Wednesday, July 29, 2020
This has, out of necessity, been a busy summer for the law school advocacy community. Some exciting and important developments this week:
Guidance for Conducting Moot Court Competitions in 2020–21: Throughout this summer, a group of advocacy professors and coaches coordinated by Rob Galloway, the Associate Director of Appellate Advocacy at South Texas College of Law Houston, has met weekly to discuss issues related to running moot court competitions and programs in the COVID era. This week, the group published a comprehensive set of recommendations for administering moot court competitions in 2020–21. The document is signed by 78 advocacy teachers, many of whom also administer interscholastic and intramural competitions. It offers insights complied by three working groups on handling competitions in These Challenging Times. Like the best-practices guidance for courts published recently by the American Association of Appellate Lawyers, the document stresses that competition organizers should strive to bring as much normal as possible into the new normal: make COVID-era competitions as much like what we're used to as we can. But, as those of us who've administered virtual arguments and competitions have discovered, doing this well requires thoughtful adaptation. The document give soup-to-nuts advice on how to adapt competition rules and procedures without digging unduly deeply into the technological weeds. If you or someone you care about runs a moot court competition, I respectfully urge you to read it and to follow up with our group if there's anything we can do to help.
The National Online Moot Court Competition: The pandemic has prompted a consortium of law schools—inspired in part by pioneering efforts in the trial-advocacy community—to create a new moot court tournament. Registration is open now. The registration form is accessible here; the rules here; the proposed competition timeline here. It is especially cool that this competition is built from the ground up as a virtual competition. Schools that register will receive a technology package designed to make sure that all teams compete on a level virtual playing field. The competition's rules and design thoughtfully incorporate the practices I discuss above. This is not surprising; the representatives of the schools sponsoring the tournament were active in producing the guidance. And, more generally, the tournament looks to incorporate general best practices for moot court: advocates will argue in four preliminary rounds and will be guaranteed a large, well-qualified pool of brief scorers and oral argument judges.
The new leaders of the National Association of Legal Advocacy Educators: I posted three weeks ago about the election of officers for this new organization. It is done. The group's prospective members have voted on an excellent slate of candidates. As was inevitable, they have chosen a great board that brings together advocacy professors and coaches with deep and wide-ranging experience:
- President: Rob Galloway, South Texas College of Law Houston
- Vice President: A.J. Bellido de Luna, St. Mary's University School of Law
- Secretary: Megan Chaney, Shepard Broad School of Law–Nova Southeastern University
- Treasurer: Robert Little, Baylor Law School
- Regional Representatives:
- Tim Wilton, Suffolk University Law School
- Joanne Van Dyke, Syracuse University College of Law
- Jodi Hudson, Seton Hall School of Law
- David Johnson, George Washington University School of Law
- Jennifer Franklin, William & Mary Law School (and the Appellate Advocacy Blog)
- Suparna Malempati, Atlanta's John Marshall Law School
- Jennifer Copland, Michigan State University College of Law
- Judge Jim Roberts, Samford University's Cumberland School of Law
- Ana Montelongo, IIT Chicago-Kent College of Law
- Patricia Wilson, Baylor Law School
- Michaelle Tobin, University of Missouri–Kansas City School of Law
- Laura Rose, University of South Dakota Law School
- Judge John Madden IV, University of Denver Sturm College of Law
- Spencer Pahlke, UC Berkeley Law
- Susan Poehls, Loyola Law School
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Much of the initial commentary on the Supreme Court’s fractured opinion in June Medical Services v. Russo focuses on the future of abortion rights, delving into the analytical choices made by Justices Breyer, Roberts, and Alito. But one overlooked theme from the opinion came from Justice Gorsuch’s brief discussion of justiciability. In his dissenting opinion, Gorsuch alluded to a broad requirement for manageable standards—even in cases not previously considered political questions—that could render the Court’s footprint in constitutional litigation significantly smaller over time.
Justiciability was not the only focus in Justice Gorsuch’s dissent. He primarily critiqued the plurality for improperly equating the factual record in June Medical Services with the factual record in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, decided four years earlier. Gorsuch argued that Whole Woman’s Health included a fully-developed factual record specific to the medical and economic realities of Texas; the plurality erred by relying on that same record to find that the admitting privileges law at issue offered no benefit to the health of women in Louisana.
But Gorsuch’s critique went beyond the way the plurality applied the wrong facts to a legal test that required states to show that their laws accrued some benefit to women’s health. Instead, he critiqued that test directly as one that was so malleable as to be hardly a legal test at all, or at least not the sort of test that the Supreme Court should promulgate in good conscience.
Justice Gorsuch argued that any legal test created by the Court should at least be “replicable and predictable,” making it easier for lower courts to follow the Supreme Court’s jurisprudence. Gorsuch then noted that “an administrable legal test even lies at the heart of what makes a case justiciable.” The plurality’s test was not sufficiently manageable; Gorsuch equated its “all-things-considered balancing of benefits and burdens” to a “hunter’s stew,” whereby judges with wide discretion would combine any factual details that “look interesting” into a decision. Driving home his point, Gorsuch quoted last term’s opinion in Rucho v. Common Cause—where the Court found that extreme partisan gerrymandering is a non-jusiticable political question because allegedly there are no “judicially discoverable and manageable standards for resolving” the issue. This component of the political question doctrine, which the Court typically deploys to avoid deciding issues the Justices feel are best resolved by other branches, was thus central even to constitutional questions concerning individual rights under Gorsuch’s formulation.
