Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Monday, May 24, 2021

Justice Thomas, COVID, and Remote Oral Argument

One of the "surprises" of the Supreme Court's remote telephonic arguments is Justice Clarence Thomas's participation.  In the latest issue of The Journal of Appellate Practice & Process, Timothy Johnson, Maron Sorenson, Maggie Cleary, and Katie Szarkowicz share their research findings on Justice Thomas's oral argument participation. Specifically, they explore whether Justice Thomas's increased participation can be attributed to the changed format of Supreme Court arguments or some other explanation.

There is a lot to enjoy in this article.  I found the authors' parsing of Justice Blackmun's personal notes about Justice Thomas to be very interesting.  It seems that from the beginning of Justice Thomas's tenure on the Court, Justice Blackmun took notice of when Justice Thomas spoke at argument.  The authors' provide some of Justice Thomas's own reasons for his silence, and they discuss other scholarly discussions of Justice Thomas's silence on the bench.

Then, the authors delve into detailed research on the different times that Justice Thomas has asked questions at oral argument. They look at both the volume of participation and the types of cases, postulating that Justice Thomas's participation in oral argument often occurs in certain types of cases. But, as their research shows, it was really the change in argument format that led to the biggest change.

Many suspect that the Court will return to in-person arguments for the October 2021 Term, which features several blockbuster cases. It will be interesting to see if any of the structure from the telephonic arguments remains and, if it doesn't, does Justice Thomas resume his silence on the bench.

May 24, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 23, 2021

The Supreme Court, Abortion, and the Future of Roe v. Wade

Last week, the United States Supreme Court agreed to review the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that prohibits most abortions after fifteen weeks.[1] This case, Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Dobbs, represents yet another episode in the seemingly never-ending abortion saga. Simply put, a state enacts legislation striving to restrict the right to abortion and the Court renders a divisive decision, often by a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, that fails to resolve and clarify permanently the scope of the abortion right. The Court’s incremental, case-by-case jurisprudence has invited confusion and unpredictability into abortion jurisprudence and incentivized states to continue testing the viability of Roe v. Wade, which held that the judicially-created right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment encompassed a right to abortion.[2]

So, here we go again.

Another divisive abortion decision is likely and whatever the Court decides, its decision will likely be viewed as political and compromise the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

This constitutional mess can be traced to Roe v. Wade and Griswold v. Connecticut, in which the Court manipulated the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause to create unenumerated rights that no reasonable reading of the text could support.[3] In Griswold, the Court held that the Due Process Clause, along with other provisions in the Bill of Rights, contained invisible “penumbras … formed by emanations from those guarantees that give them life and substance.”[4] Within these judicially-invented “penumbras,” the Court gave itself the power to discover unenumerated “rights” out of thin air, including the right to privacy, that could not possibly be found in or inferred from the text.  Relying in substantial part on Griswold, the Court in Roe held that the right to privacy encompassed the right to terminate a pregnancy.[5]

Regardless of one’s policy views on abortion, liberal and constitutional scholars largely agree that Roe was constitutionally indefensible. Harvard Law School Professor Laurence Tribe, for example, stated that “behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it [Roe] rests is nowhere to be found.”[6] The late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg described Roe as “heavy-handed judicial activism,” and Edward Lazarus, a former clerk to Justice Harry Blackmun (who drafted the majority opinion), stated that “as a matter of constitutional interpretation ... if you administer truth serum … [most scholars] will tell you it is constitutionally indefensible.”[7] These scholars are correct – Roe was one of the worst decisions of the twentieth century.

Importantly, in Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, the Court had the opportunity to overturn Roe and return the abortion question to the states. Instead, the Court made the problem worse.[8] In a 5-4 decision, the Court upheld the “central holding” of Roe but overturned Roe’s trimester approach, which provided that, absent a compelling interest, states could not restrict a woman’s right to access abortion services during the first two trimesters, or pre-viability phase, which lasts approximately twenty-four weeks.[9] In the third trimester, the states had the authority to prohibit abortion except where necessary to protect the life or health of the mother.[10] In Planned Parenthood, however, the Court rejected the trimester approach; instead, the Court held that abortion restrictions during the pre-viability phase that imposed a “substantial burden” on the right to access abortion services were unconstitutional.[11]

Planned Parenthood was equally, if not more, constitutionally indefensible than Roe and it thrust the right to abortion into legal purgatory. After all, what precisely constitutes a “substantial burden” on the right to access abortion? And what criteria should be used to determine whether a burden is substantial? The Court had no answer.

But the states opposing abortion did.  Recognizing the ambiguity that Planned Parenthood created, these states have repeatedly enacted legislation that seeks to restrict abortion rights and thus rendered the scope of abortion rights unclear and uncertain. To make matters worse, the Court has evaluated these laws on a case-by-case basis and, in divisive and muddled opinions, failed to resolve the abortion question. Recently, for example, in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstadt and June Medical Services v. Russo, the Court invalidated – for good reason – laws requiring abortion providers to obtain hospital admitting privileges.[12]

The problem is that the Court, in these and other abortion decisions, has failed to definitively clarify the nature and scope of the abortion right, thus perpetuating a never-ending saga in which some states continue, in various ways, to eviscerate the abortion right. Instead of deciding each case narrowly – and based on an arguably subjective application of the undue burden standard – the Court should have either: (1) overturned Roe and returned the abortion issue to the states; or (2) held that women have an unfettered right to abortion before viability. Whatever one’s views on abortion, this would have resolved the constitutional question and precluded the seemingly never-ending litigation that Roe and its progeny have engendered. In short, Roe was a terrible decision and Planned Parenthood only compounded the constitutional damage that Roe inflicted. By way of analogy, when a person lies, the best course of action is to admit and own up to the lie rather than try to cover it up with additional lies. The Court’s abortion jurisprudence reflects the latter.

