Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Saturday, July 4, 2020

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Each week, the Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup presents a few tidbits of news and Twitter posts from the past week concerning appellate advocacy. As always, if you see something during the week that you think we should be sure to include, feel free to send a quick note to either (1) Dan Real at DReal@Creighton.edu or on Twitter @Daniel_L_Real or (2) Catharine Du Bois at DuBoisLegalWriting@gmail.com or on Twitter @CLDLegalWriting.

Happy Independence Day!

 

US Supreme Court Opinions and News

  • The Supreme Court issued a much-anticipated order on abortion this week, striking a Louisiana law that required doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The Louisiana law was “almost word-for-word identical to Texas’ admitting privileges law,” which the Court struck in 2016 in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Justice Breyer penned this order, joined by Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan, and found the Louisiana law to be an unconstitutional inference with a woman’s right to obtain an abortion. Like in the 2016 decision, the ruling finds that the law’s requirements have no medical benefit. Justice Roberts, who dissented in the 2016 Texas decision, concurred in the judgement, writing that he still believed the 2016 ruling to be “wrongly decided” but that stare decisis compelled this decision. See opinion and a sampling of the many reports from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Times, and NPR.

  • The Court ruled that a Montana tax break that excluded religious institutions discriminated against religious schools, finding that states must allow religious schools to participate in programs that provide scholarships.  See opinion and a report from The New York Times.

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Seventh Circuit, after a three-year delay, reinstated some Wisconsin limits on voting, including laws on voter ID and early voting procedures. The court overruled the lower court that found that many of Wisconsin’s election laws disproportionately affected the ability of minorities to vote. The court found no evidence that lawmakers intended to discriminate against minorities, finding “[t]his record does not support a conclusion that the legislators who voted for the contested statutes cared about race; they cared about voters’ political preferences.” And the court found that the limits did not violate the First Amendment or the Voting Rights Act because “they leave all voters with equal opportunities to participate.” See the opinion and reports from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, The Courthouse News, and  The Election Law Blog.
  • A panel of the D.C. Circuit ordered the immediate dismissal of the criminal case against Michael Flynn.  See reports from The New York Times, The Associated Press, and The Hill.

State News

The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the state legislature cannot unilaterally end the governor’s pandemic shutdown orders. Specifically, the ruling determined that the lawmakers resolution to end the orders was a “legal nullity” because it was not presented to the governor for signature or veto. See reports from The Associated Press and The Patriot-News of Harrisburg.

July 4, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Moving from Pandemic Emergency Zoom Oral Arguments to True Oral Argument Online:  Preparation and Professionalism

 In March, we had only hours to transition from in-person teaching and law practice to remote options.  As many internet memes show, that led to some memorable court appearances sans pants, from closets and bathrooms.  Recently, we’ve been able to step back and assess our remote experiences to see what we can use for better practice and teaching, even as we return to in-person work.  I’ve attended several excellent sessions on online teaching, and I send kudos to William & Mary Law for its fantastic two-day Conference for Excellence in Teaching Legal Research & Writing Online.  (If you could not attend, you can view asynchronous postings here:  https://law.wm.edu/academics/intellectuallife/conferencesandlectures/excellence_online_teaching/index.php.)  Like many of you, my inbox is full of invites for even more webinars and conferences I am not able to attend. 

Luckily, Jill Wheaton of Dykema Gossett recently wrote a summary of the May 4, 2020 ABA Appellate Judges Council CLE webinar on “Appellate Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19.”  The ABA’s program featured judges, a state appellate court chief clerk, and appellate practitioners speaking on how appeals courts will use remote appearances moving forward.  As Wheaton explained, the panel presented “thoughts about, and recommendations regarding, telephone or video appellate arguments” and suggested counsel “do everything they can to make a remote argument as much like an in-person argument as possible.”  Jill M. Wheaton, Appellate Advocacy in the Age of COVID-19, Appellate Issues--2020 Special Edition 1 (ABA May 27, 2020).  Overall, the recommendations for practitioners stressed professionalism in how we approach video appearances.  In other words, be prepared and yes, wear pants.

Part of our preparation for oral argument today should include a test run of our technology.  Whenever possible, appellate practitioners should do moot courts before oral arguments.  Now, we should make our moot courts a test of both online systems and legal arguments.  Since many courts already used some type of internal video conferencing before COVID-19—and a few trial and appellate courts allowed video argument on occasion before 2020--the clerks and judges are already familiar with some remote platforms.  Id.  They expect us to be familiar with the platforms as well.  In fact, many courts have videos of past virtual oral arguments online, and counsel can watch the videos as part of their oral argument preparation. 

We should also be as professional as possible in every detail of our online appearances.  Hopefully, we know to avoid the meme-worthy mistakes of March and April, by dressing in full suits and using a professional-looking digital background or physical space free of clutter and noise for a video appearance.  The ABA panel stressed smaller points as well.  For example, many courts still expect counsel to rise when the bailiff calls the case, and the panel judges noted they prefer advocates to stand when speaking.  Id. at 2.  Therefore, consider either using an adjustable desk, so you can stand when speaking but sit when opposing counsel argues, or use a stool so you can stay at eye level.  The practitioners on the ABA panel suggested using a stack of books to raise your computer to standing level if needed, and to be sure your camera is on the top of your monitor to help you look directly at the judges during the argument.  Id.   Finally, counsel should remember they will be on camera for the entire hearing, even when opposing counsel is speaking.  Id.  Thus, find a way to communicate unobtrusively with co-counsel and your client, if needed.  

We all want life to “return to normal,” but some form of remote oral arguments will no doubt remain after COVID-19 leaves.  For now, “courts have been forced to become creative to continue to advance their dockets, requiring the bench and bar to become creative as well.”  Id. at 3.  Hopefully, these tips from the ABA panel can help us all be more creative, prepared and professional for this new normal.   

June 27, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Nature of Judging at the United States Supreme Court

This week, the United States Supreme Court issued rulings in two cases – Bostock v. Clayton County and Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California ­– that surprised some court observers. In Bostock, the Court held by a 6-3 margin that Title VII of the Civil Rights Act prohibited discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.[1] In so holding, the Court, per Justice Neil Gorsuch, held that discrimination on either basis necessarily entailed discrimination on the basis of sex.[2] In Department of Homeland Security, the Court held, by a 5-4 margin (with Chief Justice Roberts joining the Court’s four liberal members), that the manner in which the Trump administration terminated the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) violated the Administrative Procedure Act.[3]

The decisions surprised some court observers. For example, in Bostock, some scholars expected that Justice Gorsuch, who embraces a form of statutory interpretation known as textualism, would hold that the word “sex” as contained in Title VII referred only to discrimination on the basis of biological sex. After all, when Title VII was enacted, legislators neither expressly nor implicitly suggested that sexual orientation or gender identity came within the purview of sex-based discrimination. Likewise, in Department of Homeland Security, some scholars expected that Chief Justice Roberts would uphold the Trump administration’s decision.

So what is going here? In short, the answer is that the justices rely on extralegal factors when making decisions and those factors explain why decision-making at the Court is not, as Justice Elena Kagan once stated, “law all the way down.”[4]

Below is a brief summary of several factors that may – and likely do – influence the Court’s decision-making process.

I.    Concerns for institutional legitimacy matter – particularly for Chief Justice John Roberts

The Court is undoubtedly – and rightfully – concerned with its institutional legitimacy. Indeed, inspiring public confidence in the Court’s decision-making process, which includes cultivating the perception that the justices are neutral arbiters of the law, is essential to maintaining the Court’s legitimacy and credibility. For that reason, the Court is understandably reluctant to issue decisions that are inconsistent with precedent, overly broad, politically unpopular, and unnecessarily divisive. Put simply, the Court is dedicated to preserving its status as an independent legal institution that is neither influenced by nor concerned with political ideology.

Some court observers posit that Chief Justice Roberts is particularly concerned with preserving the Court’s institutional legitimacy. For example, Roberts’s desire to avoid 5-4 decisions (to the extent possible) and refrain from deciding socially and politically divisive cases underscores his commitment to the Court’s legitimacy. In fact, concerns for institutional legitimacy arguably motivated, at least in part, Chief Justice Roberts’s decision in National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, where he upheld the Affordable Care Act on the basis that the Act’s individual mandate constituted a permissible tax.[5]

But the desire to protect the Court’s institutional legitimacy is a questionable basis for judicial decision-making. Simply put, it is difficult to identify the criteria or circumstances in which a specific outcome will preserve, rather than undermine, the Court’s legitimacy. For example, in Shelby County v. Holder, Chief Justice Roberts voted with the Court’s conservative members to invalidate portions of the Voting Rights Act, which was a politically and publicly unpopular decision.[6] And despite the increasing public and political support for same-sex marriage, Chief Justice Roberts dissented in Obergefell v. Hodges, arguing that the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution did not encompass a right to same-sex marriage.[7] Reasonable people would certainly disagree regarding whether these decisions protected the Court’s legitimacy.

Such disagreement highlights the problem when placing emphasis on institutional legitimacy as a basis for rendering decisions. To begin with, the concept of institutional legitimacy can be defined differently. For example, does a decision further the Court’s institutional legitimacy if it is consistent with public opinion or the policy predilections of legislators? Do concerns for institutional legitimacy require the Court to adopt an originalist philosophy or, at the very least, ensure that its decisions are consistent with a reasonable interpretation of the Constitution’s text? Does the Court’s institutional legitimacy depend on whether the outcome is considered just and fair? These questions highlight the problem: preserving institutional legitimacy depends on each justice’s subjective view of what decisions (and interpretative) methods achieve that goal. For that reason, an exclusive or predominant focus on preserving the Court’s institutional legitimacy can inadvertently undermine the very legitimacy that the justices seek to preserve.

II.    Ideology matters – for conservative and liberal justices

For both conservative and liberal justices, ideological considerations and policy predilections influence their decision-making process. Of course, this is not true in every case, as many cases do not implicate ideological considerations to a significant degree or require the application of other principles, such as stare decisis, that constrain a justice’s ability to predicate a decision on ideology alone.

