Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Saturday, April 20, 2019

Saying Less: the revised Supreme Court Rules and cutting words

On July 1, 2019, the Supreme Court of the United States will impose a new, shorter word limit for principal briefs.  The change affects Supreme Court Rule 33.1(g), decreasing the word limit for principal merits briefs from 15,000 to 13,000.  The change brings the Court in line with the federal Courts of Appeal.  Since December 1, 2016, the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure have allotted only 13,000 words for opening and response briefs. 

The Court rejected one of the more controversial proposed rules.  That proposal would have limited reply briefs to 4,500 words.  Even so, the Court did shorten the time for filing a reply brief.  Previously, merits replies were due (1) 30 days after the respondent filed its merits response or (2) no later than 2 p.m. on the date seven days before the case was scheduled for argument, whichever was earlier.  The amended rule keeps the 30-day window but pushes the seven-days-before-argument deadline to 10.

 So why did the Court adopt these changes?  I don't claim to know the answer, but I expect that it has something to do with the fact that most briefs are simply too long.  Anecdotally, I once heard an appellate judge comment that every appeal really has one issue, maybe two.  It's clear that some lawyers—yours truly included—forget that sometimes. 

So how can you come in under these shorter word limits?  That's simple—better writing.  Here are some things to do, and to avoid, to bring your brief under the word limit.

  • Do use fewer words, not more: Legal writers often are guilty of using phrases like "pursuant to," "prior to," or "on or about."  Don't.  Instead of these wordy phrases, try "under," "before," and "on."  This seems like a no-brainer, but I've encountered many lawyers that refuse to give these anachronisms up.  As an aside, I've also encountered several that use "pursuant to" incorrectly.  Things don't happen "pursuant to" anyone's recollection.  If you can't replace the phrase "pursuant to" with the word "under," you should re-write.
  • Do run a search for the word "of." I never noticed it, but many phrases with the word "of" can be rewritten to eliminate one, often two words.  Consider the common phrases "the issue of" or "the question of."  You're likely able to pull those out without doing violence to your brief.  Also, if you're using an "of" phrase, there's also a chance you could use a possessive.
  • Do run a search for "ly." You're hopefully not going to find very many adverbs.  But if you do, take them out unless they're necessary.  Consider spending some time with a thesaurus; if you're using a lot of adverbs, perhaps you'd be better served by using stronger verbs.
  • Do not use the words "plaintiff," "appellant," or other, similar procedural phrases to describe any party. Briefing an appeal is about telling a story.  It's your job to tell the court the whole story of the case in the limited (13,000!) words that you have.  Even though replacing your client's four-word name would save space, resist the urge.  I promise, what you're gaining in space, you're giving up in clarity.
  • Do not use precise dates, unless you absolutely need it. The Court doesn't need to know that something happened on April 21, 2019, unless multiple events happened in April 2019.  If you've got to describe a temporal relationship, try words like "later" or "before."  Otherwise, just save the words and use the month or month and year. 

These aren't all the ways to save space.  But writing shorter, more coherent briefs is a mindset.  You have to start somewhere.

April 20, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (2)

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

The U.S. Supreme Court and Its Political History.

Img54

Over the last several weeks there have been numerous articles about the "unprecedented" politicization of the United States Supreme Court. I have also seen several opinion pieces about growing frustration with the political leanings of the judiciary, and proposals to increase the number of seats on the high court to bypass a feared conservative bloc.

I am fortunate enough to be married to a lovely lady who is, among many other things, a college history professor. While we don't talk shop too often, I am familiar enough with our history to know that none of these complaints are new. Indeed, they say that those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it. So let's learn a bit of history, then, and gain a bit of insight from the past.

First, dissatisfaction with the judiciary is baked into the system. Alexis de Toqueville noted that “[t]here is almost no political question in the United States that is not resolved sooner or later into a judicial question.” Yet Tocqueville considered this a good thing: lawyers by their education and nature were naturally skeptical of change and conservative in nature, and thus provided our best brake against the “revolutionary spirit and unreflective passions of democracy.” Congress and the Executive provide the passion and funding and guidance that moves the State, and the judiciary makes sure that all this passion and money doesn't ruin anything of Constitutional importance.

This inherent conflict between the Supreme Court and the other branches of government has often resulted in moves to make the Supreme Court "more like us." The Constitution does not define the number of seats on the Supreme Court. Thus, the Supreme Court started with just six seats in 1789. It did not take long for this to invite political intervention. In 1801, President Adams and his outgoing Federalist congress passed a bill to restrict the court to five seats, attempting to limit the incoming President Jefferson from meddling with things. Jefferson and his new congress changed the seats back to six by repealing the act.

This tinkering continued. At first, there was the excuse that new circuits meant there was a need for new seats. So, in 1807, when a seventh circuit was added, Jefferson and his congress added a seventh seat to the Court as well. Andrew Jackson followed suit in 1837, adding two more seats to match. When a tenth circuit was added during the Civil War, a tenth seat was added.

After the Civil War, the seats were reduced, at first back to seven, and then to nine, by President Grant and his congress. This number has remained the norm until this day.

That doesn't mean things have gone smoothly. In fact, things were worse in the 1930's than they are now, and we almost wound up with 15 judges a result.

In the 1930's, FDR and his congress passed a number of new laws that were a part of what became known as the New Deal. The Supreme Court was the only thing stopping this change. Time and again, the Court balked at the fairly radical changes that were being implemented. Soon, ideological divisions were noted and mocked. There were four conservatives -- Justices Pierce Butler, James Clark McReynolds, George Sutherland, and Willis Van Devanter -- that the pro-New Deal press began calling "the Four Horsemen." They were opposed by the "Three Musketeers," who favored the changes: Justices Louis Brandeis, Benjamin Cardozo, and Harlan Stone. In the middle were two moderates, Justices Charles Evans Hughes and Justice Owen J. Roberts, with Roberts usually siding with the "Four Horsemen" to overturn New Deal legislation.

The "Four Horsemen" were publicly reviled. Burned in effigy in city squares, they nevertheless stuck to their opposition, often meeting together to formulate opinions and questions at oral argument. In the 1935 term alone, this voting bloc overturned the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, the Federal Farm Bankruptcy Act, the Railroad Act, the Coal Mining Act, the National Industrial Recovery Act, and a New York minimum wage law.

In 1936, FDR won reelection by a landslide and believed that this mandate gave him a chance to defeat the Four Horsemen. He announced legislation that would add (through a thinly-veiled mandatory retirement plan that required retirement at 70 or appointment of an additional judge if retirement was refused) as many as six new justices to the court, turning the conservative voting bloc into a minority. In one stroke, the president proposed to regain "control" of the court.

There was immediate backlash. The public and press were split, but most (along with many in Congress) considered the move to be an improper, and undemocratic, power grab.

Most historians seem to think that the proposal never would have passed. But events on the high court soon made the effort moot. Shortly after its announcement, in a move that the press called "the switch in time that saved the nine," Roberts sided with the Three Musketeers in a minimum wage case, and what support there was for the court-packing bill subsided. Within a year, Van Devanter and Sutherland retired and were replaced by Justices Hugo Black and Stanley Reed, both FDR appointees who proved to be strongly in support of his New Deal.

Modern opinion writers would do well to remember our past. What we are seeing is not a new politicization, but the continuation of a trend that is inherent in our system of checks and balances, and a history of attempted political tinkering that repeats itself with some frequency. There may very well be better ways of constructing the Court, and revisiting the court's role and composition periodically is a healthy thing. But overstating the current state of events, underestimating public esteem for the high court and its fragile but important position, and refusing to acknowledge history, does not help that cause.

(image source: February 1937 cartoon in opposition of FDR's court-packing plan, publication unknown)

April 16, 2019 in Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, March 25, 2019

When Having A Heart for Justice is Not Enough

The following is a guest post by Prof. Teri McMurtry-ChubbProfessor of Law at Mercer University School of Law.