If the Court deploys a strict understanding of the political question doctrine’s manageability requirement to any legal test, it could undermine many of the Court’s malleable, yet effective, legal standards. Gorsuch’s manageability requirement would seem to prohibit any test that examines the totality of the circumstances or even a wide array of nuanced factors sure to vary from case to case. The manageability requirement urges the Court to generate more bright-line rules that remove discretion from the lower courts, possibly at the expense of carefully-constructed rulings that improve accuracy in individual cases.
A broad manageability requirement could quickly take hold on the Court. In his own dissent in June Medical Services, Justice Thomas argued that stare decisis did not apply to Roe v. Wade and its progeny, in part, because “poorly reasoned precedents that have proved themselves to be unworkable” are ripe for overruling. Though Thomas’s workability language varies slightly from Gorsuch’s manageability requirement, the sentiment is the same; the Court should not intervene in issues where the only legal tests available are too malleable for lower courts to implement in “replicable and predictable” decisions.
The Supreme Court should strive to give the clearest directives possible to lower-level actors. But a broad manageability requirement in all cases would seemingly preclude the Court from resolving many of the pressing problems on its docket, even when the questions they present are in no way political. Whether Justice Gorsuch and others press for such a manageability requirement should be at the forefront of court-watchers’ minds, both in abortion litigation and elsewhere, for years to come.
 June Medical Serv. v. Russo, 591 U.S. __ (2020) (Gorsuch, J., dissenting) (slip op. at 14-15).
 Id. at 14-15
 Id. at 16-18.
 Id. at 16.
 Id. at 17.
 Id. at 16 (quoting Rucho v. Common Cause, 588 U.S. ___ (2019) (slip op. at 11)).
 Id. (Thomas, J., dissenting) (slip op. at 18).
 Id. (Gorsuch, J., dissenting) (slip op. at 16).
Saturday, July 25, 2020
Tired of seeing yet another post on how to ______ [fill in the blank: teach, write, argue, live] in our new virtual reality? Exhausted from never leaving your home and Zooming all day? Me too.
In fact, I was reluctant to write one more blog on online writing tools. However, my efforts to add new virtual tools to my teaching arsenal introduced me to two peer review software systems I believe can help us in the classroom: Peerceptiv, https://peerceptiv.com/, and Eli Review, https://elireview.com/. These peer review programs make anonymous online feedback easy, and encourage the writers to learn by editing others. They also reminded me how much any law practice can increase attorney writing skills by using peer review. See, e.g., Kwangsu Cho and Charles MacArthur, Learning by Reviewing, 103 J. of Ed. Psych. 73, 84 (Feb. 2011) https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ933615
As an of counsel appellate lawyer at a large law firm, I often had the chance to be an “intermediate editor” who reviewed junior lawyers’ briefs before sending them on to the partners. While I had been using informal peer review in my adjunct teaching for a few years at that point, I did not truly see how much editing others’ work makes us better writers until I experienced the phenomenon in practice. When I noticed I was making the same annoying mistakes I’d been correcting as an editor, I knew my work for the junior associates was making me a far better writer. Eli Review has a nice blog post on this “giver’s gain.” https://elireview.com/2017/03/28/givers-gain/.
My positive reviewing experience prompted me to add more ungraded peer review in my teaching and made me an advocate for the review process with clients and supervisors. Like in-house moot court, the practice of adding an intermediate editor is not possible in every situation. However, if you practice in a large firm or agency, consider adding a layer of review by mid-level writers to young attorneys’ work. This review can actually save fees, by shortening partner review time, and can help create better briefs across the board. And if you are in a smaller practice or have no budget for formal peer review, think about the techniques you like in your opponents’ papers, and incorporate those into your own writing.
In the digital classroom, we can use technology to enhance the peer review process. Many thanks to Prof. Tracy Norton of the Touro Law Center for introducing me to Peerceptiv and for being incredibly generous with her time by running a Peerceptiv demo for the LRW community. Similarly, I send thanks to Prof. Brian Larson of the Texas A&M University School of Law, who introduced me to Eli Review and also spent an incredible amount of time helping the LRW community with an Eli Review demo. Neither Prof. Norton or Prof. Larson have any connection to these products, and I also have no affiliation with these companies and am just sharing their information to help others.
From Profs. Norton and Larson, I learned both programs ask students to submit a writing assignment online and then provide feedback on other students’ writing for the same assignment. Students follow a set rubric in their reviews, and instructors can include the quality of the reviews students provide as part of their writing grades. The whole process can be anonymous. Professors using these programs raved about the technical support and positive student feedback from both. Peerceptiv costs students slightly less than Eli Review, and both can be “textbooks” for your classes at less than $30 a year.
The genius in each product is the science and math behind the assessment scores and review prompts. Each product truly helps students grow as writers by combining the established science on peer review and some neat online features. The math and engineering majors in my home called the programs “elegant.”
For example, Peerceptiv has the peers give a grade of 1-7 on the assignment and complete a four-part review. Then, each student grades the reviews he or she received on a 1-7 scale. Peerceptiv then assigns an overall rating for the assignment of 1-7 based on a combination of the student’s writing score and reviewing score. The professor can set the percentages each score is worth, and the prof can also give reviews him/herself and assign a higher level of credit in the grade to his/her review. Peerceptiv docs points when a review or assignment is late. See https://www.peerceptiv.com/why-peerceptiv-overview/#curriculum.
