Sunday, January 22, 2023
“What is your best case?”
That’s a question that many an appellate judge asks during oral argument.
Sometimes, there is an obvious answer: Smith v. Jones holds that the very inaction of the defendant in this case constitutes a breach of duty that warrants liability. Or, Johnson v. Williams holds that it is not a violation of the statute to engage in the conduct the plaintiff alleges that my client undertook.
Other times, however, the caselaw might appear ambiguous, even if it is not. In one case I argued, Justice Breyer asked first my opponent and then me for our best case on whether the underlying state law was well-established and regularly applied. My opponent cited a case that stated the law somewhat loosely, which allowed him to claim that the law was not clear and thus not established. When I stood at the podium, I mentioned that my brief cited 39 cases over a 78-year period, but that I was happy to rely on one case that both sides cited because I believed it actually favored my argument.
The choice proved a good one. Justice Breyer had also flagged the case and had the opinion in front of him, no doubt because both sides had relied upon it. He asked me to explain a sentence that he read, which he said seemed to cut against my stance. It was the passage that my opponent had also cited in his brief, so I was very familiar with it. I responded that the sentence cited also had a dependent clause that the justice had not read aloud and that the qualification it made changed the entire meaning of the sentence. Justice Breyer chuckled and admitted that he agreed. Some three-and-a-half months later, we prevailed.
Certainly, that type of preparation and anticipation is needed when advocates are challenged by potentially clashing precedent. But what happens when there are no directly on-point cases and your argument is constructed from the logical implications of multiple cases that build upon one another? That is, no single case stands for the proposition you are advocating, but that several separate precedential propositions lead inexorably to your result?
It is important to make clear that a single case does not answer the question when that’s the case. Still, you must explain that the answer to the question presented becomes clear from looking at several cases. Precedent number one holds that the relevant constitutional test is a historical one. Precedent number two demonstrates that common practices prior to 1791, the year the Bill of Rights was ratified, satisfy historic conceptions of due process. Precedent number three is a historic practice indistinguishable from the issue before the court. Therefore, these precedents establish a roadmap that should demonstrate that the practice now before the court is consistent with due process. The deductive reasoning used to tie the precedents into a coherent legal theory becomes the product of multiple precedents and makes the best-case inquiry too simplistic to resolve the dispute.
What if, instead, the mandatory historical inquiry works against your position? It then becomes necessary to demonstrate that our constitutional conceptions are not frozen in time, but establish larger principles that can applied to situations unimagined at the time. Thus, we apply the concept of free speech to radio, television, and the Internet, even if the authors of the First Amendment could not have imagined these mediums. A best case, then, might consist of cases where a court has imagined the principle and applied it analogically.
In the end, a best case may exist – or it may a best case may actually be a series of cases.
Saturday, January 21, 2023
Happy 2023. I hope the new year is going well for all of you. As I began moving my students from objective office memos to the joy of appellate brief writing this month, I used a slide titled: “Read Everything.” My advice to students was to always read every part of the record, and then read all the relevant case law, and then read everything again. Thanks to a Northern District of Illinois December 30, 2022 Order in Outley v. City of Chicago, where then District Judge Gary Feinerman dismissed a discrimination case, publicly sanctioned plaintiff’s counsel, and referred counsel for possible discipline, I now have an extreme example of what happens when counsel does not read court documents, among other things. You can read the order here: Dec. 30 opinion.
First reported by Law360, the order in Outley made news for what now-retired Judge Feinerman called “the poorest performance by an attorney that the undersigned has seen during his 12-plus years on the bench.” Order at 2; see Andrew Strickler, “Poorest” Atty Performance Triggers Ethics Referral (Jan. 3, 2023), https://www.law360.com/pulse/articles/1561714/-poorest-atty-performance-triggers-ethics-referral. In a forty-one page order, the court carefully detailed plaintiff’s counsel’s many transgressions, including what the court characterized as extensive efforts to continue trial, repeated “intemperate” statements to the court like complaints of “get[ting] ripped a new butthole,” and interestingly, a long record of prior sanctions for the same type of antics in state and federal cases in Illinois. See Order at 3-20, 39-41.
Judge Feinerman’s order covers many instances of what he found to be attorney misconduct, which “went beyond clumsy lawyering.” Order at 33. As the order explains, plaintiff, by himself and through counsel, tried to file motions long after deadlines, made the “series of intemperate remarks” during pretrial proceedings and in motions, repeatedly violated the court’s orders in opening statement to the jury, and testified on direct examination to matters excluded by the court and claims dismissed. Order at 3-20, 39-41.
As examples of various misconduct, the court explained: “On August 31—four weeks after the extended motion in limine” deadline “and over four weeks after [plaintiff’s counsel] told Defendants’ counsel that Outley would not be filing motions in limine”—Outley “moved for leave to file instanter twenty motions in limine.” Order at 3. Moreover, “[c]orrespondence between opposing counsel as well as [plaintiff’s attorney’s] own statements make clear that [plaintiff’s attorney] knowingly and intentionally abandoned the parties’ plan to collaborate on a final pretrial order,” showing counsel’s “abdication of her responsibilities as counsel.” Order at 3-4.
For this piece, I want to highlight the impact of counsel’s admitted failure to read the court’s order on motions in limine and the defendants’ declarations. See generally Debra Cassens Weiss, Lawyer “turned in the poorest performance” he has seen in 12 years on bench, former federal judge says, ABA Journal (Jan. 5, 2023), https://www.abajournal.com/web/article/federal-judge-says-lawyer-turned-in-the-poorest-performance-he-has-seen-on-12-years-on-bench (providing a complete discussion of all key parts of the district court’s order). In response to defendants’ motions to exclude some of plaintiff’s evidence, the court “issued an order on Defendants’ motions in limine on September 16,” which “granted in part and denied in part those motions.” Order at 9. Although “Outley attached the court’s September 16 order to the emergency injunction motion he filed on September 22” and other motions, “Outley’s September 22 motions revealed that [plaintiff’s counsel] had not read the court’s September 16 in limine order.” Order at 10. In pretrial and trial proceedings, plaintiff’s counsel regularly acted as if the court had granted all of defendants’ exclusion requests “in block.” Order at 10.
In the September 22 motions, Outley claimed:
Honorable Judge Feinerman did not explain why he never took Mr. Outley’s timely Response to Defendants’ MILs [in limine motions] under consideration. He ruled straight for the granting of Defendants’ MILs., in block, without ever mentioning Mr. Outley’s Response. . . . [T]he Court never translated its thinking [on Defendants’ Motion in limine No. 13] into a ruling, instead with one swift move the Court later issued a ruling granting Defendants’ MILs in block effectively overruling its prior thinking.
But, “[a]s the September 16 in limine order made perfectly clear, the court acknowledged and considered Outley’s timely response to Defendants’ motions in limine, and it did not grant Defendants’ motions in limine ’in block.’” Order at 10.
Additionally, counsel made no timely objection to arguably late declarations filed by the defense, admitting she received them on September 13, 15, and 22, but did not read any of them before September 22, despite a September 23 trial date. Order at 11-12. Once trial began, on September 23, “the court warned” plaintiff’s attorney “at a sidebar that she was ‘going beyond what this case is about,’” and only “[a]t that time,” did counsel “claim that she had not yet seen the court’s September 16 in limine order . . .—this despite her having attached the order to a motion she filed the previous day.” Order at 12.
Perhaps this admitted failure to read led counsel to “repeatedly transgress the bounds of appropriate zealous advocacy in addressing the court,” see Order at 36, including through a
motion for declaratory relief against the judge and a judicial notice motion, both based in part on an assumption the court had granted the in limine motions in full, see Order at 5-6, 24. On the record in court and in filings, counsel often complained her client received unfair treatment, making comments like: “[I]t would be unwise for the court to try to get along with the defendants and one more time, as it has become the norm in this litigation unfortunately, grant their wishes.” Order at 6. The district court found these comments and motions were “to circumvent the court’s pretrial rulings without waiting to pursue an appeal” and to delay trial, all based in part on failure to read. Order at 5-6, 24.
Despite her allegations like, “a judge can set a court case for a ruling and not be ready and kick it another two months, and that’s just fine; but if a—if a counsel needs a couple of extra weeks, it’s—they get ripped a new butthole, and their case is very close to dismissed,” in the end, counsel admitted she was simply not ready for trial. Order at 3, 4-5. In her own words, “I fought so hard to get the trial continued because I’m just physically, mentally, emotionally not up to it.” Order at 3. The court concluded: “Those words, spoken by [plaintiff’s counsel] the day before [causing] the mistrial, were completely on point.” Id.
As the court summarized: “It would be a substantial understatement to say that things did not go smoothly.” Order at 2. Had counsel read the court’s in limine ruling, perhaps she could have given her client--who the court noted had “a winnable case” depending on who the jury believed--his day in court. See Order at 5.
The ABA Journal contacted Outley’s counsel, but she “did not immediately respond” to a voicemail message or an email. Cassens Weiss, supra.
Here’s to careful reading in 2023.
Friday, January 20, 2023
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 issued a statement about the leaked draft of the controversial abortion decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., stating that it has been unable to identify the source of the leak. The Court’s statement included the report from the Marshal of the Supreme Court, who has been tasked with investigating the leak. The statement also included a statement of Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security, Judge of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U. S. Department of Justice, and U. S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey. The Court asked Mr. Chertoff to assess the Marshall’s investigation. See a sampling of reports on the statement and the status of the investigation: The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, SCOTUSBlog, Associated Press
In Supreme Court news this week is the potential impact of cases that consider the rules regulating online speech and social network platforms. One case, Gonzalez v. Google, to be heard next month, will determine whether social media platforms may be sued notwithstanding a 1996 law that shields online companies from liability for users’ posts. See an October 2022 report from The New York Times. This week, The New York Times reported that the Court will discuss whether to consider two other online speech cases; these cases challenge state laws that bar online platforms from removing political content, one in Florida and one in Texas. This week, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed amicus briefs in Gonzalez, warning of the potential for harm to users’ free speech from changes in the power and responsibility of social networks.