On Friday, February 17, 1978 the Chelsea Chapter of the N.Y. Committee to Overturn the Bakke Decision (NYCOBD) met to strategize how best to influence the Supreme Court decision in Regents of the University of California v. Bakke. The purpose of the meeting was to strategize under the banner of the National Committee to Overturn the Bakke Decision (NCOBD) as it planned a unified “March on Washington” in protest. In keeping with the call to arms espoused by its sister chapters throughout the United States, Chelsea NYCOBD boldly stated in its meeting flier:

Fight Racist Attacks on Affirmative Action Programs!

In the spring, the U.S. Supreme Court will render a decision on the Bakke case – one of the most important cases in the last 25 years on the question of racial equality. The Bakke decision, which is based on the absurd and racist idea of “reverse discrimination,” is a serious attack on the rights of minorities to jobs and education. If the Bakke decision is not overturned by the court, affirmative action programs for minorities and women will be threatened with elimination. Join the growing anti-Bakke movement in our demands to: implement, maintain, and expand special admissions and other essential affirmative action programs for minorities and women at all levels of higher education and employment. Fight Racism. Overturn the Bakke Decision! 

NCOBD flier

Although the NCOBD was not successful in overturning the decision, its act of grassroots organizing and educating the public is a primer on the importance of education to informed direct action. 41 years later, our contested, national conversation about affirmative action has continued with the Harvard Affirmative Action Case and the College Cheating Scandal. The scandal has caused us to (again) pause and ponder what is an elite education, who “earns” admission to America’s most prestigious educational institutions, and who deserves access to the America Dream. However, what about the lawyers who litigate these cases? Have you ever considered the views they hold about affirmative action in admissions and how their beliefs shape their discussions about the litigants and the arguments in their briefs that will ultimately become part of the jurisprudential landscape of affirmative action law?

This question, the question of how bias shapes lawyer analytical and reasoning processes, is the subject of a 6-year empirical research study I conducted involving student motion and appellate briefs generated from case files involving social justice issues. The study examines 576 brief submissions from 192 students on topics ranging from hostile work environment claims based on colorism, religion, and national origin to LGBTQIA students’ right to freedom of expressive association in creating the policies for their student organizations.  I wanted to know if law student biases concerning race, gender, class, and sexuality colored their analytical and reasoning processes as they drafted the argument sections of their briefs, and if so to what extent. The focus of one of the case files (the universe in which students litigate) was an African American man ranked in the 75th percentile of all law school applicants who was denied admission to law school, even when White legacy students were admitted despite being consistently ranked in the lower 25th percentile of all applicants. The claimant sued the University on grounds that the law school’s legacy admissions policy was an unconstitutional affirmative action program - he argued that a White student “took his seat” in the 1L class. The Bakke case and its progeny were the controlling authority.

Student attitudes about colorblindness led approximately 85% of them to make legal arguments flawed by bias in the first drafts of their briefs. For example, students representing the claimant analyzed his racial classification, “African American,” when the race of the legacy admits, “White,” was the racial classification at issue in the lawsuit. Student arguments advanced the notion of color-blindness or the phenomenon of “not seeing color.” Moreover, students representing the University argued for diversity as a compelling state interest even though the legacy admissions policy favored White applicants over applicants of color - a losing proposition for the University. Simply, they could only see race or ethnicity as anything other than White. These arguments based on biased assumptions led students to make arguments that were incorrect and inconsistent with the major tenets of the Bakke decision, and ultimately contrary to their client’s interests.

The good news is that with critical pedagogical interventions, teaching methods aimed at problematizing students’ biased assumptions, students course corrected their attitudes from color-blind to color-conscious. Approximately 82% of all student final appellate brief submissions, the final assignment submitted by students in the study, evidenced a critical engagement with issues of race and class in higher education admissions policies. Students made arguments that recognized “White” as a racial category of analysis in affirmative action jurisprudence, “legacy” as a function of class hierarchy, and the connection between the two. Most importantly, students continued to engage with each other and their peers around these issues after their time in the study ended.

Law firms, public interest and government agencies should note that unless their attorneys have been taught to recognize and disrupt their biases with respect to race, class, gender, and sexuality, it is probable that they will replicate these biases as they interpret the law and develop the analytical frameworks in their briefs. A heart for justice does not necessarily mean that lawyers will do justice. Rather, it is imperative that legal educators and the bar actively implement interventions to make attorneys aware of how their arguments replicate structural and societal inequities. We can do no less if our expectation is that attorneys serve their clients with excellence and an eye toward equity. You can read a detailed analysis of the study in my article The Practical Implications of Unexamined Assumptions: Disrupting Flawed Legal Arguments to Advance the Cause of Justice, 58 Washburn Law Journal  ____ (forthcoming 2019).

March 25, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

When the law loses its way

1024px-Trial_of_a_sow_and_pigs_at_Lavegny

There are times when we, as advocates, must argue for a change in the law. Going into the case, we know that the law, as it exists, is against our clients. Our job in those cases is to be candid and admit this, and then argue that this law must be changed. To do so, we need to examine the history and reasoning behind the law, look for allies who might have questioned it in the past, and not feel tied to earlier justifications that may have lost their appeal over time. Our job is made easier when that work reveals that the law has become unmoored from the reasons that justified its genesis.

Civil forfeiture – the idea that the state can take any item arguably involved in the commission of a crime, regardless of the fault of the owner – is one such area of the law. The Supreme Court recently ruled that state civil forfeiture awards are subject to constitutional challenge under the excessive fines clause of the Eighth Amendment. Timbs v. Indiana, No. 17-1091, 2019 WL 691578 (Feb. 20, 2019). But there is a bigger problem with civil forfeiture: it has lost its connection to historical justifications.

Justice Thomas raised this concern when he issued a statement on denial of certiorari in Leonard v. State of Texas, 137 S.Ct. 847 (2017) (mem.). After briefly analyzing the origins of the law, he concluded that “[w]hether this Court’s treatment of the broad modern forfeiture practice can be justified by the narrow historical one is certainly worthy of consideration in greater detail.”

A brief look at the historical foundations of modern civil forfeiture statutes reveals how badly they totter when asked to support the modern practice. For instance, the Bible is often cited as a source for the law, where, in Exodus 21:28, it is said that “if an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable.” However, even a cursory look at this passage reveals no mandate that the state gets to eat the ox. Rather, this verse stands for the principle that if an animal causes unexpected injury, only it should bear the cost and no one should profit from the resulting death. This is also in accord with the Talmudic interpretation.

Sometimes, ancient Greek law is quoted, where inanimate things that cause death were cast out beyond the borders. Other times, ancient practices with impressive sounding names like “deodand,” “wergild,” and “bane” are cited. But in each case where early examples are found, the ancient practice is distinguishable. It was only in the English common law that something similar to our current American systems was found, and then only because the state replaced the church as the beneficiary of the proceeds of sale of an item (or ship) that caused injury, largely because it could. When we adopted that common law, this practice found its way into our legal system. The fact that Great Britain later discarded the practice when it adopted wrongful death actions providing for recovery directly to the victim’s family (at the urging of railroad companies alarmed at the potential for loss) apparently went unnoticed.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr, noted that, in 1881, this was already a very common and recognizable phenomena in the development of the law:

The customs, beliefs, or needs of a primitive time establish a rule or a formula. In the course of centuries the custom, belief, or necessity disappears, but the rule remains. The reason which gave rise to the rule has been forgotten, and ingenious minds set themselves to inquire how it is to be accounted for. Some ground of policy is thought of, which seems to explain it and to reconcile it with the present state of things; and then the rule adapts itself to the new reasons which have been found for it, and enters on a new career. The old form receives a new content, and in time even the form modifies itself to fit the meaning which it has received.