If the Peerceptiv number system seems too much like the dreaded undergraduate “peer grading” to you, consider Eli Review. Instead of assigning a number ranking to a student's writing and reviews, Eli Review asks students to pull the most helpful comments out of their peers’ reviews and make an express revision plan saying how they will incorporate the comments. Eli Review does ask students to rate the quality of the reviews on a 1-5 star basis, with only truly exceptional reviews earning five stars. See https://elireview.com/learn/how/. This level of assessment forces the writer to give better reviews and thereby learn more about writing, but can help avoid concerns about someone other than a professor grading work.
This fall, I will use Eli Review for short writing like simple case illustrations, and then will progress to peer-reviewed trial brief argument sections in the spring. I plan to use Eli Review only for anonymous, ungraded work. My goal is to give students the “aha” moment I had when reviewing briefs as an intermediate editor, and to help them gain the skill of self-diagnosing writing problems.
Thanks for reading another note on online writing tools. I wish you all good health, and a safe trip outside sometime soon too.
Wednesday, July 22, 2020
This week, the American Academy of Appellate Lawyers issued a thoughtful set of best-practice recommendations for courts hearing remote oral argument. As this press release explains, the recommendations are the work of a task force of AAAL fellows with experience in remote oral arguments. The Fellows' guidance is driven by the AAAL's longstanding position—which we've previously discussed here—that "oral argument is, and should remain, an important part of the appellate process."
Notably, the report doesn't embrace remote oral argument as the new normal. Although it acknowledges that, post-pandemic, continued availability of remote options could make argument practical where it might not otherwise be—a good thing—it stresses that remote argument is a pale substitute for in-person argument. So remote argument shouldn't become "an automatic or self-justifying way of doing things when it is no longer necessary." Instead, the report emphasizes bringing normal into the new: a key animating principle is that courts and advocates should strive to make remote oral argument as much like in-person argument as possible.
The suggestions it offers are practical and actionable both for courts and for advocates. The Academy's fellows urge courts to use a video-based platform over an audio-only solution and present experience-driven reasons why. At the same time, the report wisely identifies adequate sound quality as preeminent for participants and listeners. And it offers solid advice about how to achieve that: among other things, it urges advocates and judges to consider environmental factors like room size and features. Small spaces with hard walls might produce echoes. Stuff like curtains and bookshelves help reduce echoes and ambient noise. And so on.
Saturday, July 18, 2020
Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup 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 a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at DReal@Creighton.edu or on Twitter @Daniel_L_Real or (2) Catharine Du Bois at DuBoisLegalWriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.
US Supreme Court Opinions and News
- The Supreme Court’s vacatur of preliminary injunctions this week allowed the executions of three federal inmates and ended the 17-year hiatus from federal executions. Justice Breyer (joined by Justice Ginsburg) and Justice Sotomayor (joined by Justices Breyer, Kagan, and Ginsburg) each wrote dissents in both. See the orders here and here and reports in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Associated Press.
- The Supreme Court upheld the stay of a trial judge’s order finding unconstitutional Florida’s restriction on the voting rights of people with felony convictions who are unable to pay fees and fines, thus allowing the restrictions to continue. The restrictions limit a 2018 amendment to the Florida Constitution that sought to end the disenfranchisement of people convicted of felonies, except for murder and rape, “upon completion of all terms of sentence, including parole or probation.” Justice Sotomayor’s dissent recognizes that the “order prevents thousands of otherwise eligible voters from participating in Florida’s primary election simply because they are poor.” See the opinion and reports in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, and Reuters.
- This week, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg announced the recurrence of her cancer, stating that chemotherapy is yielding “positive results” and that she has no plans to step down. See the statement and reports from The New York Times and Reuters.
Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News
- The District of Maryland suspended a rule requiring an in-person doctor’s visit to get medication for a medical abortion, stating that, during Covid-19, the requirement likely violated the constitution as a substantial obstacle” to obtaining an abortion. See reports from PBS, The Hill, Forbes, and Time.
- The Ninth Circuit upheld a Montana court’s decision to reinstate the protections for the grizzly bear population in the Yellowstone area. In 2007 and 2017, the Fish and Wildlife Service attempted to remove the grizzly from protection under the Endangered Species Act. See the opinion and reports from the Jurist and Bloomberg Law.
- The Northern District of Georgia permanently struck the state’s anti-abortion law, which banned abortion after detection of a fetal heartbeat. The opinion ruled that the law constituted a “pre-viability abortion ban” and thus violated the right to obtain an abortion. See the opinion and reports from Time and the Atlanta-Journal Constitution.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
In a 2015 Justice Elena Kagan quipped that, when it comes to statutory interpretation, "we're all textualists now." She noted that, when she was in law school, statutory interpretation was not taught, and that judges were often left to make what were essentially legislative decision in implementing the law as they believed the legislature intended.
Justice Scalia's tenure on the Court changed that. Scalia argued strongly for textualism as the primary methodology in statutory interpretation, and emphasized its value as a neutral starting point for judges who were meant to be more like umpires than congressmen.
Those watching on the outside questioned the approach. Textualism and originalism are often associated with political conservatism. Some scholars looked at Scalia's decisions and questioned whether they were true methodologies, or just means to a political end. Many political conservatives believed that the increasing influence of textualism meant an increased likelihood that the Court would support their agendas.