As such, the Court once again finds itself in a constitutional quagmire, the result of which will surely divide the country and risk compromising the Court’s institutional legitimacy. But the Court has no one but itself to blame. It created – and exacerbated – the constitutional fictions known as “penumbras” and substantive due process.  

Of course, one’s views on whether women should have a right to abortion are irrelevant. Most polls suggest that a majority of citizens support at least a limited right to abortion. And the reasons are understandable. But the abortion issue should have always been resolved by state legislatures, not nine unelected and life-tenured judges. The Court should have never involved itself in the abortion debate.

Ultimately, what should the Court do in Jackson Women's Health Organization? It should end this constitutional charade. In so doing, the Court should hold that, although Roe was constitutionally indefensible, it should not be overruled. For nearly fifty years, women have relied on Roe to make decisions, in conjunction with their health care providers, regarding whether to terminate a pregnancy. Put simply, Roe is entrenched in the public consciousness and stare decisis counsels in favor of reluctantly upholding Roe despite its obvious flaws. Furthermore, the Court should return to the trimester framework and hold that states may not restrict abortion access prior to viability.

That will end the inquiry and the uncertainty.

But don’t count on it. The most likely result will be a decision, engineered by Chief Justice John Roberts – who has become the Court’s most political actor – that confuses, rather than clarifies, abortion jurisprudence. That is the sad reality of the U.S. Supreme Court. Despite Chief Justice Roberts’s assertions to the contrary, the Court is unquestionably political.

Most importantly, in the future, the Court should hold that the penumbras upon which Griswold and Roe are predicated no longer exist. Had the Court adhered to an originalist framework, we would never be in this mess.

Hopefully, the Court will learn its lesson. There is ample reason, however, to be skeptical.

 

[1] Jackson Women's Health Organization v. Dobbs, No. 19-1392 (October Term, 2021).

[2] 410 U.S. 113 (1973).

[3] Id; 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[4] Id. at 484.

[5] 410 U.S. 113.

[6] Timothy P. Carney, The Pervading Dishonesty of Roe v. Wade (Jan. 23, 2012), available at: The pervading dishonesty of Roe v. Wade | Washington Examiner

[7] Id.

[8] 505 U.S. 833 (1992).

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12]  136 S. Ct. 2292 (2016); 2020 WL 3492640.

May 23, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (12)

Friday, May 21, 2021

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Sunday, May 21, 2021

WeeklyRoundupGraphic

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 has ruled that their April 2020 decision on non-unanimous jury verdicts is not retroactive. The April 2020 decision found that non-unanimous jury verdicts for serious crimes (whether federal or state) are unconstitutional. Then the court considered this case (which we wrote about here back in December 2020) asking whether the April decision should apply retroactively to prisoners in Louisiana and Oregon (the last remaining states to allow non-unanimous verdicts as of the April decision) convicted in the past by non-unanimous juries. The Court ruled that it should not, stating: “It is time — probably long past time — to make explicit what has become increasingly apparent to bench and bar over the last 32 years: New procedural rules do not apply retroactively on federal collateral review.” See the order and reports from The New York Times and The Associate Press.

  • The Supreme Court has agreed to hear an abortions case that many believe may test Roe v. Wade. The case challenges a Mississippi law that bans most abortions after 15 weeks. The Court accepted the appeal of the Fifth Circuit’s decision that the law could not survive Supreme Court precedent on abortion restrictions, saying that it would consider whether “all pre-viability prohibitions on elective abortions are unconstitutional.” The case should be heard in the Court’s next term, which begins in October.  Here is a sampling of the many recent reports: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, The Associated Press, and Reuters.

  • This week, a reader flagged for us the petition for certiorari in Johnson & Johnson v. Ingham, No. 20-1223 (U.S., pending), and shared two pieces that discuss the case and its legal issues. Thanks, Abby! The Supreme Court will conference on the case this week. Johnson & Johnson (J&J) is appealing the $2.1 billion judgment on the claims of 22 plaintiffs who claimed J&J’s talc products contained asbestos and caused their ovarian cancers. Of particular import in the appeal is whether the lower court properly consolidated multiple plaintiffs into a single trial. For background, see pieces from Reuters and Bloomberg.  Both shared pieces question the legitimacy of consolidated trials and can be found here: Drug & Device Law and Justices Should Stand For Jury-Trial Fairness And Grant Writ Of Certiorari In J&J v. Ingham.