However, in politically or socially divisive cases, such as those involving affirmative action, abortion, the death penalty, or the right to bear arms, ideology arguably plays a role. Indeed, a substantial body of research suggests that the justices render decisions that are consistent with their political beliefs. Perhaps for this reason, in some cases, lawyers and scholars can accurately predict how the justices will rule. For example, the Court’s four liberal justices will almost always abortion restrictions. The Court’s most conservative justices will often be unreceptive to arguments that the imposition of the death penalty in a given case violates the Eighth Amendment. Justice Sotomayor will almost certainly be hostile to challenges to affirmative action programs and Justice Alito will almost certainly be receptive to such challenges. Justice Ginsburg will almost certainly invalidate restrictions on abortion access while Justice Thomas will almost certainly uphold such restrictions. Not surprisingly, these outcomes align perfectly with the justices’ policy and political preferences.

Of course, a substantial portion of the Court’s cases are decided unanimously, and, as stated above, in many cases, ideology is not implicated to a substantial degree. But make no mistake: ideology does influence at least a portion of the Court’s decisions.

III.    Bias matters – for both liberal and conservative justices

Social science research suggests that bias affects liberal and conservative justices and that this bias reflects, in part, each justice’s personal background and experience. For example, gender bias is prevalent in criminal sentencing, as men often receive harsher sentences than women.[8] In fact, “the sentencing disparities among gender are some of the most visible and persistent sentencing disparities in this country.”[9] Additionally, African-American defendants often receive harsher sentences than white defendants.[10] As one scholar explains:

[T]he body of research on the potential for invidious biases in judges arising from reliance on emotion or implicit stereotypes supports a troubling conclusion: Judges do not easily set such extralegal matters aside. The feelings and biases that influence most adults seem to also affect judges.[11]

Of course, this research should not suggest that the justices are motivated primarily or even secondarily by explicit or implicit bias. It does suggest, however, that the justices, like all individuals, are susceptible to confirmation bias, which is an “effort to seek out information that is consistent with one’s prior beliefs, while ignoring or avoiding information that could refute them.”[12] In so doing, the potential for reaching an improper result increase substantially.

IV. `Emotion matters – it’s not, as Justice Elena Kagan once stated, “Law all the way down”

Empirical research demonstrates that a judge’s emotions matter in the decision-making process. To be sure, a “series of experiments with hundreds of judges from numerous jurisdictions concluded that emotions influence how judges interpret law when evaluating hypothetical cases.”[13] As researchers explain:

[J]udicial reliance on emotion in decision making can be defensible. Judges should temper their application of law and logic with expressions of compassion and empathy. Indeed, one set of studies finds that judges seem to largely ignore apologies in both civil and criminal cases, making the judges seem overly dispassionate. [Studies in other contexts], however, go well beyond a sensible level of compassion. No one can defend taking a football loss out on juveniles, setting lower bail for more attractive litigants, or treating Muslim litigants differently after 9/11. Nevertheless, these studies show judges to be vulnerable to several such untoward influences.[14]

Emotion would certainly seem relevant because, in many cases, a constitutional or statutory provision is susceptible to different interpretations, and because judges probably want to reach what they believe is the most equitable and fair result.

V.    Intuition matters

Studies show that, in some instances, judges base decisions in large part on intuition, rather than on evidence or empirical data. Indeed, “[i]n one study, 160 federal judges evaluating a hypothetical case neglected statistical evidence in favor of intuition in the assessment of negligence.”[15] As one study demonstrated, “judges rely heavily on intuitive reasoning to evaluate legal disputes,” “use simple mental shortcuts to guide how they think about legal materials,” and “do not improve with experience or specialization.”[16] In fact, the “excessive reliance on an intuitive response” is responsible in substantial part for the prevalence of confirmation bias.

***

Ultimately, the relevant research on judging suggests that judges strive to achieve what they believe is the fairest and most just result. Put differently, judges do not necessarily reach decisions based on what they are compelled to do but based on what they are able to do in a given case. This supports the proposition that judging is strategic and personal, not merely legal. For that reason, law students and advocates should consider the influence of the above factors when developing and making legal arguments. Judges, including the justices on the Supreme Court, are human beings and judging is a human enterprise.

 

[1] See 590 U.S. ___ , 2020 WL 3146686.

[2] See id.

[3] See 590 U.S. ___, available at: https://d2qwohl8lx5mh1.cloudfront.net/Xpikua_BIGWtET0SEU1fDQ/content.

[4] Josh Blackmun, Kagan- Law All The Way Down, Stephen Hawking- Turtles All The Way Down (2010), available at: http://joshblackman.com/blog/2010/06/30/kagan-law-all-the-way-down-stephen-hawkingng-turtles-all-the-way-down/.

[5] 567 U.S. 519 (2012).

[6] 570 U.S. 529 (2013).

[7] 576 U.S. 644 (2015).

[8] See id.

[9] Id. at 28 (internal citation omitted).

[10] Id. at 29.

[11] Id. at 32.

[12] Id. at 16.

[13] Id. at 24.

[14] Id. at 27.

[15] Id. at 14.

[16] Id. at 21.

June 21, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 20, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Saturday, June 20, 2020

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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

  • Earlier this week, the Supreme Court in a 6-3 decision ruled that the plain language of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 applies to discrimination based on both sexual orientation and gender identity. Widely seen as a landmark decision, the ruling applied textualist principles and found that the plain language unambiguously protects gay, lesbian, and transgender employees because decisions discriminating for those reasons are—at their core—decisions discriminating because of sex. The opinion recognizes that "[i]t is impossible to discriminate against a person for being homosexual or transgender without discriminating ... based on sex.”  See the opinion and a sampling of the many reports from NPR, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Bloomberg Law.
  • On Thursday, in another much-anticipated case, the Court ruled 5-4 that the administration’s attempt to end DACA is impermissible. Justice Roberts writes, “We do not decide whether DACA or its rescission are sound policies. ‘The wisdom’ of those decisions ‘is none of our concern.’ [citation omitted.] We address only whether the agency complied with the procedural requirement that it provide a reasoned explanation for its action.” See the opinion and a sampling of the many reports including from The New York Times, CNN, NBC News, and NPR.  

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • Last week, the Fourth Circuit invoked the murder of George Floyd in its opinion reversing a lower court and refusing to apply qualified immunity to dismiss a lawsuit again police officers who shot a black American 22 times after the victim had been subdued. The opinion found that if the victim “was secured, then police officers could not constitutionally release him, back away, and shoot him. To do so violated [his] constitutional right to be free from deadly force under clearly established law." The opinion also states that, “[a]lthough we recognize that our police officers are often asked to make split-second decisions, we expect them to do so with respect for the dignity and worth of black lives. Before the ink dried on this opinion, the FBI opened an investigation into yet another death of a black man at the hands of police, this time George Floyd in Minneapolis. This has to stop.” See the opinion and reports from CNN, The Washington Post, and The National Law Journal.
  • Today, a federal court denied an emergency request from the Justice department block former national security adviser John Bolton's book from being published. The court held that, “while Bolton's unilateral conduct raises grave national security concerns, the government has not established that an injunction is an appropriate remedy.” See reports from The Hill, CNN, and NPR (find order at NPR link).   

June 20, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 12, 2020

Addressing Bias in Our Briefs and in the Legal Writing Classroom: If You Want Peace, Work for Justice

Like so many of us, I have spent the last few months worrying.  I have been very worried about my law students’ physical and mental well-being.  As a parent, I’m losing sleep over concerns for my high-school and college-aged children.  But for the last two weeks especially, I have been incredibly anxious about the lack of justice in our country. 

As a teen, I loved the statement, “if you want peace, work for justice.”  I did not know then the phrase has roots in Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, but I knew it made sense.  See, e.g., Ronald C. Smith, If You Want Peace, Work for Justice, 16 Crim. Just. 1, 2 (ABA Fall, 2001) (using the phrase to call for justice after 9/11 and discussing the role of the criminal justice bar in ensuring freedoms and liberties to bring peace); Samuel J. Levine, The Broad Life of the Jewish Lawyer: Integrating Spirituality, Scholarship and Profession, 27 Tex. Tech L. Rev. 1199, 1206-09 (1996).  To me, one small way we can all start to make changes for more justice is by being more intentional in discussing bias in our writing, practice, and teaching. 

As appellate lawyers, we often have a good overview of problems in the trial court, and sometimes we can see racism and bias as well.  While we cannot present something beyond the record in a brief, we can do better at discussing what the record supports, and in having painful conversations with our trial counsel and clients.  Our courts have been increasingly willing to discuss bias, and one recently stressed the need to take “teachable moments” to end bias.  See Briganti v. Chow, 42 Cal. App. 4th 504, 510-13 (2019); Debra Cassens Weiss, “Appeals court sees lawyer's reference to 'attractive' judge in brief as a 'teachable moment' on sexism,” http://www.abajournal.com/news/article/appeals-court-sees-lawyers-reference-to-attractive-judge-in-brief-as-a-teachable-moment-on-sexism (Nov. 27, 2019).   We too should advocate for professionalism, and against bias, in our practice.  Of course, this is easier said than done, and our obligation is to our client, but if we start more conversations about what happened at trial and seize more opportunities to start a dialogue on professionalism, we will be working for justice.

Moreover, as legal writing teachers, we have great opportunities to include discussions of racism in our work.  In doing so, we need not stray from our “assigned” role as writing teachers, since we also have an obligation to teach ethical practice as part of legal writing and analysis.  In fact, we already stress important topics of professionalism in myriad ways.  For example, many of us use cases on disbarment when we teach case briefing, and discuss the results of missed deadlines or failure to follow court rules as part of our teaching for memos and briefs.  Additionally, I used problems on curing attorney errors for my trial brief problems for years.  Now, we can include cases leading to discussions of bias as well.  Using problems based in some legal areas, like Fourth Amendment pretextual stops and Title VII discrimination, will easily lead to discussions of racism and how writers and lawyers can address injustice.  Using problems based in other substantive areas, like false imprisonment or real property, can create wonderful openings for discussing implicit bias and raising awareness, all while teaching crucial legal analysis and writing skills.  I am not suggesting professors should or should not share their own views in these discussions, I am just noting a discussion of bias in the law and legal profession is a logical and important part of the ethical issues we already teach. 

