Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Monday, February 6, 2023

Should Courts Dispense With the Table of Authorities?

Pending before the Arizona Supreme Court is a petition to change court rules and dispense with the table of citations in state briefs. According to the full petition,

The Table of Citations is no longer needed to help a reader navigate to a particular cited source because most briefs are filed in electronic format with searchable text. Cumulatively, appellate litigants spend an unjustifiable amount of time and resources creating Tables of Citations.

The authors claim that readers now use "searchable text and hyperlinks to navigate the brief and locate cited authorities," rather than the table. The tables, are incredibly time-consuming to create:

Petitioners have found no data-driven analyses on the average length of time it takes to build a Table of Citations. Anecdotal estimations, however, abound. For example, the company ClearBrief—which sells AI software that formats and edits appellate briefs—claims that its “conversations with hundreds of attorneys, paralegals, and legal assistants across the country, indicate that manually creating a perfectly formatted and accurate Table of Authorities can take anywhere from 3 hours to a full week, depending on how complicated the document is.” See Clearbrief, How to Create a Table of Authorities in One Click in Microsoft Word, https://clearbrief.com/blog/authorities (last accessed Jan. 8, 2023). Considering that this source is selling a tool that builds Tables of Citations, Petitioners take the high end of that range with a grain of salt. 

Still, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia and noted legal writing scholar Bryan Garner warn advocates to “[a]llow a full day” to prepare a Table of Citations, and to “[n]ever trust computers to prepare the tables automatically.” Antonin Scalia & Bryan A. Garner, Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges 90 (2008). Experienced advocates working for a firm or company willing to pay for assistive software might manage to generate a perfectly formatted and accurate Table of Citations in less than 45 minutes. Meanwhile, a litigant without access to these programs may spend considerably more time using Word’s built-in citation-marking tool. The tool is not intuitive, and an average-length brief requires anywhere from a couple of hours to a full day to manually mark the citations, depending on the user’s familiarity with the tool. And, many self-represented litigants, particularly inmates, write out their Table of Citations by hand. 

. . . .

Even accounting for time savings from modern technology, the time it takes to compile the Table of Citations, confirm its accuracy, and correct any errors is not insignificant. And all this work must be performed after the substantive briefing is complete, meaning parties are often running up against their deadlines by the time they are ready to build the table. This leaves no room for last-minute adjustments, which creates its own challenges in cases where the drafting attorney needs to seek feedback from a supervisor, trial counsel, or a client. And in both criminal and civil litigation, “the time it takes” translates into actual dollars—either billed to a client at hundreds of dollars an hour or in salary paid to State-funded employees. It is the litigants and taxpayers who ultimately bear these costs.

Petitioners claim that, given the fact that most Arizona courts have now moved to electronic briefs, the "court's infrequent use of the table of citations as a navigational tool renders the cost unjustifiable." They likewise dismiss the non-navigational uses of the table:

Although few people use the Table of Citations as a navigational tool, some have found non-navigational uses, including: (1) to get a “feel” for the case before reading the brief; (2) to check whether a draft decision addresses the main authorities cited by parties; (3) to prepare for conferences or oral argument; and (4) as an aide for finding the correct citation when the citation in the body of the brief is incomplete or inaccurate. See Ball, Jancaitis & Butzine, Streamlining Briefs, at 33–34. None of these uses justify the continued requirement that briefs contain a Table of Citations.

First, readers can “get a feel” for the case by reading the introduction, summary of the argument, and the table of contents. Separately, while first impressions are inevitable when reading any brief, “feeling out” the argument serves little purpose for the end result. Appellate courts base their decisions on the law and facts of the case, not initial impressions. The substance of the arguments should be far more persuasive than a mere list of authorities.

Second, while the Table of Citations may make the brief more formal and emphasize the need to support arguments with legal authorities, other procedural rules and formatting requirements compensate for the loss of the Table of Citations. See, e.g., ARCAP 13(a)(7)(A) (requiring appellate argument contain the litigant’s “contentions concerning each issue presented for review, with supporting reasons for each contention, and with citations of legal authorities . . . .”). Moreover, formatting rules are meant to “promote succinct, orderly briefs that judges can readily follow.” Judith D. Fischer, Pleasing the Court: Writing Ethical and Effective Briefs, 51 (2d ed. 2011). That purpose is not served if the Table of Citations is being used merely to test an advocate’s ability to follow directions. Other aspects of the brief can provide that signal while also improving readability.

Third, while some use the Table of Citations to gather sources to download or refer to at oral argument, it is not a necessary tool to complete either task. More practitioners are hyperlinking their briefs so courts can easily access the cited material as they read the brief. And relatively few cases have oral argument, further diminishing the value of the Table of Citations for this particular purpose.

Finally, the use of the Table of Citations as a “backup” for locating correct citations when they are missing in the body of the brief is unlikely to occur with sufficient frequency to justify the time and resources spent creating the tables. From a logical standpoint, if a litigant has not spent the time ensuring their citations in the body of the brief are accurate, it is unlikely they will have a reliable Table of Citations, or in some cases, any table at all. See State v. Haggard, 2 CACR 2010-0307-PR, 2011 WL 315537, at *2, ¶ 8 (Ariz. App. Feb. 1, 2011) (mem. decision) (attempting to identify cases vaguely referred to in a pro-per brief and noting that no Table of Citations had been provided).

I agree with much of what the Petitioners say. The tables do take a lot of time to prepare, and there are not a lot of great, free, resources for making the tables. I see this with student briefs all the time. I always warn my students to leave time to prepare the tables, and they don't. They then usually comment that they had no idea how time-consuming the tables were to create (despite my prior warning).

Still, I hope that the Supreme Court keeps the table. First, although most briefs are now filed electronically, my research for Winning on Appeal revealed that many judges still like to read briefs in paper form. This means that the table does still play a navigational role. I also find tables useful to identify what cases the parties relied upon. This is more than just getting the "feel" of a brief. It tells me the strength of the reasoning and points me to where in the brief I need to look if I am concerned about a particular case. I think that we often forget how important citations are to the courts. I blogged on this several years ago when talking about citations in footnotes:

Last week, over at The Volokh ConspiracyEugene Volokh blogged on this very topic, quoting a district court opinion that stated, 

The Court strongly disfavors footnoted legal citations. Footnoted citations serve as an end-run around page limits and formatting requirements dictated by the Local Rules. Moreover, several courts have observed that "citations are highly relevant in a legal brief" and including them in footnotes "makes brief-reading difficult." The Court strongly discourages the parties from footnoting their legal citations in any future submissions.

Eugene also mentioned a federal appellate judge who told him "You view citations to authority as support for the argument. I view them as often the most important part of the argument."

I do agree that we need more technology tools to make efficient tables, and I would be happy to highlight any such tools in this blog (just shoot me an email!).

February 6, 2023 in Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (1)

Tuesday, January 24, 2023

Concrete Economics on the Supreme Court

The Supreme Court has recently offered strikingly similar answers to two seemingly disparate questions. The first concerns Article III standing to bring a case in federal court: What does it mean to show a “concrete and particularized injury in fact” that would, in part, support standing? The second concerns precedent: What does it mean for citizens to “rely” on precedents so that those prior decisions deserve stare decisis protection? The Court’s answers to each of these questions uses similar reasoning to amplify economic interests that are easy to identify and measure. Taken together, these seemingly unrelated jurisprudential developments also have an important real-world effect: they help ensure that our legal system provides the greatest level of protection possible for clear, monetary concerns, relegating more intangible individual rights to a second-class status.

Start with the Courts recent jurisprudence on Article III standing, which includes, as one of its elements, a requirement that plaintiff’s suffer a concrete and particularized injury in fact.[1] Recent Supreme Court analyses have heightened this concreteness hurdle to enter federal courts. In Spokeo v. Robins, the Court suggested that Congress cannot create concrete injuries by fiat simply by including a statutory damages remedy in legislation.[2] Five years later in Transunion LLC v. Ramirez, the Court again noted that an injury does not become concrete simply because Congress creates a statutory cause of action to redress it—although such Congressional action might be instructive.[3] The Court emphasized that it would only resolve “‘a real controversy with real impact on real persons.’”[4] In effect, these decisions emphasize the need for plaintiffs to come to the courthouse with an injury that can easily be measured, typically in real dollars and cents, before filing suit.