After analyzing this growth and the history of civil forfeiture, in particular, he had this to say:

The foregoing history, apart from the purposes for which it has been given, well illustrates the paradox of form and substance in the development of law. In form its growth is logical. The official theory is that each new decision follows syllogistically from existing precedents. But just as the clavicle in the cat only tells of the existence of some earlier creature to which a collar-bone was useful, precedents survive in the law long after the use they once served is at an end and the reason for them has been forgotten. The result of following them must often be failure and confusion from the merely logical point of view.

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr., The Common Law, chapter 1 (1881).

And yet, almost 100 years later, the Supreme Court cited the passage in Exodus, the law of deodand, and Holmes’ discussion of other historical antecedents in concluding that a civil forfeiture statute that permitted the forfeiture of a yacht without first proving the guilt of the owner was constitutional, largely because it was ancient. Calero-Toledo v. Pearson Yacht Leasing Co., 416 U.S. 663, 680–686 (1974). No mention was made of Holmes’ conclusion that this historical analysis gave no real support for modern civil forfeiture.

Not surprisingly, a long catalogue of abuses followed.

In Tenaha, Texas, while Jennifer Boatright and her children rode through town on their way to buy a used car, she has stopped by the police for driving too long in the passing lane. When the police found the cash she was carrying to buy the new car, they took it. At the station, Boatright was given the option of forfeiting the cash and being released without charge, or going to jail for suspected money laundering and child endangerment, while her children were taken by CPS. She chose to keep her children.

In Emporia, Virginia, when Victor Ramos Guzman was stopped for speeding, the officers searched his vehicle and found $28,000 in cash. The driver was a Pentecostal Church secretary from El Salvador, who explained (and later proved) that he was taking the money -  donated by parishioners - to buy a parcel of land. Although no contraband was discovered, the money was seized.

In Philadelphia, a couple's home was seized after their son was arrested for making a $40 drug deal inside.

More recently, Tyson Timbs was arrested in Indiana for selling less than $400 worth of heroin. Although the maximum fine for his offense was $10,000, the police opted to seize his $42,000 Land Rover, bought with insurance proceeds from his father's death. This was the case that eventually rose to the Supreme Court.

These and other cases are often referred to as examples of “policing for profit.” The catalog of abuses is impressive, and the effect is disproportionately felt by the poor, who often cannot afford to challenge the seizures. These statutes are far removed from the original idea that no one should profit when an animal or inanimate object causes a death. And yet there are still efforts to justify these actions by referencing their ancient antecedents.

Civil forfeiture statutes are an important tool for law enforcement departments faced with sophisticated drug operations transporting drugs and laundered cash across the country. Reform efforts requiring guilt on the part of the owner and limitations on police department spending have helped rein them in. But they must also be tempered by constitutional concerns, no matter what ancient civilizations may have to say (or not say) on the subject.

Holmes’ reasoned that “[t]he history of what the law has been is necessary to the knowledge of what the law is.” This history is also important to understanding what the law should be. The historical supports given for civil forfeiture statutes do not bear the weight of many modern civil forfeiture schemes. It should not have taken us this long to figure that out, given an honest review of their history.

(Image credits: "Trial of a sow and pigs at Lavegny" from Chambers Book of Days (1864). According to the book, “Among trials of individual animals for special acts of turpitude, one of the most amusing was that of a sow and her six young ones, at Lavegny, in 1457, on a charge of their having murdered and partly eaten a child. … The sow was found guilty and condemned to death; but the pigs were acquitted on account of their youth, the bad example of their mother, and the absence of direct proof as to their having been concerned in the eating of the child.”)

March 5, 2019 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Rhetoric, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 29, 2018

Justice Kennedy, On Retirement

The retirement of a Supreme Court Justice has become an event surrounded by speculation and spectacle. Justice Anthony Kennedy's retirement this summer lead to the most contentious confirmation process ever, so we can only brace ourselves for what the next retirement might bring. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has faced much criticism for not stepping down during President Obama's tenure. Her supporters fear her trailblazing legacy may be in jeopardy if she is replaced by another justice who could be nominated by President Trump. A fight even more politicized than the last is likely in our future.

And that's why it was especially refreshing to hear Justice Kennedy's thoughts on his own retirement, and particularly the process of it. In a recent interview, Justice Kennedy said that he told none of colleagues of his decision until about an hour and a half before he went to the White House. He asked them not to say anything until he had his meeting with President Trump, who also was not given any advance warning from Kennedy. 

Justice Kennedy recognized his special place in history for his opinions that broke new ground, and were decidedly unpopular in some circles like Obergefell v. Hodges (same sex marriage), and Citizens United v. FEC (campaign finance). As to Obergefell, he remarked,

“I couldn’t hide,” Kennedy added. “The nature of injustice is you can’t see it in your own time. As I thought about it more and more, it seemed wrong to say over 100,000 adopted children of gay parents could not have their parents married. I struggled with it and wrote the case over the weekend. As you write, the reasons either compel themselves or not.”

And as for Citizens United, he noted,

“It’s true there’s a problem with money in politics, but I think we have to address it another way,” said Kennedy. He pointed to disclosure of the sources of the money. “Voters can vote against the candidate if they don’t like it.”

And mostly of his opinions, and those of the Court, he said,

“Our thinking is set forth in the opinions,” Kennedy responded. “We don’t go around later explaining. We hope the opinions are convincing.”

Aside from his written opinions, Justice Kennedy leaves another legacy of sorts: Both Justice Kavanaugh and Justice Gorsuch were clerks for Kennedy. Justice Gorsuch was the first justice to serve alongside his former boss. Kavanaugh now takes over Kennedy's seat, and with six of his former clerks also filling the billets of Supreme Court clerks this year, everyone should feel quite at home. 

November 29, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 29, 2018

Making a Murderer, Indian Law, and Habeas Corpus

Recently, habeas corpus has been on my mind.  It is partly because I have started watching season 2 of Making a Murderer.  To me, the most interesting part of the second season is the saga of Brendan Dassey's habeas petition, which is based in part on the involuntariness of his confession.  I found the circumstances around Brendan's confession quite troubling.  Several months ago I spoke at an appellate conference that also featured Steven Drizin, one of Brendan's post-conviction attorneys.  Steven's presentation on false confessions was fascinating.

In season 2 of Making a Murderer, Steven and his colleague Laura Nirider do an excellent job explaining the habeas process in layman's terms.   Because Brendan's conviction was in Wisconsin state court, he cannot prevail on habeas unless he can show that the state court conviction,

(1) resulted in a decision that was contrary to, or involved an unreasonable application of, clearly established Federal law, as determined by the Supreme Court of the United States; or
(2) resulted in a decision that was based on an unreasonable determination of the facts in light of the evidence presented in the State court proceeding.
 
28 U.S.C. § 2254.
 
If Brendan had been convicted in federal court, he would have to show "that the sentence was imposed in violation of the Constitution or laws of the United States, or that the court was without jurisdiction to impose such sentence, or that the sentence was in excess of the maximum authorized by law, or is otherwise subject to collateral attack . . . ." 28 U.S.C. § 2255.  
 
While it is hard to win on any type of habeas petition, the state standard is extra deferential to the underlying conviction.  As Steven explains in season 2, the state standard was modified in 1996 in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing with the passage of the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act.
 
So, what does this have to do with Indian law?  My appellate advocacy students are currently working on their briefs for my class.  Their problem involves a habeas petition from a Tribal court.  Under 25 U.S.C. § 1303, "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall be available to any person, in a court of the United States, to test the legality of his detention by order of an Indian tribe."  That is it.  This provision was passed in 1968, and it hasn't been modified since.  As Prof. Jordan Gloss notes in the American Indian Law Review, this hasn't been a big issue historically because federal courts have not had to handle a lot of habeas petitions from Tribal courts. This is due, in part, to the limited sentencing capacity that Tribal courts had.  However, in 2013, Congress passed the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, which, in part, gave Tribes that opted-in to the Act limited jurisdiction over certain non-Indians who committed acts of dating or domestic violence against Tribal members. See 25 U.S.C. § 1304.  Additionally, the 2010 Tribal Law and Order Act gives tribes additional sentencing power.  Combined, these two acts mean that federal courts will have to handle more habeas petitions from Tribal courts, potentially including Tribal convictions of non-Indians.
 