Recently, in Bostock v. Clayton County, Justice Gorsuch addressed the meaning of "because of ... sex" in Title VII from a textualist standpoint. Gorsuch explained that under this approach, what the drafters intended in 1964 did not matter. What mattered where the words they used. And because those words prohibited treating a person different "because of sex," whenever sex is a “but-for” cause of an employment decision, Title VII is violated.
In his words: "If the employer intentionally relies in part on an individual employee’s sex when deciding to discharge the employee—put differently, if changing the employee’s sex would have yielded a different choice by the employer—a statutory violation has occurred."
Commentators have had a field day in analyzing this decision. Many of those who are politically conservative are frustrated with the decision because it does not follow their agenda. Many of those who are progressive politically are ready to embrace Justice Gorsuch as a new torchbearer. And on both sides, there are concerns with how this simplistic "but-for" test will work out, with hypotheticals flying.
A short time later, Gorsuch penned another decision, this time in McGirt v. Oklahoma. Once again, Gorsuch's focus was on the text. First, the text that Congress had written to create a reservation for the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, and second, on the lack of any plain text disestablishing that reservation. Again, Gorsuch noted that Congress likely had the desire and intent to do so, but that it never issued any actual laws that would effectuate that intent.
These decisions are both solid evidence that textualism is a methodology, not an ideology. At least for Justice Gorsuch. Gorsuch applied the methodology in a way that permitted him to chart an objective path regardless of ideology.
Indeed, neuroscientists and jurists alike suggest that in order to overcome implicit bias, it is essential to employ objective methodologies. An approach that is rooted in textualism engages the brain in a way that requires "slow" thinking, and can avoid snap judgments based on presupposition.
When it comes to textualism, then, we really are all becoming textualists. Regardless of political affiliation. And we should not be surprised that when judges apply objective standards to statutory interpretation, that interpretation might not always be favorable to the platforms of the party that appointed them. Indeed, the Justices may not even agree with the eventual outcome itself. And that is the point.
Monday, July 13, 2020
For those of you who teach.
As you prepare to teach your classes through new modalities, consider submitting a chapter proposal for a book to be published by Carolina Academic Press—Law Teaching Strategies for a New Era: Beyond the Physical Classroom. This book will look past the “pandemic teaching” of Spring 2020 and look forward to the future of legal teaching. It will explore techniques, tools, and strategies that can assist all law teachers in creating effective online or hybrid courses. Please see the call for proposals, linked below. The book will be edited by Prof. Tessa Dysart (University of Arizona James E. Rogers College of Law) and Prof. Tracy Norton (Touro College Jacob D. Fuchsberg Law Center) in Summer 2021.
Saturday, July 11, 2020
We are thrilled to welcome Professor Susan Smith Bakhshian of Loyola Law School Los Angeles as our guest author. Susan has taught LRW and doctrinal law for many years at Loyola, where she is a Clinical Professor of Law and Director of Bar Programs. She is the co-author of Clearing the Last Hurdle: Mapping Success on the California Bar Exam. This summer, she taught entirely online using Brightspace and Zoom. You can reach Susan at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Caution Ahead: Breakout Groups Can Fail
Breakout rooms are great. But. Wait for it. They can fail. Break out rooms are terrific for everything from a way to let students chat and get to know each other, to in class exercises and writing assignments. And the experience is usually great.
Breakout rooms are not a substitute for physical classrooms, but they can give students a few minutes to socialize, provide variety in instruction, and accomplish learning objectives.
So when do breakout rooms go wrong? Groups can go wrong a variety of ways. While the tech can fail, which is a new problem, the other failures are nothing new. A student may decline to participate fully. Group dynamics can unravel. Disputes can arise.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Groups need clear instructions to stay on track. Using a slide in class or posting a handout before class goes a long way to making sure students understand that breakout groups are real assignments and not a class break. By posting slides before class, shy or anxious students are able to preview the group assignment and more fully participate in class.
Pop in. Video conference software simulates walking around the room. Once students realize the professor might drop in the group, they stay on track. This feature is especially helpful when I see that the random assignment has created a group of several weaker students or one with too many natural leaders. I usually go to those groups first. Even if all of the groups are doing fine without any help, I also just like to say “hello.”
Require a deliverable. If the groups know going into the exercise that a written product is due or that anyone in the group may be called on, they will stay on task better. Formal and informal deliverables both work well. Ask for each group to craft an email to the professor, require a post, or ask the group to return to the full class ready to answer a question or present their best ideas.
For those who have not tried a breakout room, an easy, but effective assignment is to have the groups make a list of best (and worst) practices for online learning. They have great tips for each other ranging from natural lighting solutions to how to use the “hide my video” feature to get more comfortable being on video. This assignment works as an ice-breaker in an early class or anytime you want to cover professionalism. As attorneys, they will need to be proficient at using video conferencing software, even after a return to more live interaction. A quick mention that job interviews may be online gets everyone in the group more interested in discussing best practices.
Bottom line, breakout groups are flexible and effective in online teaching.
Friday, July 10, 2020
Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup 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 a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at DReal@Creighton.edu or on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real) or (2) Catharine Du Bois at DuBoisLegalWriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.
US Supreme Court News and Opinions:
This week in Supreme Court history: On July 8, 1991, President George H.W. Bush submitted Clarence Thomas's nomination to the Court. Justice Thomas is now the longest-serving member currently on the Court.