  • There’s a new podcast about the Supreme Court, “Divided Argument,” presented by law professors Dan Epps and Will Baude seems to be well-received; find the first three episodes here.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Ninth Circuit has rejected an appeal of the $25 million verdict against Bayer-owned Monsanto. This is the second appeal that the company has lost on a similar verdict and another appeal is pending. This case concerned the claim that the weedkiller Roundup caused the plaintiff’s cancer and considered whether the company should have included a warning on the product. The court rejected the company’s claim that conflicting federal and state laws on labeling prohibited it from including a warning. As Bayer faces many similar suits and because this ruling is a split from a decision from a US District Court in Georgia that sided with Monsanto (now pending in the Eleventh Circuit), some predict that Bayer will ask the Supreme Court to weigh in.  See the order and a report from The Courthouse News.

 

May 21, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Mandates Matter

Mask-wearers-in-mill-valley-california

    We hear a lot about mandates these days. Politicians claim mandates when they eke out wins. Social media warriors fight over when masks should be worn. And state and federal officers joust over social distancing and mask mandates in public spaces. But if you are an appellate practitioner, one mandate you should definitely pay attention to is the one that actually ends your appeal.

    The judgment of the court does not end an appeal. The mandate does. The mandate terminates the jurisdiction of the case in the court of appeal and returns it to the district court (or, in rare cases, the Supreme Court) for action. Thus, even if a case is simply affirmed, the mandate must first issue before the district court can enter judgment. And if there is any additional action necessary, such as with a remand, the mandate will define exactly what actions can be taken (with certain exceptions, of course).

    Federal Rule of Appellate Procedure 41 provides that a mandate can either be a formal document entire in itself, or can simply be "a certified copy of the judgment, a copy of the court's opinion, if any, and any direction about costs." FRAP 41(a). Because it is the mandate that controls, close attention should be paid to the directions it contains.

    The mandate must issue 7 days after the time to file a petition for rehearing expires, or 7 days after entry of an order denying a timely petition for panel rehearing, petition for rehearing en banc, or motion for stay of mandate, whichever is later. FRAP 41(b). It is important to note what does NOT extend the deadline for the mandate - motions for extensions of time to file petitions for rehearing, for instance, do not extend the deadline. Neither does the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari.

    In the case of either a motion to extend or the filing of a petition for writ of certiorari, a party can (and should) move the court to stay issuance of the mandate pending action. To stay issuance for filing of a petition for writ of certiorari, the party must show that the petition "would present a substantial question and that there is good cause for a stay." FRAP 41(d)(2)(A). If the request is denied by the court of appeals, it can be renewed in the Supreme Court under its Rule 23.

    If a stay is granted for a certiorari petition, it can only be for an initial maximum period of 90 days from entry of judgment, mirroring the time period for filing the petition. FRAP 41(d)(2). The stay can be extended on a showing of good cause, or upon notice that the deadline to file the petition has been extended or that the petition has actually been filed (in which case the stay is extended until the petition is disposed). FRAP 41(d)(2)(A),(B). If the Supreme Court denies the petition, the mandate immediately issues. FRAP 41(d)(2)(B)(4).

    Close attention should be paid to the interplay of the mandate and any supersedeas bond. Such bonds stay execution of any judgment and remain in effect until their terms are fulfilled. See FRCP 62(b). Some bonds may be written to end upon issuance of the mandate. Thus, even if an appeal is pending, if the mandate issues, collection could begin without the proper stay being requested.

(Image attribution: Mask-wearers in Mill Valley, Calif., 1918. (Photo by Raymond Coyne/Lucretia Little History Room, Mill Valley Public Library/Public domain.) Proving that there has always been someone with their nose sticking out.)

May 18, 2021 in Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 16, 2021

Derek Chauvin's Conviction Should Be Overturned

On April 20, 2021, after a brief deliberation, a jury convicted former police officer Derek Chauvin for second-degree unintentional murder (i.e., felony murder), second-degree manslaughter, and third-degree murder in connection with George Floyd’s death.

Chauvin’s attorney, Eric Nelson, who has already moved for a new trial before Judge Peter Cahill, will certainly appeal Chauvin’s conviction. Although the likelihood of succeeding on appeal is relatively small, several issues in Chauvin’s case render the guilty verdict vulnerable to reversal.

1.    The jury deprived Chauvin of a fair trial

Chauvin’s defense team will likely argue that the conduct and composition of the jury deprived Chauvin of a fair trial. First, the defense will assert that the jury violated Chauvin’s Fifth Amendment rights. The Fifth Amendment provides, among other things, protection against self-incrimination. At a criminal trial, a defendant may invoke the right against self-incrimination and thus refuse to testify. Importantly, jurors may not infer guilt from a defendant’s silence; doing so is grounds for overturning a guilty verdict.

During the trial, Chauvin invoked his Fifth Amendment right and thus did not testify. Unfortunately, there is some evidence that at least one of the jurors construed that silence against Chauvin. Specifically, shortly after the verdict, Brandon Mitchell (Juror No. 52), spoke to the media and, after being asked whether Chauvin’s silence impacted the jury, stated as follows:

Yeah, definitely it [Chauvin's silence] did when we were in the deliberation room; you know, a few people wondered like they wanted to actually hear from [him]. They were curious on you know, just what his thoughts might have been throughout.  You know it probably was to his detriment that he didn’t take the stand ’cause people were curious on what his thoughts were throughout the entire incident.”[1]

At the very least, Mitchell's statement may cause Judge Cahill to question the jurors regarding the effect, if any, that Chauvin’s silence had on their deliberations.