I agree with Prof. Gloss that Congress is going to need to step in to clarify what the habeas standard will be for Tribal convictions.  If it doesn't, I am sure that the courts will.

October 29, 2018 in Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Television | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Kavanaugh Hearings Continue for the Third Day

The Kavanaugh hearings are entering their third day. The place to be to receive thoughtful commentary on Supreme Court happenings is SCOTUSblog. They will be live blogging today's confirmation hearings starting shortly after 9 am eastern. You can find the live stream here. The commentary found on SCOTUSblog is always well balanced if not entirely objective. But even posts that contain a specific point of view do so in a serious, transparent, and respectful way. This is in contrast to how most of us receive our news today. We have to sort through lots of superficial explicit and implicit bias. Some bias is easy to see, some not so much. It's a really unfortunate state of affairs.

There is a surprising contrast to the commentary on the hearings and the facts behind the nominee's voting record. The interesting fact that emerged from the hearings yesterday was how frequently Judge Kavanaugh's opinion aligned with Judge Merrick Garland's opinion. Garland was President Obama's nominee following the passing of Justice Scalia. Judge Garland's nomination was not taken up by the Republican Senate in the election year, so there was no chance for public debate as Kavanaugh is now experiencing. The somewhat shocking statistic is that Judge Garland and Judge Kavanaugh, who both sit on the D.C. Circuit Court, actually voted together 93% of the time: "Judge Garland joined 27 out of 28 opinions written by Judge Kavanaugh, while Judge Kavanaugh joined 28 out of 30 of Judge Garland’s rulings." Each judge was nominated by an opposing political party, and yet the large majority of their opinions are in congruence with each other. 

The existence of that fact is bit astonishing when compared to the partisan debates we hear from our news sources. More than anything it appears to show that our appellate court judges work hard to find consensus and perhaps our judicial system is not in as much peril as we are sometimes cajoled into believing.

September 6, 2018 in Current Affairs, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, July 16, 2018

New SCOTUS Nominee

While I was out of town visiting family (and staying far away from computers) the country had some big appellate news!  Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement from the Supreme Court, giving President Trump his second Supreme Court nomination.  One week ago today, President Trump announced that he was nominating D.C. Circuit Judge Brett Kavanaugh to fill the vacancy.  Judge Kavanaugh, a former Kennedy clerk, has served on the D.C. Circuit for 12 years.

While I know that Judge Kavanaugh has lots of supporters, I was surprised by the pick for two main reasons.  First, Judge Kavanaugh is very connected to the Bush II administration, having served as White House Staff Secretary.  His wife also worked in the Bush administration.  Second, and relatedly, Judge Kavanaugh's long time service in D.C. seems to connect him to the "swamp" that President Trump disavows.  However, those two issues didn't seem to bother the President, and Judge Kavanaugh got the nod over other potential front runners including Judge Hardiman, Judge Barrett, and Judge Kethledge.

It hasn't taken long for the battle lines to be drawn in the Senate.  My email has been flooded with information and stories about Judge Kavanaugh.  His detractors seem to focus on hot button social issues and whether Judge Kavanaugh will be too deferential to the president.  His supporters point to his long, respected record on the D.C. Circuit and the praise that he has received from his law clerks and others.  It remains to be seen whether Judge Kavanaugh will be confirmed.  I have heard some speculation that he could have trouble with some of the more moderate Republicans (or perhaps with Sen. Rand Paul).  However, there are a lot of Senators from "red" states who are up for reelection.  They might feel pressure to support the President's pick.

Apart from the politics of the Kavanaugh nomination, I am struck by how much the Supreme Court has changed in the last 13 years.  When I graduated from law school in 2005, the Court had not changed in composition in over 10 years.  In the 13 years since I graduated, we have seen five new justices (and that number will be six if President Trump's pick is confirmed).  New justices mean a younger court too! The institution has changed some too, with new required e-filing.  Perhaps we will even see cameras in the courtroom in the next 10 years.

For the present though, we will watch and wait to see if Judge Kavanaugh is confirmed in time for the Court's October 2018 term. It should be an interesting summer!

 

July 16, 2018 in Current Affairs, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Would you get an RBG tattoo?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg has become quite the pop icon. She is the subject of a documentary (opening May 4, 2018), and picked up the moniker Notorious RBG. Tumblr memes abound. When she gives talks to various groups, she is given the rock star treatment. She takes this all in humble stride, but even she thinks getting a tattoo of her face might be taking it a little too far. 

While flattered by superfans who get tattoos of her face, the 85-year-old has also said she was "a little distressed that people are really doing that."

In an interview she elaborated:

Ginsburg: I saw that. And I thought it was — I thought it was a joke. I thought it was something you pasted onto your arm. But I'm a little distressed that people are really doing that.

Carmon: Distressed why?

Ginsburg: Because why would you make something that can't be removed on yourself?

I mean, it's one thing to make holes that you can use or not. My granddaughter for awhile was wearing a nose ring. Now she's not anymore. But a tattoo you can't remove.

Carmon: Well, I think it's because they admire you, that's why. This is the second tattoo I'm aware of. The other one has a picture of you. And it says, "Respect the bench."

Ginsburg: Well, that's a nice sentiment.

It is unknown how many RBG tattoos adorn peoples' bodies, but so far the trend is reportedly limited to women, some are lawyers, others are not, but they all still see her as their personal hero.

Amy Wallace, a 34-year-old attorney in Minneapolis, got a Rosie the Riveter-inspired RBG sleeve last year, which had a blink-or-you'll-miss-it cameo in the new film. "Justice Ginsburg is my only personal hero, and as an atheist, my adoration of her is the closest thing I get to personal worship," she told Refinery29. "The secular iconography of Rosie the Riveter mashed up with Justice Ginsburg seemed like a perfect articulation of the way I feel about her." The idea for it came after seeing someone else's tattoo of Our Lady of Guadalupe with a modern, feminist twist (A.K.A. standing inside a vulva instead of surrounded by a religious halo).

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In a free society, there is certainly no stopping these cultural developments. The prevalence of tattoos in only the last decade or so has risen dramatically, and they are no longer solely associated with prison or gang culture. In fact, tattoos are very close to being considered mainstream (ironically making them much less of a rebellious statement than maybe they once were). So it's not the tattoo that bothers me so much, it's the idolization of any one person in our justice system.

Call me old fashioned, but I have a perception of a justice system that is a bit removed from the hype. I want our judges to be and to be perceived as being unbiased arbiters of the law, and to favor no outcome based on how they will be perceived by the public. Judges should do the right thing because it is the right thing to do. I have no fear that this celebrity in any way sways Justice Ginsburg's approach to her duties. Her life's work has proven her dedication to her own moral compass, and from that direction she has not faltered. But I have not seen the same sober and restrained attitude in all judges in many publicized cases. When judges play to the masses, justice can be undermined, so any action that tends to promote the courts in a superficial way sort of wrankles me.

Judges are people too, and it's good for the public to understand we are all human. Those who practice in the legal system are not above the law, and our legal system should exemplify the rule of law in every one of its actions. This promotes predictability and stability in the law and society. While those who take on unpopular but righteous causes should be admired, and even praised for their courage, we need to be careful about exalting them to a height of idolization. It can become dangerous for the perception of the fairness of the legal system. RBG, through her steadfast dedication to her own moral compass, has led the way for more equality under the law and she should be recognized for that in her lifetime. I'm just not sure tattooing her face on your body is the best way to do it - for her or for justice. 

 

May 3, 2018 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Should Justices Dine with Senators?

