Appellate Advocacy Blog

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

Saturday, September 24, 2022

In Praise of the Second Edition of The Indigo Book: A Manual of Legal Citation

Most appellate practitioners understand the necessary evil of citations, and some of us even enjoy parts of The Bluebook.  On the other hand, I have concerns about Bluebook cost, frequent Bluebook revisions seemingly for the sake of revising, and allegations of law review happy hours funded by Bluebook sales.  See, e.g., Richard A. Posner, The Bluebook Blues, 120 Yale L. J. 850, 851 (2011); Bryan Garner, The Bluebook's 20th Edition Prompts Many Musings From Bryan Garner, ABA Journal (Aug. 1 2015); https://taxprof.typepad.com/taxprof_blog/2022/06/harvard-led-citation-cartel-rakes-in-millions-from-bluebook-manual-monopoly-masks-profits.html.

As I’ve mentioned in the past, California, Florida, and some other states have their own style manuals and do not follow The Bluebook.  Additional states have their own gloss on key Bluebook rules or allow use of other manuals.  Rule 28 of the Alabama Rules of Appellate Procedure, for example, tells counsel to use The Association of Legal Writing Directors Citation Manual: A Professional System of Citation (the ALWD Guide), The Bluebook, or otherwise follow the citation style of the Alabama Supreme Court. 

Happily, those of us in Bluebook jurisdictions have a wonderful alternative, now in its second edition.  The completely free, open source The Indigo Book, which one commentator described as “compatible with The Bluebook [but including] easier-to-use guides,” now has a second edition.  See generally Wendy S. Loquasto, Legal Citation:  Which Guide Should You Use and What Is the Difference?, 91 Fla. Bar J. 39, 42 (2017). 

Here is the final second edition of The Indigo Book, which parallels the twenty-first edition of The Bluebook:  https://indigobook.github.io/versions/indigobook-2.0.html.   Many thanks to Prof. Jennifer Romig of Emory University School of Law, and others, for this resource.  In sharing the second edition, Prof. Romig explained:  “The Indigo Book is a free, open-access citation manual. It is consistent with well-accepted citation practices.”  The new version also “includes enhanced and expanded state-by-state "Local Notes" in Table T3 at the back,” along with “commentary and critique” in “Indigo Inkling” boxes.  Prof. Romig thanked many in our legal writing community who helped her create this wonderful resource, especially David Ziff, and noted “Alexa Chew's work is cited twice.” 

The original Indigo Book was a light-hearted, yet serious resource, which raised important questions about monopoly, ethics, and bias.  Prof. Romig promised, “in general the [second edition] attempts to engage with ongoing conversations about citation ethics and practice, while staying true to its main function as a rule-based manual with examples.”  In my opinion, the second edition of The Indigo Book succeeds in these missions, and I urge you to share this resource with students and practitioners.  

September 24, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Books, Law School, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Tips for Writing a Persuasive Reply Brief

Reply briefs give litigants an opportunity to refute an adversary’s arguments and enhance the persuasiveness of their position. Below are several tips on how to maximize the effectiveness of a reply brief.

1.    Begin with a concise and powerful introduction.

Your reply brief should begin with a short but powerful introduction that: (a) provides a brief overview of the case; (b) includes a roadmap of your arguments; and (c) refutes the arguments made in your adversary’s brief. One way to do this is by using the Rule of Three, namely, identifying three specific flaws in your adversary’s arguments and explaining why they lack merit.

After all, you can be fairly confident that, after reading your adversary’s brief, the court will have questions or concerns about some of the points that you made in your initial brief. Anticipating those concerns and responding briefly but effectively to them in the introduction will enhance the quality and persuasiveness of your brief.

2.    Focus on what your adversary did not say.

Often, what your adversary did not say is equally, if not more, important than what your adversary did say. For example, your adversary may fail to address unfavorable precedent or fail to acknowledge unfavorable facts. Be sure to expose these omissions in your reply brief, as doing so will undermine your adversary’s credibility and strengthen the persuasiveness of your argument.

3.    Respond to some of your adversary’s arguments.

The purpose of a reply brief is to respond to your adversary’s arguments, not to repeat your arguments. In so doing, however, you do not need to respond to all of your adversary’s arguments.  If your adversary includes weak or irrelevant arguments, you need not – and should not – respond because it will give undue credibility to those arguments. Instead, respond only to arguments that have at least some merit and that the court is likely to consider when deciding your case. Likewise, do not point out minor or inconsequential errors that will have no bearing on the outcome of your case.

Of course, in responding to your adversary’s arguments, make sure that you maintain your credibility. For example, never misstate your adversary’s arguments. Acknowledge unfavorable facts and law. Never overstate the value of precedent. If you make one of these mistakes, you will undermine your credibility and your likelihood of success.

4.    Do not repeat the arguments that you made in your initial brief – but briefly remind the court of those arguments.

The worst thing that you can do in a reply brief is to repeat the arguments you made in your initial brief. Doing so will add no value to your position and will fail to respond to your adversary’s arguments, which is the purpose of a reply brief. Indeed, merely repeating your arguments will affect your credibility with the court, which will affect your likelihood of success.

Importantly, however, you should briefly remind the court of the arguments that you made in your initial brief and of the relief that you are seeking, which can be done at the end of your introduction or legal argument. The reason for doing so is that the reply brief may be the first document that the judge reads in your case.

5.    Write your reply brief with the expectation that it may be the first document that the judge reads in your case.

Some judges and law clerks will begin reviewing your case by reading the reply brief first. Accordingly, your reply brief should include the facts and precedent necessary to understand the relevant legal issues.  This does not mean, of course, that you should regurgitate every fact and case from your initial brief; rather, you should dedicate a portion in the introduction to framing the legal issues, telling the court what you want (i.e., the remedy you are seeking) and explaining briefly why you should win. The remainder should be devoted to refuting your adversary's arguments.

6.    Maintain consistency with your initial brief.

Make sure that you represent the facts and law precisely as you did in your initial brief. In many instances, for example, you may paraphrase or summarize some of the facts or arguments that you made in the initial brief. In so doing, be careful not to say anything that could be construed as inconsistent with (or overstating) what you wrote in the initial brief. Simply put, be honest and candid with the court because your credibility matters as much, if not more, than the validity of your arguments.

7.    Keep it short and re-enforce your theme.

Your reply brief should be both concise and comprehensive, in which you refute your adversary’s arguments, highlight the most favorable facts and law, and re-enforce the theme of your case. An overly lengthy reply brief may lend unnecessary credibility to your adversary’s arguments or suggest that you lack confidence in your arguments. As such, keep it short, tight, and to the point.

8.    End strong.

A reply brief gives you the last word. Make it count. For example, if you could state in one sentence why you should win, what would you say? If you knew that the court would only remember what you said at the end of your reply brief, what would you say? Think about that and make sure to draft a powerful ending to your brief.

 

 

September 10, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Characteristics of the Best Appellate Advocates

The best appellate advocates possess certain skills and abilities that often place them among the most distinguished attorneys in the legal profession. Below is a list of characteristics that distinguish the best appellate lawyers from the rest.

1.    They are highly intelligent and analytical.

The best appellate advocates are highly intelligent and possess exceptional analytical and critical thinking skills. These lawyers know, among other things, how to tell a compelling story, research efficiently, synthesize voluminous case law, present complex facts and legal concepts in a straightforward manner, distinguish unfavorable precedent, spot the nuances that each case presents, and make persuasive legal arguments. And they exercise great judgment, particularly when confronted with incomplete information or unsettled law. Simply put, intelligence matters, and the best appellate advocates are often among the brightest in the legal profession.

2.    They have the intangibles.

The best appellate advocates know that intelligence is necessary, but not sufficient, to succeed in the legal profession. These advocates work extremely hard and prepare better than almost anyone. They are incredibly resilient and disciplined. They persevere and know how to cope with adversity. They excel under pressure. They are empathetic and they are passionate about their work. They have common sense, good judgment, and emotional intelligence, and they know how to relate to people. In short, the best appellate advocates possess intangible – and often unteachable – qualities that cannot be measured by an LSAT score or a grade on a final examination.

3.    They are objective in assessing the merits of an appeal.

The best appellate lawyers are objective and honest in assessing the validity of a legal argument, particularly given the standard of review, unfavorable facts, and unfavorable law. They place themselves in the shoes of the opposing party and, in so doing, identify the flaws in their arguments. They do not have tunnel vision. They are not guided by emotion. They do not convince themselves that meritless legal arguments have a chance of succeeding on appeal, and they do not throw every possible legal argument against the wall in an appellate brief, hoping that one will stick.

4.    They know how to select issues for an appeal.

The best appellate lawyers know how to identify issues in the record that have the best chance of succeeding on appeal. As stated above, they do not appeal every conceivable mistake made by the lower court and throw every possible argument against the wall, hoping that one will stick. Instead, they exercise judgment based on their experience, knowledge, and the standard of review. For example, they will, in most instances, appeal errors of law, not fact, because errors of law are subject to de novo review. And they will present only the strongest legal arguments on appeal and support them with compelling facts and precedent.

5.    They are exceptional writers.

The best appellate advocates know how to write and communicate persuasively. They draft outstanding appellate briefs (see, e.g., John Roberts’ brief in Alaska v. EPA) that, among other things, have a strong theme, begin with a compelling introduction, tell a powerful story, use precedent effectively, and distinguish unfavorable facts and law convincingly. They draft briefs that address counterarguments thoroughly and persuasively. They know how to use various literary techniques to capture the audience’s attention and enhance the readability of their brief. They draft and re-draft their brief (often countless times), making line and copy edits to ensure that the brief is as close to perfect – in style and substance – as possible. In so doing, they produce a first-rate product, which enhances their credibility with the court and the legitimacy of their argument.

6.    They are outstanding oral advocates.

The best appellate lawyers are exceptional oral advocates. They know how to persuade an audience using verbal and non-verbal techniques. They are prepared. They present well-organized and convincing legal arguments. They are skilled at answering the judges’ questions concisely and effectively. They are never flustered. They have outstanding memories and can recall precedents and facts in the record without notes. In short, they own the courtroom.

7.    They are extremely thorough and methodical.

The best appellate lawyers thoroughly and methodically review the underlying record and relevant law. They know how to research efficiently and never fail to identify a relevant case, statutory provision, or regulation. They are skilled at identifying, among other things, subtle errors or inconsistencies in the record and flaws in evidentiary rulings. And they do so carefully and intentionally; they take the time to review and reflect upon the record, the possible appealable issues, and the likelihood of success on the merits.

8.    They are confident.

The best appellate advocates know that perception – and appearance – matter just as much as reality. They have confidence and, quite frankly, swagger. They never appear nervous. They conduct themselves as if every development in the courtroom, however unexpected, is precisely what they anticipated. They are never surprised or taken off guard by the judges’ questions. They do not get emotional. They do not exude arrogance or hubris. Instead, they are prepared, self-assured, and unflappable. As stated above, they own the courtroom.

9.    They win.

As Vince Lombardi said, “winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.” The best appellate advocates win consistently. They sustain their success over years. They are the best of the best.

August 27, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Honest Advice for Incoming Law Students

Incoming law students undoubtedly receive a substantial amount of advice regarding how to succeed in law school and the legal profession. Below is some honest advice based on experience and the realities of law practice.

1.    Focus on developing your analytical thinking and writing skills.

Great lawyers are extremely intelligent. They have exceptional analytical thinking and persuasive writing skills. Thus, in law school, you should focus predominantly on developing these skills.

Regarding your analytical thinking skills, learn, for example, how to quickly extract the rule of law from a case, synthesize rules from different cases, distinguish unfavorable facts and legal authority, reason by analogy, address counterarguments effectively, present a logical argument, and explain why the policy implications of a ruling in your favor lead to the fairest and most just result.

Concerning your writing skills, focus on, among other things, writing concisely and in plain language, presenting a well-structured and logical argument, crafting a compelling narrative, and avoiding common mistakes, such as unnecessary repetition, overly long paragraphs, over-the-top language, and spelling and grammatical errors.

2.    Your grades and class rank are incredibly important.

Your grades and class rank largely determine your prospects of obtaining membership on your school’s law review, being selected for a clerkship, and receiving job offers from prestigious law firms. Accordingly, from day one, focus on achieving the highest grade possible on your law school exams. In so doing, manage your time effectively, purchase the LEEWS legal essay exam writing system (www.leews.com), buy commercial outlines, such as Emanuel Law School outlines, take practice exams, use the IRAC/CRAC method in answering your exam questions, draft concise outlines, and learn the rules of law for each subject (not the facts of the cases you studied).[1] Finally, read Getting to Maybe: How to Excel in Law School Exams.[2]

Also, do not worry about performing well in class when the professor calls on you or about impressing your classmates with incisive questions or comments. This has no (or a very minimal) impact on your grade. Additionally, do not brief cases. Instead, learn the black-letter law and practice applying the law to hypothetical fact patterns. And learn how to draft an answer that flows logically, considers all relevant perspectives, and arrives at a reasonable conclusion.