As Ronald Smith said of working for justice to bring peace:  “think of another saying, ‘It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness.’ [When] we seek justice each of us lights candles, [and] light[s] the way for others to see how they . . . can light candles and work for justice, too.”   Smith, If You Want Peace, Work for Justice, 16 Crim. Just. at 3.

I wish you all good health and less worry, with hopes for a more just future.

June 12, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Religion | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 8, 2020

Practice in Place: My Interview with David Lat

Two weeks ago I shared an interview that I did with Sean Marotta and Raffi Melkonian.  Today I am sharing an interview that I did recently with David Lat.  David is the founding editor of the popular blog Above the Law.  He is also now a managing director at Lateral Link. In this interview, David talks about his personal, near death experience with COVID-19.  He also shares his thoughts on the future of the legal practice post-COVID, the future of oral arguments in the appellate and Supreme Court, and which Justice he thinks would have the best Zoom background.  Thanks David for joining me for the interview!

Edited: Sorry about the video issues, I think that it is fixed.

 

 

 

 






 

 

 

June 8, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Saturday, June 6, 2020

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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

In a 5-4 decision with Justice Roberts as the swing vote, the Supreme Court rejected an emergency appeal by a California church that challenged Covid-19 related restrictions on attendance at worship services. The church argued that the state guidelines limiting attendance at places of worship to 25% of building capacity or a maximum of 100 attendees violate constitutional guarantees of religious freedom. Justice Roberts concurred in the denial and wrote that the “restrictions appear consistent with the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment” and that the “Constitution principally entrusts the safety and the health of the people to the politically accountable officials of the States to guard and protect.” (Internal quotes and citations omitted.) See opinion and a sampling of the many reports from The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Associated Press, Reuters,

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

The District Court for the District of Arizona ruled that a same-sex spouse cannot be denied Social Security survivor benefits for failure to meet the marriage duration requirement without consideration of whether the marriage was prohibited by unconstitutional laws barring same-sex marriage. For a surviving spouse to receive Social Security benefits, the couple must have been married for “a period of not less than nine months.” (42 U.S.C. 416(g).). The SSA argued that the provision was neutral because it applied equally to all seeking benefits. The court rejected that claim because same sex couples have been impacted by law prohibiting their marriages, which affects their ability to meet the marriage duration requirement.  The opinion recognizes that, “[b]ecause same-sex marriage is a fundamental right, and the underpinnings of the duration-of-marriage requirement has relied on the unconstitutional ban of that right, [the regulation] cannot be said to be rationally related to a legitimate interest to a surviving spouse.” See ruling and case summary and reports from Slate and NBCNews.

State Court Opinions and News

The nine justices of the Washington Supreme Court, in an extraordinary step, penned an open letter to the legal community addressing racial injustice. The letter recognizes the role of the judiciary and the legal community in the continuing injustices against black Americans. From the letter:  

Recent events have brought to the forefront of our collective consciousness a painful fact that is, for too many of our citizens, common knowledge: the injustices faced by black Americans are not relics of the past. We continue to see racialized policing and the overrepresentation of black Americans in every stage of our criminal and juvenile justice systems. Our institutions remain affected by the vestiges of slavery: Jim Crow laws that were never dismantled and racist court decisions that were never disavowed.

The legal community must recognize that we all bear responsibility for this on-going injustice, and that we are capable of taking steps to address it, if only we have the courage and the will. . . .

As judges, we must recognize the role we have played in devaluing black lives. This very court once held that a cemetery could lawfully deny grieving black parents the right to bury their infant. We cannot undo this wrong—but we can recognize our ability to do better in the future. We can develop a greater awareness of our own conscious and unconscious biases in order to make just decisions in individual cases, and we can administer justice and support court rules in a way that brings greater racial justice to our system as a whole.

See the full letter and reports from The National Law Journal, Law.360, and The Tacoma News Tribune.

June 6, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 31, 2020

The Writing Process – Drafting, Rewriting, and Revising

Drafting an appellate brief (or any brief) is often a challenging and time-consuming endeavor. Among the best ways to ensure that a brief is of the highest quality is to adhere to the three stages of the writing process.

Specifically, the writing process consists of: (1) the drafting stage; (2) the rewriting stage; and (3) the revision stage. The tips below will help law students and attorneys through each stage of the writing process and, ultimately, maximize the quality of briefs and other legal documents.

I.    The Drafting Stage

The purpose of the drafting stage is to put your story, ideas, and arguments on paper. As such, you should write freely and creatively. Do not attempt to produce a perfect or even well-written document. And never attempt to write and edit simultaneously because it will stifle your creativity, divert your attention from the substantive arguments that you want to include in your brief, and slow the writing process.

In so doing, understand that although the first draft may, among other things, lack flow and effective organization, contain grammar and style errors, be redundant, or contain poorly phrased sentences and paragraphs, these problems will be fixed during the rewriting and revision stages.

After you have completed the first draft, take a few hours or a day (if time permits) to reflect on what you have written, and ask another person to read your first draft. You will likely generate new ideas regarding, for example, how to present or refine particular arguments, what facts and arguments to include, and how to organize the brief. Indeed, these and other issues will be the focus of the rewriting stage. As author David Sedaris said, “[y]ou need to do the best that you can do, and then you need to take the best that you can do, and you need to rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it.”

II.    The Rewriting Stage

The purpose of the rewriting stage is to refine your first draft. During this stage, attorneys should focus on improving the structural and substantive aspects of a brief. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

  • Ensuring that the brief is organized effectively, which will likely require reordering specific paragraphs or sections of a brief;
  • Improving the flow of your brief, which includes making sure that you transition seamlessly when presenting various facts and arguments and use subheadings where necessary to improve the flow and clarity of your arguments;
  • Eliminating unnecessary repetition;
  • Eliminating irrelevant facts;
  • Considering whether you have omitted important facts or legal arguments. For example, you may have failed to address a relevant counterargument, distinguish an unfavorable case, or include a favorable fact; and
  • Making sure that your paragraphs begin with a clear topic sentence that focuses on a specific issue and end with sentences that transition effectively to the next paragraph and section.

Importantly, lawyers (and writers generally) often perform several rewrites. And during the rewriting stage, you should print out and read aloud your brief because it will ensure that you discover errors or areas for improvement that you may not have otherwise noticed.        

III.       The Revision Stage

During the revision stage, you should concentrate on the smaller but equally important details of your brief. Put simply, the revision stage is where you perform a line and copy edit of your brief. This should include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following:

  • Making paragraphs and sentences shorter;
  • Varying sentence length;
  • Eliminating complex or esoteric words, adverbs, and unnecessary adjectives;
  • Ensuring that your brief contains no grammatical, stylistic, or spelling errors;
  • Including transition words to ensure flow and clarity;
  • Eliminating words that convey ambiguous or unintended meanings;
  • Reducing the number of quotes;
  • Deleting repetitive sentences;
  • Eliminating cliché phrases and colloquial language;
  • Ensuring that your brief is written in the active voice (for the most part);
  • Using the CTRL+F feature to search for overused and unnecessary words; and
  • Submitting your document to an online editing service, such as Grammarly.

Additionally, you should perform multiple revisions to ensure that you identify all errors and maximize the persuasive value of your brief.

Finally, you should never combine any of these stages. For example, if you combine the rewriting and revising stages, you will almost certainly fail to identify both large and small-scale problems with your brief and compromise your brief’s persuasive value. Lawyers who adhere to the three stages of the writing process will – and do – produce briefs of the highest quality.

May 31, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Coronavirus isn't the Only Infection to Worry About Right Now.

Computer virus

In May, while the world was still trying to adjust to life during quarantine, the Texas Office of Court Administration was hit by a ransomware attack. While the details are still a bit sketchy because of an ongoing investigation, we do know that the State refused to pay the demanded ransom, shut down the infected systems, and has struggled since then to continue its work via alternate channels.

For appellate attorneys, this has been particularly frustrating. The systems that were shut down include some of the case notification mechanisms, so attorneys are finding out via social media whether they won or lost an appeal. In some cases, the court's access to the record appears to have been lost, so advocates are being asked to help provide case information and records back to the court. Throughout it all, Texas courts have somehow managed to not only continue to work but to lead in holding remote oral arguments and hearings and in continuing to push their dockets despite the quarantine and a crippled IT infrastructure.

In a past life, I worked as a systems administrator and technician, and even wore a "white hat" while hacking to test security. So I am familiar with the challenges in preventing ransomware attacks. This post, however, isn't written for the IT crowd. I hope to give some advice to the attorneys and professors who generally ignore such posts, but are often the source of the problem.

First, you need to know that ransomware attacks generally follow a set pattern. The attackers implant software that helps them gain control of a system, usually be encrypting data so it is no longer usable. They then notify the victim of the attack and demand a ransom, usually in bitcoin or another cryptocurrency. If the ransom is paid, they promise to decrypt the data. Sometimes they do, sometimes they do not.

Where do you, the user, fit into this scheme? Usually, you are the point of infection. By taking a few precautions you might prevent the next attack, or help with the restoration that follows.

1.     Don't be the Source of the Infection.

Most ransomware is spread by Phishing, or emails that entice you to click a link that then loads the software onto your computer. Your IT department is serious when it asks you not to click on links from outside sources. The same goes for email attachments, and for links sent via text.

Some attacks start with "social engineering," or gaining access to sensitive information from users that can be used to guess passwords. Avoid the social-media posts that ask you cute personal questions and share with your friends. Even if your password isn't related to your date of birth, favorite pet, child's name, or other seemingly harmless bit of data, one of your friends' passwords might well be. Or, the attacker might use that information to personalize an email phishing attack that is just too hard to resist.

Finally, avoid using public wifi, or if you do, use the VPN that your employer has most likely set up for you. This is probably less common now that we are trying to stay in place, but is still a common source of attack.

2.     Help Preserve your Data.

If there is an attack, the target is the sensitive data that you hold. Most likely, that data will be locked away and inaccessible for awhile, if not forever. If your firm or court is going to recover, it needs your help.