Meanwhile, as I have argued, the Court’s treatment of stare decisis in the landmark abortion rights case Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization used similar language to signal the Justice’s willingness to overturn a broader swath of the Court’s prior decisions. According to Justice Alito’s majority opinion in Dobbsstare decisis only protects reliance interests that arise “where advance planning of great precision is most obviously a necessity”—not reliance interests that come from the kind of “unplanned activity” that may lead to an abortion.[5] Alito also claimed that stare decisis protects only “very concrete reliance interests, like those that develop in ‘cases involving property and contract rights.’”[6] Courts simply cannot measure, and thus cannot protect, more intangible forms of reliance that involve the organization of intimate relationships and decisions about a woman’s position in her family and community.[7] Though this language appears content-neutral, Alito's approach to stare decisis significantly weakens precedents that protect intangible individual rights. Few citizens make contractual arrangements or economic plans based upon such precedents, and thus those precedents seems less viable in the long term.

Taken together, these trends prioritize economic interests over a number of other important interests that the legal system previously seemed to protect. Many social interests or individual rights are not the subject of economic agreements. And under the Court’s approach to both standing and stare decisis, those rights are less worthy of legal protection, on that basis alone. Put another way, if a legal interest is difficult to quantify economically, it is hardly a legal interest at all.

Without garnering much public notice, these joint emphases on concreteness create new barriers for the protection of individual rights in federal courts. They are perhaps an even greater threat to individual rights than a decision that forthrightly admits it is designed to curb those rights.

 

[1] See, e.g., Valley Forge Christian Coll. v. Ams. United for Separation of Church & State, Inc., 454 U.S. 461, 472 (1982); Lujan v. Defs. of Wildlife, 504 U.S. 555, 560–61 (1992).

[2] 578 U.S. 330, 339-40 (2016); Richard L. Heppner Jr., Statutory Damages and Standing After Spokeo v. Robins, 9 ConLawNOW 125, 125 (2018).

[3] 141 S. Ct. 2190, 2204-05 (2021).

[4] Id. at 2203 (quoting Am. Legion v. Am. Humanist Ass’n, 139 S. Ct. 2067, 2103 (2019) (Gorsuch, J., concurring)).

[5] 142 S. Ct. at  2272, 2276.

[6] Id.

[7] Id. at 2272, 2277.

January 24, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 22, 2023

What is Your Best Case?

“What is your best case?”

That’s a question that many an appellate judge asks during oral argument.

Sometimes, there is an obvious answer: Smith v. Jones holds that the very inaction of the defendant in this case constitutes a breach of duty that warrants liability. Or, Johnson v. Williams holds that  it is not a violation of the statute to engage in the conduct the plaintiff alleges that my client undertook.

Other times, however, the caselaw might appear ambiguous, even if it is not. In one case I argued, Justice Breyer asked first my opponent and then me for our best case on whether the underlying state law was well-established and regularly applied. My opponent cited a case that stated the law somewhat loosely, which allowed him to claim that the law was not clear and thus not established. When I stood at the podium, I mentioned that my brief cited 39 cases over a 78-year period, but that I was happy to rely on one case that both sides cited because I believed it actually favored my argument.

The choice proved a good one. Justice Breyer had also flagged the case and had the opinion in front of him, no doubt because both sides had relied upon it. He asked me to explain a sentence that he read, which he said seemed to cut against my stance. It was the passage that my opponent had also cited in his brief, so I was very familiar with it. I responded that the sentence cited also had a dependent clause that the justice had not read aloud and that the qualification it made changed the entire meaning of the sentence. Justice Breyer chuckled and admitted that he agreed. Some three-and-a-half months later, we prevailed.

Certainly, that type of preparation and anticipation is needed when advocates are challenged by potentially clashing precedent. But what happens when there are no directly on-point cases and your argument is constructed from the logical implications of multiple cases that build upon one another? That is, no single case stands for the proposition you are advocating, but that several separate precedential propositions lead inexorably to your result?

It is important to make clear that a single case does not answer the question when that’s the case. Still, you must explain that the answer to the question presented becomes clear from looking at several cases. Precedent number one holds that the relevant constitutional test is a historical one. Precedent number two demonstrates that common practices prior to 1791, the year the Bill of Rights was ratified, satisfy historic conceptions of due process. Precedent number three is a historic practice indistinguishable from the issue before the court. Therefore, these precedents establish a roadmap that should demonstrate that the practice now before the court is consistent with due process. The deductive reasoning used to tie the precedents into a coherent legal theory becomes the product of multiple precedents and makes the best-case inquiry too simplistic to resolve the dispute.

What if, instead, the mandatory historical inquiry works against your position? It then becomes necessary to demonstrate that our constitutional conceptions are not frozen in time, but establish larger principles that can applied to situations unimagined at the time. Thus, we apply the concept of free speech to radio, television, and the Internet, even if the authors of the First Amendment could not have imagined these mediums. A best case, then, might consist of cases where a court has imagined the principle and applied it analogically.

In the end, a best case may exist – or it may a best case may actually be a series of cases.

January 22, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 20, 2023

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, January 20, 2023

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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 has issued a statement about the leaked draft of the controversial abortion decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Org., stating that it has been unable to identify the source of the leak. The Court’s statement included the report from the Marshal of the Supreme Court, who has been tasked with investigating the leak. The statement also included a statement of Michael Chertoff, former Secretary of Homeland Security, Judge of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division of the U. S. Department of Justice, and U. S. Attorney for the District of New Jersey.  The Court asked Mr. Chertoff to assess the Marshall’s investigation. See a sampling of reports on the statement and the status of the investigation: The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CNN, SCOTUSBlog, Associated Press

  • In Supreme Court news this week is the potential impact of cases that consider the rules regulating online speech and social network platforms. One case, Gonzalez v. Google, to be heard next month, will determine whether social media platforms may be sued notwithstanding a 1996 law that shields online companies from liability for users’ posts. See an October 2022 report from The New York Times. This week, The New York Times reported that the Court will discuss whether to consider two other online speech cases; these cases challenge state laws that bar online platforms from removing political content, one in Florida and one in Texas. This week, the ACLU and the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) filed amicus briefs in Gonzalez, warning of the potential for harm to users’ free speech from changes in the power and responsibility of social networks. 

  • The Court agreed to hear a case asking it to strengthen protections for workers seeking accommodation for religious beliefs and practices. The petitioner, an evangelical Christian, sued after he was forced to resign from the US Postal Service when his job began to require working on Sunday, his Sabbath. The petitioner lost in the federal district court and in the Third Circuit. Federal law requires that an employer permit the religious observance of workers unless doing so would impose an “undue hardship.” Courts currently rely on the rule established by a 1977 Supreme Court case, Trans World Airlines v. Hardison, which found that, to qualify as being subject to undue hardship, an employer need show only a “more than a de minimis cost.” See the case docket, a report from The Washington Post, and a Reuters report at the time of the appeal. Vox and Slate posted essays on the topic as well.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • President Biden released the first slate of judicial nominees for 2023 this week. See the White House statement and a report from CNN.

  • The Third Circuit has proposed a change to its local rules that would move its filing deadline from midnight to 5 pm in an effort to improve practitioners’ work life balance. The proposal has generated some debate among attorneys in the circuit. See the proposed amendment and reports from Law.com and Reuters. See also a poll created by Howard Bashman (creator of HowAppealing) asking for comment on whether the proposed change would actually improve work-life balance.

Other News

  • The Federalist Society posted recordings of some the programs from its January 5-6 faculty conference. Recorded topics include “Politicization of the Economy,” “Dobbs & the Rule of Law,” “Election Law in Flux,” and a debate titled “Resolved: The Major Questions Doctrine Has No Place in Statutory Interpretation.