Having said this, law schools provide wonderful opportunities to network, get involved in student organizations, and participate in other extracurricular activities. You should take advantage of these opportunities. But at the end of the day, grades and class ranking are what matter.

3.    Your soft skills matter too.

To be a great lawyer, it is not enough to be extremely intelligent and a gifted writer. Although these skills are critical to your success, they are not sufficient to ensure a successful legal career.

Great lawyers have humility. They have strong interpersonal skills. They have emotional intelligence. They listen. They know how to work collaboratively and accept constructive criticism. They have common sense and exercise good judgment. They know how to manage their time and work efficiently. They know how to communicate effectively, think creatively, and adapt to new circumstances. And ideally, they are nice people; they are respectful and decent, not arrogant and narcissistic.

When you begin law school, you will undoubtedly confront students who are jerks and it will not take long to spot them. Typically, they think they are better than everyone else. They have the emotional maturity of a five-year-old. They gossip. They ask you what your LSAT score was and what grade you received on your exams. These losers should be avoided at all costs. And when they become lawyers (or, worse, married), their prospects for success will diminish (and the likelihood of divorce increase) because of their personality. Do not be like these people – or associate with them.

4.    Lose your idealism and be realistic about what law practice entails.

When you begin your law school career, you will almost certainly be overwhelmed with platitudes about the law and a legal career. For example, you may hear statements to the effect of “the law is a noble calling and the vehicle by which you can achieve a more just and equal society,” or “lawyers are the agents of social change whose mission is to change the world and make a transformative difference in people’s lives.”

This sounds wonderful. But it is not the reality of what you will be doing as a lawyer. So, if your reason for going to law school is to “make a difference” and to “change the world,” you are going to be disappointed.

Most competent graduates will obtain jobs in private law firms that do litigation and transactional work. They will represent, for example, banks, corporations, developers, universities, and hospitals. They will work long hours under stressful conditions. They will spend most of their time drafting pleadings, motions, briefs, and discovery, taking depositions, dealing with difficult clients, and negotiating settlement offers. Of course, there is nothing wrong with this; lawyers provide a vital service to these clients and ensure that their legal rights are protected.

But disabuse yourself of the notion that you are going to change the world. And be honest with yourself about the realities of the world. If you think that most criminal defendants are innocent, you are delusional. If you think that the vast majority of law enforcement officers are racist and that most prosecutors spend their time convicting innocent people, you are mistaken. Not to mention, the majority of cases result in a plea bargain (or in civil cases, a settlement).

This is not to say that the practice of law is not a noble undertaking; indeed, lawyers have been responsible for protecting civil rights and liberties and achieving greater social and constitutional protections for citizens. It is to say, however, that this is not the common or everyday experience of most lawyers.

5.    Be mindful of incurring too much debt.

As has been well-documented, many law students incur crushing, six-figure, non-dischargeable debt and, upon graduation, struggle to find a job to justify that debt. Do not be one of those people.

Now, this does not mean that incurring debt is always a bad thing. If, for example, you are accepted to Yale, Harvard, Stanford, or Chicago, and intent on being a litigator at a large law firm, the debt you incur will likely represent a small fraction of your career earnings. But if you are accepted at a fourth-tier law school where only some graduates obtain full-time jobs in law firms and make modest salaries – and you are not offered a substantial scholarship – you should probably not attend.

Ultimately, make sure to review a law school’s American Bar Association 509 report to assess, among other things, the employment outcomes of its graduates, the types of jobs that graduates obtain, and their average starting salary.

6.    Take care of your physical and mental health.

It is no secret that many lawyers are unhappy and that the practice of law is stressful. This should not be surprising; how would you feel if you had to spend hours, days, and years reviewing documents, answering interrogatories, responding to nonsensical motions, and dealing with difficult clients (and unpleasant colleagues who somehow managed to find their way into the legal profession).

To be sure, one survey found that 45% of lawyers suffer from depression, and 36% struggle with substance abuse issues.[3] And approximately 28% of lawyers get divorced, a number that is likely higher for those who work in large law firms.[4]

Given these facts, when entering law school and the legal profession, be sure to prioritize your physical and mental health. Develop healthy coping skills to deal with stress and adversity. Ask for help when you need it. If you are depressed or struggling with anxiety, for example, seek professional help and try cognitive behavioral therapy. Experiment with meditation. Exercise. Focus on getting optimal nutrition, take supplements if needed (e.g., multivitamins, fish oil), and get sufficient sleep. Have a personal life and pursue interests and activities that are unrelated to the law. If you allow law practice to control your life, you will find yourself burned out, unhappy, and unfulfilled.

Perhaps most importantly, avoid the common pitfalls. Do not abuse alcohol or drugs to manage stress. And do not be a victim. Do not blame others – or circumstances – for your problems. Take ownership of your life – and your choices.

7.    Be honest with yourself about what you want – and whether a legal career will make you happy.

As you proceed in your law school career, be honest with yourself. Are you passionate about becoming a lawyer? Do you understand fully the demands of law practice? Can you manage the stress, the long hours, and the difficult clients? Are you comfortable with drafting countless motions and briefs, and engaging in prolonged discovery? Are you willing to accept less time with family, friends, and partners? Can you accept the fact that, as a lawyer, you are probably not going to change the world and be the lead counsel in a landmark case before the United States Supreme Court?

If the answer is no, do not be afraid to make a change. At the end of the day, your happiness matters more than anything, and if you are not passionate about, and willing to make personal sacrifices for, a legal career, it may not be worth pursuing. Having the courage to make a change now will benefit you for a lifetime. Simply put, do what is right for you, not what others expect of you, or what you think you should do.

Life is short, and there is much more to life than law. Your family, your relationships, and your friends are far more important than winning a summary judgment motion or an appeal. So put yourself – and your happiness – first.

 

[1] See, e.g., www.leews.com Order Audio (CD) Program (incl. Primer [10th edition]) or Primer Alone (leews.com); Emanuel Law Outlines: Constitutional Law, Thirty-First Edition (Emanual Law Outlines): Steven L. Emanuel: 9781454824817: Amazon.com: Books

[2] Richard Fischl & Jeremy Paul, Getting to Maybe: How to Excel in Law School Exams (Brown Co., 1st ed. 1999), available at: Buy Getting to Maybe: How to Excel in Law School Exams Book Online at Low Prices in India | Getting to Maybe: How to Excel in Law School Exams Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.in.

[3] See Priscilla Henson, Addiction and Substance Abuse in Lawyers: Statistics to Know (July 5, 2022), available at: Addiction & Substance Abuse in Lawyers: Statistics to Know (americanaddictioncenters.org)

[4] See Leslie Satterlee, A Fool For a Client: Why Lawyers Should Not Represent Themselves in Divorce, available at: A Fool for a Client: Why Lawyers Should Not Represent Themselves in Divorce – woodnicklaw.com; Harrison Barnes, Why Big Law Firms Attorneys Are So Likely to Get Divorced: Stressed, Tired, Mad and With Nothing More to Give, available at: Why Big Law Firms Attorneys Are So Likely to Get Divorced: Stressed, Tired, Mad and With Nothing More to Give | BCGSearch.com

August 13, 2022 in Law School, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 30, 2022

The Hallmarks of a Great Appellate Brief

Writing an excellent appellate brief is an arduous task. The quality of your writing, coupled with how you organize and present your arguments, can make the difference between winning and losing. Below are a few tips that can enhance the persuasive value of your appellate brief.

1.    Start strong and get to the point quickly.

Writing an appellate brief is, in many ways, like writing a fiction novel or directing a movie. Great books and movies begin powerfully, with a riveting opening chapter or scene. Likewise, in an appellate brief, you should begin with a persuasive introduction that captures the reader’s attention and that does the following:

  • Tells the court in one sentence why you should win.
  • States clearly what remedy you are seeking.
  • Explains why the court should rule in your favor.
  • Presents the strongest facts and legal authority that support your argument.

Drafting a powerful, persuasive, and concise introduction is your first – and often most important – opportunity to convince a court to rule in your favor. 

2.    Focus on the facts.

In most instances, the facts – not the law -- win cases.

An outstanding appellate brief, like a great fiction novel or academy award-winning movie, tells a compelling story. That story, among other things, is well-written, flows logically, keeps the reader’s attention, emphasizes the facts most favorable to your position, explains why unfavorable facts do not affect the outcome you seek, and demonstrates why a ruling in your favor is the fairest and most just result.

To be sure, laws, statutes, and constitutional provisions are often broadly worded and subject the different interpretations, and precedent is usually distinguishable. For example, determining whether a particular search is unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment, or whether a punishment is cruel and unusual under the Eighth Amendment, depends substantially on the court’s independent judgment and, to a lesser extent, subjective values.

As such, a court’s ruling is likely to turn on the facts of each case, which makes your statement of facts the most critical section of your brief. A powerful statement of facts, like a compelling introduction, can often determine your likelihood of winning.

3.    Adopt a more objective tone.

Appellate judges understand that your job is to advocate zealously on your client’s behalf. The best advocacy, however, is often achieved by adopting a more objective tone that does the following:

  • Confronts effectively and persuasively the weaknesses in your argument (e.g., by distinguishing unfavorable facts and precedent).
  • Explains how a ruling in your favor will affect future cases and litigants.
  • Considers the policy implications of a ruling in your favor.
  • Addresses institutional considerations, such as how the public might react to a ruling in your favor.
  • Acknowledges the merits of the adversary’s argument but explains why your argument produces the most desirable result.

Focusing on these issues will enhance your credibility with the court and demonstrate that you have fully considered the competing factual, legal, and policy aspects of your case.

4.    Break the rules – sometimes.

When writing, rewriting, and revising your brief, do not focus exclusively or even predominantly on, for example, whether every sentence complies with the Texas Manual of Style, whether you have eliminated the passive voice, or whether you avoided using italics or bold.

Instead, focus on whether your story is compelling and consider whether your brief accomplishes the following goals, among others:

  • Captures the reader’s attention from the beginning.
  • Emphasizes the most favorable facts and law immediately and throughout the brief.
  • Appeals to emotion where appropriate.
  • Exposes the logical flaws in your adversary’s argument.
  • Uses metaphors or other literary devices to enhance persuasion.
  • Ends powerfully.

Sometimes, this requires you to break the rules. For example, assume that you are appealing a jury verdict against your client, a popular media personality, on the ground that one of the jurors lied on the jury questionnaire to conceal biases against your client. On appeal, you write the following:

During jury selection, potential jurors were asked whether they harbored any disdain for or bias toward my client, who is a controversial public figure due to his perceived conservative views. Juror No. 16, who was empaneled on the jury, stated that “I do not dislike or have any bias toward the defendant. I respect diverse points of view because they are important to ensuring the free exchange of ideas.” After the jury reached its verdict, however, an article on Juror No. 16’s blog surfaced that stated, “any conservative media commentator should burn in hell, and I would do anything to erase these people from the planet.”  Additionally, one week after the verdict, when Juror No. 16 was questioned about this comment, he stated, “Look, I don’t give a s*** what people say about me. Sometimes, the ends justify the means, and I did what I did because people like that jerk need to be silenced.” Surely, Juror No 16’s first comment unquestionably supports overturning the jury’s verdict. But if there is any doubt, Juror No 16’s second comment was the straw that broke the camel’s back.

This is not perfect, of course, but you get the point. Sometimes, to maximize persuasion, you must break the rules.

5.    Perception is reality – do not make mistakes that undermine your credibility.

Never make mistakes that suggest to the court that you lack credibility. This will occur if your brief contains the following mistakes, among others:

  • Spelling errors
  • Long sentences (i.e., over twenty-five words)
  • Excessively long paragraphs (e.g., one paragraph occupying an entire page)
  • Failure to comply with the local court rules
  • Over-the-top language (e.g., unnecessary adjectives, insulting the lower court or adversary)
  • Inappropriate language (e.g., “the respondent’s arguments are ridiculous and stupid”)
  • Fancy or esoteric words (e.g., “the appellant’s meretricious argument ipso facto exacerbates what is an already sophomoric and soporific argument that, inter alia, manifests a duplicitous attempt to obfuscate the apposite issues.”) This sentence is so bad that writing something like this in a brief should be a criminal offense.
  • Avoiding unfavorable facts or law
  • Requesting relief that the court is not empowered to grant
  • Including irrelevant facts or law in your brief (and including unnecessary string cites)

Avoid making these and other mistakes at all costs.