Second, the defense will argue that the jury was impermissibly biased against Chauvin. Once again, Brandon Mitchell’s conduct provides a basis upon which to support this assertion. After the trial, a photograph emerged of Mitchell wearing a t-shirt that stated, “Get your knee off our necks,” which Mitchell allegedly wore at a Washington, D.C. rally commemorating Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech.[2]

The photograph’s impact on appeal will depend primarily on whether Mitchell was truthful when answering the jury questionnaire during voir dire. Specifically, Mitchell was asked the following questions:

“Did you, or someone close to you, participate in any of the demonstrations or marches against police brutality that took place in Minneapolis after George Floyd’s death?” one question read, according to the newspaper.

 “Other than what you have already described above, have you, or anyone close to you, participated in protests about police use of force or police brutality?”[3]

Mitchell answered “no” to both questions.

At the very least, the photograph of Mitchell wearing a shirt stating, “Get your knee off our necks,” coupled with his “no” answer to the second question, supports a further inquiry by Judge Cahill into Mitchell's potential bias.

2.    Failure to sequester the jury

Chauvin’s defense team will certainly argue that the jury should have been sequestered from the beginning of the trial, not merely during deliberations. There may be some merit to this argument, given: (1) the pervasive media coverage in the months following Floyd’s death and particularly during the trial; (2) the statement by Maxine Waters, in which she stated that protesters should “get more confrontational” if a guilty verdict was not reached.[4] Indeed, Judge Cahill stated that Waters’ statement may lead to a reversal on appeal. Furthermore, Alan Dershowitz stated:

Well, first, what was done to George Floyd by officer Chauvin was inexcusable, morally, but the verdict is very questionable because of the outside influences of people like Al Sharpton and people like Maxine Waters,” … Their threats and intimidation and hanging the Sword of Damocles over the jury and basically saying, 'If you don’t convict on the murder charge and all the charges, the cities will burn, the country will be destroyed,' seeped into the jury room because the judge made a terrible mistake by not sequestering the jury. 

And a statement by alternate juror Lisa Christensen, although not necessarily relevant to the appeal, suggests that the pressure to reach a guilty verdict may have impacted the jury. When questioned about the possible social unrest that may result from the verdict, Christensen stated as follows:

There was a question on the questionnaire about it and I put I did not know. The reason, at that time, was I did not know what the outcome was going to be, so I felt like either way you are going to disappoint one group or the other. I did not want to go through rioting and destruction again and I was concerned about people coming to my house if they were not happy with the verdict.[5]

Coupled with Brandon Mitchell’s statement (and the photo), Christensen’s statement arguably supports the argument that the jury should have been sequestered.

3.    Failure to Change Venue

Chauvin’s defense will argue that Judge Cahill erred by failing to grant a change of venue. To begin with, the incessant media coverage in Minneapolis and elsewhere following Floyd’s tragic death, coupled with the widespread protests in Minneapolis, which universally condemned Chauvin’s actions (some of which turned violent), may support the argument that Judge Cahill should have granted the defense’s motion to change venue. However, the prosecution will argue that the media coverage and protests occurred throughout Minnesota and the United States, thus rendering it unlikely, if not impossible, that Chauvin would have received a fairer trial anywhere in Minnesota. The prosecution will probably succeed on this aspect of the venue issue.

That, however, does not end the inquiry. Shortly before jury selection, Minneapolis announced that it reached a settlement of twenty-seven million dollars with Floyd’s family in connection with the family’s civil suit. The timing of this settlement is certainly suspect and a legitimate question exists concerning whether the settlement affected the jurors' impartiality.  

4.    Insufficiency of evidence on one or more of the charges

The defense will likely argue that the evidence did not support a conviction for second-degree unintentional murder (felony murder) or third-degree murder. The third-degree murder conviction is problematic because Minnesota’s statute requires that an individual engage in conduct that is a threat to “others.” It is difficult to conceive of how Chauvin’s actions threatened anyone by Floyd, thus warranting a reversal of the conviction on this charge. As a practical matter, however, this will have no impact on the sentencing because the conviction for second-degree unintentional murder, which results in the most severe sentence, will likely be upheld, and because the sentences for each conviction will be imposed concurrently, not consecutively.

***

Ultimately, the vast majority of commentators and citizens viewed Chauvin’s actions as egregious and criminal. Moreover, the likelihood of overturning a conviction on appeal is small.

But in this case, the chances of success are higher. Based on Brandon Mitchell’s statements (and the photograph), the failure to sequester the jury despite the incessant and negative media coverage, and the twenty-seven million dollar settlement on the eve of jury selection, Chauvin’s defense team will have a strong argument to overturn the conviction.

And for the reasons stated, the conviction should be overturned.

Process matters – regardless of Chauvin’s egregious and deplorable conduct.