  • Here's an informative and sometimes amusing thread on what signals a good brief. Writers take note!
    Joe Fore posed the following question, which generated a short thread with the kind of advice I give students and practitioners every day:

What's something in #legalwriting that's the *opposite* of a Brown M&M? Is there a small detail--usage, style, formatting--that if you see/saw it in a piece of writing, immediately signals that it's going to be good?

January 20, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 13, 2023

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, January 13

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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.

U.S. Supreme Court News:

  • The Court has yet to release any opinions from cases argued this term.  Although the Court is four months into its current term, it has provided a record-setting silence with regard to opinions in argued cases. Bloomberg discussed the delay in opinions and compared it to prior terms HERE.
  • The Court this week denied an application to vacate a stay in a case involving a New York law that restricts the possession of firearms in specific public locations.  The trial court issued a preliminary injunction in the case, and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay that kept the law in effect pending litigation on the merits of the challenge to the law.  The Court's order, issued without opinion and without dissent, allows the stay to remain (and thus, the law) to remain in effect.  The order is HERE.
  • Senate Democrats are poised to push for new ethical standards for the Court after the Court faced increased scrutiny over the last year concerning such matters as financial interest in pending cases, the leak of draft opinions, and other apparent conflicts of interest.  More can be found HERE.
  • A helpful summary of pending criminal law and procedure cases before the Court was posted by Joel Johnson at the ABA this week.  You can review the summary HERE.

Federal Appellate Court News:

  • The United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit heard arguments this week in a case where Apple, Google, and Intel are seeking to revive challenges to a U.S. Patent and Trademark Office policy about contesting the validity of patents before administrative judges.  More can be found HERE.
  • A federal appeals court in D.C. heard arguments this week in a case challenging portions of the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act and Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (FOSTA-SESTA), a 2018 law passed to crack down on online advertising viewed as facilitating prostitution.  The appellate court panel expressed skepticism about the constitutionality of language in FOSTA-SESTA that makes it a crime to operate a computer service with the intent to promote prostitution.  More can be found HERE.

State Appellate Court News:

  • The New Mexico Supreme Court heard arguments this week in a venue dispute in a lawsuit concerning whether wind leases overlapping with grazing leases can impact a rancher's ability to raise cattle on state trust land in New Mexico.  Right now the question is really about where the arguments over the leases will take place, but the substantive issues to be addressed down the road will determine whether state law and lease contracts may allow for wind energy to be developed on land that ranchers are already leasing.  More can be found HERE.

Appellate Practice Tips:

  • Three Harvard Law advocates recently shared their tips and tales of their times arguing before the United States Supreme Court in an article at Harvard Law Today.  The article includes recollections from Paul Clement, former U.S. Solicitor General and partner at Clement & Murphy in D.C.; Jessica Ring Amunson, partner at Jenner & Block in D.C.; and Deepak Gupta, lecturer at Harvard and founding principal of Gupta Wessler PLLC.  The article can be found HERE.

Appellate Jobs:

  • The Illinois Appellate Court, Third District, is hiring an appellate court law clerk.  Details can be found HERE.

January 13, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Who Serves on the Bench Matters

As lawyers and appellate advocates, we trust that the rule of law will prevail – that there will be consequences for breaching contracts, for negligence that injures another person, and for violating constitutionally guaranteed rights. We trust that judges will  be impartial and apply the law within a range of accepted conclusions that may not always be right but with an error rate that maintains confidence in the justice system. We believe that the law should not differ because of who serves on the bench because all who do must adhere to the rule of law. And yet, we know that who serves often will make all the difference.

We engage in ideologically tinged battles over who serves on the bench, regardless of whether the path to a judgeship is through appointment or election. Appellate advocates tailor their arguments to the judges who hear a case, combing their past opinions and other writings for clues that might trigger a favorable response for their client or issue. Some judges have expertise on the subject of the appeal, while others do not. Some have staked out positions on the appellate issue that makes the appellate task easier or even insuperable. Some utilize a methodology or a hierarchy of interests that signal the approach a wise advocate should take. A one-time dissenting view can now fit within the mainstream of legal thinking so that it provides a new handle on addressing an issue. That is why advocates are well-advised to know their audiences.

Court memberships shift, and the likely result from a court can shift with it. In an end-of-the-year decision from the Ohio Supreme Court, the justices’ own awareness of that shift was on display. In full disclosure, I was the winning advocate in the case and had the opportunity to watch it play out. By virtue of the mandatory retirement requirements of the state, the chief justice was due to step down from the court on December 31. I argued the case, which challenged the constitutionality of a state statute both facially and as applied, in late March. The decision, striking the law as applied, was written by the chief justice for a 4-3 majority and issued December 16. One dissenter appended a paragraph to the decision complaining of a departure from what he called the “regular and orderly internal rules of operation and practice,” because the majority insisted on issuing the decision so that the current court, rather than its successor, would rule on any motion for reconsideration.[1] He added his apology to the “citizens of Ohio that my individual dissent is not of the quality that I have come to deliver and that the public expects” because his “time on this case was aberrantly and improperly limited.”[2]

That paragraph became the focus of the motion for reconsideration filed just within the deadline on the evening of December 27. It seemed apparent that both the majority and the dissenter were well aware of the consequences of pushing reconsideration off to the new year and the new court. The majority sought to assure that a reconsideration motion would come before the same court that decided the case; the dissenter sought to push the case to the new term where he believed a different membership would reach a different result and his dissent could become the decision of the court.

Taking no chances, I filed my opposition to reconsideration within hours of the motion’s filing so awaiting opposition would not provide an excuse to delay a ruling. On December 29, reconsideration was denied.

The episode demonstrates what we know as advocates: who sits on the bench makes a difference. It also confirms another thing we know – judges are as acutely aware of that as anyone else.

 

[1] Brandt v. Pompa, 2022-Ohio-4525, ¶ 132 reconsideration denied, 2022-Ohio-4786 (Fisher, J., dissenting).

[2] Id.

January 8, 2023 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, January 6, 2023

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, January 6, 2023

WeeklyRoundupGraphic

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

Happy New Year from The Weekly Roundup! 

US Supreme Court Opinions and News

  • Justice Roberts’s 2022 Year-End Report on the Federal Judiciary was released on December 31, 2022. Find reviews and analysis of the report from The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg.    
  • In December, the Supreme Court announced that this year it will resume the tradition of announcing opinions from the bench. The practice has been suspended since the beginning of the pandemic. The last opinion delivered from the bench was Kansas v. Garcia, delivered March 3, 2020. Opinion announcements will not be livestreamed but will be recorded and available at the National Archives at the beginning of the next Term, which was the pre-pandemic tradition. See reports from The New York Times, CNN, SCOTUSBlog, and Bloomberg Law.

  • This week, the Biden Administration filed a response in the case challenging its student loan forgiveness plan. The Court will hear two challenges: one by states arguing that the plan will harm companies that service the loans and the other by individuals arguing that the plan will harm them because they are excluded from the plan. The administration’s response argues that the challenging parties have failed to show the requisite harm to establish standing and that the administration is within its authority to implement the plan. Late last year, the Court issued an injunction blocking the administration from implementing the plan to forgive up to $20,000 per borrower. Oral argument is set for February 28, 2023. See reports from CNBC and The New York Times.

  • The Court ruled that Title 42, the pandemic-era restrictions on migration along the southern border, must stay in effect pending a ruling. The decision overturns a lower court decision to remove a stay issued against the Biden administration’s attempt to lift Title 42 restrictions. The Court is set to hear argument only on the question of whether the 19 states could pursue their challenges. See reports from The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.