Make sure that you keep up with backups. And, if you are working from a court's electronic record available online, do yourself (and the court) a favor and download that information rather than just relying on the online version. After suffering data corruption and other issues, I even email myself drafts of briefs as I progress in writing so that nothing is lost. The idea is to keep multiple copies on multiple storage devices, so that if one fails, there is still a way to recover. Some sensitive data will have to be more restricted, but in general, on appeal at least, we are working with public records that can be stored in multiple places.

3.     Remember that Confidentiality is a Ethical Responsibility.

Ransomware attacks are up across the board. There are even some healthcare providers that have been targeted, although some of them have been offered "discounts" on the ransom because they are essential service providers. Don't think that you are not a target. More importantly, don't think that your client's confidential information is not a target.

Indeed, law firms are increasingly the target of security intrusions. To protect clients, Comment 8 to Rule 1.1 of the ABA Model Rules imposes a duty of competence that includes keeping abreast of the "benefits and risks associated with relevant technology." Recently, Formal Opinion 483 clarified that the lawyer's duties include both taking all reasonable efforts to protect clients from data breaches and informing them when one occurs.

In the end, protecting client data is the professional responsibility of the attorney. You can't just blindly rely on your IT department or contractor and avoid that responsibility. Instead, you must be aware of the vulnerable world we live in, and take steps to be safe with not just your personal health, but the health of your data as well.

(Image attribution: "Virus" by kai Stachowiak, CC0 public domain license)

May 26, 2020 in Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 25, 2020

An Interview with Sean Marotta and Raffi Melkonian

My colleague, Prof. Susie Salmon, recently started a podcast called Practice in Place:  Law and Justice Go Viral.  You can find the first episode here.  The premise of the podcast is as follows:

[H]ow does a profession governed by precedent respond to the unprecedented? Practice in Place investigates how the practice of law and the administration of justice have adapted under the abrupt constraints of the COVID-19 era, how that has affected how and whether we achieve justice, and how those changes and that experience might or should change the practice, the profession, and its procedures forever. Produced by University of Arizona, James E. Rogers College of Law and hosted by Professor Susie Salmon and the Legal Writing Program.

I am pretty excited about the project.  For a forthcoming episode, I interviewed Sean Marotta, a partner at Hogan Lovells, and Raffi Melkonian, a partner at Wright Close & Barger, for their thoughts on the pandemic and the future of appellate practice.  For those who would like to hear our full discussion, I have posted the video below.  Sean and Raffi had insightful tips on surviving the pandemic, keeping your kids occupied, what they saw legal practice looking like in the next few months, and keeping sane.  I also provide my  insights on the going rate for finding typos in briefs.  Enjoy!

 



 



May 25, 2020 in Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Reviewing the United States Supreme Court’s Decision in Kahler v. Kansas

In Kahler v. Kansas, the United States Supreme Court confronted the question of whether a state could effectively eliminate the insanity defense.

I.    The Court’s Decision

By way of background, in criminal prosecutions nearly all jurisdictions provide an insanity defense that enables defendants to prove that they are not legally responsible for a charged offense. Although the elements of the insanity defense differ somewhat among the states, most follow or closely track the M’Naghten rule, which requires defendants to demonstrate that: (1) they suffered from a diagnosed mental illness; and (2) due to such illness, they did not appreciate the wrongfulness or of their conduct (i.e., could not distinguish between right and wrong). The insanity defense is used in approximately one percent of criminal cases and only succeeds in about one-quarter of those cases.

In Kahler, the State of Kansas did not eliminate the insanity defense per se. Instead, Kansas adopted a different approach in which defendants could be absolved of criminal responsibility if they could demonstrate that their mental illness negated the intent element of a particular crime.[1] Writing for the majority, Justice Elena Kagan held that state laws regarding criminal responsibility are only unconstitutional if they violate "some principle of justice so rooted in the traditions and conscience our people as to be ranked as fundamental.”[2] Applying this rather vague and subjective standard, the majority held that the Fourteenth Amendment does not require states to adopt an insanity defense that focuses on moral wrongfulness.  Rather, the insanity defense is “substantially open to state choice” and “animated by complex and ever-changing ideas that are best left to the States to evaluate and reevaluate over time.”[3] Thus, the majority rejected the argument that the Fourteenth Amendment required states to adopt a particular test for insanity, including a test that focused on whether defendants knew that their actions were morally wrong. Indeed, as the majority stated, “no single version of the insanity defense has become so ingrained in American law as to rank as ‘fundamental.’”[4]

II.    Analysis

The Court got it wrong.

There should be a constitutional minimum – a baseline – that ensures the fair and just treatment of mentally ill defendants at both the adjudicatory and sentencing stage. Indeed, the Court – and state legislatures - should recognize that severe mental illness reduces culpability and in some cases, criminal responsibility, regardless of whether a defendant knew that the conduct in question was legally proscribed or morally wrong.  Doing so would demonstrate that Kansas's approach, and the standard used in most jurisdictions (the M’Naghten rule), is woefully inadequate. It leads to grave injustices. And it demonstrates an alarming indifference to the direct and indirect consequences that mental illnesses exact on individuals' ability to reason and make informed choices.

Indeed, although some mental illnesses do not necessarily negate the intent element, these illnesses often cause a person to act with an ‘intent’ that is not culpable or even worthy of criminal responsibility. In his dissent, Justice Stephen Breyer highlighted the flaw in Kansas’s approach. Justice Breyer explained that “Kansas has not simply redefined the insanity defense,” but instead “has eliminated the core of a defense that has existed for centuries: that the defendant, due to mental illness, lacked the mental capacity necessary for his conduct to be considered morally blameworthy.”[5]

Justice Breyer explained as follows:

A much-simplified example will help the reader understand the conceptual distinction that is central to this case. Consider two similar prosecutions for murder. In Prosecution One, the accused person has shot and killed another person. The evidence at trial proves that, as a result of severe mental illness, he thought the victim was a dog. Prosecution Two is similar but for one thing: The evidence at trial proves that, as a result of severe mental illness, the defendant thought that a dog ordered him to kill the victim. Under the insanity defense as traditionally understood, the government cannot convict either defendant. Under Kansas’ rule, it can convict the second but not the first.[6]

That, in a nutshell, is the point – and the problem. To hold that the second individual in Justice Breyer’s hypothetical acted with the requisite intent is to reduce intent to a standard that is divorced from context and deliberately indifferent to empirical evidence demonstrating that, in some circumstances, mentally ill individuals do not – and cannot – act rationally. They act impulsively. They act under a false set of beliefs that influence their decisions and motivate their actions.

III.       Broader Problems With the Insanity Defense

The problems with Kansas's approach represent only the tip of the constitutional iceberg. The standards governing insanity in many jurisdictions, which largely track the M’Naghten rule, are deeply troubling.[7] Specifically, requiring defendants to show that they could not appreciate the wrongfulness of their actions (i.e., distinguish right from wrong) ignores the deleterious effects of mental illness on human behavior. Severely mentally ill individuals may know that an action is legally proscribed or morally wrong, but that fact is irrelevant to such individuals because, in some instances, they form a distorted set of beliefs, experience an inability make rational decisions, and struggle with an emotional state that can allow impulse to trump reason. By ignoring or failing to sufficiently account for this, the extant approaches make it all but certain that severely mentally ill individuals will be found guilty of various criminal offenses, face substantial periods of incarceration where they will receive inadequate treatment (and inevitably decompensate), and struggle to reintegrate into society upon release.

As a policy matter, this is problematic, if not fundamentally unjust. Mentally ill individuals often deteriorate while incarcerated, as they lack the support and structure necessary to effectively treat their illnesses. Upon release, such individuals frequently find it difficult, if not impossible, to successfully transition into the community, obtain meaningful employment, and achieve the stability necessary to lead functional lives. These deleterious consequences result in part from instituting a narrow and underinclusive insanity defense at the adjudication stage, and defaulting to incarceration rather than treatment at the sentencing phase, notwithstanding that there is little, if any, evidence that incarcerating mentally ill individuals serves any purpose of criminal punishment (e.g., deterrence). Simply put, the manner in which mentally ill individuals are treated in the criminal justice system is a national disgrace.[8]

IV.    Reforms

Principled reforms should include broadening the insanity defense to eliminate the moral wrongfulness requirement (i.e., that defendants lack appreciation of the wrongfulness of their conduct), recognizing the mitigating effects of mental illness on culpability and, in some cases, criminal responsibility, providing convicted but mentally ill defendants with treatment rather than incarceration (or at least ensuring a competent treatment protocol), reducing sentences, and establishing effective reentry programs to facilitate mentally ill defendants’ transition into society upon release.

Put simply, states, like Kansas, should no longer be allowed to ‘experiment’ with the insanity defense. A uniform approach at the adjudication and sentencing phase is necessary to ensure that mentally ill defendants receive equal protection under the law.

 

[1] See Kahler v. Kansas, No. 18–6135, available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/19pdf/18-6135_j4ek.pdf

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id. (internal citation omitted).

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] A minority of states have adopted broader versions of the insanity defense and thus provide defendants with fairer and more just opportunities to demonstrate that their mental illnesses substantially reduce, if not eliminate, responsibility for a particular crime.

[8] This is not to say, of course, that mentally ill individuals are more likely to commit crimes. It is to say, however, that when individuals with severe and diagnosed mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, engage in criminal conduct, the law should provide a remedy, at the adjudication and sentencing stages, to ensure that such individuals receive treatment for such illnesses.

 

May 23, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 22, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, May 22, 2020

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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 unanimously ruled that Sudan must pay the over-$10 billion judgement awarded to the victims of the 1998 al-Qaeda bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania. The ruling allows Sudan to be held liable for both punitive and compensatory damages. A 2014 appellate ruling had determined that a 2008 law that permitted retroactive application of compensatory damages to cases involving state-sponsored terrorism did not extend to punitive damages.  The Supreme Court reversed that ruling and reinstated the 2012 judgment.  See opinion and reports from Bloomberg, The Washington Post, and The Associated Press.  