 

[1] Scott Cosenza, Did Floyd Jurors Violate Chauvin’s Fifth Amendment Rights? (April 29, 2021), available at: Did Floyd Jurors Violate Chauvin's 5th Amend Rights? - Liberty Nation

[2] See Paulina Villegas, Photo of Chauvin Juror Wearing BLM T-Shirt at March Raises Questions of Impartiality, Experts Say (May 3, 2021), available at: Brandon Mitchell, juror in Derek Chauvin’s murder trial, faces allegations of prejudice after photo surfaces - The Washington Post

[3] Jonathan Turley, Juror No. 52: Does Chauvin Have a New Challenge Over Juror Brandon Mitchell? (May 4, 2021), available at: Juror 52: Does Chauvin Have A New Challenge Over Juror Brandon Mitchell? – JONATHAN TURLEY

[4] See Chandelis Duster, Waters Calls for Protestors to ‘Get More Confrontational’ If No Guilty Verdict Is Reached in Chauvin Trial (April 19, 2021), available at: Maxine Waters calls for protesters to 'get more confrontational' if no guilty verdict is reached in Derek Chauvin trial - CNNPolitics

[5] Jordan Davidson, Stunning Chauvin Juror Confession: I Was Worried About ‘Rioting and Destruction’ and ‘People Coming to My House’ to Protest Verdict (April 23, 2001), available at: Stunning Chauvin Juror Confession: I Was Worried About ‘Rioting And Destruction’ (thefederalist.com)

May 16, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (8)

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Using Inclusive Language As Allyship

While avoiding grading recently, I found an interesting analysis of inclusive language as a lawyer’s professional responsibility, and as a form of allyship.  Jayne Reardon, a former Illinois State Bar disciplinary counsel, posted a thoughtful piece on inclusion and allies on the Illinois Supreme Court Committee on Professionalism’s 2Civility website.  See Jayne Reardon, Inclusive Language Is Allyship (Apr. 22, 2021).  

Reardon aptly concludes:  “Given that ‘effective communicator’ is part of a lawyer’s job description, we should be sensitive to how listeners may interpret our language.”  Id.  As lawyers, “our stock in trade is language. We can choose language that makes our points persuasively or language that is distracting and possibly offensive. Distracting or offensive language, of course, doesn’t serve our clients, our profession, or our image in the eyes of the public.”  Id.

As appellate lawyers, we are in an especially good position to combine our duty to communicate clearly with the goal of using language non-offensively.  In so doing, we can also use our privilege to serve as allies for underrepresented groups. 

How do we combine communication with allyship?  Hopefully, in many ways, including using our writing skills and engaging in conversations on bias and inclusion.

Reardon suggests we start by avoiding metaphors and by thinking carefully about the way phrases like “Chinese wall” and “the blind leading the blind” can be offensive and painful.  Id.  Ellie Krug, founder and president of Human Inspiration Works, LLC, finds “the language of ‘us vs. them’ particularly pernicious to our democratic values and “exhorts lawyers to embrace the diversity, equity, and inclusion practices that the business community adopted long ago.”  Reardon, Inclusive Language Is Allyship.  

We can also connect our language to allyship with a full understanding of what being an ally can entail.  As Nicole Asong Nfonoyim-Hara, the Director of the Diversity Programs at Mayo Clinic, defines, “allyship” is "when a person of privilege works in solidarity and partnership with a marginalized group of people to help take down the systems that challenge that group's basic rights, equal access, and ability to thrive in our society."  Samantha-Rae Dickenson, What Is Allyship?  (Nat’l Inst. of Health Jan. 28, 2021).  “Allyship” can also focus on “help[ing] humans who often lack a voice to speak on their own behalf or who aren’t always in the room when demeaning or marginalizing comments/behaviors occur, or marginalizing policies or plans are made.”  Ellie Krug, Allyship for Lawyers in an Awakened America (Apr. 21, 2021).

As Reardon notes, “[w]hen we disregard how others may interpret our language or are unthoughtful with our words, we risk offending members of our professional community, like the judge, judge’s staff, opposing counsel, or others who may hear the oral argument or read the brief. In choosing more inclusive language, we choose allyship.” 

I am working to choose allyship in my writing and teaching, and I appreciate the resources and conversations about being an ally from 2Civility and others.  If you are interested in seeing more of the 2Civility website and programs, you can subscribe herefor the Commission’s weekly newsletter.

May 15, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Zombie Precedents? Stare Decisis and the New Footnote Fourt in Jones v. Mississippi

The Supreme Court’s recent decision in Jones v. Mississippi purported to do all the right things with respect to precedent cases. The majority claimed to uphold precedents like Miller v. Alabama that highlighted the intransigence of youth and the need for courts to consider whether a juvenile defendant is permanently incorrigible before sentencing them to life without parole.[1] It then noted Montgomery v. Louisiana’s holding that Miller’s rule was substantive, and therefore applied retroactively on collateral review.[2] Yet in the opinion’s fourth footnote, the majority purported to limit Montgomery’s holding, stating that because it was in “tension” with other retroactivity cases, Montgomery “should not guide the determination of whether rules other than Miller are substantive.[3] Essentially, the majority acknowledged its disagreement with the holding of Montgomery—that Miller’s rule was substantive and not procedural—but refused to overrule it, saying that it ought to be a one-of-a-kind precedent courts in future retroactivity cases should feel free to ignore. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Court then rejected the juvenile petitioner’s argument that under Montgomery a court could only sentence him to life without parole after making and on-the-record finding that he was permanently incorrigible.[4]  