6.    The law will only get you so far; convince the court that it is doing the right thing by ruling for you.

Ask yourself whether your argument produces the fairest and most just result. Judges are human beings. They want to do the right thing. They do not go to sleep at night saying, “I feel so good about my decision today because I made sure that we executed an innocent person.” Put simply, judging is both a legal and moral endeavor. As such, convince a judge that the result you seek is the right result as a matter of law and justice.

July 30, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, July 23, 2022

In Praise of Bryan Garner’s Approach to Minimizing Passive Voice

Many of my students believe I “prohibit” any use of passive voice.  I certainly discourage passive voice, especially in objective writing.  As I explained in past blogs, I even use E-Prime sometimes, avoiding “to be” verbs to assist with clarity.  As Bryan Garner explained in his 2019 Michigan Bar Journal piece:  “Stylists agree” passive voice is “generally weaker than active voice.  It requires two extra words, and the subject of the sentence isn’t performing the action of the verb--you’re backing into the sentence with the recipient of the action. And the actor either is identified in a prepositional phrase or is missing altogether.”  Bryan Garner, Eliminate Zombie Nouns and Minimize Passive Voice, 98 Mich. B.J. 34  (Dec. 2019).   

However, I also remind students passive can help occasionally, such as when brief writers deliberatively de-emphasize their clients’ acts with language like “the bank was robbed.”  Garner has nice notes on this as well, explaining passive voice “does have its place” where the “recipient of the action may be more important than the actor (e.g., the defendant was convicted)” or “the actor may be unknown (e.g., the building was vandalized),” or where “passive voice simply sounds better,” for example, like moving “a punch word to the end of a sentence for impact (e.g., our client’s bail has been revoked).”  Id. at 34.

As I pulled together fall reading materials for my incoming 1Ls, I was struck—again—by how much we can learn from Garner’s examples on spotting and removing passive voice.   Garner asks us to count the passive voice examples in this passage:

In Reich v Chez Robert, Inc, the court found that § 203(m) required three conditions to be met before an employer can lawfully reduce the amount paid to an employee by a tip credit: (1) the employer must inform each employee that a minimum wage is required by law; (2) the employer must inform each employee of the dollar amount of the minimum wage; and (3) the employee must actually keep the tips received. It is clear under the law that vague assertions of the restaurant’s compliance with the notice provision of §203(m) do not constitute compliance. Instead, testimony regarding specific conversations where the provisions of the Act were explained to an employee must be provided.

Then Garner says, “Guess what? Few law-review editors could accurately spot every passive-voice construction in that passage.”  Id. at 35.   Students who struggle to remove passives will rejoice reading this, but the true help in Garner’s article is the way he shows us how to edit even more precisely than those law-review editors.   

I especially like Garner’s explanation:  “From a mechanical point of view, passive voice has two parts: a be-verb (e.g., is, are, was, were) and a past participle (e.g., broken, sued, considered, delivered).”  Id.  Thus, we should “[w]atch for two things when trying to spot passive voice. First, some constructions that appear passive really just involve a past participial adjective: He was embarrassed. Now, if you make that He was embarrassed by Jane, then it is passive (because embarrassed then functions as a verb); but with embarrassed alone at the end, it’s just a participial adjective.”  Id

This “subtle point” can be lost on struggling students, but they can gain understanding with Garner’s second point:  “the be-verb may not actually appear in the sentence. It may be what grammarians call an “understood” word, as in the amount charged will vary (the full sense of the phrase is that is charged) or the fee set by the trustees (the complete relative clause is that is set).”  Garner tells us, “[t]hese constructions with implied be-verbs are indeed passive.”  Id.

Returning to the challenge passage, Garner says there are six passives:  “(1) to be met, (2) paid, (3) is required, (4) received, (5) were explained, and (6) be provided.”  Id.  Looking for these passives can be a nice group or in-class exercise, and students can gain understanding from reviewing this example together.   Garner notes we can all “take some extra credit” if we spot “paid” and “received,” as “they have understood be-verbs, to be paid and that are received.”  Id

Finally, I would ask students to re-write this passage, with the most direct language possible.  Students, and lawyers, can then compare their revisions to Garner’s: 

In Reich v Chez Robert, Inc, the court found that § 203(m) requires an employer to meet three conditions before reducing the employee’s tip credit. First, the employer must inform each employee that the law imposes a minimum wage. Second, the employer must say what that wage is. It isn’t enough for the restaurant to assert vaguely that it has complied with either requirement; the court will require clear testimony about specific conversations in which the employer explained the Act. Third, the employee must actually keep the tips.

Id.  Garner removed what he calls “zombie nouns” along with passive voice, and made the  “reader’s job” much easier.  Id.  Hopefully, this exercise will help you add clarity to your own writing, and give you an interesting tool to teach others.

July 23, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, July 2, 2022

A Few Thoughts on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health

On June 24, 2022, in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, the United States Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and, in so doing, sparked impassioned reaction in the United States.

Below are a few thoughts on the decision.

1.    The majority was correct.

In today’s climate, particularly in some academic institutions, it’s not advisable to publicly criticize Roe – or praise Dobbs – if you want to advance in your academic career.

But the truth is the truth.

Roe was a terrible decision. The majority got it right.

The right to abortion was not based on any reasonable interpretation of the Constitution’s text. And it was not inferable from the text, particularly the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, unlike, for example, the right to effective assistance of counsel, which can be inferred from the Sixth Amendment right to counsel. It was not rooted in the nation’s history or traditions, which is a critical factor that constrains the Court’s power and prevents justices from creating whatever “rights” they subjectively deem desirable. Instead, the Roe Court created a constitutional right out of thin air, divining such right from the invisible “penumbras” that the Court in Griswold v. Connecticut likewise created out of thin air.[1] And the nonsensical doctrine of substantive due process, which the Court invoked in Planned Parenthood v. Casey to uphold Roe’s central holding, is a legal fiction.[2] Not surprisingly, constitutional scholars of both conservative and liberal persuasions, along with the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, have recognized that Roe was incredibly, if not irredeemably, flawed.

The Court’s decision reflected a principle that is vital to a functioning democracy and the valuers of federalism, de-centralized governance, and bottom-up lawmaking: nine unelected and life-tenured judges should not have to right to decide for an entire country what unenumerated rights should or should not be recognized when such “rights” are neither contained in nor inferable from the text, or not deeply rooted in history and tradition. The reason for these constraints is obvious: without them, the justices would have the unfettered authority to create – or take away – whatever rights they wanted, whenever they wanted, and for whatever reason they wanted, which would reflect nothing more than their subjective policy predilections.  That is antithetical to a democracy that vests power in the people, not philosopher kings. And for those who claim that the Ninth Amendment is a source of unenumerated rights, they are correct. But where in the Ninth Amendment does it state that the Court has the authority to create those rights, particularly where there is no basis in the Constitution to do so?

Ultimately, Roe was the perfect example of a raw exercise of judicial power. This does not necessarily mean, however, that the right to abortion lacked a textual basis in the Constitution. As stated below, to the extent that there is a constitutional basis to support a right to abortion, it is through the Equal Protection Clause (or possibly the Privileges and Immunities Clause).

2.    Justice Roberts’ approach was sensible but not principled.

Chief Justice Roberts’ concurrence strikes a sensible but not necessarily principled balance between recognizing the fatal flaws in Roe yet respecting the fact that Roe has been the law for nearly half a century. For this reason, Roberts would have upheld the Mississippi law, which banned abortions after fifteen weeks, but not entirely overturned Roe and Casey.

This approach, although understandable given the practical impact of overturning Roe (and, as Roberts put it, the “jolt” to the legal system), is akin to taking a band-aid off slowly rather than ripping it off. Moreover, given the Court’s on-again, off-again relationship with stare decisis, with both liberal and conservative justices selectively applying the doctrine, Roberts’ concurrence appears more as a misguided attempt to preserve the Court’s legitimacy. Indeed, in this and other decisions, Roberts appears to lend more weight to perceptions about the public reaction’s reaction to a particular decision than the text of the Constitution itself. But basing decisions primarily on how the Court’s legitimacy will be affected invariably leads to political decisions and the precise result – a decline in the Court’s legitimacy – that Roberts is so intent on protecting. It should come as no surprise that the public opinion of the Court is now at twenty-five percent.

Put simply, interpreting the Constitution’s text reasonably is the key to the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

3.    Justice Kavanaugh’s concurrence was surprisingly misguided.

In his concurrence, Justice Brett Kavanaugh argued that the decision in Dobbs returned the Court to a position of neutrality on abortion. It is difficult to believe that Kavanaugh believes this to be true.

The Court did not return to a position of neutrality.  Roe was decided 7-2, and in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court by a 5-4 margin affirmed Roe’s central holding. Thus, the Court had previously – and in numerous other cases – affirmed Roe and protected the fundamental right of women to access abortion services.  In other words, it had already taken a position – repeatedly – on whether the Constitution protected abortion.

So, what changed since Planned Parenthood? Nothing – except the composition of the Court, namely, the confirmation of three conservative justices.

This is not to say that appointing conservative justices – and originalists – is a bad thing.  Given the Court’s abortion precedent, however, and the known political affiliations of Justices Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and Barrett, the notion that the Court returned to a position of “neutrality,” without acknowledging that, since Casey reaffirmed Roe, nothing changed but the Court’s composition, is ridiculous. That’s why Chief Justice Roberts’ approach was arguably the most sensible, although not the most principled, way to decide Dobbs.

Of course, this does not change the fact that, as a matter of constitutional law, Roe was one of the worst decisions in the twentieth century (not as bad, though, as Plessy and Korematsu), that Casey too was profoundly wrong, and that the Court was correct as a matter of constitutional law. The original sin was Roe itself, and the flaws in Roe were compounded by Court’s decision in Casey, which reaffirmed Roe based on untenable constitutional grounds, and on nonsensical justifications such as, “[a]t the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”[3] That’s what you get when you subscribe to “living constitutionalism," which makes about as much sense as substantive due process or the belief that Elvis is still alive.

Having said that, the optic is not good – Dobbs suggests that constitutional rights change based on the political ideologies of the current justices. Kavanaugh’s concurrence displayed a startling disregard of this reality.

4.    Justice Thomas went too far.

With all due respect, Justice Clarence Thomas went too far in his concurrence. Yes, Thomas is correct that substantive due process is a nonsensical legal doctrine, and that Roe and Griswold were constitutionally indefensible decisions.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you revisit and overrule every flawed legal precedent that substantive due process produced. The truth is that, in many instances, the justices must consider the practical consequences of their decisions, and if the Constitution’s text can be reasonably interpreted to support a particular outcome, the Court should reach outcomes that will expand rights and promote, among other things, equality and the equal dignity of all persons. And in some instances, even if a precedent is irreparably flawed, the resulting “jolt” to the legal system and the material harm to citizens that may result can support letting the precedent stand on stare decisis grounds (or, as in the case of abortion, justifying it based on the Equal Protection Clause).

This analysis applies directly to Griswold, which was equally, if not more, flawed than Roe, because the majority, despite recognizing that the text didn’t support invalidating Connecticut’s ridiculous contraception ban, nonetheless decided to invent invisible “penumbras” from which it could single-handedly invent unenumerated constitutional rights.[4]

But that doesn’t mean that Griswold should be overruled. If it was, you can be sure that misguided legislators would try to outlaw contraception. After all, imagine a world where women cannot access contraception and cannot access abortion services.  That’s not a world that most reasonable people want to imagine.

Additionally, Thomas is wrong about Obergefell, which was defensible – and rightly decided – because, like the Seventh Circuit held in Baskin v. Bogan, same-sex marriage bans (and interracial marriage bans) violate the Equal Protection Clause.[5]

Thankfully, there is no support for Thomas’s position on the Court, as the majority explicitly and repeatedly stated that precedents such as Griswold and Obergefell were not implicated by the decision because they did not involve the state’s interest in protecting fetal life. And there is reason to believe the justices in the majority because their reputations would be forever tarnished if they betrayed what they had explicitly written in a prior opinion.

5.    Justice Ginsburg was right – if abortion can be justified by any provision in the text, it is in the Equal Protection                 Clause.

Despite Roe’s indefensible reasoning, there is arguably a basis, as Justice Ginsburg argued, to justify a right to abortion under the Equal Protection Clause. Abortion bans relegate women to second-class citizens. If a woman gets pregnant, she – and she alone – must often bear the financial, emotional, and psychological burdens of pregnancy, not to mention the medical issues (perhaps life-threatening) that some women may face if they are forced to carry a pregnancy to term. The burden on men, however, is not comparable and, in many cases, non-existent. Think about it: a woman who gets pregnant while in college, while pursuing a graduate degree, while starting a job, or while impoverished, must now bear the financial, emotional, and psychological burden of an unwanted pregnancy, which may cause that woman to drop out of school, lose her job, or sink further into poverty. The result is that some women will be prohibited from participating equally in the economic and social life of this country. That is wrong – and that is why the Equal Protection Clause arguably provides a basis to justify a constitutional right to abortion.