The Court agreed to hear a case asking it to strengthen protections for workers seeking accommodation for religious beliefs and practices. The petitioner, an evangelical Christian, sued after he was forced to resign from the US Postal Service when his job began to require working on Sunday, his Sabbath. The petitioner lost in the federal district court and in the Third Circuit. Federal law requires that an employer permit the religious observance of workers unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship.” Courts currently rely on the rule established by a 1977 Supreme Court case, Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, which found that, to qualify as being subject to undue hardship, an employer need show only a “more than a de minimis cost.” See the case docket, a report from The Washington Post, and a Reuters report at the time of the appeal. Vox and Slate posted essays on the topic as well.
Appellate Court Opinions and News
The Third Circuit has proposed a change to its local rules that would move its filing deadline from midnight to 5 pm in an effort to improve practitioners’ work life balance. The proposal has generated some debate among attorneys in the circuit. See the proposed amendment and reports from Law.com and Reuters. See also a poll created by Howard Bashman (creator of HowAppealing) asking for comment on whether the proposed change would actually improve work-life balance.
The Federalist Society posted recordings of some the programs from its January 5-6 faculty conference. Recorded topics include “Politicization of the Economy,” “Dobbs & the Rule of Law,” “Election Law in Flux,” and a debate titled “Resolved: The Major Questions Doctrine Has No Place in Statutory Interpretation.
Here's an informative and sometimes amusing thread on what signals a good brief. Writers take note!
Joe Fore posed the following question, which generated a short thread with the kind of advice I give students and practitioners every day:
What's something in #legalwriting that's the *opposite* of a Brown M&M? Is there a small detail--usage, style, formatting--that if you see/saw it in a piece of writing, immediately signals that it's going to be good?
Friday, January 13, 2023
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.
U.S. Supreme Court News:
- The Court has yet to release any opinions from cases argued this term. Although the Court is four months into its current term, it has provided a record-setting silence with regard to opinions in argued cases. Bloomberg discussed the delay in opinions and compared it to prior terms HERE.
- The Court this week denied an application to vacate a stay in a case involving a New York law that restricts the possession of firearms in specific public locations. The trial court issued a preliminary injunction in the case, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay that kept the law in effect pending litigation on the merits of the challenge to the law. The Court's order, issued without opinion and without dissent, allows the stay to remain (and thus, the law) to remain in effect. The order is HERE.
- Senate Democrats are poised to push for new ethical standards for the Court after the Court faced increased scrutiny over the last year concerning such matters as financial interest in pending cases, the leak of draft opinions, and other apparent conflicts of interest. More can be found HERE.
- A helpful summary of pending criminal law and procedure cases before the Court was posted by Joel Johnson at the ABA this week. You can review the summary HERE.
Federal Appellate Court News:
- The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard arguments this week in a case where Apple, Google, and Intel are seeking to revive challenges to a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office policy about contesting the validity of patents before administrative judges. More can be found HERE.
- A federal appeals court in D.C. heard arguments this week in a case challenging portions of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (FOSTA-SESTA), a 2018 law passed to crack down on online advertising viewed as facilitating prostitution. The appellate court panel expressed skepticism about the constitutionality of language in FOSTA-SESTA that makes it a crime to operate a computer service with the intent to promote prostitution. More can be found HERE.
State Appellate Court News:
- The New Mexico Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a venue dispute in a lawsuit concerning whether wind leases overlapping with grazing leases can impact a rancher's ability to raise cattle on state trust land in New Mexico. Right now the question is really about where the arguments over the leases will take place, but the substantive issues to be addressed down the road will determine whether state law and lease contracts may allow for wind energy to be developed on land that ranchers are already leasing. More can be found HERE.
Appellate Practice Tips:
- Three Harvard Law advocates recently shared their tips and tales of their times arguing before the United States Supreme Court in an article at Harvard Law Today. The article includes recollections from Paul Clement, former U.S. Solicitor General and partner at Clement & Murphy in D.C.; Jessica Ring Amunson, partner at Jenner & Block in D.C.; and Deepak Gupta, lecturer at Harvard and founding principal of Gupta Wessler PLLC. The article can be found HERE.
- The Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, is hiring an appellate court law clerk. Details can be found HERE.
Sunday, January 8, 2023
As lawyers and appellate advocates, we trust that the rule of law will prevail – that there will be consequences for breaching contracts, for negligence that injures another person, and for violating constitutionally guaranteed rights. We trust that judges will be impartial and apply the law within a range of accepted conclusions that may not always be right but with an error rate that maintains confidence in the justice system. We believe that the law should not differ because of who serves on the bench because all who do must adhere to the rule of law. And yet, we know that who serves often will make all the difference.
We engage in ideologically tinged battles over who serves on the bench, regardless of whether the path to a judgeship is through appointment or election. Appellate advocates tailor their arguments to the judges who hear a case, combing their past opinions and other writings for clues that might trigger a favorable response for their client or issue. Some judges have expertise on the subject of the appeal, while others do not. Some have staked out positions on the appellate issue that makes the appellate task easier or even insuperable. Some utilize a methodology or a hierarchy of interests that signal the approach a wise advocate should take. A one-time dissenting view can now fit within the mainstream of legal thinking so that it provides a new handle on addressing an issue. That is why advocates are well-advised to know their audiences.
Court memberships shift, and the likely result from a court can shift with it. In an end-of-the-year decision from the Ohio Supreme Court, the justices’ own awareness of that shift was on display. In full disclosure, I was the winning advocate in the case and had the opportunity to watch it play out. By virtue of the mandatory retirement requirements of the state, the chief justice was due to step down from the court on December 31. I argued the case, which challenged the constitutionality of a state statute both facially and as applied, in late March. The decision, striking the law as applied, was written by the chief justice for a 4-3 majority and issued December 16. One dissenter appended a paragraph to the decision complaining of a departure from what he called the “regular and orderly internal rules of operation and practice,” because the majority insisted on issuing the decision so that the current court, rather than its successor, would rule on any motion for reconsideration. He added his apology to the “citizens of Ohio that my individual dissent is not of the quality that I have come to deliver and that the public expects” because his “time on this case was aberrantly and improperly limited.”
That paragraph became the focus of the motion for reconsideration filed just within the deadline on the evening of December 27. It seemed apparent that both the majority and the dissenter were well aware of the consequences of pushing reconsideration off to the new year and the new court. The majority sought to assure that a reconsideration motion would come before the same court that decided the case; the dissenter sought to push the case to the new term where he believed a different membership would reach a different result and his dissent could become the decision of the court.
Taking no chances, I filed my opposition to reconsideration within hours of the motion’s filing so awaiting opposition would not provide an excuse to delay a ruling. On December 29, reconsideration was denied.
The episode demonstrates what we know as advocates: who sits on the bench makes a difference. It also confirms another thing we know – judges are as acutely aware of that as anyone else.
 Brandt v. Pompa, 2022-Ohio-4525, ¶ 132 reconsideration denied, 2022-Ohio-4786 (Fisher, J., dissenting).
Sunday, December 25, 2022
Thinking about a holiday-appropriate topic to write for Christmas, the false claims that there is a war on the holiday came to mind. Attempts to acknowledge the holiday but preserve the secular nature of a government that neither advances nor inhibits religion, gave us the two-reindeer rule. The “rule” comes from the 1984 case of Lynch v. Donnelly, where the city of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, had long sponsored a display in a shopping district. That consisted of a Santa Claus house, a Christmas tree, a banner reading "Seasons Greetings," reindeer pulling a sleigh, and a creche.
In rejecting a challenge to the display based on the Establishment Clause by a 5-4 vote, the Supreme Court held it to be a holiday display, rather than advocacy of a religious message. The Court treated the items featured as advancing the historical origins of the holiday and considered that to provide "legitimate secular purposes." The most religious item in the display, the creche, passively connected to the holiday “like a painting” in a government museum, the Court said. The nearby display of reindeer and a sleigh, it went on to say, were secular symbols that conveyed “a friendly community spirit of goodwill in keeping with the season.” Derisively, the ruling was dubbed the “two-reindeer” rule because, according to a predominant reading of the case, adding two reindeer to an otherwise religious display transformed it into something secular.
Interestingly, modern attitudes toward Christmas have changed substantially. In 1659, Massachusetts had a law called the “Penalty for Keeping Christmas,” that stated:
For preventing disorders arising in several places within this jurisdiction, by reason of some still observing such festivals as were superstitiously kept in other countries, to the great dishonor of God and offence of others, it is therefore ordered by this Court and the authority thereof, that whosoever shall be found observing any such day as Christmas or the like, either by forbearing of labor, feasting, or any other way, upon such accounts as aforesaid, every such person so offending shall pay for every such offence five shillings, as a fine to the country.
The law reflected the thought that making this deeply religious day into a festival brought “great dishonor” to God and reflected Puritan attitudes about Christmas. Puritans believed that celebrating Christmas entailed wasteful activities and social excess that were both immoral and antithetical to Christian beliefs. Fourteen years before the Massachusetts law came into being, the English Parliament promulgated a “Directory for Public Worship” that treated so-called festival days, including Christmas, as periods of private contemplation and not celebration. By 1677, English law flipped, and it became illegal for any ”person whatsoever to do or exercise any worldly labour, business or work of their ordinary callings” on Christmas Day.
Recalling these transformations of attitudes in an appellate advocacy blog serves only to show that even deeply religiously held convictions can change, much as the law itself demonstrates a capacity to develop in sometimes unpredictable ways – and advocacy assumes a significant role in the law’s development.
Still, however you celebrate, enjoy the holiday, and I wish you a happy new year.
 Lynch v. Donnelly, 465 U.S. 668 (1984).
Saturday, December 17, 2022
2022 Top Legal Terms Include “Complicit Bias,” “False Narrative,” and “Nuclear Option,” According to Burton’s Legal Thesaurus
Happy December! Whether you are scrambling to finish grading, like me, or wishing for a holiday with no emergency writs or motions, I hope you are enjoying the many lists of odd and interesting things lawyers did in 2022. Recently, I saw the newest edition of Burton’s Legal Thesaurus, the Fortieth Anniversary/Sixth Edition, and the editors have added some intriguing new terms as top legal phrases in 2022.