Will footnote four in Jones come to rival other famous fourth footnotes in Constitutional jurisprudence?[5] That all depends on one’s conception of stare decisis and its meaning. It might create categories of precedents not just limited to their facts, but limited in their peculiar readings of long-standing doctrinal puzzles. Sure, one might say, Montgomery still stands as a precedent holding that Miller retroactive, but its comments on retroactivity doctrine and the distinction between substantive and procedural rules do not extend to future cases. Thus, Montgomery still exists, but has limited value in the development of retroactivity doctrine. It stands as a unique form of zombie precedent that appears all but dead, yet stills lurk the corridors of the United States Reports.[6]

Several Justices challenged footnote four’s approach, though they raised conflicting critiques of the zombie precedent model. Justice Thomas’s concurrence and Justice Sotomayor’s dissent used differing versions of stare decisis to make their points. First, Justice Thomas cited to his opinion Gamble v. United States that would permit overruling any “demonstrably erroneous” precedent, without further analysis, to argue that Montgomery could not survive and should be directly overruled.[7] As I’ve noted in an earlier post, that trend towards a weaker version of stare decisis that focuses on the poor quality of a precedent’s reasoning, even permitting the Justices to overrule on that basis alone, has taken root on the Court in the last decade, though it is yet to garner a clear majority of the Justices’ support. On the other hand, Justice Sotomayor relied upon a stronger conception of stare decisis traceable to 1992’s Planned Parenthood v. Casey.[8] That conception of stare decisis only permits the Justices to overrule based upon special justifications beyond “poor reasoning,” such as unworkability, special reliance interests, new legal developments, or vastly changed facts.[9] Applying those possibly justifications, Sotomayor and her colleagues saw no reason to overrule Montgomery’s retroactivity holding, then chided the majority for seemingly overruling it nonetheless.[10]

The Jones majority’s effort to render Montgomery a zombie precedent introduced a new battle front in the larger ongoing war over the future of stare decisis. Justices that support both the strong and weak version of stare decisis should take note of the possibilities and perils that such zombie precedents present. Jones’s footnote four has the potential to become a flashpoint in the stare decisis debate for years to come.

 

[1] Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S.Ct. 1307, 1317-19 (2021).

[2] Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S.Ct. 1307, 1317 (2021).

[3] Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S.Ct. 1307, 1317 n. 4  (2021).

[4] Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S.Ct. 1307, 1321 (2021).

[5] See United States v. Carolene Prod. Co., 304 U.S. 144, 153 n. 4 (1938).

[6] These should not be confused with “phantom precedents,” which are decisions the Court finds so incomprehensible that they may never have existed at all.

[7] Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S.Ct. 1307, 1323 (2021) (Thomas, J., concurring).

[8] 505 U.S. 833, 854-55 (1992) (plurality opinion).

[9] For more on the competing strands of the stare decisis doctrine, see Michael Gentithes, Janus-Faced Judging: How the Supreme Court is Radically Weakening Stare Decisis, 62 Wm. & Mary L. Rev. 83, 98-112 (2020).

[10] Jones v. Mississippi, 141 S.Ct. 1307, 1330, 1335-36 (2021) (Sotomayor, J., dissenting).

May 11, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 10, 2021

In Honor of Mother's Day--Everyone Has to Eat (A Review of Meal Kit Services)

Let's face it--adulting is hard.  As a wife and a mom, when I saw this meme it hit home.

Dinner meme

To some degree, this meme was exacerbated by the pandemic. While some people took all the time at home to bake sourdough bread and make home cooked meals, I mourned the ability to eat out and wondered how many nights a week we could eat pancakes (and what wine to pair with them). I finally decided to sign up for some meal kit delivery services, thinking that it would be a great chance to try something new, and I could also write a review for the blog.  The two that I tried were Home Chef and Hello Fresh

In signing up for a service, I was looking for something with generous portions (think, leftovers), something that would be easy (I have a newly turned 3 yo and a baby), and something that would be kid friendly (my 3 yo could live off dino nuggets and pancakes). 

We tried Home Chef first. Here is what I liked:

  • Meal selection--I thought that they had a great selection of meals. I have some food allergies, and it was generally easy for me to find meals that accommodated those allergies.
  • Portion size--I was shocked at how generous the portions were.  We would make a 2 person meal and have leftovers. I sometimes added a starch to stretch the meal a bit, like noodles or rice.  
  • Kid friendly--My toddler was not super impressed, but throwing his dino nuggets into the toaster oven was pretty easy and gave us more leftovers.
  • Ease of cooking--So this is where I was both impressed and disappointed.  Home Chef has 15 minute meals. If you did not have two small children either crying or trying to help you, I think that these meals could actually be prepared in 15 minutes.  For example, if the meal called for cut chicken, the chicken was sent to you pre-cut, which I loved. But, they also have these "oven ready" meals. If you see the ads for Home Chef, you just assume that these meals come ready to pop in the oven. Not true.  At least twice we had "oven ready" meals that included meatballs, and I was expected to make the meatballs.  That is not oven ready.  We also had a few oven ready dishes that took a lot longer to cook then what the instructions said.  Still, nearly all the ingredients were packaged in the servings that you needed. It was pretty easy.
  • Packaging--For the first two weeks we got three days of meals with four servings.  But, the four servings came in two bags of two servings each. This was awesome!  It allowed us to easily cook just a two serving portion, which is what we needed unless we had company.
  • Delivery--I did like that we could pick our day of the week for delivery. This allowed us to use these meals during the busy workweek (and then eat pancakes for dinner on the weekends).