  • The Court refused to grant Idaho officials' request to block a transgender inmate’s surgery pending appeal.  The ruling leaves in place a Ninth Circuit order ruling that, by failing to provide the inmate’s gender confirmation surgery, Idaho violated the Eight Amendment’s ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Idaho is appealing to the Supreme Court, which has not yet decided whether it will hear the case. See reports from The New York Times and NBC News.

  • The Court has refused to grant an “emergency” request by two Texas inmates to reinstate a district court order that had required a Texas prison to take measures to protect inmates against the threat of COVID-19. A federal appeals court stayed the order pending appeal and found that the measures required by the district court’s order went further than Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.  Although agreeing with the ultimate decision to deny the request, Justice Sotomayor issued a statement, to which Justice Ginsberg joined, to “highlight disturbing allegations” in the case. She writes: "It has long been said that a society's worth can be judged by taking stock of its prisons. That is all the truer in this pandemic, where inmates everywhere have been rendered vulnerable and often powerless to protect themselves from harm. May we hope that our country's facilities serve as models rather than cautionary tales." See Justice Sotomayor’s statement and reports in The New York Times, CNN, The Wall Street Journal, and Bloomberg Law.

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Fourth Circuit has allowed an emoluments suit against the president to proceed. The case, by Washington D.C. and Maryland, alleges that Donald Trump violated the Constitution by profiting from foreign and state patrons at his Washington, D.C., hotel. The court found a genuine dispute over the definition of an “emolument,” writing “we can hardly conclude that the President’s preferred definition of this obscure word is clearly and indisputably the correct one.” See opinion and a sampling of the many reports at The New York Times, The Courthouse New Service, The Hill, Politico, and The Washington Post.   

  • The Fifth Circuit has temporarily stayed a Texas district court’s May 19 ruling that would have allowed voters in Texas to vote by mail during the COVID-19 pandemic. The district court’s ruling found that the disability provision in the Texas vote-by-mail code applied to voters who “lack immunity from COVID-19 and fear infection at polling places.” See report at CNN, The Texas Tribune, and The Dallas Observer.

  • The Sixth Circuit granted rehearing en banc and vacated its decision finding that the “the Constitution provides a fundamental right to a basic minimum education” and defining that as an education that “plausibly provides access to literacy.”  This column reported on the Sixth Circuit’s right-to-education decision a few weeks ago.  See the order granting rehearing and reports from Bloomberg Law and Detroit Free Press.

State Court Opinions and News

  • In Michigan, the court have upheld the governor’s right to extend a stay-at-home order. Michigan residents claimed that the stay-at-home measures infringed on their constitutional rights.  The court recognized that the state has authority to enact policy when “faced with a public crisis” and determined that the policy was consistent with the law.  The court further iterated that a citizen’s constitutional rights are “subject to reasonable regulation by the state.”  See report by CBS News and The Hill.
  • In Wisconsin, the state supreme court struck down the governor’s stay-at-home order, ruling that the governor had overstepped his authority by extending the quarantine measures without consulting the legislature.  See the opinion and reports from The Associated Press, The Hill, and Wisconsin Public Radio.
  • In Oregon, the state supreme court stayed a county judge’s ruling that declared the governor’s COVID-19 measures concerning church gatherings “null and void.” See report in The Oregonian.

May 22, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

A Toast to Those in the Courts Who Were Ready for This Pandemic

 

This blog post might provide you with information you already know.  The information is new to me, which made me think sharing it might assist others as well.  As I was looking at the Louisiana Supreme Court’s website recently, a reference caught my eye.  That reference was to the publication, “Preparing for a Pandemic: An Emergency Response Benchbook and Operational Guidebook for State Court Judges and Administrators.”  The publication can be downloaded here: https://ncsc.contentdm.oclc.org/digital/collection/facilities/id/194

A team from the Conference of Chief Justices and the Conference of State Court Administrators worked on a Pandemic and Emergency Response Task Force to create this document, which was published by the National Center for State Courts in 2016!  That date caught my eye because, like so many of you, I have been stunned over the past few months (yes, months that sometimes feel like years) by what has been going on in the world: stunned by the magnitude of this pandemic.  And now, I am stunned by the fact that this group created this resource four years ago that is so relevant to what the world is experiencing in 2020.

The benchbook/guidebook urges state courts to create their own books tailored to their states in which they include both federal and state laws that will be relevant should a pandemic occur.  It raises issues to be considered in a pandemic, such as maintaining constitutional protections during a pandemic; operating courts during a pandemic; searches, seizures, and other government actions to maintain public health; and jurisdiction of public health issues.  It suggests that courts create certain model orders and court rules to use in the event of a pandemic.  It also provides a resources list that includes citations to state courts that already had such plans back then.  From back in 2016, it discusses and suggests many of the things that we are now discussing and suggesting.

I highly recommend you review this document, if you have not already seen it.  Perhaps it will be helpful to you in your law practice, in your law school, in your court, and even in your personal life as you grapple with and consider issues that do not often present themselves.  Thank you to the National Center for State Courts https://www.ncsc.org/, the Conference of Chief Justices https://ccj.ncsc.org/, and the Conference of State Court Administrators https://cosca.ncsc.org/ for thinking ahead.  I only wish we did not need your good book. 

May 13, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Notes from the ZOOM Frontier.

Kinman-barThe panel seems comfortable, but the lighting needs work and the background is cluttered.

My family has been using Zoom from home quite a bit during the quarantine. My wife, a history professor, Zooms her lectures. class discussions, and student conferences. My children use Zoom for school and to keep up with friends. And I use the software for work meetings, moot court tryouts and practices, and church events.

I thought I was pretty Zoom competent. Then I was assigned my first Zoom oral argument. To complicate matters, in compliance with local regulations and recommendations, we are running our office on a skeleton staff and most of our attorneys are working from home. I am no exception. I had to take things to another level if I was going to use my home office as a substitute appellate venue.

In the end, I put together a fairly professional setup. But I still made some mistakes. I hope you can learn something, both from the good and the bad, if you also need to use your home office for oral arguments.

First, setting up a more professional Zoom appearance will likely require establishing a more controlled environment, including lighting, sounds, and backdrop concerns. Learn from others. Watch some of the Zoom sessions from your court and others, and see what you find works and what does not.

As I watched those videos I saw distracting backgrounds, poor lighting, mic feedback, noisy interruptions, and awkward paper shuffling. I tried to tackle those problems.

In my home office I have both a desktop with a larger screen set high, and a laptop that I move to-and-from work. I setup the laptop as my "Zoom computer," with the camera slightly above my eye level. That allowed me to still use my desktop screen and keyboard, with the screen just above the laptop camera, which allowed me to keep my eyes close to a "normal" position while looking at my outline and, if necessary, pulling up the record or briefing.

This was handy, cut down on the visual and auditory distraction of trying to shuffle paper, and kept my eyes fairly centered on the screen. But all of that screen glare turned me blue. So next I tackled the lighting.

Most professionals recommend lighting be in front and above the face. So I found a lamp that I could place on my desk and slightly above my screen. I then adjusted the blinds on my windows to cut out a distracting side-glare. The image was still bluer than I would have liked, but the image was crisper and the glare was gone.

Next was sound. My home office is comfortable, but it is not quiet. I have a large window to my left with a lovely view and french doors opening into the entryway of the house. A guest bath is directly behind me.

This means that, at any given time, my dog might decide to visit me at my window. Or a squirrel or happy bird might visit and decide to chat. Likewise, children come and go looking in with curiosity any time the doors are shut, and the guest bath is often used. All of this had to be controlled to the greatest extent possible. Signs go up, conversations are held, dogs are crated, and so on. There is no controlling the squirrels. (Nor the flushing, as we recently learned).

Finally, my office has deep burgundy walls and wood paneling, which, while very masculine, made for displeasing video background. So I searched the web far and wide for the perfect office bookshelf background that could be used without charge, and eventually settled on one that made me look scholarly.

All of this needed to be tested, so I went through some "dry run" recordings and practices and made several fine tunings. My laptop is fairly new, so I did not need to put up a sheet behind me for the virtual backgrounds to work, as some recommend. I did use an ethernet cable instead of a wifi connection to ensure a strong connection.

After numerous tests it was game time. And despite all of the preparation, some of the same problems that have plagued others hit our oral argument. Zoom would highlight the justice's screens in yellow at times, seemingly indicating that they were going to ask a question. I would stop, not wanting to speak over anyone. And for a few seconds (that seemed like eternity), we just stared awkwardly at each other.

My desktop screen, meanwhile, despite being carefully loaded and setup prior to the argument, kept popping up distracting notifications, and I had trouble loading one file I tried to pull up for quick reference. Shadowy figures moved past my doors, distracting me as they tried to be as nondistracting as possible. And something tried to dig into my office from behind my closed shades.

In the end, we all struggled through it. But going forward, there are a few things I would do differently. I am going to talk to the clerk about potential solutions to the problem of either talking over the panel or constantly stopping when it appears they are trying to ask a question. The lag in both the transmittal and the muting and unmuting of speakers is a problem. In some trial court proceedings attorneys are starting to hold up signs that say "Objection" during live testimony to alert the judge that they want to lodge an objection. Maybe we can have "Question" signs or something similar for oral arguments.

The slightly-off lighting is fixed. A relatively inexpensive LED bulb replaced the old incandescent lamp bulb. With an app I can now adjust the color and intensity of that light, balancing out the lighting problems with a high degree of control.

In subsequent tests I still look a bit washed out, even with well-balanced lighting. Some professionals recommend heavier makeup than usual for women, and that men also consider some makeup to appear more natural on screen. I'm not sure I'm ready for that frontier yet, but time will tell.

I am also either going to go back to paper, or learn how to shut down everything but my PDF viewer and practice more with finding and sharing screens. The live screen was just too distracting, and in the end I missed my binder and written outline. That process is going to evolve.

So will yours. As teachers are being reminded, the changes we are making to our routines during quarantine do not allow for perfection. We have to settle for "good enough" while we struggle to find new best practices. I hope my experience helps you in your own Zoom frontier.