For example: “Attorneys were busy discussing ‘complicit bias,’ arguing about ‘lawfare’ and discussing the ‘great reshuffle’ this past year, according to Burton's Legal Thesaurus, which released its list of 2022's top new legal terms.” Karp, “Meme Stock,” “Quiet Quitting” Among Top New Legal Terms, Law360 (Dec. 13, 2022). “Complicit bias” means “community complicity in sustaining institutional bias and harassment in the workplace.” See Michele Goodwin, Complicit Bias: Sexual Harassment and the Communities that Sustain It, Huffington Post (Dec. 11, 2017) (credited with creating this new term).
Other neat new terms include “False Narrative” and “Nuclear Option.” “False narrative” is a noun, according to Burton’s, and unsurprisingly means: “a contrived story, artifice,” and “distortion of truth.” Burton’s confirms the political root of “nuclear option,” defining it as a noun meaning “abolish the filibuster, change in voting, change to majority vote for passage in the US Senate,” or “drastic action, extreme action.” In a recent Sixth Circuit case showing one way lawyers are using the term, the court found no abuse of discretion where the district court “allowed [a party] to introduce its [opponents'] threats to stop shipping parts into evidence and to compare those threats to a ‘nuclear option.’” Stackpole Int'l Engineered Prods. v. Angstrom Auto. Grp., LLC, 52 F.4th 274, 284-85 (6th Cir. 2022).
Burton’s contains over 3,000 pages of definitions, but Debra Cassens Weiss summarized some other new items from Burton’s 2022 Top Ten list, including: “‘Lawfare,’ meaning the use of legal proceedings to damage an adversary; [t]he ‘Great Reshuffle’ a variation of ‘Great Resignation,’ referring to people leaving jobs; [and] ‘Movement law,’ an approach to legal scholarships that works with social movements, rather than simply studying them.” Cassens Weiss, 'Complicit bias' and 'lawfare' among top new legal terms in 2022, ABA Journal (Dec. 14, 2022). Cassens Weiss also explained: “Margaret Wu, a legal writing professor at the University of California at Berkely School of Law, is chair of the Select Committee on Terminology of Burton’s Legal Thesaurus,” and “Wu told Law360 . . . ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, “sea changes” at the Supreme Court, diversity and equity initiatives and technology” influenced this year’s terms.
In its pitch for Burton’s Sixth Edition, LexisNexis explains: “As Justice William O. Douglas penned in his 1979 foreword to Burton’s Legal Thesaurus, ‘[t]he root of all language is individual word. Often, it is the use of a specific word or term upon which a case or controversy may hinge. It is through the use of such a tool as the Legal Thesaurus that one may find the precise term to fit the nuances of a particular situation.’” Whatever resources you use to find perfect words this month, I wish you happy writing and happy holidays.
Friday, December 16, 2022
The goal of law school should be to prepare students to practice law competently and advocate persuasively upon graduation. Below are suggestions that will help to maximize students’ success in the legal profession.
1. Use the Socratic Method.
Some legal scholars have, for a variety of reasons, criticized the Socratic method. Such criticism, however, lacks merit.
The Socratic method teaches preparation. It requires students to learn how to read cases. Additionally, it requires them to discuss these cases in class, often before a large audience. In so doing, students are often confronted with difficult legal and policy questions, which tests their preparation, communication skills, and ability to think on their feet – all of which are essential to being a competent lawyer. That’s why doctrinal courses, particularly in the first year, are so important.
Furthermore, the Socratic method helps students cope with anxiety and uncertainty. Indeed, most students do not know if their professor will call on them in class and, of course, have no idea what questions the professor will ask. Although this may engender anxiety and fear among students, that is not necessarily a bad thing. In law practice, attorneys face anxiety and uncertainty when litigating a case or preparing an oral argument before an appellate court. Helping students to cope with these feelings in a healthy manner is essential to preparing them to succeed in law and in life.
Certainly, if used improperly, such as to embarrass students, the Socratic method can be counterproductive. And the Socratic method alone is not sufficient to prepare students for law practice. But when used responsibly, the Socratic method is an essential component of legal education.
2. Expand the legal writing curriculum.
Many law schools do not devote sufficient time to training students to be competent legal writers in the real world. For example, some schools only require two semesters of legal writing, in which students draft only a legal memorandum and an appellate brief.
But in law practice, students will not only draft memorandums and appellate briefs. They will be required to draft, among other things, complaints, contracts, motions to dismiss, motions for summary judgment, interrogatories, document requests, and requests for admissions, trial briefs, mediation statements, and settlement agreements. Given this fact, law schools should train students to draft and re-draft the most common litigation and transactional documents; in so doing, students will be more prepared to practice law when they graduate.
In fact, imagine if, over three years, students were required to represent a hypothetical client in a litigation that contains issues from all of their first-year required courses, and that required them to, among other things, conduct a client interview, draft a complaint and answer, file a motion to dismiss, draft discovery documents, conduct depositions, draft a motion for summary judgment and a trial brief, participate in a trial, and draft an appellate brief. And imagine if they had to do so in the order that it would occur in practice. That would truly prepare students to practice law, and it would teach students to learn by doing.
More broadly, law schools should focus on developing their students’ writing skills, such as in classes devoted to editing, rewriting, and revising, and requiring students to draft legal documents in a variety of contexts. Doing so takes time, and certainly more than two or three semesters.
3. Require students to enroll in at least two clinics.
Law students do not learn how to practice law by memorizing legal principles and regurgitating them on an exam. They learn by, among other things, applying the law to hypothetical and real-world fact patterns, addressing counterarguments effectively, reconciling unfavorable law and facts, and crafting compelling factual and legal narratives. Perhaps most importantly, they learn by practicing like lawyers, namely, representing clients, drafting briefs, performing oral arguments, negotiating with adversaries, and exercising judgment about trial strategy and settlement.
Clinics provide law students with the opportunity to acquire these and other real-world skills, and often in a context that makes a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals who might otherwise lack access to legal representation.
For these and other reasons, law schools (and some already do) should require students to enroll in at least two clinics prior to graduation. After all, the only way to prepare for practice is to actually practice law (under supervised conditions, of course).
4. Require students to take multiple upper-level practical skills courses.
Most law schools give students the freedom to select most of their upper-level courses. This is certainly understandable, as students are interested in different areas of the legal profession and intend to pursue different paths in law practice. Having an elective-heavy curriculum, however, need not dispense with a focus on practical skills instruction, and theory and practice need not be considered mutually exclusive.
The problem with some upper-level electives is that they have no relationship to practice. For example, courses focusing on comparative jurisprudence, the original meaning of the Privileges and Immunities Clause, or the death penalty, are certainly instructive and probably quite enjoyable. But how do they prepare students for law practice? At the very least, such courses should include practical components, such as the drafting of a complaint, motion, or brief, to merge theory with practice.
After all, in medical school, students are not taking courses on the origins of contraception. They are learning how to practice medicine. Law students, too, should learn how to practice law.
5. Use “high-pressure” assignments.
The legal profession is demanding and stressful. Partners and clients have high expectations. And in many instances, lawyers are under intense pressure to produce high-quality work under severe time constraints. Indeed, many lawyers can relate to the unfortunate and all-too-common situations (often on a Friday afternoon or holiday weekend) where a partner says, “I need you to draft a motion for injunctive relief immediately and, at the latest, by Monday morning.”
For that reason, law schools should train students to excel under and cope with pressure and high expectations. For example, in upper-level courses, a professor can present students with a distinct legal question and require them to draft a memorandum or prepare for an oral argument within twenty-four hours or require them to draft a response to a motion to dismiss within forty-eight hours. Sure, this will be stressful for the students, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Training students about the realities of law practice will help them to become better lawyers, and to develop the mindset and mental toughness necessary to excel under pressure.
6. Focus on developing the intangibles, or soft skills.
A high IQ, an excellent LSAT score, a perfect law school GPA, or the best score on the MBE does not mean that a law graduate will be successful in law or in life. Rather, to be a good lawyer, you need the intangibles, or soft skills, that complement raw intelligence.
For example, great lawyers have emotional intelligence. They work harder than almost anyone. They have excellent judgment. They are efficient and organized. They can handle adversity and criticism, and persevere through difficult times. They know how to cooperate and collaborate with other people, including those that they do not like or who have different viewpoints. They know how to communicate with a colleague, a client, and a court. They are humble and honest. They have empathy. And they want to win.
Without the intangibles or soft skills, law graduates will likely not find success in the legal profession – or in life. As such, law schools should focus on developing the intangibles, and this can be accomplished in, for example, clinical courses, where students are required to be part of a team and represent clients in actual cases.
7. Focus on mindset development – and mental toughness.
In the legal profession and in life, students will encounter substantial and unexpected adversity. They will face unfairness and injustice. They may have to deal with the death of a family member or friend, an abusive colleague, the break-up of a relationship, or an unexpected medical emergency. These and other events, although we all hope to avoid them, will happen.
But law students are not victims. They are not oppressed. They are not powerless. Rather, they have the power – and the choice – to overcome whatever adversity they face because their choices, not their circumstances, determine their destiny.
Of course, as with developing intangible or soft skills, teaching mindset and mental toughness does not necessarily require a separate course. Rather, these lessons can be incorporated into any law school course by a professor who devotes a little time in each class to the mental, not merely the intellectual, aspect of law.
8. Have high standards.
It’s important to have empathy and compassion for students, and to support them in every way possible as they navigate the difficulties of law school. But that does not mean coddling students, which is one of the worst things an educator can do, or dispensing with high – even very high – standards. Challenging students to be their very best, offering constructive criticism, and demanding excellent work is the hallmark of a great teacher. And invariably, students will fail to meet these expectations. But failure is good thing. It presents students with an opportunity to learn and grow. Most importantly, high standards prepare students for what they will face in the real world.
9. Teach students to respect diverse viewpoints.
Diversity is a critical component of any educational institution. And among the most important aspects of diversity is teaching students to respect different viewpoints and engage in civil discourse with those with whom they disagree.