The problem is that neither Roe nor Casey was based primarily on the Equal Protection Clause. They were based on a right to privacy found nowhere in the Fourteenth Amendment and, later, on a substantive liberty interest that no reasonable interpretation of the Fourteenth Amendment can support. That is in part why Roe created such a backlash and, ultimately, was overruled.

6.    Imagine where we’d be if the Court had embraced judicial restraint and deference.

If liberals had embraced the concept of judicial restraint, and of deferring more frequently to the decisions of federal and state legislatures, the world might look very different now.[6]

New York’s law regulating who could carry a gun in public would still be on the books. The high school coach who prayed on the fifty-yard line after his high school’s football games would still be fired (although he shouldn’t have been fired). And abortion would still be accessible in every state, albeit with a fifteen-week limitation. For liberals, that sounds like a much better situation than they are in now.

That highlights the problem with judicial activism, which both conservative and liberal justices have embraced at various periods in the Court’s history. As stated above, when you rely on the Court to effectuate social change and disregard the constraints on judicial power, you give nine unelected judges the power to identify and define unenumerated rights for an entire nation based on their subjective policy preferences. And what the Court gives, it can certainly take away. In other words, advocates for an activist Court – conservative or liberal – will see their luck run out when the Court’s composition changes. That is precisely what happened in Dobbs.

7.    Stop criticizing the Court

Predictably, after Dobbs was released, some in the media, and even some scholars, brought out all the usual buzzwords, such as characterizing the decision as misogynistic, white supremacist, racist, and the like.[7] Even President Biden made disparaging comments about the Court that undermined his and the Court’s legitimacy.  Biden had the audacity to state during a conference in Madrid, Spain, that “[t]he one thing that has been destabilizing is the outrageous behavior of the Supreme Court of the United States, in overruling not only Roe v. Wade, but essentially challenging the right to privacy.”[8] He should be ashamed.

Few, if any, however, including Biden, defended Roe on its merits. How could they? As Laurance Tribe stated, “one of the most curious things about Roe is that, beyond its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”[9] Ultimately, the Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution, not reach the outcomes that you like. And even when you disagree with a decision, it’s wrong to hurl insults at the justices. At this juncture, time would be better spent lobbying state legislatures across the country to protect women’s bodily autonomy and provide access to abortion services.

 

[1] 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[2] 505 U.S. 833 (1992).

[3] Id.

[4] See 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[5] 576 U.S. 644 (2015); 766 F. 3d 648 (2014).

[6] See Opinion, How Liberals Should Rethink Their View of the Supreme Court (June 21, 2022), available at: Opinion: Liberals should rethink view of Supreme Court - CNN

[7] See, e.g., Ramesh Ponnuru, The Times Distorts Alito’s Draft Opinion, (May 5, 2022), available at: New York Times Distorts Alito's ‘Dobbs’ Opinion | National Review

[8] Alex Gangitano, Biden Calls Supreme Court Overturning Roe v. Wade ‘Destabilizing’ (June 30, 2022), available at: Biden calls Supreme Court overturning Roe v. Wade ‘destabilizing’ | The Hill

[9] See, Opinion, Roe Was Wrong the Day It Was Decided. The Supreme Court Did the Right Thing (June 24, 2022), available at: Roe Was Wrong the Day it Was Decided. The Supreme Court Did The Right Thing | Opinion (newsweek.com)

July 2, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Bluebooking

A recurring discussion on #AppellateTwitter and #LegalWriting Twitter is the importance (or lack thereof) of proper citation format. A recent post said that time spent learning to cite properly was not time well spent. I don’t take the author of that post to mean that citations are unimportant, but the view expresses a writer-centric view of citations rather than a reader-centric view. As writers, and particularly as appellate advocates, we must take a reader-centric view of writing. So, let me explain why I think that time spent learning to cite properly is time well spent.

First, and most obviously, your reader needs to be able to easily find what you’re citing. Judges and their law clerks are busy people. Why make it more difficult for the people who you are trying to persuade to find your source? You must do the work so that they don’t have to.

Next, as Professor Alexa Chew explains in Citation Literacy,[1] citations provide the law-trained reader with important information about the weight of the cited authority.[2] Is it binding or only persuasive? Is it a recent case or well-settled law?[3] Is what is being cited from a concurring or dissenting opinion? All of those things matter to the reader. If you omit part of a citation, or worse, incorrectly cite a source, you’re depriving your reader of important information.

Finally, and as Professor Tracy L. M. Norton pointed out in a post responding to the original Tweet, judges and law clerks use adherence to proper citation format as a proxy for your diligence and attention to detail. I know this to be true from my experience as a law clerk and from talking to other law clerks and to judges. A writer who doesn’t take the time to put citations into proper format is often assumed to have neglected other matters in their writing. Because let’s face it, it doesn’t take much effort to format most citations properly. The answers are right there in the citation manual. You just have to spend some time looking them up.

That said, I don’t mean that you are expected to properly format every part of every citation. It won’t matter if the comma is italicized when it shouldn’t be. What I’m suggesting is that it’s important to do your best to properly format citations so that your reader will know that you pay attention to detail. Doing so will reflect well on you and your work.

Oh, and one practical tip. Don’t blindly rely on the “copy with reference” feature of your favorite online legal research platform. The citations produced by those features are not always correct. For example, the Supreme Court of Ohio has its own citation manual. The Ohio “copy with reference” feature of one legal research platform produces this citation for an Ohio trial court case: State v. Vita, 2015 WL 7069789 (Ohio Com.Pl.) The correct citation format is State v. Vita, Clermont C.P. No. 2015 CR 0071, 2015 WL 7069789 (Oct. 29, 2015).

 

[1] Alexa Z. Chew, Citation Literacy, 70 Ark. L. Rev. 869 (2018).

[2] Id. at 872-73.

[3] We’ll leave what “well-settled” law is for another day.

June 28, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Rhetoric | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, June 18, 2022

Rejecting Canons of Construction and Following Legislative Intent to Define a Bee As a “Fish”

By now, you've probably heard that a California appellate court deemed bees "fish."   In fact, a truth-checking site, Verify.com, even posted a verification of the claim a court ruled a bee a fish as “true.”   See https://www.verifythis.com/article/news/verify/courts/bees-are-fish-says-california-court-for-conservation-law/536-ae3e9921-2b54-432e-8c51-66fc3e23eca4.  However unusual the idea of a bee as a fish might seem, the opinion from the Third District California Court of Appeal contains some very careful analysis and discussion of long established canons of statutory construction that will be helpful to appellate practitioners.  While the court in Almond Alliance of California v. Fish and Game Commission, __ Cal. App. 4th __ (C093542 May 21, 2022), definitely finessed some points and seemed to reject those canons not helpful to its conclusion, it also gave us an excellent modern discussion of what some canons of construction mean and how they rank against evidence of legislative intent.  

The Almond Alliance dispute involved a new California Fish and Game Commission designation of four types of bumble bees as protected "fish" under California's Endangered Species Act, Fish & G. Code § 2050 et seq.  The Act "directs the Fish and Game Commission (Commission) to 'establish a list of endangered species and a list of threatened species.'"  Almond Alliance, slip op. at 2. 

As the court explained, "The issue presented here is whether the bumble bee, a terrestrial invertebrate, falls within the definition of fish, as that term is used in the definitions of endangered species in section 2062, threatened species in section 2067, and candidate species . . . in section 2068 of the Act."  Id.  Slate.com noted:  because section 45 of the California Endangered Species Act “defines a fish as a ‘wild fish, mollusk, crustacean, invertebrate, amphibian, or part, spawn, or ovum of any of those animals,’” the State and environmental intervenors “argued that the inclusion of the word invertebrate technically allows the act to cover all invertebrates, not just aquatic ones.”  Emma Wallenbrock, The Completely Logical Reason Why a Bee Can Be Considered a Fish Now (June 04, 2022) https://slate.com/technology/2022/06/california-endangered-species-bees-fish.html.

The Almond Alliance court first concluded “the Commission has the authority to list an invertebrate as an endangered or threatened species.”  Next, the court “consider[ed] whether the Commission’s authority is limited to listing only aquatic invertebrates [and] conclude[d] the answer is, “no.”  Slip op. at 2. 

At the heart of the court’s decision is the use of legislative history to define “fish” and “invertebrate.”  The court begins this analysis by explaining:

Although the term fish is colloquially and commonly understood to refer to aquatic species, the term of art employed by the Legislature in the definition of fish in section 45 is not so limited.  We acknowledge the scope of the definition is ambiguous but also recognize we are not interpreting the definition on a blank slate. The legislative history supports the liberal interpretation of the Act (the lens through which we are required to construe the Act) that the Commission may list any invertebrate as an endangered or threatened.  

Id. at 2-3. 

Over the next 32 pages, the Almond Alliance court supports this conclusion by using a small number of past appellate cases, rejecting some canons of construction, and analyzing a significant amount of legislative language and history.  I strongly recommend reading the whole opinion, but I will summarize a few of the canons of construction the court rejected here.

First, the court reminded the parties of the general, underlying rule that courts must apply statutes as written, and “[i]f there is no ambiguity, we presume the lawmakers meant what they said, and we apply the term or phrase in accordance with that meaning.“   Almond Alliance, slip op. at 19.  According to the court, “[i]f, however, the statutory terms are ambiguous, then we may resort to extrinsic sources, including the ostensible objects to be achieved and the legislative history.”  Id.  Thus, “’[o]ur fundamental task . . . is to ascertain the intent of the lawmakers so as to effectuate the purpose of the statute.’” Id., quoting California Forestry Assn. v. California Fish & Game Commission, 156 Cal. App. 4th 1535, 1544-1545 (2007).   “Where . . . the Legislature has provided a technical definition of a word, we construe the term of art in accordance with the technical meaning,” and “we are tasked with liberally construing the Act to effectuate its remedial purpose.” Id. at 19-20.

Second, the court rejected petitioners’ rule against surplusage canon argument that applying the section 45 definition of “fish” as including invertebrates here would write the listing of “amphibians” out of other sections.   The court explained the “rle against surplusage . . . provides courts should “avoid, if possible, interpretations that render a part of a statute surplusage.”  Id. at 20.  Interestingly, the court recognized a “textual tension with the Legislature’s inclusion of amphibian in [some] sections,” but noted:  “the rule against surplusage is not, however, an infallible canon. The canon is merely a “guide for ascertaining legislative intent, it is not a command.”  Id. 

Next, the Almond Alliance court rejected “petitioners’ argument that the noscitur a sociis canon should be applied to read ‘a native species or subspecies of a bird, mammal, fish, amphibian, reptile, or plant’ in sections 2062, 2067, and 2068, as encompassing only vertebrate animals.”  Id. at 21.  The court dismissed this idea because, “[p]lainly, section 45 expressly includes invertebrates within the definition of fish.”  Id.

Third, after a lengthy discussion legislative history, the Almond Alliance court considered “petitioners’ suggested application of the noscitur a sociis canon,” which “means ‘a word takes meaning from the company it keeps.’”  Id. at 33.  Under this rule, a “word of uncertain meaning may be known from its associates and its meaning ‘enlarged or restrained by reference to the object of the whole clause in which it is used.’” Id.  “In accordance with this principle of construction, a court will adopt a restrictive meaning of a listed item if acceptance of a more expansive meaning would make other items in the list unnecessary or redundant, or would otherwise make the item markedly dissimilar to the other items in the list.” Id

The Almond Alliance court “decline[d] to apply the statutory interpretation canon here because:   

If we were to apply the noscitur a sociis canon to the term invertebrate in section 45 to limit and restrict the term to aquatic species, as petitioners suggest, we would have to apply that limitation to all items in the list.  In other words, we would have to conclude the Commission may list only aquatic mollusks, crustaceans, and amphibians as well. Such a conclusion is directly at odds with the Legislature’s approval of the Commission’s listing of a terrestrial mollusk [the bristle snail, a land invertebrate  previously protected] and invertebrate as a threatened species. Furthermore, limiting the term to aquatic would require a restrictive rather than liberal interpretation of the Act, which is also directly at odds with our duty to liberally construe the remedial statutes contained therein.

Id. at 33-34.