  • The Supreme Court is set to become the subject of a new primetime legal drama. See descriptions and discussion of the new ABC pilot, “Judgement,” from The Hollywood Reporter, Variety, and Deadline.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Ninth Circuit ruled that wearing a MAGA hat is free speech. The plaintiff claimed that a school principle violated his first amendment rights by disciplining him for wearing the hat at a teacher-only training session. The court determined that wearing the hat had not caused actual disruption and that evidence that some faculty members were offended was not sufficient justification to infringe the plaintiff’s rights. The court ruled, however, that the plaintiff could not sue the school district for dismissing the harassment complaint. See the ruling and reports from Reuters and CBS News.

  • The Eleventh Circuit upheld a Florida school board’s transgender bathroom policy that segregates bathrooms by sex. A transgender student challenged the policy because it discriminates against transgender students. The court ruled that the policy survives constitutional review because it has the legitimate objective of protecting students’ privacy and shielding their developing bodies from the opposite sex. The dissent recognizes that “[t]he bathroom policy categorically deprives transgender students of a benefit that is categorically provided to all cisgender students—the option to use the restroom matching one’s gender identity.” See the ruling and reports from Reuters and Bloomberg Law.

State Court Opinions and News

  • The Oregon Supreme Court has ruled that the ban on non-unanimous jury verdicts applies retroactively to all convictions in Oregon. The April 2020 Supreme Court case, Ramos v. Louisiana, outlawed convictions based on divided verdicts but the Court declined to apply the ban retroactively, leaving that decision to the states. (See The Weekly Roundup’s coverage here and here.) With the Oregon ruling, hundreds of Oregon felony convictions became invalid. The Oregon court recognized that the policy of allowing non-unanimous verdicts was intended to minimize the voice of non-white jurors and that it “caused great harm to people of color” and “undermined the fundamental Sixth Amendment rights of all Oregonians.” See the ruling and a report from The Oregonian.

This week, a couple of state courts have contributed to the still developing national abortion landscape:

  • The South Carolina Supreme Court struck SC’s 6-week abortion ban on state constitutional grounds, finding the that the “state constitutional right to privacy extends to a woman’s decision to have an abortion” and that the 6-week ban was an unreasonable invasion of privacy. See the ruling and reports from CNBC and The New York Times.

  • Meanwhile, in Idaho, the state supreme court upheld Idaho’s near total abortion ban, finding that the Idaho constitution did not include a right to the procedure. Idaho has three abortion bans, one of which bans abortion from conception. See the ruling and reports from The New York Times and Politico.

Other Appellate News

  • The Eleventh Circuit has held that “and” means “and” not “or” in an analysis of the First Step Act, a law giving offenders a “safety valve” that allowed them to escape certain mandatory minimum sentences. The “safety valve” applies only if certain conditions are met. The list of conditions is connected with the word “and,” which generally means that all conditions must be met. This interpretation significantly limits when an offender would be excluded from enjoying the “safety valve.” However, Florida prosecutors argued that, in this case, “and” meant “or.” The Eleventh Circuit disagreed, applying the common definition of “and.” For those of us who enjoy statutory interpretation and language analysis, the ruling is worth a read. See also reports from Georgia Public Broadcasting and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

January 6, 2023 in Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Two Overlooked Tips for Writing Briefs and Arguing Cases

Experienced appellate advocates often tell others that the art of effective brief writing relies on a uniform set of tips, such as keeping sentences short, using topic sentences, and simplifying language. Sometimes, though, violating these precepts can prove effective, even though the advice offered is usually worth following.

Today, however, I want to focus on two key tips that, too often, are ignored: maintaining credibility and making no assumptions about the court’s knowledge of the law. It is critical that your rendition of the facts and the law are credible. In one case years ago, my opponent, a prominent appellate practitioner made a factual assertion that misstated the record. It was not a crucial fact, but it was used by the other side to demonstrate the insensibility of what the court below had done across the board so that he could claim the actual ruling in the case was similarly fanciful. In my reply brief, I dropped a footnote that showed the assertion was wrong with a citation to the record. Surprisingly, during oral argument, my opponent repeated his misrepresentation of the record from his brief. As I jotted down a note to remember to debunk the claim when I stood up, one of the judges eviscerated him for the misstatement. He never recovered from that during the remainder of his argument. To me, the rebuttal was all the stronger because the judge made the point, rather than me. Misrepresenting the record can destroy credibility on other issues, just as he had hoped to harm the credibility of the decision below by making a point that turned out to be unanchored by the evidence.

A similar experience occurred in another case, although this time it concerned the state of the law. My opponent sought to make a seemingly logical argument about why a federal district court should have denied a remand motion after removal from state court. He relied upon support for his position from a nonbinding letter from the general counsel of a federal agency. What he failed to explain, though, was how his position remained credible after three other federal circuits and more than 100 district courts had ruled otherwise. No court had accepted his position. At oral argument, the panel never let him off that point. The issue consumed all his argument time so he had nothing left for rebuttal. On the other hand, in light of how his argument went, I used very little of my time before sitting down.

Where the law is uncertain and conflicting decisions or building blocks render it a close call, credibility can be the key to success. A court is more likely to accept a novel position if it is built on a solid and acceptable foundation, rather than one that does not withstand scrutiny.

Today’s second tip requires you to lay a foundation for the fundamentals that undergird what may be a fairly sophisticated issue. Judges are often generalists and may lack experience with even well-established issues. There are many areas of law where the usual assumptions do not apply. Burdens can shift to defendants, proximate cause standards can vary based on statutory text, and developing trends can signal a change when the context of the dispute creates new considerations. A credible and informed brief will explain the basic rules, whether they apply or require adjustment because of the context of the case. Even during oral argument, it pays to explain fundamentals before reaching the key issue. While most judges are well prepared for oral argument, some may not have read the briefs as carefully as you assume. Without dwelling on basic concepts, it helps to tie them to the issue at hand unless a fair reading of the tribunal indicates a different course. At the same time, one must be alert to a well-informed court that will not patiently await your explanation of basic law.

While no advice about brief writing or oral argument is immutable, credibility and foundational explanations for the legal issue come to providing a consistently helpful approach as any advice you might consider.

November 27, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, November 19, 2022

Western Justice Center Gives Ninth Circuit Senior Judge Dorothy Nelson a Lifetime Achievement Award

Many years ago, I was a lucky law clerk working for a wonderful judge at the Ninth Circuit’s  Pasadena courthouse.  One early morning, as I was admiring the flowers growing at the entrance to the gorgeous courthouse, I saw Judge Dorothy Nelson tending to the roses.  She took a moment to chat with me about the roses and litigation, and I have always remembered her kindness and wit.  During my year in Pasadena, I became friendly with Judge Nelson’s law clerks, and learned how much they admired her work for justice and dispute resolution.  See generally Selma Moidel Smith, Oral History of Judge Dorothy Nelson (1988) (interesting interview of Judge Nelson for the Ninth Circuit Historical Society).

Therefore, I was not surprised to see the Ninth Circuit’s recent press release announcing that the Western Justice Center (WJC) honored Judge Nelson “for her vision and dedication in founding the center and decades of visionary work in conflict resolution.”  October 23, 2022 Press Release.  The WJC works to “find innovative ways to handle conflict” by using alternative dispute resolution techniques in and beyond the court system.  The WJC especially focuses on “development of conflict resolution skills and capacity of youth, educators, schools and community partners,” and has trained over “1,000 students, educators and volunteers with the conflict resolution skills they need to transform” schools and “impact . . . youth across” the Los Angeles area.  Id.

As the press release explained, Judge Nelson believes “[e]ighty-five percent of cases could be mediated,” saving the time and money of traditional litigation.   She explained she “want[s] to bring people together, in a collaborative, unifying system,” and she “find[s] there are a lot of people open to that.”  Id.  

Before her nomination to the bench, Judge Nelson served as the Dean of USC’s Gould School of Law.  She was the “first woman dean of a major American law school,” where she “focused on training future lawyers in restorative justice and mediation as an alternative to litigation.”  Id.  Once she joined the Ninth Circuit, she “initiat[ed] one of the first mediation programs for a federal appellate court,” which we use in many circuits today.  See id.