For that reason, professors should create a safe and constructive classroom environment in which all viewpoints are welcomed and respected, and where a diversity of perspectives is encouraged. One of the worst things that educators can do is to reveal their political and personal biases in a classroom (and worse, try to ‘indoctrinate’ students) because doing so stifles debate and diversity.
After all, in the real world, students will encounter – and have to work with – people that they disagree with, that they don’t like, and that have backgrounds and experiences entirely different from their own. If they cannot work with and respect such individuals, and realize that their views aren’t necessarily ‘right,’ their path to success – and humility – will be much harder.
Ultimately, traditional legal education is not broken. The Socratic Method has served students very well over the years. But a few adjustments can be made to ensure that theory and practice merge in a cohesive manner that prepares students to think and practice like lawyers, and to be good people.
Sunday, November 27, 2022
Experienced appellate advocates often tell others that the art of effective brief writing relies on a uniform set of tips, such as keeping sentences short, using topic sentences, and simplifying language. Sometimes, though, violating these precepts can prove effective, even though the advice offered is usually worth following.
Today, however, I want to focus on two key tips that, too often, are ignored: maintaining credibility and making no assumptions about the court’s knowledge of the law. It is critical that your rendition of the facts and the law are credible. In one case years ago, my opponent, a prominent appellate practitioner made a factual assertion that misstated the record. It was not a crucial fact, but it was used by the other side to demonstrate the insensibility of what the court below had done across the board so that he could claim the actual ruling in the case was similarly fanciful. In my reply brief, I dropped a footnote that showed the assertion was wrong with a citation to the record. Surprisingly, during oral argument, my opponent repeated his misrepresentation of the record from his brief. As I jotted down a note to remember to debunk the claim when I stood up, one of the judges eviscerated him for the misstatement. He never recovered from that during the remainder of his argument. To me, the rebuttal was all the stronger because the judge made the point, rather than me. Misrepresenting the record can destroy credibility on other issues, just as he had hoped to harm the credibility of the decision below by making a point that turned out to be unanchored by the evidence.
A similar experience occurred in another case, although this time it concerned the state of the law. My opponent sought to make a seemingly logical argument about why a federal district court should have denied a remand motion after removal from state court. He relied upon support for his position from a nonbinding letter from the general counsel of a federal agency. What he failed to explain, though, was how his position remained credible after three other federal circuits and more than 100 district courts had ruled otherwise. No court had accepted his position. At oral argument, the panel never let him off that point. The issue consumed all his argument time so he had nothing left for rebuttal. On the other hand, in light of how his argument went, I used very little of my time before sitting down.
Where the law is uncertain and conflicting decisions or building blocks render it a close call, credibility can be the key to success. A court is more likely to accept a novel position if it is built on a solid and acceptable foundation, rather than one that does not withstand scrutiny.
Today’s second tip requires you to lay a foundation for the fundamentals that undergird what may be a fairly sophisticated issue. Judges are often generalists and may lack experience with even well-established issues. There are many areas of law where the usual assumptions do not apply. Burdens can shift to defendants, proximate cause standards can vary based on statutory text, and developing trends can signal a change when the context of the dispute creates new considerations. A credible and informed brief will explain the basic rules, whether they apply or require adjustment because of the context of the case. Even during oral argument, it pays to explain fundamentals before reaching the key issue. While most judges are well prepared for oral argument, some may not have read the briefs as carefully as you assume. Without dwelling on basic concepts, it helps to tie them to the issue at hand unless a fair reading of the tribunal indicates a different course. At the same time, one must be alert to a well-informed court that will not patiently await your explanation of basic law.
While no advice about brief writing or oral argument is immutable, credibility and foundational explanations for the legal issue come to providing a consistently helpful approach as any advice you might consider.
Saturday, November 19, 2022
Many years ago, I was a lucky law clerk working for a wonderful judge at the Ninth Circuit’s Pasadena courthouse. One early morning, as I was admiring the flowers growing at the entrance to the gorgeous courthouse, I saw Judge Dorothy Nelson tending to the roses. She took a moment to chat with me about the roses and litigation, and I have always remembered her kindness and wit. During my year in Pasadena, I became friendly with Judge Nelson’s law clerks, and learned how much they admired her work for justice and dispute resolution. See generally Selma Moidel Smith, Oral History of Judge Dorothy Nelson (1988) (interesting interview of Judge Nelson for the Ninth Circuit Historical Society).
Therefore, I was not surprised to see the Ninth Circuit’s recent press release announcing that the Western Justice Center (WJC) honored Judge Nelson “for her vision and dedication in founding the center and decades of visionary work in conflict resolution.” October 23, 2022 Press Release. The WJC works to “find innovative ways to handle conflict” by using alternative dispute resolution techniques in and beyond the court system. The WJC especially focuses on “development of conflict resolution skills and capacity of youth, educators, schools and community partners,” and has trained over “1,000 students, educators and volunteers with the conflict resolution skills they need to transform” schools and “impact . . . youth across” the Los Angeles area. Id.
As the press release explained, Judge Nelson believes “[e]ighty-five percent of cases could be mediated,” saving the time and money of traditional litigation. She explained she “want[s] to bring people together, in a collaborative, unifying system,” and she “find[s] there are a lot of people open to that.” Id.
Before her nomination to the bench, Judge Nelson served as the Dean of USC’s Gould School of Law. She was the “first woman dean of a major American law school,” where she “focused on training future lawyers in restorative justice and mediation as an alternative to litigation.” Id. Once she joined the Ninth Circuit, she “initiat[ed] one of the first mediation programs for a federal appellate court,” which we use in many circuits today. See id.
As a past mediator for the Second District of the California Court of Appeal, I know mediating appeals can seem hopeless. The parties I met with had already invested so much time, energy, and money into their cases that they often saw little reason to settle before oral argument. However, I did help some parties reach a non-court resolution, and I often thought of Judge Nelson and the roses when I did so.
November 19, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Arbitration, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, November 13, 2022
Sometimes the law wins a case; sometimes the facts do. Yet, even when the case presents a purely legal question, it pays to shape the factual narrative to make sense of the applicable law.
In its first-of-the-term oral argument, the Supreme Court heard Sackett v. EPA, No. 21-454, a case that turns on the meaning of “navigable waters” in the Clean Water Act. The long running litigation, returning to the Supreme Court a decade after its first trip there demonstrates the importance of the factual narrative, even if what constitutes navigable waters under the Act seems not to depend on the underlying facts.
The Plaintiff-Petitioners have portrayed the case as one where a couple seeks to build a modest home on their land in a residential zone for near the Canadian border in Idaho and some 300 feet from a nearby lake. Because they failed to seek a permit, they told the Court the EPA stopped the construction and threatened “crushing fines” because the land contains “navigable waters,” even though there are no streams, rivers, lake, or similar waters on the property. Instead, in the Sacketts’ telling of the story, the EPA has made a highly attenuated connection between the lake, which is navigable, through a connected “non-navigable creek” that itself is attached to a ”nonnavigable, man-made ditch” connected to wetlands that are separated from the property by a thirty-foot-wide paved road. Who, the Sacketts ask, could possibly anticipate that this property would be covered by the Clean Water Act. The narrative, which Justice Neil Gorsuch picked up in oral argument, attempts to portray EPA’s definition of navigable waters as unjustifiable based on both text and its attempt to apply to these facts.
The EPA provides a different narrative. In that story, the Sacketts’ property, which was, historically, part of a fen complex that still exists and drains directly into the lake. The property connects to the wetlands and lake through “shallow subsurface flow.” The Sacketts received information about obtaining a site-specific permit that would have covered home construction, but chose to proceed without a permit, using their own commercial construction and excavation business to dump 1700 cubic yards of gravel and sand to fill the wetlands in order to commence construction. Federal officials inspected the site in response to a complaint, finding “soils, vegetation, and pooling water characteristic of wetlands.” The Sacketts own expert then inspected and confirmed that the property was located on wetlands. Because the Sacketts’ wetland property affected the lake’s water quality through sediment retention, contributed base flow to the Lake with beneficial effects to fisheries, and provided flood control, the EPA ordered the Sacketts to remove the gravel and sand they added and restore the wetlands.
The Sacketts’ narrative suggests innocent and sympathetic landowners attempting to build a home, a story that supports the idea that bureaucrats have gotten out of hand. The EPA’s narrative counters that tale by showing that the Sacketts operate a highly relevant business and were informed about how to comply with the law but chose to flout it to challenge the order, pre-enforcement.
The first narrative portrays a sympathetic set of facts, while the counterstatement undermines that status, while generating some sympathy for EPA’s actions in trying to avoid a problem by providing the means to obtain a permit.
Ultimately, the decision may turn on what Congress intended to include within EPA’s regulatory ambit. And, at oral argument, the Court seemed divided on that question. Nonetheless, experienced appellate advocates understand that law cannot be determined in a vacuum and will a factual lens from which to read the applicable law.
Tuesday, November 1, 2022
From questions posed at the confirmation hearings of now-Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the decisions at the end of the most recent Supreme Court term and the lower court decisions that soon followed, the rapid recent embrace of “original public meaning” as the metric for constitutional interpretation now dominates appellate argument. Some judges even somewhat crassly pose the question: is there an originalism argument to support your position?
Originalism’s shortcomings are apparent. James Madison, rightly recognized as the Father of the Constitution, described records of the Constitutional Convention as “defective” and “inaccurate.” Justice Robert Jackson critically explained that “[j]ust what our forefathers did envision, or would have envisioned had they foreseen modern conditions, must be divined from materials almost as enigmatic as the dreams Joseph was called upon to interpret for Pharaoh.” Judges commonly rely on a highly selective use of history that allows the invention of intent, rather than its discovery, as Professor Ronald Dworkin wrote. And, however illuminating the historical inquiry can be, even Justice Antonin Scalia, a leading advocate of this interpretative methodology, described himself as a “fainthearted originalist” in order to avoid the absurd results it could bring about.
Certainly, many underlying assumptions of the society the Framers lived in no longer undergird modern society. Just as their attitudes about gender and race, land ownership and the common good influenced their attitudes about a host of issues of constitutional dimension, modern sensibilities about these topics must look at deeper meanings to understand contemporary application. Even advances in transportation, communications, and science more generally have profound implications for constitutional understandings. And, the Constitution, written in the language of the common law, is capable of sensible application unforeseen by its progenitors. Even the most faithful originalist can only see the past through the eyes of the present.