The newest justice to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, is doing his part to keep Twitter rolling. A few days ago he attended a private dinner with Republican Senators Cornyn, Alexander, McConnell, and Secretary of Transportation, Elaine Chao, who is married to McConnell. How do we know this? Senator Alexander tweeted about it saying,

I enjoyed having dinner tonight at the home of Senator John Cornyn and his wife Sandy with our newest Supreme Court Justice, Neil Gorsuch, Transportation Secretary Chao and a few of my other Senate colleagues to talk about important issues facing our country.

The Tweet did not go unnoticed and drew criticism ranging from charges of fraternization to ethical impairment. The action of dining together is not actually against any judicial code of conduct. According to the Code:

Canon 5: A Judge Should Refrain from Political Activity

(A) General Prohibitions. A judge should not:

(1) act as a leader or hold any office in a political organization;

(2) make speeches for a political organization or candidate, or publicly endorse or oppose a candidate for public office; or

(3) solicit funds for, pay an assessment to, or make a contribution to a political organization or candidate, or attend or purchase a ticket for a dinner or other event sponsored by a political organization or candidate.

Sharing a meal would not fall under these restrictions, but could there still be a problem with it? Yes, and the problem is with perception. Justice Gorsuch, by all accounts, seems to be a very even-tempered judge, not subject to whim. He writes thoughtful opinions and might even be called predictable in his votes. Not everyone will like his decisions, but he does not seem susceptible to political pressure.

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However, in light of the current state of the public discourse and political climate, dining privately with politicians of only one political party certainly looks bad, and is not a suggested way to build a public perception of impartiality. Based on what I perceive to be Justice Gorsuch's respect for the judiciary and public perception, I doubt we will see anymore tweets documenting his attendance at dinners like this again. 

 

January 25, 2018 in Current Affairs, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Thinking Thursdays: New Science on the Ability of Facts to Debunk Myths

 

Extra! Extra! In a Post-Facts World, Facts Still Matter!

Yesterday, Slate published an important cover story written by Daniel Engber, LOL, Something Matters, in which he assures readers that facts still have power. In it, he outlines and reviews some of the scientific studies, old and new, that have analyzed the effects of presenting facts to counter false beliefs. There’s good news in the most recent studies. Facts do have an effect on debunking false information or myths.

The new science supporting the importance of factual persuasion, ironically has its own factual persuading to do. People who know a little bit about the science of managing adverse material typically rely on a small sample-size study conducted by Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler, When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions.[1] Two years prior to its actualy publication, the study was written up in mass-consumption media as part of the 2008 election fever. The stories tended to make dire predictions that fact-checking news stories would end up rallying people to become more firmly entrenched in their beliefs in the falsehoods. This phenomenon was termed the “backfire” or “boomerang” effect. Oxford Dictionaries selected “post-facts” as the 2016 word of the year, based in part on these studies.

Graduate students at different universities became interested in the Nyhan-Riefler paper, and attempted to replicate them, to no avail. The new studies were 103 times larger than the studies done by Nyhan and Riefler. One set of graduate students used over 10,000 test-subjects and another graduate student group used almost 4,000. The data tended to show the opposite: none of the conditions resulted in any evidence that people adhered to their views when presented with facts that showed the opposite was true. Rather, the studies showed that the test-subjects were more likely to adapt their views to better fit the facts.  

Rather than challenge the new science, essentially debunking theirs, the original scientists, Nyhan and Riefler collaborated with one of the other sets of researchers to conduct new studies. The foursome posted a 60-page article in the summer of 2017, The Effect of Information on Factual Beliefs and Candidate Favorability, [2]  concluding that people are willing to update factual beliefs when presented with “counter-attitudinal informaton.” However, they further concluded that updated factual beliefs might have only minimal effects on attitudes towards a political candidate. The very creators of the backfire/boomerang effect have questioned—some might say debunked—their own previous work. And the Slate article has set out to help publicize the new studies. Facts still matter.

So, what does the appellate lawyer take from all of this? Well, two things. First: the new studies give credence to the idea that the better way to manage adverse material is to disclose and refute it, rather than ignore it. Kathy Stanchi, a Professor of Law at Temple University has advised this in her germinal article, Playing With Fire: The Science of Confronting Adverse Material in Legal Advocacy.[3]  As cited in Professor Stanchi’s article, other scientists have suggested ways to confront adverse material—to immediately refute it when mentioned.[4]

Second, the wise appellate lawyer, turns to one of the resources that Daniel Engber cited in the Slate article, John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky, The Debunking Handbook, available for free download (7 pages). The handbook offers an “Anatomy of an effective debunking” on page 6. The last of the advisory elements is to present information graphically, so I will end this blog post with a chart.

Elements, per handbook

Explanation in handbook

Blog Analysis

Core facts

Refute by emphasizing the key facts. This will create a gap in the knowledge of the audience—a hole where the falsities used to take up space

This isn’t said in the text of the handbook, but the examples do mention a need for the key facts to present as a cohesive, alternative narrative.

Explicit warnings

Before mentioning the myth or falsehood, provide textual or visual cues that upcoming information is false

In legal writing-ese, this advice suggests that the writer mention the myth only after presenting the true facts. That gives the truth the position of emphasis in a subsection or paragraph.

Alternative Explanation

Any gaps left by the debunking needs to be filled. Achieve this by providing an alternative causal explanation for why the myth is wrong (and perhaps why the falsities spread).

This isn’t said in the text of the handbook, but the examples do mention a need for alternative explanation to  present as a cohesive, alternative narrative. In other words, story persuades. Stories are organizational scaffolds that present information as cause à effect

Graphics

Core facts should be displayed graphically, if possible.

For lawyers, the legal reasoning may also be presented with infographics. But, not all infographics are useful infographics--some are merely decorative and others might be off-point. The writer must always balance the usefulness with the impact on persuasion. For more on this, see Steve Johansen and Ruth Anne Robbins, Art-icuating the Analysis: Systemizing the Decision to Use Visuals as Legal Reasoning, 20 Legal Writing 57 (2015).

[1] 32 Political Behavior, 303 (2010). The study used 130 undergraduate students at a Catholic university. These students were split among four different modules. Id. at 312.

[2] Brendan Nyhan, Ethan Porter, Jason Reifler, and Thomas Wood, Taking Corrections Literally but not Seriously? The Effect of Information on Factual Beliefs and Candidate Favorability (June 29, 2017), available on SSRN at https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=2995128 (last accessed January 3, 2018).

[3] 60 Rutgers L. Rev. 381 (2008).  

[4] Id. at 390–92.

 

January 4, 2018 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Rhetoric, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The 2017 Appellate Hot List

Contrary to the enticing moniker, The Appellate Hot List is not a beauty contest! It is an annual round-up of the top law firms who have won significant victories at the Supreme Court or in the federal circuit courts. This year's Hot List naturally includes some repeat offenders, because clearly, once the word gets out that a firm wins in the highest court, more clients will come calling. The National Law Journal did quick summaries of the cases involved, and some of the more prominent attorneys were asked to give advice to their younger selves.

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With an eye towards educating my students, the advice portion is the most interesting:

William Jay of Goodwin Proctor won Star Athletica v. Varsity Brands, a copyright case dealing with original artwork on cheerleaders' uniforms. His advice was, "Read as much good writing as you can—nonlegal as well as legal [and] [s]et aside some time each day for long-term planning, because otherwise the immediate tasks at hand will swallow all your time." His first recommendation to read, read, read, is echoed by other top appellate lawyers in this year's list as you will see. The second piece of advice for time management is rarely discussed in law school but is ultimately a key factor to success in practice and living a balanced life.

Steve Rummage of Davis Wright Tremaine, along with his partners, won Microsoft v. Baker, a case about class certification. His advice was, "Focus less on trying to show case law mandates an outcome and more on showing how to reach a just and fair result for your client within the law." This is a lesson moot court students have to be reminded of frequently when they first practice developing their arguments for competition. Many are usually stuck on "precedent" as an argument, but the Supreme Court is more interested in finding the right outcome. Once students internalize this, their creativity bounds.

