however, does not justify the Court's summary reversal….For, like a court of appeals that issues an opinion that may not be printed or cited, this Court then engages in decision-making without the discipline and accountability that the preparation of opinions requires."
Even when both parties agree that a Circuit decision makes new law, the status of a decision as unpublished can discourage Supreme Court review. In Family Fare, Inc. v. NLRB, both parties agreed that the Sixth Circuit had departed from its previous law in an unpublished opinion. 2006 U.S. Briefs 1536 cert. denied Family Fare, Inc. v. NLRB, 127 S. Ct. 2991 (2007). NLRB liked the change and sought publication or a Supreme Court affirmance to solidify the new interpretation. Family Fare disliked the change and viewed it as exactly the kind of surreptitious change in the law of the circuit that Justice Thomas alludes to in Plumley. Ultimately, The Supreme Court denied cert, probably in significant part because as an unpublished opinion, it was not the formally law of the circuit and did not truly represent a shift in the law. Yet, Family Fare was treated differently than prior litigants, and NLRB likely relied on the decision in future cases to show that the law had changed.
Sixth, creating an opinion on which no one can rely (and which for years no one could even cite) is an invitation to poor reasoning or even strategic, result-based reasoning. Justice Stevens expressed "that occasionally judges will use the unpublished opinion as a device to reach a decision that might be a little hard to justify." Jeffrey Cole & Elaine E. Bucko, A Life Well Lived: An Interview with Justice John Paul Stevens, 32 No. 3 Litigation 8, 67 (2006).
This concern was also expressed by the late-Judge Richard Arnold and quite directly by Judge Wald of the D.C. Circuit: "I have seen judges purposely compromise on an unpublished decision incorporating an agreed-upon result in order to avoid a time-consuming public debate about what law controls. I have even seen wily would be dissenters go along with a result they do not like so long as it is not elevated to a precedent." The Rhetoric of Results and the Results of Rhetoric: Judicial Writings, 62 U. Chi. L. Rev. 1371, 1374 (1995).
A study of asylum cases in one circuit and found considerable strategic decision making surrounding the outcomes of cases and the publication of opinions: "voting and publication are, for some judges, strategically intertwined: for example, judges may be prepared to acquiesce in decisions that run contrary to their own preferences, and to vote with the majority, as long as the decision remains unpublished, but can be driven to dissent if the majority insists upon publication" David S. Law, Strategic Judicial Lawmaking: Ideology, Publication, and Asylum Law in the Ninth Circuit, 73 U. Cinn. L. Rev. 117 (2005).
Finally, the system of unpublished, non-precedential opinions is harmful to both the courts and the litigants before them. It's harmful to the courts, which have been drawn into this very unjudicial exercise of prospectively dividing "worthy" cases from "unworthy" ones. For hundreds of years, a court was expected to abide by, or explain the difference from, a prior case, and a court knew that its decision created a similar obligation on later courts. Now, unmoored from that, they are engaged in a very different process. As the recent article by Adam Liptak suggests, the public concern with unpublished opinions is that a court can issue one-off rulings that it need not every follow again.
It also harms litigants, who look at prior adjudications in the form of unpublished opinions but have no assurance that they will be treated the same or that any explanation will be given for the difference. And often they are not. Individual litigants like those in the cases mentioned above and all the many similar cases they represent, have not been treated equitably or according the system most people believe exists.
But as noted at the outset of this post, these harms are the middle ground problems with non-precedential opinions. One could accept the practice in principle and have serious concerns with the manner in which it is carried out. Or, more deeply, it's fair to question what authority the federal circuits have for ex ante precedent-stripping and whether that practice is constitutional or just. But those will have to wait for other excessively long posts.
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Tony Mauro has this article in The National Law Journal reporting on Justice Thomas' rebuke of the Fourth Circuit over the issuance of a lengthy unpublished opinion on an unsettled issue of law. Justice Scalia joined Thomas' dissent from denial of certiorari, finding the unpublished nature of the Fourth Circuit's decision a "disturbing aspect." Thomas explains:
The Court of Appeals had full briefing and argument on Austin’s claim of judicial vindictiveness. It analyzed the claim in a 39-page opinion written over a dissent. By any standard—and certainly by the Fourth Circuit’s own—this decision should have been published....It is hard to imagine a reason that the Court of Appeals would not have published this opinion except to avoid creating binding law for the Circuit.
Thomas noted that the Fourth Circuit opinion met at least three of the five possible causes for publication, any of which should have sufficed. The Fourth Circuit’s Local Rule 36(a) provides for publication of any opinion that establishes a rule of law in the Circuit, creates a conflict with another circuit, or is of continuing public interest. Finding that it met all of these, the two Justices express concern that it wasn't published.
The Justices' concern is well-placed but ineffectively expressed. Members of the Court occasionally take a swipe at the unpublished opinion practice or a single instance of it, usually through dissents from denial of cert or similar writings, or through off-the-bench comments. They have done so for the last forty years, chiding individual circuits or questioning the system itself. This is clearly not having any effect on the circuit's practices, though. The number of unpublished opinions remains high, and the percentage of circuit cases resolved this way remains in the mid-eighty percent range. Many of these cases meet the circuits' standards for publication but are not published. Many involve dissents, lengthy explanations or novel applications of the law, or other indicia of being a useful addition to the body of law. And that doesn't even address the notion that every decision, however similar to prior cases, adds something valuable to the law by showing application to slight variations of fact, continued adherence to the doctrine, or simply the "weight of authority."
Individual Justices have expressed dissatisfaction with the system and individual instances of it. , and they should be commended for spotting the problem and speaking out against its harm to appellate justice. But rather than having Justices individually take sporadic shots at the practice, the Court should actually examine it directly, either through one of the cert petitions on the issue or through its rule-making authority.
Monday, January 19, 2015
Judicial transparency seems to be a popular issue of late, and I thought I'd pass along some recent news items on the issue.
Public.Resource.Org has a new memorandum regarding the PACER system. Drafted as a "Memorandum of Law" in "The United States Court of Appeals for Public Opinion," the document is a cheeky, well-written explanation of the access problems with the PACER system. The memorandum notes the outdated and rudimentary technical interface, fee and access barriers, and "the almost universal condemnation of PACER from the outside world." It suggests a "national strategy of litigation, supplication, and agitation." The last of these proposes a May 1 day of PACER protest, including various means to bring public dissatisfaction with PACER to the federal courts' attention.
Second, Eric Segall has a post on Dorf on Law examining the U.S. Supreme Court's the Court’s "complete lack of transparency across the range of its official duties." Leading with the example of the court's direct communication with the public timed for 6 p.m. New Year's Eve, the post also examines the courts lack of advance notice of when its decisions in cases will be published, the lack of televised coverage, and other limitations on the Court's transparency.
Third, William Baude has a new piece up on SSRN, Foreword: The Supreme Court's Shadow Docket, which examines "the Court’s shadow docket — a range of orders and summary decisions that defy its normal procedural regularity." Ultimately, after review, Baude concludes, "if there is a problem at the Supreme Court, it may be the opposite of the usual narrative. It is on technical procedural and administrative questions when the spotlight is off that the Court’s decisions seem to deviate from its otherwise high standards of transparency and legal craft." This seems consistent with what Circuit judges and federal court scholars have said for years about unpublished opinions.
hat tip on that last item to the Legal Theory Blog.
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)