As a final note, the Clerk sent out a "Zoom checklist" that was helpful in setting things up. I will share that with you:

  1. Create a Zoom account;
  2. Download the Zoom client or app;
  3. Watch Zoom tutorials on Zoom’s website or YouTube if you need to;
  4. Start a test meeting on Zoom to test your microphone and speakers;
  5. For optimal connection, do not use WiFi;
  6. Start a Zoom meeting as the host and invite friends to join your meeting;
  7. Discuss your lighting, background, audio, and video in your test meeting;
  8. Use a non-distracting background;
  9. When speaking, remember to look directly at the webcam, not at the screen;
  10. When not speaking, mute yourself in order to avoid any potential background noise or court personnel will mute you when not talking;
    1. Alt+A (to mute/unmute audio)
    2. Alt+V (to mute/unmute video)
  11. Position the camera at your eye level or slightly above eye level;
  12. Look professional - the same as if appearing in the courtroom;
  13. Speak one at a time;
  14. Give your current contact information (email, cell phone number) to court personnel;
  15. Join a test meeting with court personnel;
  16. Suggest that a group email and text group be created for your oral argument in case of technical difficulties;
  17. Discuss what to do if there are technical difficulties during the oral argument with court personnel;
  18. Practice disconnecting from and rejoining the Zoom meeting with court personnel;
  19. Make sure you know who the host of the Zoom oral argument will be and when to expect the invitation for the Zoom session to be emailed to you;
  20. Write down or print out the contact information for court personnel;
  21. DO NOT FORWARD ZOOM MEETING INFORMATION. The panel justices, and counsel arguing the case for the parties, will be the only participants admitted;
  22. Join the Zoom oral argument session at the 10 minutes before argument starts.

Good luck on your next Zoom argument. If you have any tips to share, please feel free to join in below in the comments.

(Image attribution: Inside a bar at the Table Bluff Hotel and Saloon. Humboldt County, California. 1889.Wikimedia Commons.)

 

May 12, 2020 in Appellate Practice, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, May 8, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, May 8, 2020

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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

  • This week, the Supreme Court resumed oral argument but, for the first time, it heard argument via telephone and allowed the public real-time access. Some of the many reports include those from The Washington Post, NPR, NBC News, and The Associated Press.  Find the first telephonic oral argument here in U.S. Patent and Trademark Office v. Booking.com B.V.   Because argument was held via telephone, Justice Ginsberg, who was hospitalized this week, was able to participate in oral argument on Wednesday from her hospital bed.  See reports from CNN, BBC, and USA Today.
  • The Supreme Court overturned the fraud convictions of the public officials in New Jersey’s "Bridgegate" scandal. The Court confirmed that the public officials did in fact realign toll lanes in New Jersey to cause traffic problems to “punish the mayor of Fort Lee for refusing to support the New Jersey Governor’s reelection bid.” However, because the officials did not obtain money or property, the Court unanimously held that these actions were not criminal under federal law. See the opinion and reports from CNN, Politico, and The Atlantic

  • The Court dismissed a Second Amendment challenge to a New York City gun ordinance. Instead of ruling on the merits, the Court determined that the challenge was moot because New York has repealed the ordinance. See reports from The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, Reuters, and The New York Times.  

  • The Court ruled that insurances companies are entitled to collect under the Affordable Care Act. The Court held that the government was obligated to honor the promise to protect insurance companies against the risks they took in participating in the exchanges established by Act.  See the opinion and reports in The New York Times, The Washington Times, The Associated Press, and Bloomberg News.

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Tenth Circuit upheld the federal bump-stock ban against a challenge arguing that the executive branch had no authority to issue the ban. The court rejected this argument, accepting instead the ATF determination “that semiautomatic rifles equipped with bump stocks are ‘machineguns.’” The court found the statutory definition of “machinegun” to be ambiguous and the ATF’s interpretation to be reasonable, thus upholding the ban. See the opinion and reports from The Associate Press and Bloomberg Law

  • The Seventh Circuit sided with Chicago in a sanctuary city fight, holding that the Justice Department cannot withhold federal grants from cities that extend protections to undocumented immigrants. The ruling recognizes that “states do not forfeit all autonomy over their own police power merely by accepting federal grants” and that “the attorney general’s perception of the urgency of immigration enforcement does not corral for the executive branch the powers entrusted to the legislative branch.” See the opinion and reports from The Chicago Tribune and Reuters.

  • The Tenth Circuit upheld the lower court and struck Kansas’s voter ID law, finding its proof of citizenship requirement to be unconstitutional. Kansas argued that the law was necessary to protect against voter fraud. The court however noted the significant burden on the over 31,000 voters who had their registration applications cancelled or suspended and found that interests of the state do “not justify the burden imposed on the right to vote.” This decision binds not only Kansas but all states within the jurisdiction of the Tenth circuit, including Oklahoma, New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah. See opinion and reports from The New York Times,  The Courthouse News Service, and an ACLU press-release.

  • In Wisconsin, four strip clubs suing for relief related to the COVID-19 shut down have won preliminary injunction in a First Amendment case. The strip clubs claimed discrimination in violation of the First Amendment after their applications for emergency federal loans were denied due to the sexual nature of the businesses. The injunction preserves the clubs’ eligibility for small business loans. The ruling concluded that the plaintiffs would likely succeed in demonstrating that their businesses are not prurient and that the regulation violates the First Amendment. See opinion and a report in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

May 8, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Footnoted Citations - Ramos v. Louisiana

Justice Gorsuch’s opinion for the Court in Ramos v. Louisiana,[1] which held that Louisiana’s and Oregon’s laws allowing conviction by non-unanimous juries violated the Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial, drew much commentary. There were discussions of its holding and the lineup of the majority and minority. And on #appellatetwitter, there was much discussion of Justice Gorsuch’s decision to forego in-text citations in favor of footnoted citations in the majority opinion. Justice Gorsuch’s choice rekindled one of the many debates on style[2] that are always smoldering on #appellatetwitter.

Professor Orin Kerr (@orinkerr) seems to have reignited the #appellatetwitter debate with his tweet of April 21, 2020: “Reading Ramos, I am struck by the citation style: It’s the first Supreme Court majority opinion I recall in which all citations are in footnotes. I find that style annoying, I confess. If citations are important enough to include, put them in the text.”[3] Professor Kerr’s tweet prompted responses from judges, attorneys, other professors, and noted lexicographer Bryan Garner. The following day, Garner, a champion of footnoted citations, devoted an episode of this twitter video log Curious Mind to discussing his thoughts on why it’s better to place legal citations in footnotes.[4]

Garner co-authored Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges,[5] with Justice Gorsuch’s predecessor, Justice Antonin Scalia. There, the authors debated in-text versus footnoted citations.[6] Of course, Garner argued for the use of footnoted citations;[7] Justice Scalia, “disapprove[d] this novel suggestion.”[8] So let’s review some of the pros and cons of both and then you decide which you favor.

But first, let’s take a moment to think about the work citations do in legal writing. Citations serve at least two primary purposes: they tell us how to locate the cited source and they tell the reader the importance of the cited authority, i.e., the weight of the authority.[9] The latter is important because it helps the reader evaluate the relative value of one authority as compared to another.[10] We evaluate the weight of authority by its source. Is it a primary source or secondary source? If it’s a court opinion, what court decided the case? Is it a constitutional provision, a statute, or a regulation? How recently was the case decided or the statute enacted?[11] So, whether one chooses to use in-text citations or footnoted citations, the reader must be able to evaluate the weight of the cited authority. And because appellate advocates respect and value their reader’s time, they want to make it easy for their reader to evaluate the weight of the authority.

Those, like Garner, who favor footnoted citations contend that putting citations in footnotes aids readability while still allowing the reader to evaluate the weight of authority.[12] Those who follow Garner’s approach and footnote citations would write something like, “More than forty years ago, the Court decided Abood v. Detroit Board of Education.”[13] This communicates the relative age of the case and the court that decided the case. The footnote then contains only the part of the citation that tells the reader where to locate the case. If done well, footnoted citations let the reader evaluate the weight of the cited authority without forcing the reader to read—or more likely skip over—the information that tells her where to locate the authority.

Those who favor in-text citations, like the late Justice Scalia, argue that footnoted citations bloat the text with information that could be more easily conveyed in a traditional in-text citation.[14] So the in-text citation would be something like, “In Abood v. Detroit Board of Education, 431 U.S.  209 (1977) . . . .” This conveys the same information as the example above, but now the information is all within the textual sentence.

The in-text citation crowd has one other argument that perhaps carries the day, at least for now. Legal writers and readers are traditionalists and “Judges are uncomfortable with change.”[15] Appellate advocates are unlikely to put off our judicial reader by following the tradition of in-text citation. We risk doing so if we footnote citations. This is particularly true if the writer using footnoted citations isn’t careful to include within the text the information the reader needs to evaluate the weight of authority.

Returning to Justice Gorsuch’s opinion for the Court in Ramos, it was the first majority opinion in which he footnoted the citations. And just three days after Ramos was decided, the Court released its opinion in Romag Fastners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc.,[16] with Justice Gorsuch again writing for the majority. There he used in-text citations. So, while Justice Gorsuch rekindled the #appellatetwitter debate, perhaps he too is unsure which style to prefer.

 

[1] No. 18-5924, slip op. (U.S., April 20, 2020).

[2] Other common debates on style include whether writers should use one space or two after a terminal punctuation mark and the best font.

[3] Tweet by @orinkerr, April 21, 2020, https://twitter.com/OrinKerr/status/1252526810019004418

[4] https://twitter.com/BryanAGarner/status/1253005857035608064.

[5] Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges (2008).

[6] Id. at 132-35.

[7] Id. at 132-33.

[8] Id. at 133.

[9] Alex Z. Chew, Citation Literacy, 70 U. Ark. L. Rev. 869, 879-80 (2018).

[10] See id. at 881.

[11] Id.

[12] Scalia & Garner, supra note 5, at 132.

[13] 431 U.S. 209 (1977).

[14] Scalia & Garner, supra note 5, at  134.

[15] Id.

[16] No. 18-1233, slip op. (U.S., April 23, 2020).