Adam Unikowsky of Jenner & Block won Kokesh v. SEC, a disgorgement case with the novel argument that it was really a penalty. The argument had never succeeded at the lower courts but ultimately won the day with the Supremes. Unikowsky advised, "If possible, make your brief shorter [and] [i]t is always necessary to be scrupulously accurate—otherwise you will lose all credibility with the court." Concision and accuracy are holy principles in legal writing. It is always nice to see your lessons reinforced by those in the trenches.

Jeffrey Green of Sidley Austin won Dean v. United States, a case regarding how sentences for gun crimes should be determined. Green gave some colorful, but very practical advice:

"Avoid lawyerly ‘splain’in. Explication, exegesis and theorizing rarely have a place. Give reasons instead—nothing more or less. What the Fourth Amendment or case X says is not going to win the day. [And] [s]ay it well, but say it only once. You can’t overestimate the goodwill you earn with any justice or judge by submitting a brief that is just about one-half of the allowable length. Don’t be repetitive about what you want, the justices just want to know why you want it."

At the risk of being repetitive myself, this advice is worth highlighting - simplify and avoid redundancies. Priceless.

Kannon Shanmugam of Williams & Connolly won two victories in the Supreme Court, and two in the circuit courts. Shanmuhagn was most proud of the hard work of the junior associates who won the cases in the lower courts. His advice was, "Take every opportunity you can to stand up in court or even to engage in public speaking. For most of us, oral advocacy is an acquired skill. [And, once again,] [r]ead good writing in any form you can find it. The best writers are voracious readers." Many students are petrified of oral presentations, but the trick is that there is no trick - only practice. Sure, some people do have a gift that gives them a leg up, but most people come by their oral argument skills through lots and lots of practice. And also, read! Read anything and everything. It will show up in your work product either way. 

Observing those who are successful at the highest levels of the profession is always worth a pause, and a thought about incorporating their lessons into our own practice - whether we maintain clients and a case load, or are simply imparting demonstrated wisdom to the youngest new attorneys. 

November 2, 2017 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 2, 2017

First Monday

Happy first Monday!  Today kicks off the start of the Supreme Court's term.  The term last year was something of a snooze-fest as we all waited for the presidential election and the nomination of Justice Scalia's successor on the Court.  This term will likely be much more exciting with union dues, religious liberty, immigration, and sports gambling on the Court's agenda.  Check out this NY Times article and this Washington Examiner article for summaries of some of the key cases.

First Monday also means the start of the FantasySCOTUS season.  By this point, you have an idea of how your Fantasy Football season is going.  Maybe your key draft picks have been injured or just aren't playing up to expectations. Well, it is time to cut your losses and focus on FantasySCOTUS! Created by Professor Josh Blackman and now run by LexPredict, FantasySCOTUS allows anyone to predict how the cases before the Supreme Court will be decided.  User predict how individual justices will vote on cases, as well as the how the case will ultimately be decided.

I have used FantasySCOTUS as a teaching tool in the past, offering incentives for my students to participate in the contest and stay current on what the Court is doing.  The program allows you to create your own league, or you can participate in a law school specific league. There are even prizes for the top predictors! FantasySCOTUS also features {MARSHALL}+, a "revolutionary algorithim that can accurately predict Supreme Court cases."  Created by LexPredict, "{Marshall}+ was able to predict every case decided since 1953 at 70% accuracy."

Although my Fantasy Football team seems to be doing pretty good for the first time in years, I look forward to seeing how my FantasySCOTUS predictions go this term.  Good luck to all of the participants.

October 2, 2017 in Current Affairs, Oral Argument, Sports, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Guest Post: Dreamers or Illegal Aliens? Framing and Persuasion

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This is a guest post by UNLV Law Professor Linda Berger and Temple Law Professor Kathy Stanchi.

This week, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). This announcement caused a public outcry, as well as a response from former President Obama, whose administration had spearheaded the program.

Sessions and Obama spoke of DACA in very different terms, no doubt trying to persuade those who were still undecided, but also trying to connect with those who already agreed with them. Their two short statements illustrate core principles of legal persuasion because their words created network of favorable connections in the minds (and hearts) of their audiences.

Sessions, for example, referred to the program as “DACA”, a flat, bureaucratic acronym. Is there anything drearier than an acronym? The word “DACA” sounds like something worth getting rid of – whatever it is. Moreover, using “DACA” allowed Sessions to characterize the program as borderline illegal -- “an open-ended circumvention of immigration laws” that allowed “800,000 mostly-adult illegal aliens” to remain in the U.S. In Sessions’ statement, it is easy to dismiss the DACA participants as “other” – as people breaking the law -- not like “us.”

Contrast “DACA” with the program’s popular name, the “Dreamers.” Whereas DACA sounds emotionally flat, “Dreamers” triggers one of the most evocative and compelling cultural stories we have, the American Dream. James Truslow Adams described the American Dream in the early 1930s as the idea that "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement" regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

Imagine how dissonant Sessions’ message would have been if he’d said the “Dreamers” were “mostly-adult illegal aliens.” Such a semantic and emotional flub might have damaged Sessions’ message even with those inclined to agree with him. No American wants to connect the “American Dream” with “illegal” behavior.

By contrast, Obama’s statement took the American Dream connection and ran with it. He called the Dreamers “young people who grew up in America -- kids who study in our schools, young adults who are starting careers, patriots who pledge allegiance to our flag.” Not “other” people but “kids” “Americans” and “patriots” just like “us” (or our kids). More than that, these young “Dreamers are Americans in their hearts, in their minds, in every single way but one: on paper.”

Like these political rhetoricians, lawyers and judges are effective in legal persuasion when they help their audiences make favorable connections. Those connections can be semantic (illegal versus patriot) or they can be emotional (we are all Dreamers). They can prime our biases (those people are illegal or my grandparents were immigrants). In the end, the way we talk about the “dreamers” provides a powerful example of persuasion -- of how to forge connections that allow us to influence others.

UNLV Law Professor Linda Berger and Temple Law Professor Kathy Stanchi are the authors of Legal Persuasion: A Rhetorical Approach to the Science (Routledge), a book that explores how legal persuasion results from making and breaking mental connections, using examples from law and politics.

September 11, 2017 in Current Affairs, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, August 7, 2017

Making a Murderer Dassey Case Headed to En Banc 7th Circuit

Somehow I missed this news last week, but the Seventh Circuit has announced that it will rehear, en banc, the case Dassey v. Dittman.  If you watched the Netflix documentary "Making a Murder," you were probably shocked by Brendan Dassey's conviction, which certainly appeared coerced.  

A split panel of the Seventh Circuit had upheld the district court's decision overturning Dassey's conviction.  Now the whole Seventh Circuit will have a chance to opine.  Eugene Volokh's post has some statistical information about the Seventh Circuit, including the number of judges appointed by Republican and Democratic presidents and the gender make-up of the court. Based on the actions of the panel, Prof. Volokh doesn't think that the typical stereotypes apply to this case. This is certainly a case that will attract significant media attention, so it will be interesting to see how it comes out on appeal.

August 7, 2017 in Appellate Advocacy, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Film | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Justice Gorsuch's first Supreme Court opinion is unanimous

This week, the newest justice on the United States Supreme Court issued his first authored opinion, Henson v. Santander Consumer USA Inc. The topic was debt collection, perhaps not a scintillating topic for most, but Justice Gorsuch opened with a catchy couple of lines - the most colorful of the opinion: 

Disruptive dinnertime calls, downright deceit, and more besides drew Congress’s eye to the debt collection industry. From that scrutiny emerged the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act, a statute that authorizes private lawsuits and weighty fines designed to deter wayward collection practices.