However, the revolutionary nature and adventurism of the Constitution seems missing from the debate over originalism and its application to current issues. Ideas from the Enlightenment and idealized versions of what good government means animated the effort, even if myopic about how those ideals contradicted slavery and other institutions left unaffected. Still, those who framed the Constitution and supported its instigation publicly sought two things: a government with the energy to prove Montesquieu wrong about the viability of an extended republic by enabling an experiment in self-government across vast territory and a regime capable of respecting rights grounded in ideals of liberty, justice, and equality. They imagined continuing change toward a “more perfect union,” never believing that their efforts had achieved that goal. And they imagined continuing debates on what they had wrought. As Madison stated during the debate on the Jay Treaty in the First Congress, the Framers were not of one mind about the words of the Constitution. Instead, “whatever veneration might be entertained for the body of men who formed our Constitution, the sense of that body could never be regarded as the oracular guide in expounding our Constitution.”
Indeed, the change of attitude he and others adopted about the authority of the federal government to charter a national bank reveals that understandings can change based on arguments and experience that demonstrate greater flexibility than some thought the words portended. Notably, on the issue of a national bank, respected constitutional framers divided on its legality from the start.
We see the same indeterminacy in the affirmative action cases before the Supreme Court tomorrow. Contradicting amicus briefs by historians explain why one side or the other should prevail. The opposing parties also invoke Brown v. Board of Education, claiming it supports them and not the other side. All of it confirms that advocacy is about argument – and no side has a monopoly on any mode of interpretation.
There is a lesson to be drawn. The appellate advocate must enter the courtroom clear-eyed, aware of the outsized role that history now plays in constitutional interpretation while cognizant of its shortcomings. The advocate must address that thirst for historical support while also understanding that other tools exist to reach a result faithful to the Constitution with an equal claim to grounding in history. Anyone who tells you only a single path exists to reach the right result misunderstands the interpretative exercise.
Sunday, October 16, 2022
Appellate decisions may decide a dispute between opposing parties and articulate a rule of law, but they often create new issues that can flood the courts. The Supreme Court’s newly energized reliance on history and tradition, rather than balancing tests and levels of scrutiny, has opened the door to arguments that that previously had little chance of success. And, advocates, unsurprisingly, have shown no hesitation to take up the cudgel now available to them.
Take the new attacks on gun regulations. At the end of last term, in New York St. Rifle & Pistol Ass’n v. Bruen, the Supreme Court struck down New York’s 1911 law that required proper cause or special need to obtain an unrestricted gun license. It held that the Second Amendment, no less than any other constitutional right, does not require the demonstration of a special need to justify its exercise. Instead, regulations and restrictions on guns had to fit within historical traditions. Under that approach, the 6-3 majority stated in an opinion by Justice Thomas, “sensitive places,” like courthouses and polling places, might legitimately impose restrictions on carrying firearms, but the urban character of a place could not. Public safety considerations, the opinion established, do not outweigh the constitutionally recognized right.
As predictably as night follows day, other gun regulations came under attack as inconsistent with historical traditions. Courts have now struck down a variety of gun regulations. For example, in Firearms Policy Coalition, Inc. v. McCraw, a Texas law prohibited persons under twenty-one from carrying a gun off their premises except in limited situations. The district court, which stayed its decision pending appeal, held that the “Second Amendment’s text, as informed by Founding-Era history and tradition, . . . protects [18-to-20-year-olds] against this prohibition.” The court reasoned that the Second Amendment included no textual age restriction, the historical analogues that Texas produced to meet its burden to uphold the law lacked the necessary specificity, and that examples from the 19th century failed because they were not from the founding era.
A federal law that restricted handgun purchases to those under indictment for crimes that involve at least one year of imprisonment suffered a similar fate when a federal judge found insufficient evidence that it “aligns with this Nation’s historical tradition.” In United States v. Quiroz, the court acknowledged “valid public policy and safety concerns,” but found the Bruen’s historical tradition analysis swept those aside.
In New York, a federal judge limited New York’s post-Bruen statute that attempted, among other things, to define “sensitive” or “restricted” locations” by declaring unconstitutional its application to places that lacked historical precedent. In Antonyuk v. Hochul, the court struck down restrictions that applied to summer camp, public transportation, places of entertainment or amusement where alcohol is served, Times Square, and a generally defined sensitive or restricted places.
To this list, in the past week another decision came down. In United States v. Price, a federal district court struck down the federal law that prohibits possession of a firearm with an altered, obliterated, or removed serial numbers because it lacked historical analogue. The court notes that it is “undisputed that serial numbers were not required, or even in common use, in 1791,” but came into effect only with the mass production of firearms. Even then, serial numbers became mandatory only after passage of a 1968 federal law. Those facts were determinative under Bruen’s mandatory mode of analysis.
These examples demonstrate the limited value of the type of rigid analysis adopted by the Court. Even so, an advocate pressing an issue cannot forego utilizing the Court’s new-found fondness for historical tradition when advancing arguments under other constitutional provisions. And, under that approach, settled law can become unsettled. It may even be a form of malpractice to accept precedent not based on historical conventions without making new arguments that place the advocate’s position within that accepted tradition. Welcome to the new world of constitutional appellate advocacy.
Saturday, October 8, 2022
As the United States Supreme Court begins a new term, its approval among the public is alarmingly low. Whether driven by the Court’s recent decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the fact that the justices’ decisions often conveniently coincide with their political beliefs, or the fact that the Court’s composition, rather a principled interpretation of the Constitution, seems to determine whether a right is fundamental, there can be no doubt that the Court’s legitimacy is at stake. Put simply, the Court is now viewed by many as a political institution, where constitutional meaning changes based on whether its current members are conservative or liberal.
So how can the Court’s legitimacy remain intact and the public’s confidence in the Court be restored?
Certainly not by expanding the Court, which is liberals’ way of saying that they want to put more liberal justices on the Court to reach outcomes that they like.
Certainly not by endorsing living constitutionalism, which basically means that the justices can manipulate or ignore the Constitution to reach decisions that comport with their subjective policy predilections. Certainly not by having an on-again, off-again relationship with stare decisis, in which the Court’s adherence to precedent depends on whether a majority of the justices are Republicans or Democrats.
And certainly not by listening to the media or, worse, academics’ criticism of the Court, which is as blatantly partisan and equally unprincipled as the Court it so consistently criticizes. Indeed, and quite amazingly, some academics have complained that they now struggle to teach constitutional law, stating that they are ‘traumatized’ by the Court’s recent decisions, which they view as partisan and “results-oriented.” Some have even asserted that decisions such as Dobbs “have unsettled the foundational premises of [their] professional lives,” left them “deeply shaken,” and required their “own personal grieving period” where they look to students to keep them “afloat in darker moments."
No, this is not a joke. Law professors actually made these statements.
Thankfully, Professor David Bernstein has called out this nonsense:
[T]he fact that the Court is solidly conservative, and the constitutional law professoriate overwhelmingly liberal or further left, is exactly the problem. In the past, the left could count on the Court for sporadic big victories: same-sex marriage, affirmative action, [and] abortion. Now they can't, so they have turned against the Court. We all know that left-leaning lawprofs would be dancing in the streets if SCOTUS were equally aggressive to the left. And indeed, while [Mark Joseph] Stern portrays discontent with the Court as a question of professional standards rather than ideology, he does not manage to find a single right-leaning professor to quote in his article.
That’s because they are practically no conservative law professors in academia – or even the pretense of viewpoint diversity at many law schools.
In any event, how can the Court preserve its institutional legitimacy?
By embracing a more robust form of judicial deference. Put simply, the Court should not invalidate a statute unless it clearly violates a provision in the Constitution, and it should not create a right unless it is based on or reasonably inferable from the Constitution’s text. Thus, when the Constitution is ambiguous and subject to reasonably different interpretations, the Court should defer to the democratic process and not get involved. In so doing, the Court can reduce, at least to some degree, the perception that the existence of constitutional rights and the outcomes of cases depend on whether a majority of the justices are conservative or liberal.
Below are several examples of cases where the Court should have never intervened and where its intervention harmed its legitimacy.
1. National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius
In National Federation of Independent Investors, the Court addressed whether the Affordable Care Act, including the individual mandate to obtain health coverage, violated the Commerce Clause, which gives Congress the broad power to regulate commerce. The answer to this question, particularly given the Clause’s broad language, is anybody’s guess, and reasonable arguments could be made in favor of and against upholding the Affordable Care Act. What is known is that both houses of Congress passed and the president signed this legislation. So why did the Court get involved? After all, given that reasonable people could disagree on the Act’s constitutionality, why didn’t the Court simply defer to the coordinate branches and democratic process? That’s anybody’s guess too.
Unfortunately, the Court intervened, and, in a 5-4 decision (predictably divided on partisan lines), the Court upheld most of the Act’s provisions. And Chief Justice Roberts, ostensibly concerned with the Court’s legitimacy, somehow determined that the individual mandate constituted a tax, not a penalty. This reasoning was, to put it mildly, troubling. If the Court was concerned with its legitimacy, it should have never heard the case.
2. Kennedy v. Louisiana
In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Court addressed whether a Louisiana law that authorized the death penalty for child rape violated the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. To be sure, the Eighth Amendment, among other things, was intended to prevent the infliction of unnecessary pain when punishing convicted offenders and prohibit sentences that were disproportionate to the severity of the crime. Given this backdrop, the Eighth Amendment’s text, and the Court’s precedent, did the Louisiana law violate the Eighth Amendment?
Who knows. Reasonable jurists can – and did – disagree on this question. What we do know is that Louisiana passed this law democratically.
Accordingly, why did the Court get involved and, in a predictably verbose and wishy-washy 5-4 opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, invalidate the law?
3. Citizens United v. FEC and McCutcheon v. FEC
In Citizens United v. FEC, the Court held in a 5-4 decision that the First Amendment prohibited Congress from restricting independent expenditures by corporations, labor unions, and other associations. And in McCutcheon v. FEC, the Court held, in another 5-4 decision, that limits on individual expenditures to federal and state candidate committees violated the First Amendment right to free speech.