As a past mediator for the Second District of the California Court of Appeal, I know mediating appeals can seem hopeless.  The parties I met with had already invested so much time, energy, and money into their cases that they often saw little reason to settle before oral argument.  However, I did help some parties reach a non-court resolution, and I often thought of Judge Nelson and the roses when I did so. 

Happy Thanksgiving!

November 19, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Arbitration, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Shortcomings in Arguing Original Public Meaning

From questions posed at the confirmation hearings of now-Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson to the decisions at the end of the most recent Supreme Court term and the lower court decisions that soon followed, the rapid recent embrace of “original public meaning” as the metric for constitutional interpretation now dominates appellate argument. Some judges even somewhat crassly pose the question: is there an originalism argument to support your position?

Originalism’s shortcomings are apparent. James Madison, rightly recognized as the Father of the Constitution, described records of the Constitutional Convention as “defective” and “inaccurate.” Justice Robert Jackson critically explained that “[j]ust what our forefathers did envision, or would have envisioned had they foreseen modern conditions, must be divined from materials almost as enigmatic as the dreams Joseph was called upon to interpret for Pharaoh.” Judges commonly rely on a highly selective use of history that allows the invention of intent, rather than its discovery, as Professor Ronald Dworkin wrote. And, however illuminating the historical inquiry can be, even Justice Antonin Scalia, a leading advocate of this interpretative methodology, described himself as a “fainthearted originalist” in order to avoid the absurd results it could bring about.

Certainly, many underlying assumptions of the society the Framers lived in no longer undergird modern society. Just as their attitudes about gender and race, land ownership and the common good influenced their attitudes about a host of issues of constitutional dimension, modern sensibilities about these topics must look at deeper meanings to understand contemporary application. Even advances in transportation, communications, and science more generally have profound implications for constitutional understandings. And, the Constitution, written in the language of the common law, is capable of sensible application unforeseen by its progenitors. Even the most faithful originalist can only see the past through the eyes of the present.

However, the revolutionary nature and adventurism of the Constitution seems missing from the debate over originalism and its application to current issues. Ideas from the Enlightenment and idealized versions of what good government means animated the effort, even if myopic about how those ideals contradicted slavery and other institutions left unaffected. Still, those who framed the Constitution and supported its instigation publicly sought two things: a government with the energy to prove Montesquieu wrong about the viability of an extended republic by enabling an experiment in self-government across vast territory and a regime capable of respecting rights grounded in ideals of liberty, justice, and equality. They imagined continuing change toward a “more perfect union,” never believing that their efforts had achieved that goal. And they imagined continuing debates on what they had wrought. As Madison stated during the debate on the Jay Treaty in the First Congress, the Framers were not of one mind about the words of the Constitution. Instead, “whatever veneration might be entertained for the body of men who formed our Constitution, the sense of that body could never be regarded as the oracular guide in expounding our Constitution.”

Indeed, the change of attitude he and others adopted about the authority of the federal government to charter a national bank reveals that understandings can change based on arguments and experience that demonstrate greater flexibility than some thought the words portended. Notably, on the issue of a national bank, respected constitutional framers divided on its legality from the start.

We see the same indeterminacy in the affirmative action cases before the Supreme Court tomorrow. Contradicting amicus briefs by historians explain why one side or the other should prevail. The opposing parties also invoke Brown v. Board of Education, claiming it supports them and not the other side. All of it confirms that advocacy is about argument – and no side has a monopoly on any mode of interpretation.

There is a lesson to be drawn. The appellate advocate must enter the courtroom clear-eyed, aware of the outsized role that history now plays in constitutional interpretation while cognizant of its shortcomings. The advocate must address that thirst for historical support while also understanding that other tools exist to reach a result faithful to the Constitution with an equal claim to grounding in history. Anyone who tells you only a single path exists to reach the right result misunderstands the interpretative exercise.

November 1, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, October 2, 2022

When to Make a Bold Argument

Tomorrow, the Supreme Court launches into a new term that promises to be momentous. A no longer hesitant majority of the Court flexed their muscle last term to launch new approaches to constitutional law and overturn or impair venerable precedent addressing abortion, gun, and religious rights. Seeing the indisputable writing on the wall, some advocates have taken a hefty swing for the rafters on a range of other issues – and it seems likely to pay off because the court’s current membership has signaled its willingness to entertain bold requests, rather than incremental change, despite potential damage to the public’s trust in impartial justice divorced from politics. When a court signals its interests that appear to align with political ideologies, advocates should listen and act accordingly.

 In anticipation of this term, advocates have listened. A cluster of cases have arrived at the Court seeking a pure version of Justice Harlan’s phrase, color-blindness, in civil rights and applying the concept to voting, affirmative action, Native American adoption, and non-discrimination in business dealings. While discussions about the upcoming term often begin and end with the potential of Moore v. Harper to skew our democracy so that parties in power could perpetuate their control regardless of what voters choose by invoking the “independent state legislature theory,” other earth-shaking cases populate the docket as well.

Today, I want to focus on another election law case that the Court will hear this week, which has received far less notice than it deserves and demonstrates the go-bold strategies being brought to the Court. In Merrill v. Milligan, the Court returns to the Voting Rights Act to determine whether Section 2 remains a viable basis for challenging racial gerrymandering. The plaintiffs challenged Alabama’s congressional redistricting plan, which, consistent with longstanding reapportionment decisions in the state, again drew a single majority-Black district out of the state’s seven seats, even though Blacks represent a quarter of the state’s population. The plaintiffs argue that by dispersing Black voters among the other districts the legislature diluted Black voting strength and diminished their opportunity to elect candidates who would represent their concerns and interests. Plaintiffs prevailed on that theory before a three-judge court.

The court below reached its decision by relying on the Supreme Court’s decision in Thornburg v. Gingles, which requires a vote-dilution claim to show a sufficiently large and compact minority group that is politically cohesive and who suffer an inability to elect the candidate of their choice because of non-minority bloc voting. After that determination, a totality-of-the-circumstances assessment then takes place to determine if the minority voters have a lesser opportunity to elect their preferred candidate than the majority voters.

Alabama, however, has asked the Court to change the test. A major part of its proposal asks that courts require plaintiffs to establish that racial discrimination provides the only explanation for the alleged racial gerrymander. In other words, Alabama’s test would authorize states to overcome the accusation by showing that some other purpose, such as party politics, provides at least part of the rationale for the districts drawn.

Without such a test, Alabama contends that Section 2 is unconstitutional because it requires race to be considered. With similar issues raised in affirmative action and Native American adoption cases this term, the Court’s interest in reconfiguring civil rights law seems apparent. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, requiring preclearance of certain election law changes, was neutralized in 2013 by Shelby County v. Holder. Similar damage was previously done to Section 2 in Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee last year by reading the statutory provision narrowly.

If Alabama’s argument prevails, Merrill may mark the demise of the Voting Rights Act and vindicate the very bold approach Alabama has taken to defending its gerrymandering with a clear eye on signals sent by members of the Court. Margo Channing’s observation in All About Eve seems to sum up anticipation of this Supreme Court term: “Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy [and long] night.”

October 2, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (2)

Friday, September 16, 2022

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, September 16, 2022

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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

  • After granting a temporary stay last week, the Supreme Court denied an emergency petition by Yeshiva University and refused to block a state court ruling that requires the university to recognize a L.G.B.T. student group. The university made the emergency motion to the Supreme Court before fully pursuing the appeal in the state court. The Court’s decision is based on the procedural posture, not the merits, and requires the university to pursue the challenge in state court. In the underlying case, the university argues that it should not be required to recognize the L.G.B.T. student group because doing so would violate the university’s Constitutionally protected free exercise of religion. The state court ruling rejected the university’s argument and entered an injunction that requires the university to grant the student group the “full and equal accommodations, advantages, facilities[,] and privileges afforded to all other student groups.” See the ruling and reports from The NY Times and The Washington Post.

  • Justice Kagan spoke this week at Northwestern Law School and commented on the risk to the Court’s legitimacy if it is seen as an “extension of the political process.”  The event will be available on demand here.  See reports on Justice Kagan’s comments from The Associated Press, Reuters, and Bloomberg Law.