May 5, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Writing, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, April 24, 2020

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, April 24, 2020

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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 issued (from home) a number of opinions this week, including:

  • Barton v. Barr: The Court affirmed the lower court’s decision holding that a US permanent resident of over 30 years was ineligible to have his deportation cancelled. The case concerned the interpretation of an immigration law that allows immigrants who were deemed “deportable” based on the commission of certain crimes to petition to have their deportation cancelled. The decision interpreted a statutory provision known as the “stop-time” provision, which requires that an immigrant can only be eligible for deportation cancellation if the immigrant has been a continuous resident for at least seven years without committing a serious crime (the crime that renders an immigrant “deportable” can apparently have been committed at any time). The issue came down to whether the “serious crime” in the stop-time provision has to be one of the “certain crimes” that renders an immigrant “deportable.”  The Court affirmed the lower court’s interpretation of the statute and ruled that the crime did not need to be one of the crimes that is listed as a deportable crime. See reports at The Jurist and Bloomberg Law.
  • County of Maui v. Hawaii Wildlife Fund: The Supreme Court broadly interpreted the “functionally equivalent” test in the Clean Water Act. The law requires a permit for a direct discharge of pollutants into federally regulated rivers and oceans or its functional equivalent. The issue was whether Maui County violated the Act by injecting wastewater underground without a permit. The Court concluded that a permit is required “if the addition of the pollutants through groundwater is the functional equivalent of a direct discharge from the point source into navigable waters” and retuned the case to the circuit court.  See reports at The Hill, The Jurist, USA Today, The Associated Press, and The National Law Review.

  • Ramos v. Louisiana: This decision affirms that non-unanimous jury verdicts for serious crimes is unconstitutional and that the requirement applies to states cases as well as federal, which overturns precedent from the 1970s. The decision affects only two states: Louisiana, where the case originated and whose recent law barring non-unanimous jury decisions only applies to verdicts from after 2018, and Oregon, the only state that still allows non-unanimous verdicts. The decision recognized that allowing convictions with non-unanimous juries was rooted in racism, noting that Louisiana had adopted the rule as a way to maintain the “supremacy of the white race” and that the Oregon law could be traced to efforts to dilute “the influence of racial, ethnic, and religious minorities” on juries. Many see this 6-3 decision (and its concurrences and dissents) on what may seem to be a straightforward issue as illuminating on the issue of the role of precedent in future cases. See some of the many reports at The Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Associated Press, Reuters, and the New York Times from Adam Liptak and Linda Greenhouse.
  • Ramos is also noteworthy (especially for legal writers) as being possibly the first Supreme Court decision to have footnoted all citations (there have been dissents that have previously footnoted citations). See Twitter discussion on both sides of that debate here and here.

Other opinions issued this week can be found here: Thryv, Inc. v. Click-To-Call Technologies, LP; Atlantic Richfield Co. v. Christian; and Romag Fasteners, Inc. v. Fossil, Inc.

Federal Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Sixth Circuit ruled that “the Constitution provides a fundamental right to a basic minimum education,” which it defined as an education that “plausibly provides access to literacy.” This decision allows students in Detroit’s public schools to go forward with their claims that they have been denied access to literacy. Though the Supreme Court has discussed this issue, it has never decided it. See opinion and reports at The ABA Journal, The Detroit Free Press, and The National Review,  and see a 2018 New Yorker article on the issue.

  • In Tennessee, a US District Court has blocked the state’s order prohibiting procedural abortions during COVID-19.  The opinion recognizes that “[d]elaying a woman's access to abortion even by a matter of days can result in her having to undergo a lengthier and more complex procedure that involves progressively greater health risks, or can result in her losing the right to obtain an abortion altogether.”  See report in The Tennessean, The Associate Press, and CNN.  But in Arkansas and Texas this week, state bans have been upheld or reinstated. In Arkansas, the Eight Circuit dissolved a judge’s restraining order that had allowed surgical abortions to continue after the AR department of health told clinics to stop performing procedures unless needed to protect the life or health of the mother.  See opinion and reports at The Associate Press, The Jurist, and Law360. And, in Texas, the Fifth Circuit has reinstated most of Texas’s abortion ban, ruling that medication abortions (those induced with pills) may also be restricted, but only as applied to those who would reach Texas’s 22-week gestational limit for a legal abortion while the ban was in place. This ruling comes less than a week after it had allowed them to continue.  See opinion and reports from Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Reuters, The Hill, and Bloomberg.

  • In the face of a Second Amendment challenge, the Fifth Circuit confirmed the validity of a statute that prohibits the possession of a firearm by a person who is subject to a restarting order due to a conviction for domestic violence.  See opinion.

Appellate Practice Tips

A recent Texas Appellate Law Podcast this week covered tips for using an iPad as appellate lawyer with guest Jeff Richardson, whose blog is iPhone J.D. Thanks, Jeff for the email!

April 24, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Phantom Precedents in Ramos v. Louisiana

If stare decisis really is for suckers, the Supreme Court’s decision in Ramos v. Louisiana[1] was an unremarkable end to the anachronistic Apodaca v. Oregon[2] decision permitting states to convict criminal defendants without unanimous jury verdicts. But for those that have argued for a strong stare decisis tradition and defended the doctrine’s importance, the Ramos opinion’s sustained discussion of when to overrule a precedent is a fascinating read.

First, Ramos reiterated that a relatively weak tradition of stare decisis is in vogue on the Supreme Court. In a process that culminated in 2018’s Janus v. AFSCME opinion,[3] the Court has recently moved towards a version of stare decisis that focuses on the poor quality of a precedent’s reasoning, even permitting the Justices to overrule on that basis alone. In contrast, a strong stare decisis tradition sets “poor reasoning” as a condition precedent to stare decisis analysis, not a ground for reversal; such reversals occur only if there is a special justification, such as unworkability, strong reliance interests, new legal developments, or vastly changed facts. Writing for the Court, Justice Gorsuch quoted the weak version of stare decisis in Franchise Tax Board of California v. Hyatt—which in turn relied upon the formulation in Janus—to emphasize that the quality of a decision’s reasoning is the primary consideration within stare decisis analysis.[4] His argument against Apodaca then focused on its “gravely mistaken” reasoning, which made it an outlier in the Court’s Sixth Amendment and incorporation jurisprudence and engendered the reliance of only two states.[5] In addition to the three Justices that joined Gorsuch’s opinion in full, two concurring Justices, Cavanaugh and Thomas, would likewise make the quality of a precedent’s reasoning the primary consideration, if not the singular consideration, in the stare decisis tradition.[6] And even the three-Justice dissent made its argument in defense of Apodaca on the weak stare decisis tradition’s terms. The dissent—an unexpected alignment of Justices Alito, Roberts, and Kagan—argued that Apodaca was not nearly as poorly reasoned as the majority would have it, but was silent on whether such poor reasoning should be a reason to overrule.[7] The dissent’s silence on that point was even more thunderous given Kagan’s prior insistence that “it is not enough [to overrule because] five Justices believe a precedent wrong.”[8]

Second, Ramos introduced a new facet to the stare decisis debate. Can some precedents be so fractured and incomprehensible as to be no precedent at all, becoming a “phantom precedent?”[9] Three Justices that joined the primary opinion in full argued that Apodaca was just such a jurisprudential apparition. For that trio, Apodaca failed to supply a “governing precedent” because its controlling opinion came from a single Justice, Powell, supporting a theory of “dual-track” Sixth Amendment incorporation that a majority of the Apodaca Court itself rejected.[10] And while Sotomayor wrote separately without adopting that portion of the primary opinion, her own view was remarkably similar. She claimed Apodaca was a “universe of one” that was so “irreconcilable with . . . two strands of constitutional precedent” that its precedential value was minimal, if not evanescent.[11]  

Those opinions offered little insight into how to identify the phantom precedents within the many fractured opinions the Court issues each term. Perhaps Apodaca was uniquely unable to generate precedential value; without any guiding principles to identify why that decision was a phantom, it is hard to tell. Perhaps the view that Apodaca is a phantom precedent merely expresses discomfort with the rule in Marks v. United States that the Court’s holding in a fractured opinion is “that position taken by those Members who concurred in the judgments on the narrowest grounds.”[12] Powell’s Apodaca opinion seems to fit that bill, but perhaps the Ramos Court marks the start of a new method to measure the holding of fractured opinions. Or perhaps Ramos intimates the Supreme Court’s desire to allow some of its opinions to have little or no precedential effect, much like the now commonplace unpublished decisions that I have discussed elsewhere on this blog.

Ramos is a complex decision with many layers to unpack beyond the few I’ve mentioned here. But its take on stare decisis is utterly fascinating. In future years, it may mark an important turning point for a doctrine whose death has been reported with great exaggeration.

 

[1] 590 U.S. ___ (2020).

[2] 406 U.S. 404 (1972).

[3] 585 U.S. __ (2018).

[4] Ramos, 590 U.S. ___ (2020) (slip op., at 20).

[5] Id. (slip op., at 20-22).

[6] Id. (slip op., at 7-8, 10-11) (Kavanaugh, J., concurring) (suggesting that the first factor in stare decisis analysis is whether the precedent is “grievously wrong,” which Apodaca was); Id. (slip op., at 2-3) (Thomas, J., concurring) (claiming that “demonstrably erroneous” decisions must be overturned irrespective of any practical stare decisis considerations).

[7] Id. (slip op., at 13-15) (Alito, J., dissenting).

[8] Knick v. Township of Scott, 588 U.S. __ (2019) (slip op., at 16) (Kagan, J., dissenting) (citing Kimble v. Marvel Entertainment, LLC, 576 U.S. __ (2015) (slip. op., at 8)).

[9] Ramos, 590 U.S. ___ (2020) (slip op., at 7) (Alito, J., dissenting).

[10] Id. (slip op., at 16).

[11] Id. (slip op., at 2) (Sotomayor, J., concurring).

[12] 430 U.S. 188, 193 (1977).

April 22, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Writing a Statement of Facts

In law school, students study legal doctrine in many areas of the law and spend a substantial amount of time reading case law, writing memorandums and briefs, and engaging in real-world simulations.

Of course, while the law is relevant to the disposition of any case, it does not often determine the outcome of a particular case. For example, statutes or constitutional provisions may be ambiguous and precedent may not adequately address the relevant legal question. Rather, the most important aspect of a case is the facts. The facts often determine how the law is applied and present equitable considerations that counsel in favor of a particular outcome. 