The Washington Post [https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/courts_law/john-roberts-hospitalized-supreme-court/2020/07/07/6bc230ae-c0a0-11ea-b4f6-cb39cd8940fb_story.html] and the New York Times [https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/07/us/john-roberts-supreme-court-hospitalized.html] reported this week that Chief Justice Roberts was hospitalized
for a night in late June after he fell and hit his head, requiring sutures. Although the Chief has on at least two past occasions suffered seizures, reports are that this incident did not involve a seizure. More from Bloomberg [https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-08/chief-justice-roberts-hospitalized-after-head-injury-in-june].
This year continues to be historic, as the Supreme Court has gotten into July without all of its opinions for this term yet released. SCOTUSblog had a post [https://www.scotusblog.com/2020/07/scotus-for-law-students-still-deciding-in-july/] this week about other recent times when the Court has taken the unusual step of working into July.
On Monday the Court released two important late-term opinions:
- First, in Chiafalo v. Washington [https://casetext.com/case/chiafalo-v-washington] and Colorado Department of State v. Baca [https://casetext.com/case/colorado-dept-of-state-v-baca], the Court rejected constitutional challenges to state "faithless electors" laws, affirming that states can penalize or remove electoral college electors who fail to vote for the candidate they have pledged to support. The Brennan Center provided a thorough discussion [https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/analysis-opinion/supreme-court-allows-states-punish-faithless-electoral-college-voters?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=socialmedia] of the decision and why it is "strongly pro-voter."
- Second, in Barr v. American Association of Political Consultants [https://casetext.com/case/barr-v-american-assn-of-political-consultants-inc], the Court struck an exception for robocalls to collect government-backed debts in the federal ban on robocalls. The Court concluded that the exception violates the First Amendment's free speech clause and invalidated it, but left the robocall ban in place.
On Wednesday the Court released two more important late-term opinions:
- First, in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania [https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/19-431_5i36.pdf], the Court held that the federal government has the authority to provide exemptions from the Affordable Care Act’s mandated contraceptive coverage requirements for employers who express religious and conscientious decisions. Bloomberg discussed the impact of the opinion here [https://www.bloomberglaw.com/document/XC85MV14000000?bna_news_filter=us-law-week&jcsearch=BNA%2520000001732ec6d229a177bffffa260000#jcite].
- Second, in Our Lady of Guadalupe v. Morrissey-Berru [https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/19-267_1an2.pdf], the Court held that federal employment discrimination protection is not available to people employed in religious schools who play a minister-like role and teach some religion, even if they do not hold the title of minister. Bloomberg discussed the impact of the opinion here [https://www.bloomberglaw.com/document/X9BNCSCS000000?bna_news_filter=us-law-week&jcsearch=BNA%25200000017204c4d816aff27fce6ab00000#jcite].
On Thursday the Court released the final major opinions for this term:
- First, in Trump v. Mazars [https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/19-715_febh.pdf], the Court held that congressional subpoenas involving the President are subject to a tougher standard than the lower courts had applied and sent back to the lower courts two cases challenging congressional subpoenas to obtain financial records belonging to President Trump. In Trump v. Vance [https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/19-635_o7jq.pdf], the Court held rejected President Trump’s claim that he is immune from all state grand jury proceedings while he is in office in a case where he challenged a subpoena by a Manhattan district court for financial records; the Court sent that case back to the lower court, while agreeing that the President could still argue in the lower court that complying with the subpoena would interfere with his ability to do his job. Although the cases represent “losses” to President Trump and rejection of the claims that he has advanced to assert that he is not required to comply with such subpoenas, both cases were sent back for additional proceedings and it appears highly likely that the dispute over production of financial records will not be fully resolved anytime soon. More from the New York Times.
- In addition, in McGirt v. Oklahoma, Justice Gorsuch authored an opinion for a 5-4 majority affirming the 19th-century reservation status of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation for purposes of the federal Major Crimes Act. The opinion concludes that for purposes of federal law, a significant portion of land in eastern Oklahoma remains a Native American territory pursuant to a treaty between Congress and the Creek Nation; the opinion concluded that the designation was not overturned when Oklahoma became a state, because there has been no act by Congress to change the designation. More from Bloomberg and the Washington Post .
Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News:
This week, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in East Bay Santuary Covenant v. Trump upheld an injunction blocking President Trump's ban on asylum claims for migrants who have not first sought protection in Mexico or another third country. The Circuit Court's ruling follows a similar ruling from a Washington DC court. The Ninth Circuit ruled that the administration's ban violated immigration laws, was imposed without following proper procedures for public comment, and was arbitrary and capricious.
Wednesday, July 8, 2020
For the past couple of years, members of the law school advocacy community have worked to create an organization that represents the interests of legal advocacy educators. It's almost here. We have a name: the National Association of Legal Advocacy Educators. We have bylaws. And soon, we'll have officers.
Hence this post. To move things forward, the organization will launch elections this week for its inaugural executive board and regional representatives. Anyone who is interested in and eligible to become a member of NALAE may vote. And membership is open to anyone who is currently an advocacy teacher at the law school level. As the bylaws state, that definition is broad: "an 'advocacy teacher' is any person who is engaged in teaching trial advocacy, appellate advocacy, alternative dispute resolution, client counseling, or any other skills related to litigation and trials, at the law school level. This definition includes tenurial, tenure-track, non-tenurial, and adjunct professors as well as those who coach law school teams that compete in these fields."