What didn't I like:

  • Ease--As I noted above, I was a little disappointed in the so-called "oven ready" meals. They weren't super "oven ready."
  • Cost--Once our promo period ended, we didn't continue the meals. It was just too pricey.  Honestly, I could buy a few Costco meals for the same cost and keep them in our deep freezer.

Now on to Hello Fresh.  I have to be honest, there wasn't anything that I thought Hello Fresh did better than Home Chef.  But, I will provide comments on some of the same categories.

  • Meal selection--The meal selection was ok. I saw a lot more noodle dishes, which is what I was trying to avoid with my allergies
  • Portions--The portions seemed noticeably smaller. We did not have the same amount of leftovers.
  • Kid friendly--I think that this was about the same. My toddler might have eaten tacos once, but only because they were on my husband's plate and all parents know that food is more appealing when it isn't on your plate.
  • Ease of cooking--These meals were a lot more time intensive.  Hello Fresh has a handful of faster meals, but most of them ended up being the same type of meal.  It seemed like there was just so much more prep work.  And, the packaging didn't make it easy. The four portions came in one package, and sometimes they didn't always send two of the same condiment or spice.  I also found that the produce was not as fresh.
  • Delivery--We could not change our delivery date. That was a pain. Our meals came on Saturday.
  • Cost--Hello Fresh was a little cheaper, but not a lot, and still not worth it.

If we had to sign up for one of the services again, I would definitely do Home Chef. I have looked into a few other services but have not been impressed with their menus. Now that summer is almost here, my teaching load will ease up and I will hopefully have more time to cook. Or, there is always Costco and the frozen options they offer.

May 10, 2021 | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Ten Tips to Create a Legal Writing Course That Prepares Students for The Real World

In the past year, COVID-19 has transformed how legal education – and legal writing – is delivered to students. Online instruction replaced in-person instruction, professors and students were forced to adapt quickly to an alternative learning format, and grading policies were adjusted to account for the unique hardships that online learning engendered for many law students. And all of this occurred while administrators, faculty, and students were living in fear of a virus that has killed more than 570,000 citizens in the United States.  

Notwithstanding, the challenges involved in transitioning to online learning – along with the challenges of transitioning to in-person instruction post-COVID – need not compromise the transformative and practical instruction that legal writing courses can effectuate, regardless of whether through online or in-person instruction. Indeed, several universal principles or designs can ensure that students learn real-world writing and critical thinking skills in online and in-person contexts. Those principles are below and can be useful to both new and experienced legal writing faculty to ensure that legal writing courses provide students with the competencies to succeed in law school and the legal profession.

1.    Connect legal writing to the real world – a memo and appellate brief are not sufficient.

The best legal writing courses and curriculums connect pedagogy and assignments to the real world.  To do so, legal writing professors should require students to draft and re-draft the most common litigation documents in their courses, including complaints, answers, motions to dismiss and motions for summary judgment, trial briefs, and appellate briefs.[1] And these assignments should be given in the order they would be drafted in practice.

To accomplish this objective, legal writing professors should, either individually or collaboratively, draft a detailed hypothetical fact pattern that includes substantive issues from all first-year courses and requires students to “litigate” a hypothetical case from the complaint to appellate brief in the first year of law school (or the first three semesters). The assignments could be administered as follows:

Semester One

Client meeting

Legal research assignment (one or more issues in the hypothetical)

Predictive memorandum (closed research)

Re-write of the predictive memorandum with one or more issues added (open research)

Complaint

Semester Two

Answer (which allows students to self-critique their complaint consider a legal issue from an opposing perspective)

Motion to Dismiss

Motion for Summary Judgment (with previously prepared discovery provided)

Re-write of the Motion for Summary Judgment

Oral argument

Semester Three

Appellate Brief

Re-write of Appellate Brief

Oral Argument

Appellate court opinion (students assume the role of judge and draft an opinion affirming or overturning the lower court)

This format will allow students to gain experience in drafting and re-drafting the most common litigation documents in the order that they would be drafted in practice, thus enabling students to understand the ‘big picture’ of how law is practiced, and gain experience in applying predictive and persuasive writing techniques to various real-world documents and contexts.[2] Perhaps most importantly, this approach enables professors to focus on persuasive advocacy from day one, in which students will be required to, among other things, formulate a theme and theory of the case, distinguish relevant from irrelevant facts, and synthesize the law to present a compelling legal argument. Of course, this would not eliminate instruction on predictive writing; it would simply incorporate the predictive writing component into the litigation and sequence it appropriately.

2.    Prioritize integration over separation – legal writing assignments should be connected to doctrinal courses

When drafting a multi-issue hypothetical that allows students the opportunity to litigate a hypothetical case from the complaint to the appellate brief, law professors should include issues from the students’ required first-year courses. Doing so will enable students to apply the legal doctrines that they are learning in their required courses to real-world contexts and help students to understand how these doctrines operate in law practice. Furthermore, by applying foundational legal doctrines (e.g., personal jurisdiction, negligence) to a real-world fact pattern, students will simultaneously improve their writing and critical thinking skills and learn how to effectively analyze legal issues, which will maximize their performance on end-of semester-exams and enhance their ability to think like lawyers.