Based on its review of legislative history and rejection of petitioners’ arguments, the court concluded “the Commission may list any invertebrate,” including a terrestrial invertebrate, as an endangered or threatened species under 2062 and 2067.”  Therefore, the Almond Alliance court ruled the Commission could designate a bee as a “fish” for purposes of the Endangered Species Act.  Id. at 35.  As Emma Wallenbrock noted for Slate:  “It’s unclear whether this is a permanent victory, as the agricultural groups may decide to take the case to the California Supreme Court,” but the ruling could be “good news for the bees—and good news for our stomachs, too” because the “Center for Food Safety, states that “one out of every three bites of food we eat [comes] from a crop pollinated by bees.”  Wallenbrock, Why a Bee Can Be Considered a Fish Now, https://slate.com/technology/2022/06/california-endangered-species-bees-fish.html.  Even if this possible “good news” falls on review, the case certainly provides an interesting discussion of canons of construction.

June 18, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, State Appeals Courts | Permalink | Comments (1)

Saturday, June 4, 2022

A Few Commonsense Tips on How to Persuade Judges (and People)

It’s not that difficult to be persuasive. Below are a few tips to increase the persuasive value of your arguments.

1.    Keep it simple, talk like a normal human being, and get out of the weeds.

If you want to persuade a court (or anyone), simplify your narrative. Think of it this way: if you had only one sentence to explain why a court should rule in your favor, what would you say? If you had only thirty seconds to explain why the Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms, what would you say? Simplifying your narrative, making complex concepts easily understandable, and staying “out of the weeds” is critical to effective advocacy.

After all, judges (and people generally) have short attention spans. They’re busy and often under considerable stress. So, get to the point immediately and do so in a manner that makes your argument clear and persuasive. Use simple words. Don’t state the obvious. Make sure your argument is structured logically and presented concisely. And get to the bottom line – quickly. Tell the court what you want and why it should rule in your favor. Consider the following example of an attorney arguing that there is no hate speech exception to the First Amendment:

Attorney: May it please the Court, the First Amendment is a bedrock, indeed the backbone, of our freedom in this country. As the historical record shows, the First Amendment was designed to create a marketplace of ideas in which the perspectives and political views of individuals from all segments of society must be respected and unregulated. As the federalist papers demonstrate, as John Marshall argued in 1788, and as countless law review articles that nobody reads confirm, the First Amendment is the essential safeguard of, and the impregnable sanctuary protecting, citizens’ right to disseminate commentary on matters apposite to political and social discourse. To be sure, the First Amendment is the catalyst for a democracy that can withstand the threats that tyranny poses and that authoritarianism endorses.

This is utterly ridiculous. If anything, this nonsense supports restricting First Amendment rights, if for no other reason than to spare the court from having to listen to this gibberish. A better approach would be as follows:

Attorney: The First Amendment protects unpopular, offensive, and distasteful speech to ensure that individuals can share diverse perspectives on matters of public concern. A hate speech exception would, by intent and in effect, allow the government to prohibit speech based on disagreement with its viewpoint and content. And the subjectivity inherent in this determination would present a threat to citizens of every political persuasion.

Again, this isn’t perfect, but you get the point. Keep it simple and direct.

2.    Address the court’s questions and concerns.

Judges don’t care about what you want to argue. They care about whether you can address their concerns and respond in a way that makes them want to rule in your favor. For that reason, your answers to the court’s questions are critical to your chances of succeeding on the merits. If you evade a court’s questions, both your credibility and the persuasiveness of your argument will diminish substantially.

Imagine, for example, a relationship where a husband is upset because his wife is working long hours and not dedicating sufficient time to the relationship. Consider the following dialogue:

Husband: I feel like you don’t care about our relationship. You work at the law firm seven days a week and talk more about the Fourteenth Amendment than you do about our future. It’s like I don’t matter to you at all.

Wife: Look, I work eighty hours a week and without my salary, we wouldn’t be able to live in this house or send our kids to the best schools. I’m not expecting a medal, but a thank you now and then would be nice.

Yeah, these two are likely headed for a divorce – and for good reason. Why? Because the wife didn’t acknowledge and address the husband’s concern and therefore made no attempt to resolve the conflict. If you do this as an advocate, your argument will likely fail. Consider, for example, the following dialogue between an attorney and a justice on the United States Supreme Court:

Justice on Supreme Court: Counselor, Roe v. Wade is not based on any reasonable interpretation of the Constitution’s text and is based on a theory – substantive due process – that makes no sense. Where in the Constitution can this Court find a right to abort a pregnancy?

Attorney: Your Honor, Roe v. Wade has been the law of the land for fifty years, and overturning Roe now would seem like a brazenly political decision.

That nonsensical response is the equivalent of saying, I don’t care about your question or your concerns. Such an approach will diminish your credibility, reduce the persuasiveness of your argument, and alienate the justices. A better response would be as follows:

The right to abortion is firmly rooted in the liberty protected under the Fourteenth Amendment, which this Court has affirmed numerous times, such as in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, and this right reflects the underlying purpose of the text, which is to ensure the liberty, equality, and bodily autonomy of all persons.

This response, although not perfect, responds directly to the justice’s concerns.

3.    Acknowledge weaknesses in your argument.

Nobody is perfect, as the Johnny Depp-Amber Heard trial so clearly showed. And no argument is perfect. You will almost always have to address unfavorable facts or law. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though, because it gives you an opportunity to explain why unfavorable facts or law do not affect the outcome you seek.

The worst thing that you can do, however, is to evade, minimize, or offer unpersuasive explanations for unfavorable facts or law. For example, in the Johnny Depp trial, Depp’s attorney, Camille Vasquez, highlighted that while Amber heard had pledged to donate the money from her divorce settlement with Depp to charity, she hadn’t actually donated the money. Heard should have simply acknowledged this point. Instead, she claimed that, in her view, the words pledged and donated are synonymous.

Whatever.

That was bad.

Very bad.

And very damaging to her credibility.

4.    Be passionate and emotional (when appropriate).

It’s important, as an advocate, to show that you care. That you are emotionally invested in your client and your case. When you show genuine passion and emotion, it conveys that you believe strongly in your argument and in the remedy that you seek. For example, Camille Vasquez’s cross-examination of Amber Heard demonstrated that Vasquez believed strongly that Heard was lying and that Depp had been defamed. In essence, believing in your argument increases the persuasive value of what you say. After all, imagine if you proposed marriage to your partner in a monotone voice and with no emotion whatsoever? The answer would likely be no.

5.    Be likable and relatable.

This doesn’t require much explanation. People hate jerks (and there are many jerks lurking in the legal profession). So, don’t be a jerk. Don’t be arrogant. Don’t gossip. Don’t judge. Be a nice person. Respect people with whom you disagree. Be honest. Be compassionate. Courts and people are more likely to empathize with others that they like.

June 4, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Law School, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (1)

Sunday, May 22, 2022

Camille Vasquez Is a Rockstar

Actor Johnny Depp is currently suing his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, for defamation, and the trial is both entertaining and educational – particularly for law students and lawyers. The reason for that is Camille Vasquez, who graduated from the University of Southern California and Southwestern Law School, and whose performance at the trial is equivalent to a master class in persuasive advocacy.

Put simply, Camille Vasquez is a rockstar.

Law students (and lawyers) should watch Camille because they will learn more from her in a few hours than they will likely learn in three years of law school. Below are a few reasons why Camille Vasquez is an outstanding attorney, and why she represents the best of the legal profession.

1.    She is confident and owns the courtroom.

Whether it is conducting the cross-examination of Amber Heard or objecting to the adversary’s questions on direct examination, Camille Vasquez is incredibly confident and self-assured. Quite frankly, Vasquez has swagger. She knows she is among the best. She owns the courtroom. And if you try to bullshit her, it won’t end well for you.

Such confidence, which Vasquez has exuded in all aspects of the trial, is critical to creating the perception with the court and jury that you know what you’re doing, and that you are a credible advocate. When you create that impression, the judge and jury are more likely to view you and your client more favorably – and rule in your favor.

2.    She uses non-verbal techniques effectively.

When arguing before a judge or jury, your non-verbal techniques are equally, if not more, important, than what you say. Non-verbal techniques, such as posture, facial expressions, eye contact, and variance in tone, attitude, and emphasis, convey to the jury, among other things, your confidence, knowledge of the record, and belief in your position.

Camille Vasquez uses non-verbal techniques extremely effectively. When Vasquez was cross-examining Amber Heard, for example, she stood upright, at times leaning into the podium to emphasize a critical point. She varied her facial expressions to convey skepticism, if not disbelief, of some of Heard’s responses. She remained focused and confident at all times. She never laughed or displayed inappropriate emotional responses. She never fidgeted, folded her arms, or paced about the courtroom. She listened to Heard’s responses and retained eye contact. In short, her non-verbal communications showed that she had perfect knowledge of the record and that she was owning the witness and the courtroom.

3.    She knows how to adjust and follow up during cross-examination.

During cross-examination, Camille Vasquez adjusted effectively to Amber Heard’s sometimes-evasive responses with follow-up questions that forced Heard to concede unfavorable facts. In so doing, Vasquez didn’t simply recite a list of questions and hope that she would receive a favorable answer. Instead, she knew Heard was going to be evasive at times, and she adjusted in the moment, asking follow-up questions that would not allow Heard to avoid conceding unfavorable facts. For example, during cross-examination, Heard testified that she had pledged/donated seven million dollars to a particular charity. Vasquez refused to allow Heard to conflate the distinction between pledging and donating money, forcing Heard to admit that, although she had pledged seven million dollars to a charity, she never actually donated any money to that charity.

4.    She knows how to strategically include comments that undercut a witness’s credibility.

Effective advocacy includes strategically commenting on a witness’s testimony during cross-examination to express skepticism about a witness’s truthfulness or highlight a witness’s non-responsiveness. Simply put, cross-examination is not merely about asking questions. It’s about having a conversation with the witness and, through excellent questions, non-verbal communication, and strategic commentary on the witness’s responses, owning that conversation and eliciting facts that damage the adversary’s credibility. For example, during the cross-examination, Vasquez made comments such as:

“That wasn’t my question, Ms. Heard.” (conveying to the jury that Heard was being evasive)

“You know what a deposition is, right Ms. Heard?” (implying that Heard is ignorant and trying to hide unfavorable facts)

“You understand the difference between pledging money and donating money, right?” (this may not be the exact quote, but it’s similar and conveys that Ms. Heard’s attempt to say that pledging and donating money are synonymous makes no sense)

The inclusion of such comments enables a lawyer to communicate subtly to the jury that the witness’s testimony is not credible. Put another way, when cross-examining a witness, you can still “testify” if you do so strategically and subtly. Camille Vasquez did that very effectively.

5.    She is prepared and has outworked Amber Heard’s attorneys.

This point doesn’t need much explanation, except to say that many people have no idea what it means to be truly prepared for a trial (or a midterm or final examination, for that matter). Preparation means, among other things, knowing every inch of the record. It means being able to recite the page and line number of a deposition when conducting a direct or cross-examination. It means knowing the rules of evidence and practicing objections thousands of times, and being able to anticipate responses to those objections. It means knowing the relevant case law so well that you never need notes.

Camille Vasquez was incredibly prepared for this trial and almost certainly as prepared as any human being can be for a trial. She knew the rules of evidence so well that every objectionable question from Heard’s attorney was met with an objection by Vasquez – and sustained nearly every time. The link below shows the preparation – and sheer talent – that Vasquez has displayed during the trial.

Amber Heard's Lawyer SHUT DOWN! 40+ OBJECTIONS Within 19 MINUTES (Camille Vasquez) - YouTube

6.    She’s very smart.

Intelligence matters, and great lawyers are highly intelligent. Camille Vasquez is no exception – her analytical abilities, quick thinking, and ability to articulate complex points in a clear and relatable manner, reflect her impressive intellect.

7.    She cares for and is a passionate advocate for her client.

This trial has shown that Camille Vasquez is a kind and passionate person who cares deeply for her clients and for the causes that she is advocating. She represents Johnny Depp with compassion and empathy, and through her interactions with Depp, you can obviously see that she cares about him and is doing everything possible to achieve a favorable result.

In short, she is a good person – and good people make the best attorneys.