If you're currently an advocacy teacher at the law school level and you'd like to vote, please register via this link as soon as you can. When you access the registration form, you can check out answers to frequently asked questions about the organization and elections. NALAE's Election Committee will host an online candidates' forum tomorrow (Thursday, July 9) at 7:00 pm, and we'll send a link to Zoom event to all registered voters.
I am excited to see this organization come together, particularly now. This summer, the national communities of appellate advocacy, trial advocacy, and dispute resolution teachers, coaches, and competition organizers have worked hard to respond to the challenges our students face in learning and competing virtually. We're seeing what's possible when we collaborate. NALAE will help our communities realize a broad, deep range of possibilities. The organization's goals:
a. To encourage the expansion and improvement of and diversity in student-focused law school advocacy skills education;
b. To support innovation through communication and dissemination of information among law school advocacy programs;
c. To improve the quality of competition experiences to best teach skills and professionalism;
d. To work cooperatively with other organizations interested in advocacy skills education, the improvement of legal education, and the improvement of client representation;
e. To promote conferences and other educational activities designed to facilitate the other purposes of the organization;
f. To further the interests of all law school advocacy skills teachers; and
g. To promote access to justice, including the right to jury trials, fair and equitable dispute resolution, and the rule of law.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Today we have a guest post by Mark Trachtenberg. Mark is a partner with Haynes and Boone, LLP in Houston, Texas. He is board certified in civil appellate law by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization. You can learn more about his practice here.
For decades, trial lawyers have understood the importance of visuals in persuading a jury. Now, appellate lawyers are learning that visuals can be just as powerful a tool for a judicial audience. With an influx of a media-savvy generation of younger lawyers into practice, a revolution in digital technology, the enormous proliferation of photographs and images in social and traditional media, and the explosion of tablets and laptops, the age of visual advocacy has arrived. Before filing any brief in the trial or appellate court, a lawyer should ask herself whether any portion of her argument could be enhanced or simplified through the use of a visual.
II. How to use visuals effectively.
To obtain examples of effective visuals, I surveyed my colleagues at Haynes and Boone, other appellate practitioners and a few appellate judges. I also attempted to find examples via Westlaw or other search engines. This survey culminated in an Appendix available here, which is organized by category of visual, including photographs and images, charts and graphs, tables, maps, timelines, flowcharts, diagrams and the like.
From my survey, I have identified a few overarching lessons about effective use of visuals.
First, craft each visual with the care you take with the text of your brief. Consider different alternatives. Ask colleagues for their opinions on which format is most effective. Continue to try to edit and improve the visual, as you would the rest of your brief. Ascertain whether the visual advances your argument or is merely decorative and thus potentially distracting. If the visual is misleading in any way, it will harm your credibility with the court, just as an improper record cite would.
Second, as a general rule, embed the visual in the text of your brief, rather than include it in an appendix. The point is to have the visual reinforce the text and not force a judge or a clerk to toggle back and forth between the body of the brief and the appendix. While stashing a visual in an appendix may have been necessary in the era of page limits, that is not the case today.
Third, visuals should simplify your argument, not make it more complex. Visuals that have too many words or try to cram in too many concepts are often counterproductive because they distract the reader or divert attention from the flow of your argument.
Fourth, frame the significance of the visual in the sentence or paragraph immediately preceding it, to prime the reader as to what he or she should be looking for. A good example can be found at Tab A-12 of the Appendix, where attorneys for Apple discuss Samsung’s surge in market share after introduction of a model allegedly copying the iPhone, before that surge is reinforced visually.
Fifth, use color in graphs, charts, etc. to help break up long, monotonous blocks of black and white text. Color can be an important tool to show contrasts, similarities, or relevant groupings. In Tab G-4 of the Appendix, for example, the author uses color to show the appellant’s control of key levers of a joint venture.
Sixth, in deciding whether to include a visual, remember that you are still addressing an appellate court, not a jury. Including a picture of a deceased plaintiff to generate sympathy or outrage is the equivalent of making a jury argument a state’s high court.
III. The future of visuals
While the paper focuses on embedding still images, photos, and graphics in briefs, technology permits much more, and developments in multimedia creation, storage and display continue at a rapid pace.
Already, litigants have made videos played at trial accessible to appellate courts via a clickable Internet link. But, if megabyte limitations on e-filings can be overcome or are loosened, it will not be long before video and audio files are directly embedded into e-briefs. An advocate could thus prominently feature footage from a security video, a police dashboard cam or body-cam, a surgical procedure, or the like in the heart of a brief, instead of relegating it to an appendix or record cite. Likewise, any key video deposition clips played to the jury could also be embedded in a brief. Audio files—like a 911 call, for example—could easily be embedded too.
Animations could feature more prominently in appellate briefs, instead of being used only in jury trials. A quick search of the websites of various trial graphics companies illustrates how effective these animations can be. One consultant artfully explains that: “If a ‘picture is worth a thousand words,’ then a computer-generated animation says a thousand words, sings a thousand songs, and paints with a thousand colors all at once.”
Another scholar speculates that other embedded technology in briefs might include, among other things:
- Graphics Interchange Format, or GIFS;
- 360-degree panoramas (of accident scenes, etc.);
- Powerpoint decks that would allow the viewer to scroll through a slideshow composed of images, graphics, or other information; or
- Rollover/hover states, which would display new information over the existing text or graphic when the cursor hovers over it.
As a paradigmatic example, the scholar points to an article posted in Medium in which the author weaves together a host of embedded images, screenshots, maps, and audio files to tell a story about a harrowing encounter with the San Francisco police.