For example, a multi-issue fact pattern in a first-year legal writing curriculum can include issues such as negligence, personal jurisdiction, assault and battery, proximate causation, and supplemental jurisdiction. By connecting the assignments in legal writing courses to the topics students are learning in doctrinal courses, the legal writing curriculum will be an essential and integrated part of the curriculum.

3.    Require students to read excellent writing

Before students write, they should read excellent legal writing texts and documents. After all, students need to understand what good writing is before they can become excellent legal writers. For example, professors should require students to read Plain English for Lawyers by Richard Wydick and Chief Justice John Roberts’s brief in Alaska v. Environmental Protection Agency, which is a perfect example of outstanding storytelling and persuasive advocacy.[3]

4.    Make the Rule of Three a cornerstone of legal writing instruction.

The Rule of Three is an effective technique to maximize the persuasive impact of an argument. This technique instructs students, when making legal arguments, to identify three reasons that support a desired outcome or remedy. Social science research demonstrates that the Rule of Three effectively simplifies and organizes an argument for the audience, and appeals to the audience because people respond positively and attentively to arguments that are delivered in sets of three.

5.    Teach students how to re-write and edit, not just write

Excellent writing requires excellent editing.

Indeed, to write effectively, students must understand and embrace the writing process, which consists of the: (1) first draft; (2) rewriting phase; and (3) revision phase. Thus, legal writing professors should instruct students on macro and micro level editing, including issues such as organization, conciseness, word choice, grammar, and style. Put simply, if students do not understand how to re-write and edit effectively, they will not write persuasively.

Perhaps the best way to train students in re-writing and editing is to provide them with a legal brief written by a practicing attorney and require them, individually or in groups, to re-write and edit the document, and explain why their edits made the document flow better and present the arguments more persuasively.

6.    Include time-pressured assignments

As every lawyer knows, legal documents must often be drafted under strict time constraints. Thus, law students should gain experience in drafting real-world documents under the pressures that attorneys face daily.[4] For example, legal writing instructors can require students to draft a rule section explaining the law of defamation and give students, either individually or in groups, twenty-four hours to complete the assignment. Doing so enables students to continue developing their legal writing skills while simultaneously coping with the pressures that they will encounter in law practice.

7.    Include simulations and require students to argue opposing viewpoints

When using a multi-issue hypothetical that requires students to litigate a case from the complaint to the appellate brief, legal writing faculty should include simulations, such as a client interview, presentation of the law to a partner, settlement negotiations, and trial and appellate court oral arguments.  The point is to train students to communicate effectively and interpersonally, which essential to excellent counseling and advocacy.

8.    Truly ‘Flip the Classroom’: Turn the students into teachers

Students should be challenged in the legal writing classroom and curriculum – and treated as peers. One way to do this is to truly flip the classroom by requiring students, as part of an assigned group, to teach particular classes that discuss topics such as IRAC/CRAC, case synthesis, and binding versus persuasive legal authority. Doing so will ensure that the ‘teaching students’ master the relevant material and gain experience in public speaking and communication. Also, this exercise can empower students and create an environment in which they are views as peers in a collaborative learning process.

9.    Stay away from politics

No one cares about your political views.  More specifically, no student wants to enroll in a course where they will be subject to ideological indoctrination. Students learn best – and are motivated to learn – in a classroom where they feel welcomed and accepted. As such, classrooms should be places in which all views – liberal, conservative, libertarian, and whatever else – are welcomed and respected. Thus, to promote diversity of viewpoint and experience, law professors should never make statements or design assignments that strive to advance a particular point of view or agenda. Doing so is antithetical to creating a diverse and inclusive classroom environment.

10.    Be available – always

Great professors care deeply about their students’ success and demonstrate that commitment by being accessible and available to every student – even in the evenings and on weekends. Indeed, getting to know each student individually – and establishing productive relationships with each student – inspires trust and motivates them to work hard and succeed. For these reasons, go the extra mile and be available to students whenever they need advice or assistance. It shows that you care, which inspires students to excellent lawyers – and citizens.  

Ultimately, the best legal writing professors realize that their mission is not about them – it is about improving the skills and lives of their students. These tips will help in achieving those objectives and make the legal writing curriculum a place where students learn to become great lawyers and great people.

 

[1] See Adam Lamparello & Megan Boyd, Legal Writing for the Real World (LexisNexis, 2014).

[2] See Adam Lamparello & Charles E. MacLean, The Guide to Experiential Legal Writing (Carolina Academic Press, 2015).

[3] See Alaska v. Environmental Protection Agency, Petitioner’s Brief, available at: 02-658.mer.pet.pdf (findlawimages.com)

[4] See, e.g., Kathleen Elliot Vinson & Sabrina DeFabritis, Under Pressure: How Incorporating Time-Pressured Performance Tests Prepares Students for the Bar Exam and Practice, 122 West Va. L. Rev. 107 (2019).

May 9, 2021 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)