Did the Constitution compel this result? Of course not. The First Amendment protects, among other things, freedom of speech. But does giving money to a political candidate or committee constitute speech? And if so, is the government’s interest in ensuring that wealthy corporations and individuals do not unduly influence elections sufficiently compelling to justify a restriction on this speech? Yet again, reasonable people can disagree.
As such, why did the Court get involved and invalidate legislation that was designed to reduce undue influence by corporations and wealthy individuals in the electoral process?
4. Roe v. Wade
There is no need to discuss Roe in detail. Nearly all legitimate constitutional law scholars agree that Roe was a terrible decision. It had no basis in the Constitution’s text, was not inferable from any provision in the text, and was not rooted in history and tradition. Notwithstanding, in Roe, like in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court invented an unenumerated right out of thin air, thus imposing the subjective values of nine unelected justices on an entire country. And the doctrine upon which Roe was based – substantive due process – was equally as indefensible.
The Court should have never gotten involved. It should have allowed the people to decide whether, and under what circumstances, abortion should be allowed. Although the Court corrected this error in Dobbs, the decision to overrule Roe, which had been the law for nearly fifty years and was affirmed in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, was troubling. Indeed, the only thing that changed since Planned Parenthood was the Court’s composition. Notwithstanding, the fact remains that Roe was the original sin and the product of the Court’s unnecessary meddling in the democratic process.
5. Clinton v. New York
In Clinton v. New York, the Court addressed whether the Line Item Veto Act of 1996, which authorized the president to repeal portions of statutes that had been passed by both houses of Congress (particularly spending provisions) violated the Constitution’s Presentment Clause. The Clause states in pertinent part that “Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it.”
The Line Item Veto Act, some argued, violated the Presentment Clause because it allowed the president to unilaterally and without Congress’s approval repeal specific provisions of duly enacted legislation. At the same time, however, Congress, on a bipartisan basis, passed the Line Item Veto Act to, among other things, reduce wasteful government spending. Given these facts, and considering the Presentment Clause’s broad language, was the Line Item Veto Act constitutional?
Certainly, reasonable people could disagree on this question. Thus, why not defer to the coordinate branches and to the democratic process? Unfortunately, the Court yet again intervened and, in a 6-3 decision, invalidated the Act. In so doing, it prevented Congress from addressing the problem of wasteful government spending.
6. Shelby County v. Holder
In Shelby County v. Holder, the Court invalidated Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act, which includes a coverage formula that determines which states (based on a history of discrimination) must seek preclearance before enacting changes to their voting laws. Importantly, in 2006 the Senate reauthorized the Act, including Section 4(b), by a unanimous vote.
Notwithstanding, the Court decided to get involved and, by a 5-4 vote, invalidated Section 4(b). But was it clear that Section 4(b) violated any constitutional provision? No. So why did the Court get involved? Why didn’t the Court defer to the democratic process and to the Senate’s unanimous vote to reauthorize the Act? Again, it’s anybody’s guess.
The above cases are just a sample of those in which the Court’s intervention was unnecessary and unwarranted. Unless a statute clearly violates a provision in the Constitution’s text, the Court should defer to the democratic and political process, and it should not create a right unless it is based on or reasonably inferable from the Constitution’s text.
After all, intervening in such circumstances makes the Court appear political and undermines its legitimacy. The Court’s decision in Dobbs highlights this problem. Although the Court was technically correct to overrule Roe, that doesn’t mean that it should have done so. Why? Because the only thing that changed between Roe and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, where the Court reaffirmed Roe’s central holding, was the composition of the Court. Specifically, the Court in 2022 had more conservative members than in 1992, and its decision sent the message that the existence of constitutional rights depends on whether the Court has a majority of conservative or liberal members. It's difficult to understand how Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Amy Coney Barret could not grasp this fact.
To restore its legitimacy, the Court should defer more often to the coordinate branches and adhere to stare decisis on a more consistent basis. That can only happen if the Court stops invalidating laws that do not clearly violate the Constitution, refuses to create rights out of thin air, and does not reverse precedent simply because it has a majority of conservative or liberal jurists.
 See Jeffrey M. Jones, Supreme Court Trust, Job Approval at Historic Lows, (Sept. 29, 2022), available at: Supreme Court Trust, Job Approval at Historical Lows (gallup.com)
 No.19-1392, 597 U.S. , available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/21pdf/19-1392_6j37.pdf
 See, e.g., Neil Gorsuch, Why Originalism is the Best Approach to the Constitution (Sep. 6, 2019), available at: Why Originalism Is the Best Approach to the Constitution | Time
 Mark Joseph Stern, The Supreme Court is Blowing Up Law School, Too (Oct. 2, 2022), available at: Supreme Court: Inside the law school chaos caused by SCOTUS decisions. (slate.com)
 See David Bernstein, Why Are Constitutional Law Professors Angry at the Supreme Court? (Oct. 3, 2022), available at: Why Are Constitutional Law Professors Angry at the Supreme Court? (reason.com) (emphasis added).
 567 U.S. 519 (2012).
 554 U.S. 407 (2008).
 558 U.S. 310 (2010).
 572 U.S. 183 (2014).
 410 U.S. 113 (1973); 381 U.S. 479 (1965).
 524 U.S. 417 (1998).
 U.S. Const., Art. I, Section 7.
 570 U.S. 529 (2013).
October 8, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)
Sunday, October 2, 2022
Tomorrow, the Supreme Court launches into a new term that promises to be momentous. A no longer hesitant majority of the Court flexed their muscle last term to launch new approaches to constitutional law and overturn or impair venerable precedent addressing abortion, gun, and religious rights. Seeing the indisputable writing on the wall, some advocates have taken a hefty swing for the rafters on a range of other issues – and it seems likely to pay off because the court’s current membership has signaled its willingness to entertain bold requests, rather than incremental change, despite potential damage to the public’s trust in impartial justice divorced from politics. When a court signals its interests that appear to align with political ideologies, advocates should listen and act accordingly.
In anticipation of this term, advocates have listened. A cluster of cases have arrived at the Court seeking a pure version of Justice Harlan’s phrase, color-blindness, in civil rights and applying the concept to voting, affirmative action, Native American adoption, and non-discrimination in business dealings. While discussions about the upcoming term often begin and end with the potential of Moore v. Harper to skew our democracy so that parties in power could perpetuate their control regardless of what voters choose by invoking the “independent state legislature theory,” other earth-shaking cases populate the docket as well.
Today, I want to focus on another election law case that the Court will hear this week, which has received far less notice than it deserves and demonstrates the go-bold strategies being brought to the Court. In Merrill v. Milligan, the Court returns to the Voting Rights Act to determine whether Section 2 remains a viable basis for challenging racial gerrymandering. The plaintiffs challenged Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan, which, consistent with longstanding reapportionment decisions in the state, again drew a single majority-Black district out of the state’s seven seats, even though Blacks represent a quarter of the state’s population. The plaintiffs argue that by dispersing Black voters among the other districts the legislature diluted Black voting strength and diminished their opportunity to elect candidates who would represent their concerns and interests. Plaintiffs prevailed on that theory before a three-judge court.
The court below reached its decision by relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Thornburg v. Gingles, which requires a vote-dilution claim to show a sufficiently large and compact minority group that is politically cohesive and who suffer an inability to elect the candidate of their choice because of non-minority bloc voting. After that determination, a totality-of-the-circumstances assessment then takes place to determine if the minority voters have a lesser opportunity to elect their preferred candidate than the majority voters.
Alabama, however, has asked the Court to change the test. A major part of its proposal asks that courts require plaintiffs to establish that racial discrimination provides the only explanation for the alleged racial gerrymander. In other words, Alabama’s test would authorize states to overcome the accusation by showing that some other purpose, such as party politics, provides at least part of the rationale for the districts drawn.
Without such a test, Alabama contends that Section 2 is unconstitutional because it requires race to be considered. With similar issues raised in affirmative action and Native American adoption cases this term, the Court’s interest in reconfiguring civil rights law seems apparent. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring preclearance of certain election law changes, was neutralized in 2013 by Shelby County v. Holder. Similar damage was previously done to Section 2 in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee last year by reading the statutory provision narrowly.
If Alabama’s argument prevails, Merrill may mark the demise of the Voting Rights Act and vindicate the very bold approach Alabama has taken to defending its gerrymandering with a clear eye on signals sent by members of the Court. Margo Channing’s observation in All About Eve seems to sum up anticipation of this Supreme Court term: “Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy [and long] night.”
Saturday, September 24, 2022
Most appellate practitioners understand the necessary evil of citations, and some of us even enjoy parts of The Bluebook. On the other hand, I have concerns about Bluebook cost, frequent Bluebook revisions seemingly for the sake of revising, and allegations of law review happy hours funded by Bluebook sales. See, e.g., Richard A. Posner, The Bluebook Blues, 120 Yale L. J. 850, 851 (2011); Bryan Garner, The Bluebook's 20th Edition Prompts Many Musings From Bryan Garner, ABA Journal (Aug. 1 2015); https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2022/06/harvard-led-citation-cartel-rakes-in-millions-from-bluebook-manual-monopoly-masks-profits.html.
As I’ve mentioned in the past, California, Florida, and some other states have their own style manuals and do not follow The Bluebook. Additional states have their own gloss on key Bluebook rules or allow use of other manuals. Rule 28 of the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure, for example, tells counsel to use The Association of Legal Writing Directors Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation (the ALWD Guide), The Bluebook, or otherwise follow the citation style of the Alabama Supreme Court.
Happily, those of us in Bluebook jurisdictions have a wonderful alternative, now in its second edition. The completely free, open source The Indigo Book, which one commentator described as “compatible with The Bluebook [but including] easier-to-use guides,” now has a second edition. See generally Wendy S. Loquasto, Legal Citation: Which Guide Should You Use and What Is the Difference?, 91 Fla. Bar J. 39, 42 (2017).