May 22, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court | Permalink | Comments (3)

Saturday, May 21, 2022

Fifth & Seventh Circuits Uphold Sanctions for Seasoned Attorneys, Rejecting Their Requests for Relief Based on Their Experience--Part Two

Last month, I noted two April 8, 2022 federal Court of Appeal decisions on attorney sanctions where the courts reminded us claims of experience are no excuse for improper behavior.  I focused on the Fifth Circuit’s reminder:  “When litigating in federal district court, it is often advisable to read the court’s orders.”  Scott v. MEI, Inc., 21-10680 (5th Cir. Apr. 8, 2022) (per curiam).  This month, I’ll discuss the Seventh Circuit’s order upholding $17,000 of sanctions against a “seasoned litigator” who balked at being required to complete “demeaning” CLE classes.  Bovinett v. Homeadvisor, Inc., 20-3221 (7th Cir. Apr. 8 2022)

Like the Fifth Circuit, the Seventh Circuit rejected an appeal of a sanctions order despite counsel’s claims of competence and experience.  Bovinett (7th Cir. Apr. 8 2022); see Debra Cassens Weiss, “Seasoned Litigator” Fails to Persuade 7th Circuit that Sanction Was Demeaning and Too Harsh, ABA Journal (Apr. 14, 2022).  In a Northern District of Illinois case involving use of an actor’s photo by advertisers, the district court initially dismissed many claims against the out-of-state advertisers for lack of personal jurisdiction.  Bovinett at 2.  Attorney Mark Barinholtz, representing the actor, then asserted the defendants had several contacts with Chicago, and the court “allowed the parties to take limited discovery about personal jurisdiction.”  Id. at 2-3.  The court “soon granted [a defendant’s] motion to compel discovery because [the actor’s] responses were vague and evasive.”  Id. at 3.  For example, Barinholtz “answered every request for admission by stating [the actor] was ‘not in possession of sufficient knowledge or information to admit or deny.’”  Id.  After the court entered an order compelling discovery, the actor, through Barinholtz, replied “only that [the actor] lacked ‘direct, in person knowledge’ of the subjects.“  Id.  In response, the court dismissed much of the complaint and eventually granted the defendants’ motions for sanctions.  Id

The district court found several grounds for sanctions, noting “Barinholtz appeared to have made false assertions to establish personal jurisdiction, [and e]ven if he did not do so in bad faith, . . .  Barinholtz inexcusably failed to investigate the jurisdictional facts.”  Id.  The court  “ordered Barinholtz to pay about $17,000 (much less than the defendants’ [$661,000] request) to compensate the defendants for time spent on the motions to compel and for sanctions.”  Id.  As the Seventh Circuit explained, the district court “also ordered Barinholtz to attend 40 hours of continuing legal education: half ‘on federal civil procedure, including at least one course related to personal jurisdiction,’ and half on “professional conduct, . . . such as those offered in the Illinois State Bar Association’s Basic Skills for Newly Admitted Attorneys.’”  Id

In response, Barinholtz moved for what he styled an extension of time either “to file notice of appeal and/or to request other post-order relief,” and the district court granted the motion in part, extending the time to appeal until October 13, 2020.  Id. at 3-4.  Barinholtz did not immediately file a notice of appeal, but filed an October 13, 2020 “motion to reconsider in which he focused on the merits of the lawsuit and his already-raised objections to sanctions.”  Id. at 4.   He again argued that the court had personal jurisdiction and claimed “Rules 11 and 37 did not permit sanctions in this context, [plus] sanctions were ‘unfair’ because the defendants and Bovinett had teamed up to get Barinholtz to pay costs and fees.”  Id

Notably, Barinholtz “also insisted that the defendants deserved sanctions,” based on the alleged “teaming up” against him, “and that requiring him, a seasoned litigator, to attend legal-education courses [was] demeaning.”  Id.  As the Seventh Circuit explained, he “requested a reduced monetary sanction (or none at all) and fewer hours of continuing education.”  Id.  The district court denied the motion to reconsider, finding “Barinholtz failed to identify any legal or factual error in the sanctions ruling and instead repeated previously rejected arguments.”  Id.  The court declined to address what it called “these ‘disheartening’ arguments” again, “and repeated that sanctions were warranted for his ‘egregious’ conduct.”  Id.  Barinholtz filed a notice of appeal within thirty days of the reconsideration order, but after October 13, 2020.

The Seventh Circuit opened its order by explaining Barinholtz “incurred sanctions for repeatedly asserting baseless claims and disregarding a court order. He moved, unsuccessfully, for reconsideration and then filed a notice of appeal . . . timely only with respect to the denial of the motion to reconsider.”  Id. at 1-2.  According to the court:  “[b]ecause [Barinholtz] timely sought and received an extension of time, his appeal was due October 13. But Barinholtz missed this deadline. And his motion to reconsider had no effect on his time to appeal sanctions.  Id. Accordingly, the notice of appeal filed after October 13 was only timely for the denial of the motion for reconsideration.  Id.

The court then reviewed “whether the judge unreasonably denied Barinholtz’s motion to reconsider sanctioning him,” finding no abuse of discretion.  Id. at 5-6.  The Seventh Circuit stressed “Barinholtz lacked a good reason for vacating the sanctions,” “did not cogently explain why his conduct was not sanctionable,” “did not demonstrate any mistake of law or fact in the sanctions order,” and also “provided no excuse or explanation—or apology—for his actions.”  Id. at 5.  For example, “he did not argue that he complied with the discovery order, that he had a strategic reason for repleading baseless claims (such as preserving them), or that it was reasonable to press claims against [a defendant] after it showed that it had no ties to Illinois.”  Id

According to the court, the trial “judge also did not err in rejecting Barinholtz’s argument that [the actor] ‘flipped’ to the defendants’ side and is now in cahoots with them to get Barinholtz to pay both sides’ costs” because the “parties’ settlement agreement states that they must bear their own costs and fees.”  Id. at 6.  Instead, the “amount of the sanction is directly tied to the expenses that the defendants incurred in moving to compel discovery and moving for sanctions: motions necessitated by Barinholtz’s conduct.”  Id.

Finally, Barinholtz contended the court should have imposed “fewer than 40 hours of continuing legal education” based on his “decades of experience.”  Id.  However, the court reasoned “the requirement directly addresses the sanctionable conduct:  Barinholtz raised baseless allegations about [defendant’s Chicago] involvement, pursued frivolous claims, and dodged valid discovery requests; it is reasonable that he be ordered to refresh his knowledge in civil procedure and professionalism despite his proficiency in certain areas.”  Id.

Barinholtz told the ABA Journal in an email that he is reviewing “the procedural and merits-based aspects of the ruling and its impact.”  Cassens Weiss, “Seasoned Litigator.”  He explained he will probably seek rehearing and stated:  “In light of my many years of dedicated practice in the federal courts, 40 hours of vaguely characterized CLE not only appears to be unprecedented—but in any event, is far too harsh and unwarranted in these circumstances.”  Id.

I will keep you posted on any updates in this matter, and in the Fifth Circuit’s ruling in Scott.  In the meantime, both cases give us all excellent reminders about competent representation and  sanctions.

May 21, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 15, 2022

A Plea for Pro Bono Service

In terms of pro bono service, our profession has a long way to go.  

Model Rule of Professional Conduct 6.1 makes clear that "[e]very lawyer has a professional responsibility to provide legal services to those unable to pay."  To that end, the Rule says that lawyers "should aspire to render at least fifty (50) hours of pro bono publico legal services per year." 

Let's be honest, though: 50 hours is pretty paltry.  If you take a two-week vacation, you can still satisfy Rule 6.1 with just one pro bono hour per week.  Even for busy lawyers, that's hardly "aspir[ational]."  Yet a large majority of lawyers aren't even approaching that bare-bones ethical minimum.  In 2017, the ABA's Standing Committee on Pro Bono and Public Service conducted a survey of over 47,000 lawyers across 24 states.  Here's what they found:

  • Barely half of responding lawyers provided any pro bono services in 2016.
  • Not even 20% of responding lawyers fulfilled Rule 6.1's minimum requirement.
  • Roughly one in five responding attorneys reported never having provided pro bono services of any kind.  (Read: Roughly one in five lawyers admitted to having committed professional misconduct.)

And the problem isn't that there's too little pro bono work to go around.  The 2017 Justice Gap Report, published by the Legal Services Corporation, revealed that in 2016, 86% of civil legal problems reported by low-income Americans received inadequate or no legal assistance.  And there's good reason to believe that the pandemic has exacerbated that access-to-justice gap.  

As attorneys, we have a state-sanctioned monopoly on legal services.  If we don't work to close the access-to-justice gap, no one will.  But across the board, we are falling far short of our professional and moral obligations.  We must do better.  

May 15, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Current Affairs, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, May 8, 2022

Roe v. Wade is Probably Going to the “Graveyard of the Forgotten Past”

   Based on the stunning and unprecedented leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health, a slim majority of the Court may overturn Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey and return the abortion issue to state legislatures – and the democratic process where it always belonged. Before discussing Roe in detail, a few developments from the last week warrant mention.

    First, the leaker, who is possibly a misguided law clerk, is a disgrace. The idea that you can assert political pressure on the Court – an independent branch of government – is ridiculous. What’s shocking is that this leaker is likely from a top law school. And the incredible lack of judgment – apparently believing that such pressure would influence the Court’s decision – shows the leaker has no respect for the Court’s institutional role and no regard for the need to insulate the Court from political pressure,

    Second, the misleading and, quite frankly, intellectually dishonest comments by some scholars, politicians, and journalists – along with threats to protests at the justices’ homes – misrepresent fundamentally the impact of reversing Roe, misapprehend the Court’s role in a constitutional democracy, and threaten to undermine severely the Court’s legitimacy. Put simply, the Court’s job is not to base its decisions on policy outcomes that the public deems desirable; its job is to interpret the Constitution.

    Third, public discourse following the unprecedented leak of Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion demonstrates a startling disregard for the fatal flaws in the Court’s abortion jurisprudence, which both liberal and conservative scholars, including Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, identified in the decades after Roe was decided. The fact that scholars, politicians, and journalists have so utterly misrepresented Roe and made unhinged attacks on the Court, shows how significantly this discourse has declined in quality and integrity.

I.    The Reality of Abortion Jurisprudence

    As a matter of constitutional law, Roe is one of the worst decisions in the last century (outside of, for example, Plessy and Korematsu). To begin with, Roe has no basis in the text of the Constitution. Furthermore, the right to abortion is not inferable from any textually-grounded right. Finally, the right to abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions.

    A.    Abortion has no basis in the text of the Constitution.

    In Roe, the Court based its decision on, among other things, the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, which provides in relevant part that “no state shall … any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”[1] Essentially, this means that states must afford citizens fair procedures (e.g., a trial) before citizens can be executed, imprisoned, or subject to property forfeiture. Nowhere in this language can any substantive constitutional right be discerned, particularly the right to abortion.

    And the Court in Roe likely knew that.

    However, the Court remained undeterred and instead relied on Griswold v. Connecticut to invent a fundamental right that no reading of the Constitution’s text could possibly support. In Griswold, the Court invalidated an admittedly-ridiculous law that banned contraception.[2] In so doing, the Court held that, although no specific textual provision supported invalidating the law, the Bill of Rights contained invisible “penumbras, formed by emanations from those guarantees [in the Bill of Rights] that help give them life and substance"[3] On the basis of these judicially-created “penumbras,” the Court discovered a substantive right to privacy in the Constitution, even though the majority could not identify exactly where in the Constitution this right “emanated.” In other words, the Court blatantly manipulated  -- in fact, ignored – the Constitution’s text, to reach a result that no interpretation could support, but that their justices preferred based on their subjective values.

    Subsequently, the Court in Roe relied on this nebulous and impossible-to-define (or limit) right to privacy, holding that this “right” was “broad enough” to encompass a right to abortion. To make matters worse, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the Court, in reaffirming Roe, held that the word “liberty” in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause encompassed various unenumerated and substantive liberty interests that cannot be found anywhere in the Constitution – but that the justices subjectively deemed necessary to protect citizens’ liberty. In so holding, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that “[a]t the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe and the mystery of human life.”[4]

    One can hardly find decisions or language (the “mystery of life” passage) more anti-democratic and more untethered to the Constitution’s text.

    It should come as no surprise that liberal and conservative scholars overwhelmingly condemned Roe’s reasoning. Even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believed that Roe was far too sweeping, such that “it seemed to have stopped the momentum on the side of change.”[5] Additionally, as Professor John Hart Ely stated:

What is frightening about Roe is that this super-protected right is not inferable from the language of the Constitution, the framers’ thinking respecting the specific problem in issue, any general value derivable from the provisions they included, or the nation’s governmental structure. . . . And that, I believe . . . is a charge that can responsibly be leveled at no other decision of the past twenty years. At times the inferences the Court has drawn from the values the Constitution marks for special protection have been controversial, even shaky, but never before has its sense of an obligation to draw one been so obviously lacking.[6]

    Likewise,  Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe stated that “one of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”[7] The list goes on and on, but you get the point.

    It should also come as no surprise that, in current discourse, very few scholars defend Roe on its merits.

    The Court should have never gotten involved in the abortion issue. Because the Constitution was silent on this issue, and because no provision could have possibly been interpreted to protect a right to abortion, this was a matter for the people to decide, not nine unelected judges.