  • Justice Roberts announced that the court will reopen to the public when the new term begins this fall. In his comments, he also defended the Court’s legitimacy, saying “simply because people disagree with opinions, is not a basis for questioning the legitimacy of the court.” See reports from USA Today CNN, and Bloomberg News.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Ninth Circuit upheld a Washington state ban on conversion therapy. The court rejected a Constitutional challenge by a therapist that argued that the ban undermined the therapist’s free speech and targeted his Christianity. The Ninth Circuit rejected the challenge, finding that the state legislature acted rationally and, thus, did not violate the First Amendment when it imposed the ban to protect the “physical and psychological well-being of children.” See the ruling and reports from Reuters and Bloomberg Law.

September 16, 2022 in Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Providing Fresh Perspective at Oral Argument

Common wisdom holds that an advocate can lose a case at oral argument, but rarely prevails at the argument. By providing a wrong or weaker answer than expected, an otherwise allied judge might rethink support of a position. However, it is rare that an advocate can provide an unexpected basis to win over a judge committed to the other side. Even as he claimed that oral argument makes a difference, Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist admitted that only in a “significant minority of cases” had he changed his mind after hearing argument.[1] A recent personal experience in oral argument has made me think about the difficulty of breaking through to judges whose minds were made up before argument.

In this instance, in a trial court hearing a motion to dismiss, one question from the judge indicated that he had misunderstood the pleadings and our brief. He explained that the scenario contemplated by this declaratory judgment action would never come up in real life. Even though I responded with an entirely different fact pattern consistent with the pleadings and past experience, it had no impact. The argument ended with the judge picking up a sheet of paper and reading his pre-typed ruling from the bench. Whatever doubt I may have planted with my unanticipated response evaporated as the preconceived result, memorialized on paper without regard to the oral presentations, prevailed.

I’m convinced that nothing I might have said at oral argument would have made a difference. The “crutch” of a written decision prepared in advance was too much to overcome. Still, it demonstrated the importance of briefing to make oral argument worthwhile. Anticipating the judge’s confusion about the practicalities of our position with a more pointed explanation would have provided at least a fighting chance to change the judge’s mind when it was still open to how the challenged statute and the plaintiffs’ dilemma operated in real life. However much I thought our brief made that plain, it was only as I prepared for oral argument that I realized a better way of framing the factual predicate to my legal argument – and that’s what I explained before the judge.

On the other hand, another recent case provided greater confidence that oral argument can have influence. Lengthy majority and dissenting opinions struggled with crediting or rebutting a point made during the argument. What was said had an obvious impact and forced judges of vastly different views to contend with it.

Judges may have strong reactions in some cases or even in all cases to their understanding of what the case is about, making the job of dissuading them from a view that works against your position difficult, if not impossible. Nonetheless, an advocate should always assume that judges have sufficient impartiality so that oral argument can help shape the opinion, if not persuade, even while crafting a brief that lays out the argument clearly. That is one reason I like a hot bench. Rather than give an oration, I am more interested in arguing about what the judge indicates is important – and perhaps providing a new insight that wins the day.

 

[1] William H. Rehnquist, The Supreme Court 243 (2001).

August 21, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 20, 2022

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Saturday, August 20, 2022

WeeklyRoundupGraphic

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

US Supreme Court Opinions and News

  • The Supreme Court issued an emergency order siding with voters challenging a Georgia voting system for electing public service commissioners. The decision reinstates a district court ruling that the system diluted the power of black voters and violated the federal Voting Rights Act. The Eleventh Circuit had stayed that order based on Purcell v. Gonzalez, a case that disfavors election challenges that occur too close to those elections. However, the Court agreed with a dissenting Eleventh Circuit judge who recognized that during the lower court case, Georgia had repeatedly and clearly waived an appeal based on Purcell; the Court found that the appeals court had “applied a version of [Purcell] that respondent could not fairly have advanced himself in light of his previous representations to the district court that the schedule on which the district court proceeded was sufficient to enable effectual relief as to the November elections should applicants win at trial.” See reports from The New York Times and CNN.

  • Colorado has filed a Brief for the Respondents in a case challenging Colorado’s anti-discrimination law. The Court agreed to hear the case in the next term. The petitioner is a web-designer who wishes to design wedding websites but not for same-sex couples. The petitioner wants to be able to deny services to same-sex couples and wants to include a message explaining the reason. Colorado law prohibits such discriminatory practices by public businesses and prohibits a business from declaring the intent to discriminate. The petitioner claims that the law is a violation of free speech. Colorado’s attorney general urges the Court to uphold the anti-discrimination law, arguing that “discrimination is not expression, it's illegal conduct.” See reports from the Colorado Sun and Colorado Public Radio.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The DC Circuit decided that rules that limit the political speech of employees of the Administrative Offices of the US Courts are unnecessary and violate the First Amendment. The ruling applies only to the two employees who brought the challenge and not generally to other employees. The court recognized the legitimate goal of maintaining the reputation of the judiciary for independence from politics while workers are at work but held that the offices “cannot prohibit political speech by [employees] when they are away from work and in no way affiliating themselves with the Judiciary.” See the ruling and reports from The National Law Journal and Reuters.

  • In a first-of-its-kind ruling, the Fourth Circuit ruled that gender dysphoria is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act, reversing a Virginia court’s dismissal of claim brought by a transgender woman. The woman had been denied care for her gender dysphoria while she was incarcerated and was harassed by both inmates and prison staff. The court held that “[g]iven Congress’ express instruction that courts construe the ADA in favor of maximum protection for those with disabilities, we could not adopt an unnecessarily restrictive reading of the ADA.” See the ruling and reports from The Washington Post, The National Law Review, and The National Law Journal.

  • The First Circuit ruled that taxpayers can sue the IRS over its tactics for obtaining information even if those tactics would enable to government to assess and collect taxes. A crypto trader challenged the IRS’s use of a tactic to obtain trading records from cryptocurrency exchanges arguing that the tactics violated his Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights. The IRS had argued successfully below that the suit violated the Anti-Injunction Act of the Internal Revenue Code because the aim of the suit was to avoid the collection of taxes. The First Circuit overturned the dismissal below and will allow the suit to heard on the merits of the constitutional claims.  See ruling and report from Reuters. 

August 20, 2022 in Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Agency Deference and Statutory Interpretation

Courts often defer to administrative agencies on matters that require the agency’s specialized expertise. Yet even the embattled Chevron deference doctrine[1] puts the brakes on judicial deference sensibly when Congress has spoken on the matter. After all, the statute’s meaning must reflect legislative intent.[2]

Still, in defending the constitutionality of a statute, States will ask courts to read the statute more narrowly than its language supports, to avoid invalidation as applied to common situations. The Supreme Court has supplied advocates with precedent that should overcome these attempts to recast legislative language, particularly where free speech concerns predominate.

For example, in consolidated lawsuits in Susan B. Anthony List v. Driehaus,[3] two organizations brought facial and as-applied challenges to an Ohio statute that prohibited certain false statements made during a political campaign. The plaintiffs alleged that they intended to make statements that could be deemed false and then “face[] the prospect of its speech and associational rights again being chilled and burdened,” as it had when a complaint about their speech was previously filed.[4]

In holding that pre-enforcement standing existed, the Court found Babbitt v. Farm Workers[5] instructive. There, the plaintiffs challenged a law that proscribed “dishonest, untruthful, and deceptive publicity.”[6] The plaintiffs alleged that they feared prosecution because erroneous statements are “inevitable in free debate,” that they had engaged in past consumer publicity campaigns and any future campaign would be scrutinized for truthfulness, and that they had “an intention to continue” campaigns like the ones they had mounted in the past.[7] Notably, they did not claim that past campaigns were dishonest or deceptive or that future campaigns would be, or that any official action against them was likely or imminent. Still, Babbitt concluded that the “plaintiffs’ fear of prosecution was not ‘imaginary or wholly speculative’” given the statute’s language and allowed the case to proceed.[8]

Two other cases also informed the Susan B. Anthony Court’s analysis. Virginia v. Am. Booksellers Ass’n Inc.,[9] found a credible threat of enforcement to a law that criminalized the commercial display of printed material deemed harmful to juveniles. At trial, the plaintiff booksellers named “16 books they believed were covered by the statute” and how compliance to avoid prosecution would be costly.[10] In defense, Virginia contended that the statute was “much narrower than plaintiffs allege” and even conceded that the law would be unconstitutional “if the statute is read as plaintiffs contend.”[11] Nonetheless, the Court found no reason to believe the “newly enacted law will not be enforced” and that one plain harm is “self-censorship; a harm that can be realized even without an actual prosecution.”[12]

In the end, a reasonable reading of a statute based on its language and the lack of discretion an agency (or a court) has to re-write a statute, a purely legislative act, requires the appellate advocate to push back on agency attempts to recast plain language into a more defensible posture.