Here is the final second edition of The Indigo Book, which parallels the twenty-first edition of The Bluebook: https://indigobook.github.io/versions/indigobook-2.0.html. Many thanks to Prof. Jennifer Romig of Emory University School of Law, and others, for this resource. In sharing the second edition, Prof. Romig explained: “The Indigo Book is a free, open-access citation manual. It is consistent with well-accepted citation practices.” The new version also “includes enhanced and expanded state-by-state "Local Notes" in Table T3 at the back,” along with “commentary and critique” in “Indigo Inkling” boxes. Prof. Romig thanked many in our legal writing community who helped her create this wonderful resource, especially David Ziff, and noted “Alexa Chew's work is cited twice.”
The original Indigo Book was a light-hearted, yet serious resource, which raised important questions about monopoly, ethics, and bias. Prof. Romig promised, “in general the [second edition] attempts to engage with ongoing conversations about citation ethics and practice, while staying true to its main function as a rule-based manual with examples.” In my opinion, the second edition of The Indigo Book succeeds in these missions, and I urge you to share this resource with students and practitioners.
Sunday, September 18, 2022
Quite appropriately, Moore v. Harper, the upcoming Supreme Court case that tests the validity of the “independent state legislature” theory, has set off alarm bells about the future of democracy in the United States. The theory holds that state legislatures hold exclusive authority to make decisions about congressional elections, unless overridden by Congress, based on the Constitution’s Elections Clause, Article I, Section 4, Clause 1. The Clause designates Congress and the states as holding responsibility to set the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives.” Restrictions on state legislative authority imposed by a state constitution, including judicial enforcement of equal voting and non-discrimination mandates, the theory holds, must give way, rendering the state legislative determinations immune from judicial review, under the theory. When combined with Article II, Section 1, which assigns the manner for appointing presidential electors to state legislatures as well, the election denialism that has become a standard feature of the Trump political era could gain a permanent constitutionally blessed footing, potentially allowing state legislatures to overturn voters’ choices and name its majority party’s candidates the winners.
Today, however, one day after the Constitution’s 235th anniversary, my topic is not how the “independent state legislature” theory realizes Justice Robert Jackson’s fear that the courts would read the Constitution in such a rigid insensible way that it becomes a “suicide pact.” Instead, I want to focus on the North Carolina legislature’s use of history to support its argument as petitioner in the case. Given the originalist outlook that dominates the Supreme Court, it is unsurprising that parties appeal to history to support their desire outcome. What separates this brief from the usual attempt to invoke history, is its reliance on a widely debunked document to advance its cause.
The Petitioner’s opening brief tells the Court not to look at James Madison’s Virginia Plan for how to conduct federal elections because it is silent on the issue. Instead, it invokes the “alternative ‘Pinckney Plan,’” which contains remarkably similar language to what the Constitution says and is denominated in the brief as the “progenitor” of the Elections Clause. Because no other document that the Committee of Detail may have reviewed contained any plan similar in kind, the brief calls the Pinkney Plan confirmation of a deliberate choice to cede authority to the legislature.
The brief overlooks the fact that the original Pinckney Plan did not survive the Constitutional Convention and is lost to history. In a new article in Politico, Ethan Herenstein and Brian Palmer of the Brennan Center for Justice, explain that the “Pinkney Plan” is actually an 1818 draft by Charles Pinckney that was a revisionist attempt to claim more credit for the Constitution than Pinckney deserved. As Herenstein and Palmer put it, during the Constitutional Convention, the records show that “the framers hardly discussed Pinckney’s plan and, at key moments, rejected his views during the debates.” They go on to cite James Madison’s reaction as “perplexed” by the document Pinckney released in 1818 “because he was ‘perfectly confident’” the new document “was ‘not the draft originally presented to the convention by Mr. Pinckney.’”
Madison noted that the similarity of language to the Constitution’s final text could not have been part of a plan at the Convention because framers hammered out its wording through long running internal debates that would not have occurred if a plan had already spelled them out. Moreover, Pinckney’s well-known positions at the Convention were at odds with what he now claimed to have proposed. For example, at the Convention, Pinckney argued that state legislatures should elect members of the House, but his 1818 document purports to show he favored popular election.
Herenstein and Palmer assert that “nearly every serious historian agrees that the 1818 document is a fake.” They quote historian John Franklin Jameson’s statement in 1903 that the so-called draft was “so utterly discredited that no instructed person will use it as it stands as a basis for constitutional or historical reasoning.” Another researcher they quote called it “the most intractable constitutional con in history.”
Substantial additional support exists to doubt the veracity of the Pinckney Plan. Madison suggested that Pinckney rewrote his own plan weaving in passages from the Constitution, and that the intervention of 30 years made Pinckney’s memory of what was his and what was not flawed. Others put it less kindly. Historians, more than a century ago, described the document as a “pseudo draft” that “should be relegated to the depository of historical lies.” Clinton Rossiter’s respected history of the Constitutional Convention written in 1966 simply dubbed it a “fraudulent document.”
The reason the 1818 document exists is because Congress overrode the Framers’ own decision to keep their deliberations secret. President Monroe dispatched Secretary of State John Quincy Adams to assemble the records. While he found mention of a plan by Pinckney, no such document existed. He asked Pinckney for a copy, In Pinckney’s response, he claimed to have four or five drafts of the Plan but did not know which most accurately reflected his original plan and how much his re-writes changed the plan as his own views had changed over time. The Petitioner’s brief recounts none of this history, but instead treats the document as authoritative.
Every state has adopted the Model Rules of Professional Conduct, which requires candor to the tribunal. It prohibits a lawyer from making “a false statement of fact or law to a tribunal or fail[ing] to correct a false statement of material fact or law previously made to the tribunal by the lawyer.” The lack of candor in this brief may violate the Rule.
Will there be consequences to the use of this document or a failure to suggest its questionable providence? I doubt it. Will a member of the Court or even a majority cite it as authoritative as the petitioner has? Unfortunately, that seems likely. In responding to the historical basis for the end-of-the-term abortion decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians expressed dismay that their amicus brief’s description of the relevant history was not taken “seriously” and that the Court instead “adopted a flawed interpretation of abortion criminalization that has been pressed by anti-abortion advocates for more than 30 years.” Similarly, in SCOTUSblog, Saul Cornell, a Fordham University historian, called the history relied upon by the majority in the Second Amendment case of New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, “a version of the past that is little more than an ideological fantasy, much of it invented by gun-rights advocates and their libertarian allies in the legal academy with the express purpose of bolstering litigation.”
Regardless of whether these assessments are over-the-top or shaded by a predisposition on the underlying issue, the concern that history is manipulated to achieve an end applies with greater force to the courts. Even as strong an advocate of originalism as Justice Scalia was worried that selective use of past events could predominate because “history, as much as any other interpretive method, leaves ample discretion to “loo[k] over the heads of the [crowd] for one’s friends.” The danger is not just that an important issue is settled by a skewed view of history. It is also that the re-written history appears in an authoritative text that now controls future precedent and even the nature of future issues as though settled.
If, for example, a majority of the Court were to rely on Charles Pinckney’s 1818 document as reflecting what the framers of the Constitution might have thought, not only could they reach the wrong result, it would create an even greater schism in this country on the essential form of our republic, reading the Constitution as mandating what would surely be a suicide pact. And when a future, indisputably valid election is overturned, the courts may have nothing to say about the legislative coup that took place.
More trivially, another consequence would be to achieve the project that Charles Pinckney set for himself: a revision of history that would make him the true father of the Constitution – and a title he did not desire as the Constitution’s grim reaper.
 Terminiello v. Chicago, 337 U.S. 1, 37 (1949) (Jackson, J., dissenting).
 Ethan Herenstein and Brian Palmer, “Fraudulent Document Cited in Supreme Court Bid to Torch Election Law,” Politico Mag. (Sept. 15, 2022, available at https://www.politico.com/news/magazine/2022/09/15/fraudulent-document-supreme-court-bid-election-law-00056810.
 9 The Writings of James Madison 553-54 (Gaillard Hunt ed., 1910).
 Dotan Oliar, The (Constitutional) Convention on IP: A New Reading, 57 UCLA L. Rev. 421, 479 n.39 (2009).
 Id. (quoting Clinton Rossiter, 1787: The Grand Convention 331 n.* (1966)).
 Id. (citing Letter from Charles Pinckney to John Quincy Adams (Dec. 30, 1818), in 3 The Records of the Federal Convention of 1787, at 427-28 (Max Farrand ed., 1911).
 Model R. of Prof. Conduct 3.3.
 Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Org., 142 S. Ct. 2228 (2022).
 History, the Supreme Court, and Dobbs v. Jackson: Joint Statement from the American Historical Association and the Organization of American Historians (July 2022), available at https://www.historians.org/news-and-advocacy/aha-advocacy/history-the-supreme-court-and-dobbs-v-jackson-joint-statement-from-the-aha-and-the-oah-(july-2022).
 New York State Rifle & Pistol Ass'n, Inc. v. Bruen, 142 S. Ct. 2111 (2022).
 Saul Cornell, Cherry-picked history and ideology-driven outcomes: Bruen’s originalist distortions, SCOTUSblog (Jun. 27, 2022, 5:05 PM), https://www.scotusblog.com/2022/06/cherry-picked-history-and-ideology-driven-outcomes-bruens-originalist-distortions/.
 Antonin Scalia & Bryan Garner, Reading Law: The Interpretation of Legal Texts 377 (2012).
Saturday, September 10, 2022
Reply briefs give litigants an opportunity to refute an adversary’s arguments and enhance the persuasiveness of their position. Below are several tips on how to maximize the effectiveness of a reply brief.
1. Begin with a concise and powerful introduction.
Your reply brief should begin with a short but powerful introduction that: (a) provides a brief overview of the case; (b) includes a roadmap of your arguments; and (c) refutes the arguments made in your adversary’s brief. One way to do this is by using the Rule of Three, namely, identifying three specific flaws in your adversary’s arguments and explaining why they lack merit.
After all, you can be fairly confident that, after reading your adversary’s brief, the court will have questions or concerns about some of the points that you made in your initial brief. Anticipating those concerns and responding briefly but effectively to them in the introduction will enhance the quality and persuasiveness of your brief.
