Appellate Advocacy Blog

Editor: Tessa L. Dysart
The University of Arizona
James E. Rogers College of Law

Monday, January 6, 2020

Award-winning Supreme Court Briefs

In the fall, my University of Houston colleagues Lauren Simpson and Kate Brem and I led an appellate brief writing session at the Fifth Circuit Bar Association. As a part of our presentation, we looked at Supreme Court briefs currently before the court. For example, as we discussed organization and point headings we looked at two briefs filed in the DACA case on the same side and compared the choices made by the attorneys. The practitioners seemed to appreciate the timeliness and relevance of these examples.

Reviewing example briefs is an important way that we grow as writers. Whether you are a practitioner looking to improve your own writing by reviewing others’ work or a professor looking for samples to show your students, it can take a great investment of time to review large numbers of briefs in order to find a worthwhile sample. It can also be difficult to determine which briefs are worthy of emulation.

As mentioned in last week’s Appellate Advocacy Blog round up, the National Association of Attorneys General has selected 3 briefs from 37 entered to receive the 2019 Best Brief Award.

As reported by the press release the winners are:

Missouri: Missouri’s Brief of Respondents in Bucklew v. Precythe, No. 17-815. The authors were State Solicitor D. John Sauer, Deputy Solicitors Joshua M. Divine, Julie Marie Blake, and Peter T. Reed, and Assistant Attorney General Michael Joseph Spillane. It is available here:

New York: New York’s Brief for Government Respondents in Department of Commerce v. New York, No. 18-966. The authors were Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, Deputy Solicitor General Steven C. Wu, Senior Assistant Solicitor General Judith N. Vale, Assistant Solicitor General Scott A. Eisman, Chief Counsel for Federal Initiatives Matthew Colangelo, and Acting Chief for Civil Rights Bureau Elena Goldstein. It is available here:

Virginia: Virginia’s Brief of State Appellees in Virginia House of Delegates v. Bethune-Hill, No. 18-281. The authors were Solicitor General Toby J. Heytens, Principal Deputy Solicitor General Matthew R. McGuire, Deputy Solicitor General Michelle S. Kallen, and Brittany M. Jones.
It is available here:

These briefs were selected by a panel of ten Supreme Court experts. I have reviewed these three briefs, and all can be useful learning tools if you are looking for some strong models. The Missouri brief deals with an 8th Amendment challenge to an execution method, the New York brief deals with adding a citizenship question to the census, and the Virginia brief deals with standing in the gerrymandering case. All three demonstrate the hallmarks of effective brief writing. They are well organized, use point headings effectively, are persuasive and clear on what they are asking for, and make complex topics understandable. I'm looking forward to pulling examples from these briefs for my students. Congratulations to these winners!

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