Thus, when drafting a trial brief, appellate brief, or pretrial motion, the statement of facts is critical and, arguably, the most important part of your brief. Below are several tips that will help to maximize the persuasive value of your statement of facts.

1.    Tell a story

In your statement of facts, do not simply list the facts or describe the facts in a bland or boring manner. Instead, tell a story – and make it interesting. Doing so will capture the reader’s attention and engage the reader in your story. Consider the following examples:

When the plaintiff was terminated, the defendant (the plaintiff’s employer) completely disregarded the relevant terms of the plaintiff’s employment. Furthermore, the defendant made disparaging and insulting remarks to the plaintiff that caused the plaintiff to suffer substantial distress, and that demonstrated the wrongfulness of the termination,

***

When terminating the plaintiff, the defendant unapologetically stated, “I don’t care what the contract says because I can do what I want and you could never afford a lawyer.” Additionally, the defendant repeatedly berated the plaintiff, calling her “pathetic, a loser, and an embarrassment to the company.” The plaintiff left the defendant’s office in tears, and as she existed, the defendant yelled, “get the f*** out.”

The second example is far more effective. Through the use of specific facts, it shows, rather than tells, the court why you should win.

Of course, when drafting the statement of facts, you should avoid unnecessary adjectives and over-the-top language. 

Finally, remember that you do not have to state the facts in chronological order. Although this may be appropriate in some cases, you can – and should – be creative in your organization. For example, if your case involves the breach of a contract, you may want to begin by describing the events constituting the breach and detailing the damages that your client suffered. Simply put, just as some movies begin with the ending, some briefs can too if doing so enhances the persuasive value of your argument.

2.    Don’t be argumentative

One of the worst things that you can do in a statement of facts is to argue. First, your facts should be drafted in a manner that makes you appear objective. Doing so will engender credibility with the court. Second, arguing in the facts may lead a court to believe that you are presenting an incomplete or biased version of the facts. Third, and perhaps most importantly, when you argue, you are telling, rather than showing, the court why you should win. No one likes to be told what to do.

3.    You can – and should – still advocate

Although you should not argue, you should still advocate. For example, you should emphasize favorable facts over non-favorable facts. You should organize the statement of facts in a manner that highlights the most favorable facts and de-emphasizes unfavorable facts. In so doing, you will be advocating without arguing, and persuading without misleading.

4.    Acknowledge unfavorable facts

Be sure to acknowledge unfavorable facts. In so doing, you should rely on other facts to show why the unfavorable facts should not affect the outcome you seek. If you conceal or misrepresent unfavorable facts, your adversary will highlight this error and your credibility with the court will diminish substantially.

5.    Eliminate irrelevant facts

You should never include irrelevant facts in your brief. Doing so will undermine the persuasive value of your statement of facts and distract the reader. Consider the following example:

The plaintiff is a private figure and employed as a cashier at Whole Foods Supermarket. On January 11, 2012, while the plaintiff was in the midst of her shift and serving customers, the defendant (the store manager) loudly stated that the plaintiff was a “liar, a whore, a criminal, and a disgusting human being.” As a result of these statements, several customers ridiculed the plaintiff and the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.    

                                                                                                  ***                                                                                                                                               

The plaintiff is a private figure who was born in Austin, Texas. A talented musician and artist, the plaintiff attended the University of Texas for two years before deciding to pursue a career as an actor. The plaintiff enrolled at the Texas Academy of the Arts and completed a twelve-week intensive dramatic acting program. Soon thereafter, the plaintiff auditioned for many roles, including on the well-known soap opera General Hospital and the primetime television show Breaking Bad. During this time, the plaintiff obtained a job at Whole Foods Supermarket to make ends met while auditioning. The plaintiff enjoyed good relationships with her colleagues. Unfortunately, two months after being employed, and during her afternoon shift, the defendant (the store manager) loudly stated that the plaintiff was a “liar, a whore, a criminal, and a disgusting human being.” As a result of these statements, several customers ridiculed the plaintiff and the plaintiff suffered severe emotional distress.

The first example is far more effective than the second. The second example contains facts that are entirely irrelevant to the legal issues (who cares about the plaintiff’s acting career?), and these facts distract the court from the facts that support the relief plaintiff seeks.

6.    Describe the record accurately

Always describe the record accurately. If you misrepresent facts in the record, you will immediately – and perhaps irreparably – damage your credibility with the court.

7.    You can include law in the facts if it's appropriate

When writing the statement of facts, you can, in appropriate circumstances, include relevant case law or statutory language if doing so would assist the court in resolving the legal issue. For example, assume that your client was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, and upon arrest, law enforcement, in violation of the U.S. Supreme Court’s holding in Riley v. California, searched your client’s cell phone without a warrant. In your statement of facts, you could – and should – say the following:

On February 20, law enforcement officers stopped the defendant while he was driving home. During the stop, the officers detected the smell of alcohol and subsequently administered a breathalyzer test. The defendant’s blood-alcohol level was .09, in violation of the legal limit of .08, and the defendant was placed under arrest. While under arrest, and over the defendant’s objection, law enforcement conducted a warrantless search of the defendant’s cellular telephone. This search was unlawful because, in Riley v. California, the United States Supreme Court unanimously held that warrantless searches of cellular telephones incident to arrest violate the Fourth Amendment. Accordingly, all evidence seized from the defendant’s cellular telephone should be suppressed.

As you can see from the above example, the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in Riley is relevant to the legal question and demonstrates that the search was unlawful. Thus, in a situation like this, including the relevant case law will enhance the persuasive value of your argument and demonstrate beyond doubt that the court should grant the relief you seek.

8.    It's not just what you say, but how you say it 

Be sure to draft a well-written, well-organized, and concise statement of facts. For example:

  • Avoid long sentences (over twenty-five words)
  • Avoid complex or esoteric words (and Latin)
  • Use transition words to ensure flow and clarity
  • Avoid unnecessary repetition
  • Avoid long paragraphs (paragraphs should be approximately three to five sentences)
  • Eliminate unnecessary adjectives and minimize the use of adverbs
  • Avoid nominalizations
  • Never insult the lower court or your adversary
  • Ensure that your brief is free of spelling errors and grammatically correct
  • Know when to break the rules to maximize persuasion      

Ultimately, the statement of facts is your best opportunity to explain why you should win. Following the above tips will ensure that you avoid the common errors that courts frown upon and that undermine the persuasive value of your brief.

April 19, 2020 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

Mandamus and the Need for Speedy Clarity

Mandamus is, and should be, a rare remedy. Over my years of practice I have filed mandamus less than twenty times in state or federal courts. Yet I have done so three times, and almost a fourth, in just the last six months. As a result, I have had a chance to ponder the unique nature of this remedy and want to offer a few tips if you find yourself having to file this unique "appeal."

In federal court, the All Writs Act (28 U.S.C. § 1651(a)) grants federal appellate courts the power to issue writs of mandamus. Mandamus is intended to be an extraordinary remedy, used only in exceptional circumstances that arise from emergencies or issues of national importance.  LaBuy v. Howes Leather Co., 352 U.S. 249 (1957). If there is any other remedy by appeal or award (such as a money judgment for damages) the remedy is not proper.Most state courts have similar jurisdiction and follow the same general rules.

The error challenged must also generally be "clear." This means, in most cases, that only ministerial duties can be challenged. If there is even a hint of discretion in performing the challenged act, mandamus will likely be denied.

In general, the suit is filed against the officer that abused their discretion. You are thus essentially "suing" the judge, clerk, or other official that clearly violated their duty.

Mandamus must also generally be filed quickly. While there is no deadline in most cases, there is a form of laches applied to mandamus by most courts. And mandamus is often used in situations where an injunction or other order has gone into effect or will go into effect in hours or days.

Mandamus thus offers a unique drafting challenge. You must act quickly. In some cases, within hours of the challenged action (or inaction). Yet you must show that the error is clear, and that there is no other remedy than mandamus. And you must provide all of the record information necessary to support the arguments raised, often without benefit of an official record.

This flies in the face of the usual appellate-lawyer temperament. We are, by and large, a careful and deliberate crowd. Mandamus requires us to shoot from the hip, but still hit the target squarely.

To do so, you must be ruthlessly clean and simple in your analysis. String cites, deep-dive  analysis, and policy arguments must often be discarded in order to cut to the point. And subsidiary arguments are often discarded in favor of a clean main point.

To make sure that my point is cleanly delivered, I try to focus in on a clean statement of the issue and on headers that deliver the entire argument in themselves. I know that the court is likely to start with the table of contents, so I want that table of contents to deliver the argument well. If there is a subsidiary issue that is not addressed in the headers, it should be cut or relegated to the footnotes.

Every necessary point is also made explicit. I do not leave to chance that any part of my burden for mandamus will be rejected. So the lack of adequate alternative remedies is a header. So is the timeliness of the challenge. And the error is explained with subheaders parsing out each step of the analysis.

If I am seeking emergency relief in addition to the mandamus that requires immediate action by the court, I state this explicitly in the mandamus, near the beginning. I then file the motion for emergency relief with the mandamus, if at all possible, so that the court has full briefing on why the emergency relief is necessary.

Finally, and this is the most challenging part for me, I try to stop editing when the mandamus is "good enough." Because of sharp time constraints, a few maxims should be kept in mind:

  • Voltaire: “The best is the enemy of the good.”
  • Confucius: "Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without."
  • Shakespeare: “Striving to better, oft we mar what's well.”

You must edit and clarify with great care. But you also must know when to quit. In a mandamus, this may mean that you only have a few drafts before you must file.

This is the hardest part of a mandamus. You are already somewhat uncomfortable with the idea that you are filing an "extraordinary writ" with so few rules and procedures to guide you. You are probably uncomfortable with the idea of "suing" a judge you may be appearing before again (although you are always carefully challenging the ruling, not the officer). And now, in doing so, you must act quickly and without the comfort of repetitive drafting over time.

But that is the challenge of mandamus. Quick, accurate, and simplified arguments are key. In learning to do so, you may learn to apply those principles to the rest of your work.

 

 

April 14, 2020 in Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)