The rest of the decision centers on statutory interpretation, and following in the footsteps of Justice Scalia as he does, Justice Gorsuch's textual approach does not diverge from that of the late justice. The issue in the case was whether a third party purchaser of a debt can fall within the statutory definition of a "debt collector." Because the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act defines a debt collector as one who collects a debt on behalf of another, the defendant in the case could not be called a debt collector, and so did not violate the Act. The petitioner sought to use grammatical reinterpretations of the Act's wording that did not comport with the plain meaning, and failing that, asserted policy arguments. But Justice Gorsuch did not buy it, saying:

All this seems to us quite a lot of speculation. And while it is of course our job to apply faithfully the law Congress has written, it is never our job to rewrite a constitutionally valid statutory text under the banner of speculation about what Congress might have done had it faced a question that, on everyone’s account, it never faced. See Magwood v. Patterson, 561 U. S. 320, 334 (2010) (“We cannot replace the actual text with speculation as to Congress’ intent”). Indeed, it is quite mistaken to assume, as petitioners would have us, that “whatever” might appear to “further[ ] the statute’s primary objective must be the law.” Rodri- guez v. United States, 480 U. S. 522, 526 (1987) (per curiam) (emphasis deleted). Legislation is, after all, the art of compromise, the limitations expressed in statutory terms often the price of passage, and no statute yet known “pur- sues its [stated] purpose[ ] at all costs.” Id., at 525–526. For these reasons and more besides we will not presume with petitioners that any result consistent with their account of the statute’s overarching goal must be the law but will presume more modestly instead “that [the] legis- lature says . . . what it means and means . . . what it says.” Dodd v. United States, 545 U. S. 353, 357 (2005) (internal quotation marks omitted; brackets in original).

The opinion writer has been criticized for not being sensitive to a broader policy of consumer protections, and while that may be true, it was a unanimous Court that agreed the statute's definition of debt collector did not include the type of defendant before the Court. The Court, all nine now, agreed upon one thing - the plain meaning of the statute as written. Further, the Court did not veer off the beaten path. It affirmed the decision of the Fourth Circuit, which had affirmed the decision of the lower district court. It seems that this reading of the statute wasn't any rogue opinion, and instead placed the responsibility of writing clear law back in the hands of Congress. 

June 15, 2017 in Current Affairs, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Shout-out For Clear Writing

Last week it seemed like the only thing on cable news was former FBI Director James Comey's testimony before Congress.  While the content of Comey's written and oral testimony has received a lot of press, one surprise feature of the hearing was the praise Comey received for his writing.  Here is the exchange Comey had with Senator James Risch from Idaho:

RISCH:  Yesterday, I got, and everybody got, the seven pages of your direct testimony that’s now a part of the record, here. And the first — I read it, then I read it again, and all I could think was, number one, how much I hated the class of legal writing when I was in law school.

And you were the guy that probably got the A, after — after reading this. So I — I find it clear, I find it concise and, having been a prosecutor for a number of years and handling hundred — maybe thousands of cases and read police reports, investigative reports, this is as good as it gets.

And — and I really appreciate that — not only — not only the conciseness and the clearness of it, but also the fact that you have things that were written down contemporaneously when they happened, and you actually put them in quotes, so we know exactly what happened and we’re — and we’re not getting some rendition of it that — that’s in your mind. So...

COMEY: Thank you, Senator.

RISCH: ... so you’re — you’re to be complimented for that.

COMEY: I had great parents and great teachers who beat that into me.

While it is a shame that Senator Risch disliked legal writing in law school (and that he mentioned the fact at a hearing that was nationally televised), I appreciate the shout-out for the importance of clear and concise writing (and parents and teachers who encourage such writing).  

Over at the Lady (Legal) Writer blog, Prof. Kirsten Davis has an excellent post on why she thinks Comey's testimony is "A" worthy.  All of her comments are spot on.  A few of the comments pertain directly to appellate writing, such as organizing information chronologically (almost always a great strategy in the statement of facts) and showing how his ideas connect together.  She also notes the effective nature of the introductory paragraph that Comey uses and how he could have improved it.  I appreciate Kirsten's insight, and I am considering using Comey's testimony in my Advanced Legal Writing course this fall when we discuss the statement of the case.

 

June 12, 2017 in Current Affairs, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Ninth Circuit responds to TRO challenge

Readers of this blog are probably universally up to speed on the latest court happenings in Washington v. Trump regarding the January 27, 2017 Executive Order entitled Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, so this report will not be news to many.

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The Ninth Circuit has upheld the stay issued from the District Court in Seattle. The state of Washington, joined by Minnesota, alleged the order violated protections against religious discrimination. The order from the Ninth Circuit can be found here. All other appellate documents and audio relating to this case can be found here

The Ninth Circuit stated:

The court rejected the administration's claim that it did not have the authority to review the president's executive order.

"There is no precedent to support this claimed unreviewability, which runs contrary to the fundamental structure of our constitutional democracy," the court said.

President Trump has already responded via Twitter:

SEE YOU IN COURT, THE SECURITY OF OUR NATION IS AT STAKE!

As the White House is considering options on what to do next, the media is puzzled over what that tweet means. The Government could appeal to the Ninth Circuit en banc, which would consist of a panel of nine or ten judges, including the judges in the panel issuing the order. The Ninth Circuit has twenty-nine judges in total. The Government would also opt for a direct appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Or the Government could let the ruling stand and allow the trial court process to move forward at a snail's pace. High in the halls of Justice many bright minds are gaming out the next move. What is your best guess of how this will play out?

February 9, 2017 in Current Affairs | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, December 9, 2016

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup December 9 2016

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As  we do every Friday, the Appellate Advocacy Blog 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 Dan a quick email atDReal@Creighton.edu or a message on Twitter (@Daniel_L_Real).

Ruling in Samsung v. Apple

On Tuesday, a unanimous Supreme Court ruled in favor of Samsung in Samsung v. Applethe patent infringement suit brought by Apple, sending the case back to the Federal Circuit for further consideration.  In the case, Apple alleged that Samsung infringed on patents covering specific design elements of Apple's iPhone, including the rectangular front face with rounded corners and colorful grid of icons. Federal law provides that companies found to have infringed design patents on an "article of manufacture" are liable for their total profits. The lower court had awarded Apple $399 million in damages for Samsung's design patent infringement.  In the Supreme Court opinion, Justice Sotomayor wrote that the operative phrase in the statute, "article of manufacture," could sometimes be the entire product (the phone) and sometimes be the components found to have infringed the design patent. The Supreme Court opinion held that the Federal Circuit erred in ruling that the "article of manufacture" must always be the end product (the phone), but did not resolve whether the article of manufacture in the case was the whole phone or parts of it. 

Coverage:

New York Times

Reuters

SCOTUSBlog

Ruling in Salman v. United States

On Tuesday, the Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Salman v. United States, a significant insider trading case that raised the question of whether gifts of confidential information from business insiders to family members without direct financial benefit violate securities law. The Court ruled in favor of prosecutors, ruling that gifts to friends or relatives, whether in the form of cash or a tip of information, sufficiently "benefit" the insider to be considered a violation of securities law.

Coverage:

New York Times

Fortune

Bloomberg

SCOTUSBlog

 

Takeaways from 2016 SCOTUS Oral Arguments So Far:

Adam Feldman writes on the Empirical SCOTUS blog about "Four Takeaways From this Term's 2016 SCOTUS Oral Arguments" so far. There is a wealth of great information about the Justices' interactions with one another and with advocates during the first 1/3 of this term's oral arguments, including which Justices tend to speak the most (or the least), the issues that interest the Justices the most, and the tendencies of some of the best and most frequent advocates to appear before the Court.