If The New York Times is any indication, change is coming. In the 20th century, that newspaper earned the nickname “The Gray Lady” for its heavy reliance on text and the absence of color (the first cover with a color picture was published in 1997). Now, its website is a “pulsing quilt of video and interactive graphics,” podcast links, and even virtual reality experiences.
For too long, tradition and inertia have led to a significant underutilization of photos and other images in legal briefs. But those days are over. If 81-year old Justice Stephen Breyer and 70-year old Justice Samuel Alito can effectively embed visuals in their legal writing as they did in opinions issued last week (see below), so can you!
 See Petitioner’s Brief on the Merits, BNSF Railway Co v. Nichols, No. 12-0884, at 3 (Tex. June 19, 2013), available at http://search.txcourts.gov/SearchMedia.aspx?MediaVersionID=9730f55f-c6b0-4408-9b92-afcd8f9d2805&coa=cossup&DT=BRIEFS&MediaID=8f049b10-6caa-45cd-aa2f-f0ba38599a46; see also Tab A-4.
 See, e.g., (1) https://courtroomanimation.com/results/, (2) https://www.legalgraphicworks.com/services/animation/, or (3) https://www.decisionquest.com/services/litigation-graphics-consulting/legal-animation/.
 Fred Galves, Where the Not-So-Wild Things Are: Computers in the Courtroom, the Federal Rules of Evidence, and the Need for Institutional Reform and More Judicial Acceptance, 13 Harv. J. L. Tech. 161, 190 (2000) (author is a professor and litigation consultant).
 See Elizabeth G. Porter, Taking Images Seriously, 114 Colum. L. Rev. 1687, 1749-50 (2014).
 Id. at 1750-51 & n.294 (citing https://medium.com/indian-thoughts/good-samaritan-backfire-9f53ef6a1c10).
 Id. at 1693.
 See June Med. Servs. L.L.C. v. Russo, No. 18-1323, 591 U.S. —, slip op. at 33 (June 29, 2020) (Breyer, J., plurality), https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1323_c07d.pdf; Espinoza v. Montana Dep’t of Rev., No. 18-1195, 591 U.S. —, slip op. at 4-5 (June 30, 2020) (Alito, J., concurring), https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-1195_g314.pdf
Monday, July 6, 2020
Almost three years ago, I posted about a statutory interpretation case out of the Washington Supreme Court that addressed the thorny question of whether a riding lawn mower is a vehicle. It seems that Washington State is at it again with this fascinating case out of the Ninth Circuit. The question--Does "and" mean "and" or does it mean "or?" At issue--who exercises jurisdiction over non-Indians who commit crimes on the Yakima Nation's reservation.
The history of the case is rather complicated, but the key provision is quite simple. At the request of the Yakima Nation, Washington Governor Jay Inslee issued a Proclamation in 2014 that "retroceeded" to the federal government jurisdiction over certain civil and criminal matters that occurred on the Yakima Nation Reservation. Paragraph two of the Proclamation stated (my emphasis):
Within the exterior boundaries of the Yakama Reservation, the State shall retrocede, in part, civil and criminal jurisdiction in Operation of Motor Vehicles on Public Streets, Alleys, Roads, and Highways cases in the following manner: Pursuant to RCW 37.12.010(8), the State shall retain jurisdiction over civil causes of action involving non-Indian plaintiffs, non-Indian defendants, and non-Indian victims; the State shall retain jurisdiction over criminal offenses involving non-Indian defendants and non-Indian victims.
In an accompanying letter, Governor Inslee explained that the "and" in that last sentence meant "and/or," and, according to the opinion asked the Interior Department to make that clear when it accepted the Proclamation. It didn't. Over the intervening years, there were several interpretations of the language by different parts of the federal government and the court system. The most lasting interpretation appears to be a memorandum from the Office of Legal Counsel, which sided with team "and/or," resting heavily on the usage of "in part" in the first line.
In September 2018, the events giving rise to this case occurred. The Yakima Nation brought this particular claim seeking a preliminary injunction for team "and." Unfortunately for them, the Ninth Circuit didn't agree.
There is some delightful language in the Ninth Circuit opinion. Judge Ryan Nelson, writing for the majority, explained that while the "most common meaning" of and is "together" or a conjunctive usage, it isn't always used that way. It can, he says, mean "or":
Examples of “and” used to mean “or” abound. For example, a child who says she enjoys playing with “cats and dogs” typically means that she enjoys playing with “cats or dogs”—not that cats and dogs must both be present for her to find any enjoyment. Similarly, a statement that “the Ninth Circuit hears criminal and civil appeals,” does not suggest that an appeal must have a criminal and civil component for it to be properly before us. Nor would a guest who tells a host that he prefers “beer and wine” expect to receive “a glass of beer mixed with wine.” OfficeMax, Inc. v. United States, 428 F.3d 583, 600 (6th Cir. 2005) (Rogers, J., dissenting). In each instance, the common understanding is that “and,” as used in the sentence, should be construed as the disjunctive “or.”