 

[1]  Chevron U.S.A., Inc. v. Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc., 468 U.S. 837 (1984).

[2]  Consumer Prod. Safety Comm’n v. GTE Sylvania, Inc., 447 U.S. 102, 108 (1980).

[3]  573 U.S. 149 (2014).

[4]  Id. at 155.

[5]  442 U.S. 289 (1979).

[6]  Id. at 302.

[7]  Id. at 301.

[8]  Susan B. Anthony, 573 U.S. at 160 (quoting Babbitt, 442 U.S. at 302).

[9]  484 U.S. 383 (1988).

[10] Susan B. Anthony, 573 U.S. at 160 (describing American Booksellers)

[11] Am. Booksellers, 484 U.S. at 393-94.

[12] Id. at 393.

August 7, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Federal Appeals Courts, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (2)

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Tackling a New Area of Law on Appeal Without Fear

Subject-matter specialists might seem to have an advantage over a generalist on appeal. They would seem to have unmatched familiarity with the underlying statutes and caselaw. In specialty courts, such as the Federal Circuit, focused advocates may stand on a firmer footing than a newcomer in the field.

In most courts, however, the judges are generalists. They hear appeals on a wide range of subjects and cannot keep up with developments in every area of law. For them, the complexities and nuances that a specialist brings to the table may be less important than an experienced lawyer’s ability to boil the complicated down to familiar principles. Seventh Circuit Judge Diane Wood has noted that the “need to explain even the most complex area to a generalist judge . . . forces the bar to demystify legal doctrine and to make the law comprehensible.”[i] Make the unfamiliar familiar by utilizing language a judge will understand.

Moreover, the specialist may rely on memory of a frequently cited case that, over time, becomes little more than code words that only the cognoscenti appreciate. The generalist, however, is certain to find the case, read it freshly, and expose the imprecision while finding legal analogies that point in a different direction than the specialist argued.

A specialist’s command of policy arguments often relies upon the gloss of repetitive usage, twists to conform to his clients’ preferred results, and the dullness of repeated use, a generalist can look at legislative history and intent with fresh eyes that can be revelatory to a judge. Moreover, a generalist will draw from other areas of law enabling the judge to appreciate analogies that the specialist would never consider.

In some ways, the difference is comparable to the difference between an appellate lawyer and a trial lawyer. Trial counsel knows the record from having lived though the case and having pursued key objectives that yielded the desired result. The appellate lawyer looks at the case more dispassionately and often finds that the formula for victory is either an issue quite different from the one that may have dominated trial or a route that may even have been unavailable at an earlier stage.

The bottom line is that tackling a new area of law should not generate fear that the specialist opponent holds all the cards. The well-prepared appellate lawyer should appreciate the advantages that a generalist can bring to the table.

 

[i] Diane Wood, Generalist Judges in a Specialist World, 50 SMU L. Rev 1755, 1767 (1997).

July 24, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Writing, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Miranda Warnings Are A Right Without A Remedy

Last week’s decision in Vega v. Tekoh did not, on its own, monumentally change the Miranda warnings made famous in pop culture for half a century. Government investigators should still provide the same basic recitation of rights to a suspect in custody before conducting any interrogation, just as they have in the past. But Vega continued a pattern of Supreme Court decisions that have slowly undermined the value of those warnings, largely by declining to provide any meaningful remedy when investigators fail to provide them.

In 2010, Barry Friedman argued that the Supreme Court was engaged in the “stealth overruling” of precedent, with Miranda v. Arizona at the forefront of the trend. He claimed that the Court had slowly chipped away at Miranda’s doctrinal core until almost nothing remained, leaving it so weak that it could even be formally overruled under stare decisis factors that examine the workability of a decision and its alignment with subsequent legal developments. That has largely been achieved by permitting more and more statements taken after a violation of Miranda to be introduced at trial. As Vega noted, the Court has already permitted the introduction of non-Mirandized statements to impeach a witness’s testimony, if the statements are merely the “fruits” of the improper statement, or if officers conducted un-Mirandized questioning to respond to ongoing public safety concerns.

Vega appeared different from those decisions, because on its surface it did not directly implicate the constitutionality of the Miranda warnings or the use of un-Mirandized statements in criminal courts. The case concerned a criminal defendant who was later acquitted, then filed a civil suit against an officer who failed to provide the Miranda warnings. The civil suit sought monetary damages under 41 U.S.C §1983, which allows a citizen to sure for the “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution and laws.” Thus, the case concerned whether a violation of Miranda’s rules was a sufficient deprivation of rights to give rise to a section 1983 suit.

Justice Alito’s majority opinion held that it did not. Alito noted that Miranda is only a prophylactic rule to protect Fifth Amendment rights, even if the Supreme Court has subsequently confirmed Miranda as “constitutionally based” and a “constitutional rule” in Dickerson v. United States, 530 U.S. 428, 440, 444 (2000). Although the Miranda rule is of constitutional nature and could not be altered by ordinary legislation, not all Miranda violations also violate the Fifth Amendment—such as when a technical Miranda violation does not result in a compelled statement. Alito also highlighted the myriad ways in which Miranda has been weakened over time—or, as Friedman would argue, has been stealthily overruled. Given Miranda’s weak pedigree, Alito claimed that section 1983 suits based upon Miranda should only be permitted if their value outweighed their costs. He then discounted any value to such suits at all, claiming that they would have little deterrent effect upon officers that might otherwise violate Fifth Amendment rights. The decision thus rejected section 1983 suites based upon Miranda violations.

Alito’s claim that civil liability for Miranda violations would do little to deter officers only makes sense if Miranda is a robust constitutional protection for Fifth Amendment rights. But the Court has already weakened the value of Miranda by limiting its application in the criminal context. As Alito admitted, prosecutors can readily introduce un-Mirandized statements during a criminal trial for a myriad of reasons related to public safety or the limited constitutional nature of Miranda itself. The modern Miranda rule thus provides little deterrent against Fifth Amendment violations. In that context, a civil remedy that likely would add some deterrence while providing a real remedy for those subject to Miranda violations. Allowing section 1983 suits based on Miranda violations would meaningfully change that status quo, despite Alito’s claim that those suits lack any real deterrent value.

What Vega demonstrates is not that Miranda rights have disappeared from the criminal justice landscape, but instead that they have become rights without any practical remedy. Statements obtained in violation of Miranda are routinely introduced in criminal court without any sanction against the violators, and now Vega signals that violators are not likely to face civil penalties either. In light of Miranda’s lack of remedies, it may even be good police practice to avoid Mirandizing suspects in the name of ensuring that incriminating statements emerge. Evidentiary consequences can seemingly always be worked around, and civil penalties are no real threat.

Vega is another step in the same course the Court has been taking for decades. It limits the remedies for a Miranda violation even further—this time in the civil context—ensuring that officers will face few consequences for those violations. Miranda’s place as a “constitutional rule” may not be under threat from Vega, but that is little salve. “Constitutional rule” status seems to afford no real remedies for those who suffer a violation.