Highlights from Appellate Twitter:  #PracticeTuesday

On Tuesdays the brilliant tweeters of #AppellateTwitter post a variety of useful tips, strategies, guidelines, advice, etc.  Here are a few of the highlights from this week, where the topic was mythbusting -- conventional wisdom with which experienced appellate practitioners disagree:

  • Sean Marotta (@smmarotta) argued against the myth that a law student should take "any" clerkship, regardless of location, judge, etc.  He argued that young graduates should definitely consider costs to family, significant others, and other factors when deciding whether a clerkship is really the right opportunity to pursue.
  • Rachel Gurvich (@RachelGurvich) argued against one of my personal favorite myths, that being on Law Review is some kind of prerequisite to a successful legal career. I always tell students that law review is not for everyone and is not a magic bullet -- the key is to find something that catches a potential employer's eye and once you get your foot in the door, you can explain why you didn't go the law review route.
  • Bryan Gividen (@BryanGivi) argued against the myth that a young associate should never so no to an assignment -- because if you don't learn how to say no to assignments that you cannot perform well, you are sure to start alienating colleagues and clients with poor work product.
  • Jennifer Romig (@JenniferMRomig) argued against one that is dear to my heart, as an educator -- the myth that law school conclusively reveals whether someone will be a good lawyer.  I've known many students who were "average" or even below in performance in law school, but went on to be fine and highly successful members of the legal community -- even some who took a couple of tries to pass the bar exam. I've known students who excelled in classes, but not so much in the real world. There's just more to it than that.
  • Finally, Supreme Court Places (@SCOTUSPlaces) called for the debunking of a myth that is near and dear to the hearts of anyone who has ever clerked for an appellate court -- "There must be a case for that simple, seemingly incontrovertable proposition."  It's amazing how often you think that but research seems to come up empty!

December 9, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 14, 2016

2016 Election Recap--State Supreme Courts

Last week I blogged on the impact of the 2016 presidential election on the U.S. Supreme Court.  On Friday, once the results were in, Dan linked to several articles discussing the results.  Today I want to focus on the impact of the election on the state supreme courts by looking at the 2016 state supreme court elections:

Alabama:  In Alabama, Michael F. "Mike" Bolin (Republican), Tom Parker (Republican), and Kelli Wise (Republican) won reelection as an Associate Justice on the state supreme court.  

Alaska:  Supreme Court Justices Joel Bolger and Peter J. Maassen won retention elections in Alaska.  Both men were originally appointed by Republican governors.

Arizona:  State Supreme Court Justice Ann A. Scott Timmer won retention election.  She was appointed by a Republican governor.

Arkansas:  Arkansans elected two Supreme Court Justices in the March 2016 primary.  John "Dan" Kemp, a circuit court judge, defeated Associate Justice Courtney Goodson for the chief justice seat.  Circuit Court Judge Shawn Womack defeated Clark Mason, a Little Rock attorney, in the other state supreme court election.

Colorado:  William W. Hood won a retention election to continue service on the Colorado Supreme Court.  He was appointed by a Democratic governor.

Florida:  Chief Justice Jorge Labarga, Justice Charles Canady, and Justice Ricky Polston all won retention election.  All three were appointed by a then-Republican governor (Charlie Crist).

Georgia:  David Nahmias won a retention election to hold his seat on the Georgia Supreme Court in May of this year.  Additionally, on November 9, Republican Governor Nathan Deal appointed three justices to the states supreme court—Solicitor General Britt Grant and Court of Appeals Judges Michael Boggs and Nels Peterson. 

Idaho:  Attorney Robyn Brody defeated Republican State Senator Curt McKenzie for a seat on the Idaho Supreme Court.

Iowa:  Chief Justice Mark Cady and Associate Justices Daryl Hecht and Brent Appel won retention election.  Chief Justice Cady was appointed by a Republican governor and Justices Hecht and Appel were appointed by a Democratic governor.

Kansas:  Chief Justice Lawton Nuss and Justices Marla Luckert, Carol Beier, Daniel Biles, and Caleb Stegall were all retained.

Kentucky:  State Appeals Court Judge Larry VanMeter, a registered Republican, defeated another state appellate judge, Glenn Acree, a registered Democrat.

Louisiana:  Incumbent Marcus Clark (Republican) won an unopposed election for the Fourth District seat on the state supreme court.  Additionally, Republican James Genovese defeated Republican Marilyn Castle for the Third District seat. 

Michigan:  Incumbent Republicans David Viviano and Joan Larsen survived election challenges to remain on the state supreme court.

Minnesota:  Incumbent Natalie Hudson beat attorney Michelle L. MacDonald for a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court.  Justice Hudson was appointed by a Democratic governor.

Mississippi:  Three incumbents won reelection to the Mississippi Supreme Court.  Incumbent Jim Kitchens beat State Appellate Court Judge Kenneth Griffis.  Incumbent Dawn Beam beat Michael Shareef.  Incumbent James D. Maxwell won an unopposed election.  Additionally, Robert P. Chamberlin won a four-way race for the state supreme court.

Missouri:  Justice Richard Teitelman, a Democrat appointee, was retained for his seat on the state supreme court.

Montana:  In June, Chief Justice Mike McGrath and Justice Jim Shea both ran unopposed for their seats, which was treated per Montana law as a retention election.  Shea had been appointed by a Democratic governor.  Additionally, on November 8, Kristen Juras beat Dirk M. Sandefur for the vacancy caused by Justice Patricia O’Brien Cotter’s retirement.

Nebraska:  Chief Justice Michael Heavican and Justices John Wright and William Cassel all were retained.  Chief Justice Heavican and Justice Cassel were appointed by Republican governors, while Justice Wright was appointed by a Democratic governor.

Nevada: Justices James Hardesty and Ron Parraguirre were both retained on the state supreme court.

New Mexico:  Justice Barbara J. Vigil, a Democrat, was retained to the state supreme court and Republican incumbent Judith Nakamura, a recent appointee, defeated Democrat Michael Vigil.

North Carolina:  Incumbent Justice Bob Edmunds, a Republican, lost to Mike Morgan, a Democrat, in North Carolina’s nonpartisan supreme court election.  This gives Democrats a majority on the state supreme court, but the state legislature is allegedly considering expanding the size of the court.

North Dakota:  Justice Lisa Fair McEvers, an incumbent, ran unopposed for her seat on the state supreme court.  Jerod Tufte defeated Robert V. Bolinske, Sr., to replace Justice Dale Sandstrom on the state supreme court.

Ohio:  Republican Justice Maureen O’Connor won an unopposed election for the chief justice seat.  Republican Pat DeWine defeated Democrat Cynthia Rice for a seat on the Supreme Court.  Republican Pat Fischer holds a narrow lead over Democrat John O’Donnell in the other supreme court race.

Oklahoma:  Justices James R. Winchester and Douglas L. Combs were both retained to the state supreme court.

Oregon:  Justice Lynn Nakamoto won an unopposed election to remain on the state supreme court. In May, Justices Rives Kistler and Jack Landau also won unopposed elections.

Tennessee:  Three state supreme court justices were retained in August—Justices Holly Kirby, Jeff Bivins, and Roger A. Page.  All three were appointed by a Republican governor.

Texas:  Texas has two high courts—the state supreme court and the Court of Criminal Appeals.  For the state supreme court, the three Republican incumbents—Debra Lehrmann, Paul Green, and Eva Guzman—defeated their Democratic challengers Mike Westergren, Dori Contreras Garza, and Savannah Robinson.  On the Court of Criminal Appeals Democrat incumbent Larry Meyers was defeated by Republican Mary Lou Keel.   Incumbent Republican Michael Keasler defeated Democrat Robert Burns.  For the open seat, Republican Scott Walker defeated Democrat Betsy Johnson.

Washington:  Incumbents Mary Yu, Barbara Madsen, and Charlie Wiggins defeated challengers David DeWolf, Greg Zempel, and Dave Larson to remai on the state supreme court.

West Virginia:  In May, incumbent Republican Brent Benjamin faced a five-way race for his seat involving two Republicans and three Democrats.  He lost to Republican Beth Walker.

Wisconsin:  In April, incumbent Rebecca Bradley defeated JoAnne Kloppenburg to remain on the state supreme court.

Wyoming:  Justices Kate M. Fox, William U. Hill, and Keith G. Kautz, all appointed by Republican governors, were retained.

November 14, 2016 in Appellate Advocacy, Current Affairs, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)