Seems pretty logical to me, but I would naturally use "or" in that last example (although I dislike beer so I wouldn't even say that last example). Judge Nelson goes on to explain,
The same is true here when we examine “the broader context” of the Proclamation, Robinson, 519 U.S. at 341, in particular the Proclamation’s use of the term “in part” in Paragraphs 2 and 3. In both Paragraphs 2 and 3, the State “retrocede[s]” criminal jurisdiction “in part,” but retains “criminal jurisdiction” over “offenses involving non-Indian defendants and non-Indian victims.” If “and” in those sentences is interpreted to mean “or,” the retrocession “in part” makes sense. Under that interpretation, the State has given back a portion of its Public Law 280 jurisdiction— jurisdiction over crimes involving only Indians—but has kept Public Law 280 criminal jurisdiction if a non-Indian is involved.
Interpreting “and” in those Paragraphs as conjunctive, however, does not give “in part” meaning. Under that interpretation, the State has retroceded all jurisdiction that it received under Public Law 280—that is, criminal jurisdiction over all cases involving Indians. If that is the case, Paragraphs 2 and 3 are no different than Paragraph 1, which retroceded “full civil and criminal jurisdiction” over certain subject matters. But that cannot be right, because Paragraph 1 uses the phrase “full,” whereas Paragraphs 2 and 3 use the phrase “in part.”
Looking at the Proclamation, this does seem like a logical reading of it, although I wonder why "and/or" wasn't used in the original drafting of the Proclamation. It seems like that would have saved everyone a lot of trouble.
Regardless, let this be a lesson for drafters of statutes and Proclamations. Have a happy Monday AND (and I do mean AND) a good week.
Sunday, July 5, 2020
The best attorneys don't just listen to their clients, they get them. Pro lawyers lean into their clients' business, their interests, and their goals. They learn their clients' language. Good lawyers often understand their clients better than the clients understand themselves.
That's great, right? Attorneys at their best give voice to their clients. They channel their clients' perspectives and needs into a form that others can understand (and be persuaded by).
But this hallmark of good lawyering can also be your downfall. Because getting too caught up in your client's world can put up barriers when you try to share that world with a judge or other audience. You may get so invested in your client's perspective that you have trouble seeing the judge's.
So consider stepping back and checking whether you have guided your reader through every piece of client-speak or dense industry-specific detail that could trip up an outsider. If you needed to explain a complicated technical process in your brief--it's probably a lot clearer to you, someone who has been learning about the process for months or years, than it is for a new reader. So take extra steps to handhold here.
This can include offering more context, visual guides, or simply breaking points down into smaller pieces.
Another common mishap is using jargon without giving your reader a clear definition of what it means. If there's any chance your reader won't know a term, don't assume they are smart enough to get it. Tell them.
Look at how Justice Kagan (whose audience includes the public) defines even basic legal terms in a recent opinion:
This case is about Kansas’s treatment of a criminal defendant’s insanity claim. In Kansas, a defendant can invoke mental illness to show that he lacked the requisite mens rea (intent) for a crime.
Will most legal readers know what mens rea is? Sure. But will some be confused, at least momentarily? Perhaps. So why not include a quick definition?
When you're asking your reader to pick up many terms together, also consider using a glossary.
Patent litigators use these all the time, giving readers a cheat-sheet to navigate complex phrases. But they aren't the only ones who can benefit from this practice.
Like this attorney who attached a glossary to a complicated motion to dismiss a securities case:
If the court finds it helpful, attached as Appendix 1 is a glossary of every specialty term at issue in this case, as well as a reference chart to help the court keep clear the dozen entities and other individuals involved...
The takeaway here? Define the jargon and make it crazy easy for new readers to navigate client-speak.
Saturday, July 4, 2020
Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup 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 a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at DReal@Creighton.edu or on Twitter @Daniel_L_Real or (2) Catharine Du Bois at DuBoisLegalWriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.
Happy Independence Day!
US Supreme Court Opinions and News
- The Supreme Court issued a much-anticipated order on abortion this week, striking a Louisiana law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The Louisiana law was “almost word-for-word identical to Texas’ admitting privileges law,” which the Court struck in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Justice Breyer penned this order, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, and found the Louisiana law to be an unconstitutional inference with a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. Like in the 2016 decision, the ruling finds that the law’s requirements have no medical benefit. Justice Roberts, who dissented in the 2016 Texas decision, concurred in the judgement, writing that he still believed the 2016 ruling to be “wrongly decided” but that stare decisis compelled this decision. See opinion and a sampling of the many reports from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and NPR.
- The Court ruled that a Montana tax break that excluded religious institutions discriminated against religious schools, finding that states must allow religious schools to participate in programs that provide scholarships. See opinion and a report from The New York Times.
Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News
- The Seventh Circuit, after a three-year delay, reinstated some Wisconsin limits on voting, including laws on voter ID and early voting procedures. The court overruled the lower court that found that many of Wisconsin’s election laws disproportionately affected the ability of minorities to vote. The court found no evidence that lawmakers intended to discriminate against minorities, finding “[t]his record does not support a conclusion that the legislators who voted for the contested statutes cared about race; they cared about voters’ political preferences.” And the court found that the limits did not violate the First Amendment or the Voting Rights Act because “they leave all voters with equal opportunities to participate.” See the opinion and reports from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Courthouse News, and The Election Law Blog.
- A panel of the D.C. Circuit ordered the immediate dismissal of the criminal case against Michael Flynn. See reports from The New York Times, The Associated Press, and The Hill.
The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state legislature cannot unilaterally end the governor’s pandemic shutdown orders. Specifically, the ruling determined that the lawmakers resolution to end the orders was a “legal nullity” because it was not presented to the governor for signature or veto. See reports from The Associated Press and The Patriot-News of Harrisburg.