June 29, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 26, 2022

Arguing History

In writing today’s post, it is difficult to overlook the Supreme Court’s predictable rulings on abortion and guns, with a less certain but likely precedent-shattering decision on coach-led public-school prayer. Others will critique the decisions, extrapolate their consequences for issues beyond the cases decided, and speculate about new doctrinal implications. For today, I want to focus solely on the tools it suggests appellate advocates must use.

Dobbs and Bruen place a heightened emphasis on history. It is not the history that originalists who look to the Framers’ intent utilize, but whether an asserted constitutional liberty is “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition.” In Dobbs, the majority rejected a constitutional right of access to abortion because it held that no historical tradition, common law or otherwise, enabled women to have abortions regardless of the legislative policy choices, before the Constitution’s framing or in its aftermath or even following the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment. In Bruen, similarly, the Court held text, history, and tradition informed the meaning of the Second Amendment, with the Court holding that history without consideration of possible countervailing government interests dictates the result.

While the decisions fail to take account of constitutionally significant differences in the principles that animate modern society, including, for example, the equal status of women and minorities or the contemporary principle of religious tolerance, an essential approach to argument emerges from the decisions. First, advocates must focus on the relevance of historical analogy. Are historical restrictions on the exercise of a right animated by the same considerations that underlie a modern restriction? Thus, for example, it is well-accepted that online publications receive the same type of free-press protections that publications that emerged from hand-operated printing presses issued in large measure since the time of John Peter Zenger.

Even though Justice Breyer’s Bruen dissent criticized the majority’s use of “law office history,” the majority’s reliance upon it constitutes the order of the day. Justice Thomas’s majority opinion rejects contrarian historical examples as “outliers,” unworthy of bearing constitutional significance. Similarly, Justice Alito’s history of abortion in Dobbs seems to be selective about what history counts.

The two decisions, then, place a burden on an advocate to make the history that favors a position compelling and part of an unbroken narrative (except for insignificant outliers). Messy renditions of history open too many doors to predilection. That historical advocacy, then, also reflect timeless principles consistent with constitutional understandings.

A pure historical approach is not a complete stranger to constitutional law. The Seventh Amendment’s right to trial by jury has long adopted that approach, defining the scope of the right by how it was practiced at common law when the Bill of Rights was ratified. Thus, then-appellate advocate John Roberts won a unanimous victory, written by Justice Thomas, where the Court recognized that jurors have always served as the “‘judges of the damages,’” even under the English common law that predated the Constitution in Feltner v. Columbia Pictures Television, Inc., 523 U.S. 340, 353 (19978) (quoting Lord Townshend v. Hughes, 86 Eng. Rep. 994, 994-995 (C.P. 1677)). The decision hinged, in large part, on close 18th-century analogues to the statutory copyright damages at issue in the case. Similarly, in invalidating administrative procedures utilized by the Securities and Exchange Commission the Fifth Circuit in Jarksey v. SEC, No. 20-61007, 34 F.4th 446, 451 (5th Cir. 2022), relied upon historical analysis to find that “[c]ivil juries in particular have long served as a critical check on government power,” so that the civil enforcement at issue could not be assigned to agency adjudication.

Where constitutional rights are at issue, history has become destiny.

June 26, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, June 24, 2022

Appellate Advocacy Blog Weekly Roundup Friday, June 24, 2022

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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

  • Today was the penultimate opinion issuance date on the Court calendar. As the term winds to a close, the Court has issued a number of highly anticipated opinions this week, perhaps the most anticipated came today.

    As foreshown by last month’s leaked opinion, for the first time, the Supreme Court has taken away a basic right, a right that has existed for nearly 50 years. Today’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization overturns Roe v Wade and Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey and claims that the right to abortion is not “implicitly protected by any constitutional provision, including . . . the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment” because the right to abortion is not “deeply rooted in this Nation’s history and tradition” and “implicit in the concept of ordered liberty.” (quoting Washington v. Glucksberg.) The dissent of Justices Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan characterizes the right protected by Roe and Casey as “a woman’s right to decide for herself whether to bear a child.” The dissent defends the rationale of Roe and Casey and questions today’s decision, stating: “It eliminates a 50-year-old constitutional right that safeguards women’s freedom and equal station. It breaches a core rule-of-law principle, designed to promote constancy in the law. In doing all of that, it places in jeopardy other rights, from contraception to same-sex intimacy and marriage. And finally, it undermines the Court’s legitimacy.” The dissent closes: “With sorrow—for this Court, but more, for the many millions of American women who have today lost a fundamental constitutional protection—we dissent.” See the decision and dissent and a sampling of the many reports, which cover the decision and dissent and discuss the consequences of the decision: NPR, The Associated Press, Reuters, and The New York Times.

    Earlier this week, the Court struck a New York law that required a gun-owner to show proper-cause to obtain an unrestricted license to carry a concealed firearm. The Court held that the law violated the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms. The decision protects an individual’s right to carry a handgun for self-defense outside the home and announced a standard for courts to judge restrictions on gun rights: “The government must demonstrate that the regulation is consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” See the decision and reports from New York Times, The Washington Times, The Los Angeles Times, and NPR.

    Also this week:

    • The Court rejected a Maine ban on tuition programs for religious schools, holding that the state cannot exclude religious schools from a state tuition program. See the decision and reports from The New York Times and USA Today.
    • The Court limited Miranda rights, holding that suspects who are not warned about the right to remain silent cannot sue police officers for damages. See the decision and reports from CNN and Bloomberg Law.

Appellate Court Opinions and News

  • The Fourth Circuit affirmed a district court ruling that stuck as unconstitutional a North Carolina charter school rule that required girls to wear skirts. The court ruled that the rule, based on the view that girls are "fragile vessels" deserving of "gentle" treatment, is unconstitutional and that it violated students' equal protection rights as a policy based on gender stereotypes about the "proper place" for girls in society. See the ruling and reports from Reuters and The New York Times.

June 24, 2022 in Federal Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, June 12, 2022

Knowing When to Sit Down

Years ago, I witnessed a portion of an argument before the Supreme Court of India that was then in its third day with additional anticipated days of argument remaining. When I spoke to members of the Supreme Court bar afterwards, one experienced lawyer expressed astonishment that U.S. Supreme Court arguments were 30 minutes per side. How, he asked, is a lawyer going to “warm up” in that amount of time?

Last week, I argued a case in the Seventh Circuit. It rekindled memories of that trip to India, not because more than the usual amount of time was allotted, but because of how little time was needed. I represented the Appellee with 15 minutes of argument time. I was also in the unusual position of having three recent sister circuits ruling in favor of my position, along with more than 100 district court decisions. Even though I had suggested in my brief that argument would not further inform the court, oral argument was ordered.

My opponent was largely relegated to policy arguments. I planned three different approaches to my argument depending on how my opponent had faired. As expected, the Court was well prepared and pummeled my opponent with questions that could have come from my brief. He ended up using his entire 15 minutes responding to questions and reserved no time for rebuttal.

 As I stood at the podium, the presiding judge immediately asked questions about whether any circuit had issued new decisions on our issues since I had filed a 28(j) letter in March and whether any other similar cases from within the circuit were pending on appeal. When I answered no to both questions, I was finally able to introduce myself. While I used a small amount of time to add favorable precision to some statements made during my opponent’s time at the podium, the questions from the bench tended to focus on whether a narrow decision would be sufficient to affirm our motion for remand, where the defendant had removed claiming federal-officer removal, complete preemption, and an embedded federal question. I understood the panel’s questions to favor affirmance. As the questions wound down, I realized the court was satisfied and that no further argument was necessary. I simply said that, unless there were any further questions for me, I ask that the district court be affirmed.

When I did so, about seven of my 15 minutes remained. Using more time was both unnecessary and likely counterproductive. The judges also likely appreciated my decision to end the argument early. From my perspective, even though the decision is under advisement, the argument seemed to go very well – even if I had not had the amount of time to warm up!

June 12, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Federal Appeals Courts, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)