2. Focus on what your adversary did not say.
Often, what your adversary did not say is equally, if not more, important than what your adversary did say. For example, your adversary may fail to address unfavorable precedent or fail to acknowledge unfavorable facts. Be sure to expose these omissions in your reply brief, as doing so will undermine your adversary’s credibility and strengthen the persuasiveness of your argument.
3. Respond to some of your adversary’s arguments.
The purpose of a reply brief is to respond to your adversary’s arguments, not to repeat your arguments. In so doing, however, you do not need to respond to all of your adversary’s arguments. If your adversary includes weak or irrelevant arguments, you need not – and should not – respond because it will give undue credibility to those arguments. Instead, respond only to arguments that have at least some merit and that the court is likely to consider when deciding your case. Likewise, do not point out minor or inconsequential errors that will have no bearing on the outcome of your case.
Of course, in responding to your adversary’s arguments, make sure that you maintain your credibility. For example, never misstate your adversary’s arguments. Acknowledge unfavorable facts and law. Never overstate the value of precedent. If you make one of these mistakes, you will undermine your credibility and your likelihood of success.
4. Do not repeat the arguments that you made in your initial brief – but briefly remind the court of those arguments.
The worst thing that you can do in a reply brief is to repeat the arguments you made in your initial brief. Doing so will add no value to your position and will fail to respond to your adversary’s arguments, which is the purpose of a reply brief. Indeed, merely repeating your arguments will affect your credibility with the court, which will affect your likelihood of success.
Importantly, however, you should briefly remind the court of the arguments that you made in your initial brief and of the relief that you are seeking, which can be done at the end of your introduction or legal argument. The reason for doing so is that the reply brief may be the first document that the judge reads in your case.
5. Write your reply brief with the expectation that it may be the first document that the judge reads in your case.
Some judges and law clerks will begin reviewing your case by reading the reply brief first. Accordingly, your reply brief should include the facts and precedent necessary to understand the relevant legal issues. This does not mean, of course, that you should regurgitate every fact and case from your initial brief; rather, you should dedicate a portion in the introduction to framing the legal issues, telling the court what you want (i.e., the remedy you are seeking) and explaining briefly why you should win. The remainder should be devoted to refuting your adversary's arguments.
6. Maintain consistency with your initial brief.
Make sure that you represent the facts and law precisely as you did in your initial brief. In many instances, for example, you may paraphrase or summarize some of the facts or arguments that you made in the initial brief. In so doing, be careful not to say anything that could be construed as inconsistent with (or overstating) what you wrote in the initial brief. Simply put, be honest and candid with the court because your credibility matters as much, if not more, than the validity of your arguments.
7. Keep it short and re-enforce your theme.
Your reply brief should be both concise and comprehensive, in which you refute your adversary’s arguments, highlight the most favorable facts and law, and re-enforce the theme of your case. An overly lengthy reply brief may lend unnecessary credibility to your adversary’s arguments or suggest that you lack confidence in your arguments. As such, keep it short, tight, and to the point.
8. End strong.
A reply brief gives you the last word. Make it count. For example, if you could state in one sentence why you should win, what would you say? If you knew that the court would only remember what you said at the end of your reply brief, what would you say? Think about that and make sure to draft a powerful ending to your brief.
Sunday, September 4, 2022
Last week, I responded to a noticeably short opening brief in an interlocutory appeal that sought to make the issue a simple one. That brief mustered little authority and asserted a purely legal question reflected in the relevant law’s text. In framing the issue, the brief stated it neutrally as though the brief would provide a learned disquisition that would enable the court to answer the question, rather than advocacy of a particular result. Of course, the body of the brief pushed a singular point of view. The question presented, then, did not contribute to the advocacy.
Usually, advocates lose an opportunity when the issue presented does not itself suggest an obvious answer. Judges normally read the issue presented as the first clue about what the case concerns. My brief began with a “restatement” of the issue presented, which emphasized whether the issue merited an answer because of an underlying dispute about the facts. A court does not answer a pure legal question when the answer is merely advisory. The case concerned an immunity for one of two bases for liability. If the other party lacked eligibility for the immunity, as we contended, then the court, under its precedents, lacked jurisdiction to answer the question and should, as it had done in the past, dismiss the appeal as improvidently granted.
In restating the question to pose the problem that a central factual dispute still existed, I led the court into the first section of my brief, where I quoted the court’s own observation that “too often” courts grant review of a pure legal question only to discover upon briefing and argument that facts must first be established before the question becomes ripe. More substantive sections of the brief also worked in the unanswered question of eligibility as confounding to deeper questions about the statute as a whole and limits on the constitutional authority to promulgate the immunity.
In restating the question as I did, I followed the age-old advice voiced again by Justice Scalia and Bryan Garner in Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges: “A well-framed issue statement suggests the outcome you desire.” They follow that statement with an example of the Court’s framing of the issue in Eisenstadt v. Baird, the once-again controversial case of whether Connecticut could prohibit the sale of contraceptives to unmarried people.
The authors note that Judge Posner thought the Court might have struggled more with an answer if the question presented were stated as:
We must decide whether the state is constitutionally obligated to allow the sale of goods that facilitate fornication and adultery by making those practices less costly.
Instead, the Court presented the issue as:
If the right to privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.
Both versions of the question presented suggests an answer. Still, there is a cognizable difference between them that advocates should recognize. The first version, drafted by Judge Posner, makes an appeal to an ideological predisposition by its language that may alienate some judges. A more effective formulation would present the same question in more neutral and less inflammatory terms, as the Court’s decision did. As Scalia and Garner remind us, “you are here to reason with the court and cannot do so successfully if you show yourself to be unreasonable.”
 Antonin Scalia and Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 83 (2008).
 Richard A. Posner, Law and Literature: A Misunderstood Relation 305 (1988) (quoted in Scalia and Garner, supra note one, at 84).
 Eisenstadt v. Baird, 405 U.S. 438, 453 (1972).
 Scalia and Garner, supra note 1, at 84-85.
Saturday, August 27, 2022
The best appellate advocates possess certain skills and abilities that often place them among the most distinguished attorneys in the legal profession. Below is a list of characteristics that distinguish the best appellate lawyers from the rest.
1. They are highly intelligent and analytical.
The best appellate advocates are highly intelligent and possess exceptional analytical and critical thinking skills. These lawyers know, among other things, how to tell a compelling story, research efficiently, synthesize voluminous case law, present complex facts and legal concepts in a straightforward manner, distinguish unfavorable precedent, spot the nuances that each case presents, and make persuasive legal arguments. And they exercise great judgment, particularly when confronted with incomplete information or unsettled law. Simply put, intelligence matters, and the best appellate advocates are often among the brightest in the legal profession.
2. They have the intangibles.
The best appellate advocates know that intelligence is necessary, but not sufficient, to succeed in the legal profession. These advocates work extremely hard and prepare better than almost anyone. They are incredibly resilient and disciplined. They persevere and know how to cope with adversity. They excel under pressure. They are empathetic and they are passionate about their work. They have common sense, good judgment, and emotional intelligence, and they know how to relate to people. In short, the best appellate advocates possess intangible – and often unteachable – qualities that cannot be measured by an LSAT score or a grade on a final examination.
3. They are objective in assessing the merits of an appeal.
The best appellate lawyers are objective and honest in assessing the validity of a legal argument, particularly given the standard of review, unfavorable facts, and unfavorable law. They place themselves in the shoes of the opposing party and, in so doing, identify the flaws in their arguments. They do not have tunnel vision. They are not guided by emotion. They do not convince themselves that meritless legal arguments have a chance of succeeding on appeal, and they do not throw every possible legal argument against the wall in an appellate brief, hoping that one will stick.
4. They know how to select issues for an appeal.
The best appellate lawyers know how to identify issues in the record that have the best chance of succeeding on appeal. As stated above, they do not appeal every conceivable mistake made by the lower court and throw every possible argument against the wall, hoping that one will stick. Instead, they exercise judgment based on their experience, knowledge, and the standard of review. For example, they will, in most instances, appeal errors of law, not fact, because errors of law are subject to de novo review. And they will present only the strongest legal arguments on appeal and support them with compelling facts and precedent.
5. They are exceptional writers.
The best appellate advocates know how to write and communicate persuasively. They draft outstanding appellate briefs (see, e.g., John Roberts’ brief in Alaska v. EPA) that, among other things, have a strong theme, begin with a compelling introduction, tell a powerful story, use precedent effectively, and distinguish unfavorable facts and law convincingly. They draft briefs that address counterarguments thoroughly and persuasively. They know how to use various literary techniques to capture the audience’s attention and enhance the readability of their brief. They draft and re-draft their brief (often countless times), making line and copy edits to ensure that the brief is as close to perfect – in style and substance – as possible. In so doing, they produce a first-rate product, which enhances their credibility with the court and the legitimacy of their argument.
6. They are outstanding oral advocates.
The best appellate lawyers are exceptional oral advocates. They know how to persuade an audience using verbal and non-verbal techniques. They are prepared. They present well-organized and convincing legal arguments. They are skilled at answering the judges’ questions concisely and effectively. They are never flustered. They have outstanding memories and can recall precedents and facts in the record without notes. In short, they own the courtroom.
7. They are extremely thorough and methodical.
The best appellate lawyers thoroughly and methodically review the underlying record and relevant law. They know how to research efficiently and never fail to identify a relevant case, statutory provision, or regulation. They are skilled at identifying, among other things, subtle errors or inconsistencies in the record and flaws in evidentiary rulings. And they do so carefully and intentionally; they take the time to review and reflect upon the record, the possible appealable issues, and the likelihood of success on the merits.
8. They are confident.
The best appellate advocates know that perception – and appearance – matter just as much as reality. They have confidence and, quite frankly, swagger. They never appear nervous. They conduct themselves as if every development in the courtroom, however unexpected, is precisely what they anticipated. They are never surprised or taken off guard by the judges’ questions. They do not get emotional. They do not exude arrogance or hubris. Instead, they are prepared, self-assured, and unflappable. As stated above, they own the courtroom.
9. They win.
As Vince Lombardi said, “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” The best appellate advocates win consistently. They sustain their success over years. They are the best of the best.