        B.    Abortion is not inferable from any textually-based right.

    The above argument is not meant to suggest that the Court cannot and should not create unenumerated constitutional rights, particularly where those rights are inferable from the text. Certainly, the First Amendment right to free speech implies a right to assembly. Likewise, the Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination implies that the prosecution cannot comment on a defendant’s refusal to take the stand at trial (this is not an implied right per se, but you get the point). Similarly, the Sixth Amendment right to counsel implies the right to effective assistance of counsel and the Eighth Amendment ban on cruel and unusual punishment implies a right to be free from punishments that are disproportionate to the crime of conviction (or the defendant’s blameworthiness).

    Nowhere in the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, however, is the right to abortion even remotely inferable. And that is the point. There was no constitutional basis for creating this right.

        C.    Abortion is not deeply rooted in the nation’s history and tradition.

    To the extent that scholars and some members of the Court support the substantive due process doctrine and the creation of unenumerated rights under this doctrine, it comes with two caveats: first, those rights must be deeply rooted in the nation’s history and traditions. For example, such rights include, but are not limited to, the right to travel and the right to educate and rear one’s children.[8] The right to abortion, however, is not deeply rooted in our nation’s history and tradition and was widely outlawed for most of American history.

    Additionally, the asserted unenumerated right must be carefully and narrowly described. In Washington v. Glucksberg, the Court emphasized this point when holding that the Constitution did not protect a right to assisted suicide.[9] In so doing, the Court emphasized that its members should be hesitant to create unenumerated rights because doing prevents the people in each state from deciding these issues democratically and thus from determining from the bottom up, not the top-down, which unenumerated rights should be recognized.

    The Court’s decisions in Roe and Casey underscore the problem with creating nebulous unenumerated rights, such as the right to “privacy” and “liberty,” and then creating new rights based on these broad formulations. Specifically, these so-called rights have no conceivable limitations and could theoretically encompass unenumerated rights (and policy outcomes) that the justices deem desirable, that have no relationship to the Constitution, and that reflect nothing more than subjectivity and arbitrariness. That is a prescription for anti-democratic governance because it allows nine unelected judges to impose their policy predilections on an entire nation – without any accountability whatsoever. After all, why doesn’t the right to privacy and liberty encompass a right to use illegal drugs, marry a family member, or commit suicide? That, in a nutshell, is the problem with Roe.

    It's also the problem with relying on natural rights theory to create unenumerated rights. Such an approach would be equally, if not more, broad and limitless than privacy and liberty, and would cause the same problem: the justices could “discover” whatever right they want whenever they wanted. This would lead to a constitutional jurisprudence of the most undemocratic kind.

    Ultimately, Roe and Casey are likely to be overturned despite principles of stare decisis. These decisions were, as Justice Alito said in his draft opinion, egregiously wrong.

II.    Overturning Roe will not endanger other constitutional rights.

    Some commentators have suggested that overturning Roe and Casey will lead the Court to overturn other decisions, such as Loving v. Virginia, which rightly invalidated bans on interracial marriage, and Obergefell v. Hodges, which rightly invalidated bans on same-sex marriage.[10] This concern is misplaced. Unlike Roe, cases such as Loving and Obergefell were based in substantial part on the text, namely, the Equal Protection Clause.

    Roe, however, was not – and that again is the problem. Indeed, a plausible argument could be made that abortion bans violate the Equal Protection Clause. Specifically, such bans prohibit women from participating equally in the social, economic, and political aspects of our society because they force women to bear the financial, emotional, and psychological burdens of an unwanted pregnancy. Had Roe been based on the Equal Protection Clause, it would have had a sounder and more justifiable constitutional basis.

III.    The real threat that overturning Roe and Casey presents.

    Despite Roe’s and Casey’s obvious flaws, overturning these decisions at this point – nearly fifty years after the Court decided Roe – will severely undermine the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

    To be sure, the public’s opinion of the Court results, at least in part, from the perception that some decisions reflect the Court’s current ideological composition. When the justices’ votes conveniently and consistently align with their policy preferences – and constitutional meaning changes based on whether a majority of the justices is liberal or conservative – the perception is that politics, not law, and party affiliation, not principle, motivate the Court’s decisions. Of course, although the justices continually emphasize that their decisions are never motivated by policy preferences, the fact remains that perception matters more than reality. Indeed, it is reality. Any decision that denies Petitioners the ability to seek relief in federal court would re-enforce this perception. It would suggest that constitutional meaning can – and does – change simply because the political and ideological predilections of the justices change. It would suggest that constitutional rights, however, ill-founded, can be tossed in the proverbial garbage simply because there are more conservatives on the Court in 2022 than there were in 1973 or 1992. That is the point – and the problem – with overturning Roe and Casey now. In short, yes, Roe and Casey were terrible decisions, but at this juncture, overruling them is almost certain to cause more harm than good, particularly to the Court’s legitimacy and to women. On the merits, however, the downfall of Roe and Casey is understandable as a matter of constitutional law.

      In any event, Roe and Casey are perfect examples of how not to create unenumerated rights. When you give the Supreme Court the right to identify enumerated rights for an entire nation based on broad standards that invite subjectivity and arbitrariness, and when you base your view of a decision’s legitimacy on whether it comports with your policy predilections, democracy truly is in danger. The Court’s job is to interpret the Constitution, not to reach outcomes that you like. Put simply, the process by which the Court reaches its decisions is equally, if not more, important than the outcomes themselves.

 

[1] U.S. Const., Amend. XIV.

[2] 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[3] Id.

[4] 505 U.S. 833 (1992).

[5] Meredith Heagney, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Offers Critique of Roe v. Wade During Law School Visit (May 15, 2013), available at: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Offers Critique of Roe v. Wade During Law School Visit | University of Chicago Law School (uchicago.edu)

[6] John Hart Ely, The Wages of Crying Wolf: A Comment on Roe v. Wade, 82 YALE L.J. 920 (1973).

[7] Laurence Tribe, The Supreme Court, 1972 Term–Foreword: Toward a Model of Roles in the Due Process of Life and Law, 87 Harvard Law Review 1, 7 (1973).

[8] See, e.g., Meyer v. Nebraska, 262 U.S. 390 (1923); Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972).

[9] 521 U.S. 702 (1997)

[10] 388 U.S. 1 (1967);  576 U.S. 644 (2015).

May 8, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Court Reform, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, April 23, 2022

Why Judicial Deference Matters

Public confidence in the United States Supreme Court is declining because many citizens believe that politics, not law, motivate the Court’s decisions.[1] That belief is not likely to improve, particularly as the Court prepares to issue decisions on abortion, the right to bear arms, and religious liberty, which may be decided by a single vote.

Part of the problem, aside from the fact that, on divisive social issues, the justices’ decisions so conveniently align with their policy predilections, is that the Court often gets involved when it should defer to the legislative and executive branches. Indeed, judicial deference can – and should – play a key role in preserving the Court’s legitimacy and in demonstrating that the Court is not a political institution.

A.    Cases where judicial deference was appropriate

Below are several examples of where the Court should have deferred to federal and state legislatures.

        1.    Clinton v. New York

In Clinton v. New York, Congress passed, and President George H. W. Bush signed, the Line Item Veto Act, which authorized the president to veto specific spending provisions in duly-enacted legislation to reduce unnecessary government spending.[2] The Act also gave Congress the authority to override by a majority vote the president’s line-item vetoes.

The question before the Court was whether the Act violated the Constitution’s Presentment Clause, which states in part as follows:

Every Bill which shall have passed the House of Representatives and the Senate, shall, before it become a Law, be presented to the President of the United States: If he approve he shall sign it, but if not he shall return it, with his Objections to that House in which it shall have originated, who shall enter the Objections at large on their Journal, and proceed to reconsider it. If after such Reconsideration two thirds of that House shall agree to pass the Bill, it shall be sent, together with the Objections, to the other House, by which it shall likewise be reconsidered, and if approved by two thirds of that House, it shall become a Law.[3]

Based on this broad language, was the Line Item Veto Act unconstitutional? Well, it depends. Reasonable jurists can certainly study the historical record and the founders’ original understanding of the Presentment Clause and arrive at different conclusions. Given this fact, why did the Court get involved and, by a 6-3 vote, invalidate a law that both the legislative and executive branches agreed would reduce wasteful government spending and promote fiscal responsibility?[4]

            2.    Kennedy v. Louisiana

In Kennedy v. Louisiana, the Court considered whether a Louisiana law authorizing the death penalty for raping a child under the age of twelve violated the Eighth Amendment, which states that “[e]xcessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.”[5]  Is it “cruel and unusual” to execute a person for raping a child under the age of twelve? Again, it depends – not on the Constitution’s text, but on a jurist’s subjective values. As with the Presentment Clause, you can certainly study the historical record and the founders’ original understanding of “cruel and unusual” and arrive at different conclusions. As such, why are nine unelected and life-tenured judges in a better position to make this determination than legislators in Louisiana? They aren’t – and that is the point.

But that didn’t stop the Court from intervening and, in a 5-4 decision, invalidating the law. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that the determination of whether a punishment is “cruel and unusual” depended on “evolving standards of decency that mark the progress of a maturing society,” and on the Court’s “reasoned judgment.”[6] In other words, the Court can reach whatever decisions it wants, based on whatever its members feel at the time.

            3.    Citizens United v. FEC

In Citizens United v. FEC, the Court invalidated legislation that restricted corporations, labor unions, and other associations – within sixty days of a general election and thirty days of a primary – from making an “electioneering communication.”[7] The legislation’s purpose was to prohibit corporations and other entities from using money to influence federal elections (and primaries) and thereby gain unfair access to elected officials.[8]

The question before the Court was whether this legislation violated the First Amendment, which provides in relevant part that Congress “shall make no law … abridging the freedom of speech.”[9] Based on this broad language, was the legislation unconstitutional? The answer certainly doesn’t depend on the Constitution’s text.

Indeed, equally persuasive arguments can be made for and against the legislation’s constitutionality. As such, why did the Court get involved and, in a divisive, 5-4 decision, invalidate legislation that had the salutary objective of reducing undue influence in the electoral process? Put differently, why should the Court intervene to invalidate duly enacted legislation when the Constitution does not compel such a result, and where, as in Citizens United, doing so undermines equal participation in the democratic process?

To make matters worse, in reaching this decision, the Court overturned its decision only twenty-three years earlier in Austin v. Michigan Chamber of Commerce, where the Court held that Congress may restrict corporate expenditures to reduce the distorting effects of corporate wealth on the marketplace of ideas.[10] The Court’s decision to overrule Austin suggested that the Constitution’s meaning depends on the ideological and policy predilections of its current members and that constitutional meaning reflects those predilections.

The Court should have minded its own business and never intervened.

            4.    Shelby County v. Holder

In Shelby County v. Holder – another 5-4 decision – the Court invalidated two provisions of the Voting Rights Act even though: (1) the Senate had voted unanimously to re-authorize these provisions; (2) neither the Constitution’s text (in Shelby, the Tenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments) nor the Court’s “congruence and proportionality” test arguably compelled this result.[11] Once again, why did the Court get involved?

            5.    National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius – Chief Justice John Roberts Gets It Right (albeit in a disingenuous                            way)

In National Federation of Independent Investors v. Sebelius, Chief Justice John Roberts embraced judicial deference when voting to uphold the Affordable Care Act’s constitutionality.[12] Let’s be honest: Chief Justice Roberts’ reliance on Congress’s taxing power probably wasn’t due to his sincere belief that the individual mandate penalty was a proper use of that power. Rather, Chief Justice Roberts likely believed that invalidating the Act would tarnish the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

As a result, Justice Roberts deferred to the coordinate branches, stating that “[p]roper respect for a coordinate branch of the government requires that we strike down an Act of Congress only if the lack of constitutional authority to pass [the] act in question is clearly demonstrated.”[13] Chief Justice Roberts’ decision is somewhat ironic because his desire to preserve the Court’s institutional legitimacy – and avoid the perception that politics motivate the Court’s decisions – has arguably led Roberts to reach decisions based on his subjective view of how the public will react to a decision rather than on a principled interpretation of the law. Put simply, it appears that Chief Justice Roberts is no longer an umpire.[14]

            6.    Roe v. Wade – and the ugliness of substantive due process

Nowhere is deference more appropriate than where the Constitution is only subject to one interpretation. This was precisely the case in Roe v. Wade, a decision so untethered to the Constitution’s text that even Justice Ruther Bader Ginsburg could not bring herself to support the Court’s reasoning.[15]

The Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution provides in relevant part that “No state shall … deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”[16] Thus, the Due Process Clause is a procedural guarantee; it ensures that the state cannot arbitrarily and unfairly deprive citizens of life, liberty, or property.

Where in this language can a right to abortion be found? Nowhere – no matter how hard you look. As such, the Court should have left the decision of whether to permit abortion to the states – and the democratic process.

But that didn’t happen. And the path that the Court took to create a right to abortion made no sense whatsoever.

Specifically, in Griswold v. Connecticut, the Court held that the Constitution contained invisible “penumbras” that enabled the Court to unilaterally identify unenumerated rights – regardless of whether the Constitution’s text could support creating these rights.[17] This approach, known as “substantive due process,” states that the word “liberty” in the Due Process Clause encompasses certain unenumerated rights that are so essential to liberty that no process could justify their deprivation. In other words, the Court held that it could create whatever rights it wanted, even if the Constitution’s text provided no support for the creation of these rights.

Based on that flawed reasoning, the Court in Griswold held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s text miraculously contained an unenumerated right to privacy. And the Court in Roe – in a “raw exercise of judicial power,” – held that the so-called right to privacy was “broad enough” to encompass a right to abortion.

This isn’t a joke.

It actually happened.

It’s not surprising that conservative and liberal scholars have almost uniformly condemned the reasoning on which Roe was based. As Professor John Hart Ely stated:

What is frightening about Roe is that this super-protected right is not inferable from the language of the Constitution, the framers’ thinking respecting the specific problem in issue, any general value derivable from the provisions they included, or the nation’s governmental structure. . . . And that, I believe . . . is a charge that can responsibly be leveled at no other decision of the past twenty years. At times the inferences the Court has drawn from the values the Constitution marks for special protection have been controversial, even shaky, but never before has its sense of an obligation to draw one been so obviously lacking.[18]

Indeed, even Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg believed that Roe was far too sweeping, such that “it seemed to have stopped the momentum on the side of change.”[19] Likewise,  Harvard Law Professor Laurence Tribe stated that “one of the most curious things about Roe is that, behind its own verbal smokescreen, the substantive judgment on which it rests is nowhere to be found.”[20]

If there was ever an issue where the Court should have deferred to democratic choice, it was on abortion. The fact that it didn’t should trouble citizens of all political persuasions. When you look to the Court, rather than the democratic process, to create new unenumerated rights, you give the Court the power to impose its will on an entire nation regardless of constitutional constraints. The risk in doing so is that, when the Court’s members change, so too may the rights that the Court previously deemed fundamental. A perfect example is Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, where a conservative majority may limit, if not eliminate, the right to abortion. As they say, the chickens have come home to roost.

That’s what happens when you ask the Court to decide unilaterally what should be decided democratically.

B.    Basing decisions on underlying purposes is an invitation to subjectivity and arbitrariness

It makes no sense to argue that, in the face of constitutional ambiguity, the Court should examine the underlying purposes of a particular provision to discern constitutional meaning. A purpose-driven analysis is an invitation to subjectivity, bias, and arbitrariness. To be sure, most constitutional provisions have multiple – and broad – purposes that judges can construe differently. As Justice Scalia stated, basing a decision on the broad (and often multiple and conflicting) purposes of a constitutional provision leaves judges “out to sea” where nothing but subjectivity reins – as it does in those “penumbras” that the Court in Griswold invented to create an unenumerated right out of thin air.[21]

Of course, the Court does have the power to say “what the law is,” and in some instances, the Court should not defer when faced with constitutional ambiguity, particularly where rights are inferable from the Constitution’s text.[22] For example, it’s certainly reasonable to conclude that the right to counsel implies the right to effective assistance of counsel, and that the right to free speech implies the right to association.[23] However, there are also instances where unenumerated rights are not readily inferable from the text, or where different but equally plausible interpretations of the text are possible.  That was the case in Clinton, Citizens United, and Kennedy (and a host of other cases). And in Griswold and Roe, no honest jurist could claim that the right to privacy and abortion, respectively, were inferable from the Due Process Clause. What’s more, in Washington v. Glucksberg, the Court held that the Fourteenth Amendment’s Due Process Clause did not encompass a right to assisted suicide.[24] So the Fourteenth Amendment protects the right to terminate a pregnancy but not the right to terminate your own life when, for example, you have Stage Four pancreatic cancer. This is what happens when judges base their decisions on little more than subjective values and gift wrap their policy preferences in dishonest legal analysis.

The Court should remember, as Chief Justice Roberts emphasized, that “[p]roper respect for a coordinate branch of the government requires that we strike down an Act of Congress only if the lack of constitutional authority to pass [the] act in question is clearly demonstrated.”[25] The Court should adopt the same approach when interpreting the Constitution’s text. To be sure, human beings do have natural rights that exist independently of and should not be limited by governments or constitutions. That doesn’t mean, however, that the Court should have the power to identify those rights. If it did, there would be no limits on the Court’s power.

We live in a democracy. That gives the people, not philosopher kings, the right to participate in the democratic process and create laws from the bottom up. When the Court interferes with these processes and makes decisions that lack any reasonable basis in the Constitution’s text, it undermines democracy and liberty, and erodes the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

Simply put, the Constitution does not give nine unelected and life-tenured judges the right to define “one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life,” or to define “liberty in its spatial and in its more transcendent dimensions.”[26] That right belongs to the people.

 

[1] See Hannah Fingerhut, Low Public Confidence in the Supreme Court as Breyer Retires (January 27, 2022), available at: Low public confidence in Supreme Court as Breyer retires - ABC News (go.com)

[2] 524 U.S. 417 (1996).

[3] U.S. Const., Art. I, Sec. 7, Cl. 2 and 3.

[4] 524 U.S. 417.

[5] U.S. Const., Amend. VIII.

[6] 554 U.S. 407 (2008); Trop v. Dulles, 356 U.S. 86 (1958).

[7] An “electioneering communication” was defined as a “broadcast, cable, or satellite communication that mentioned a candidate within 60 days of a general election or 30 days of a primary.”

[8] 524 U.S. 417.

[9] U.S. Const., Amend. I.

[10] 494 U.S. 652 (1990).

[11] 570 U.S. 529 (2013).

[12] 567 U.S. 519 (2012).

[13] Id. (emphasis added).

[14] See Katarina Mantell, The Umpire of the Court – Biography and Judicial Philosophy of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, available at: The Umpire of the Court - Biography and Judicial Philosophy of Chief Justice John G. Roberts, Jr. (shu.edu)

[15] Meredith Heagney, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Offers Critique of Roe v. Wade During Law School Visit (May 15, 2013), available at: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Offers Critique of Roe v. Wade During Law School Visit | University of Chicago Law School (uchicago.edu)

[16] U.S. Const., Amend. XIV.

[17] 381 U.S. 479 (1965); Steven H. Aden, Roe v. Wade Was An Abuse of Discretion, Exercise in Raw Judicial Power (October 30, 2013), available at: Roe v. Wade Was an "Abuse of Discretion," Exercise in Raw Judicial Power - LifeNews.com

[18] John Hart Ely, The Wages of Crying Wolf: A Comment on Roe v. Wade, 82 YALE L.J. 920 (1973).

[19]  Meredith Heagney, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Offers Critique of Roe v. Wade During Law School Visit (May 15, 2013), available at: Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Offers Critique of Roe v. Wade During Law School Visit | University of Chicago Law School (uchicago.edu)

[20] Laurence Tribe, The Supreme Court, 1972 Term–Foreword: Toward a Model of Roles in the Due Process of Life and Law, 87 Harvard Law Review 1, 7 (1973).

[21] 381 U.S. 479 (1965).

[22] Marbury v. Madison, 5 U.S. 137 (1803).

[23] See Strickland v. Washington, 466 U.S. 668 (1984).

[24] 521 U.S. 702 (1997).

[25] 567 U.S. 519 (2012) (emphasis added).

[26] Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833 (1992); Lawrence v. Texas,  539 U.S. 558 (2003).

April 23, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (2)

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Fifth & Seventh Circuits Uphold Sanctions for Seasoned Attorneys, Rejecting Their Requests for Relief Based on Their Experience--Part One

As a legal writing professor, I often blog about appellate work for new attorneys or law students.  For my next two blogs, however, my comments definitely include newer lawyers and those of us (like me) who have lower bar numbers and years of practice experience.  On April 8, 2022, the Fifth Circuit reminded an experienced attorney:  “When litigating in federal district court, it is often advisable to read the court’s orders.”  Scott v. MEI, Inc., 21-10680 (5th Cir. Apr. 8, 2022) (per curiam).  Also on April 8, the Seventh Circuit refused to reverse sanctions against a self-claimed “seasoned litigator,” even though the litigator claimed being required to complete basic CLE classes was “demeaning.”  Bovinett v. Homeadvisor, Inc., 20-3221 (7th Cir. Apr. 8 2022).  Both orders take pains to remind all counsel, even those claiming to be very experienced, of the duty to competently follow the law in the trial and appellate courts.  This month, I’ll focus on the Fifth Circuit, and next month, I’ll discuss the Seventh Circuit.

In the Fifth Circuit case, Scott v. MEI, Inc., the district court sanctioned Dallas attorney Matthew R. Scott for misleading the court and wasting opposing counsel’s time.  Scott (5th Cir. Apr. 8, 2022).  Scott’s defense, in essence, was that he misread an order granting leave to file a second amended complaint. See Debra Cassens Weiss, 5th Circuit Tells Lawyer It Is “Often Advisable to Read the Court's Orders,” Upholds $1,250 Sanction, ABA Journal (Apr. 11, 2022).  Like many similar orders, the district court’s order allowing amendment of several new claims granted Scott’s client only the right to file; of course, Scott needed to actually present the second amended complaint for filing in order to add the claims.  He failed to do so, “assum[ing]” permission to file equaled filing.  Scott at 2.  Scott then missed the deadline for any additional amended complaints.  Id. at 3.  Nevertheless, Scott moved late to file a third amended complaint discussing the never-filed second amendment claims and the original claims.  Id.  When the court questioned Scott about adding new claims after missing several deadlines, Scott erroneously argued the third amended complaint would only remove claims, and would not add new issues.  Id.  “That kind of parlous behavior would, the [district] court reasoned, constitute misrepresentation and conduct unbecoming a member of the bar.”  Id.  Accordingly, the court ordered Scott to pay his opponent $1,250 as “reimbursement for ‘reasonable attorney’s fees incurred in responding’ to the untimely motion for leave to amend and to the show cause order.”  Id. at 4.

Nonetheless, Scott asked the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals for relief from the sanction, stating:  “I apologize to the court for my mistakes, but I assure the court that those mistakes are not representative of my abilities as an attorney nor evidence of misconduct.”  Id.  Scott repeated his explanation that he misread the order granting leave to file the second amended complaint, and also claimed he had experience litigating “around 750 lawsuits” and obtained referrals from other attorneys.  Id.; see Cassens Weiss, 5th Circuit.  Scott also raised four grounds for reversal, including an interesting claim “that it is illegitimate for a court to order counsel to reimburse another party for a response to a court order or a party’s motion.”  Id. at 5.

The Fifth Circuit began its opinion:  “[w]hen litigating in federal district court, it is often advisable to read the court’s orders. They are not merely ‘the breath of an unfee’d lawyer,’ and an attorney who treats them as such does so at his own peril.”  Id. at 1.  The court then reasoned “[t]his entire debacle was the result of Scott’s failure to follow a court order, so the district court was well within its legal authority to take disciplinary action.”  Id. at 2.  The Fifth Circuit rejected Scott’s arguments on appeal as “paper-thin” and noted the claim of “illegitimacy” was frivolous and based only on Scott’s incorrect “hunch” about what the law might be.  Id. at 4, 6.  The court concluded:  “Scott made a mistake. The district court imposed a reasonable sanction to reimburse [the opponent] for the expense of dealing with that mistake. Law, fact, and logic itself support that course of action.”  Id. at 6.

I will definitely be using the “law, fact, and logic itself” line in the future, and I will write about the Seventh Circuit and its approval of a sanction requiring experienced counsel to attend a class like the “Basic Illinois State Bar Association’s Basic Skills for Newly Admitted Attorneys” next time.   Until then, happy drafting. 

April 16, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Ethics, Legal Profession, Legal Writing | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, March 27, 2022

A Few Thoughts on Ketanji Brown Jackson

The United States Senate should confirm Ketanji Brown Jackson to the United States Supreme Court. Judge Jackson unquestionably possesses the requisite qualifications, experience, and character.

Robert Bork should have been confirmed too.

And Brett Kavanaugh was rightly confirmed.

The same is true for, among others, Sonya Sotomayor, Elena Kagan, Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts.

Why?

Because disagreement with a nominee’s interpretive philosophy (e.g., originalism or living constitutionalism) or disagreement concerning how a nominee might rule on specific legal issues (e.g., abortion) should never be a legitimate basis upon which to reject a nominee. Rather, the focus should be on a nominee’s qualifications, experience, and character, with particular emphasis on a nominee’s judicial temperament.

Sadly, however, the confirmation process has devolved into a political and ideologically-driven soap opera that bears little resemblance to reason, objectivity, or fairness, and that has politicized the Supreme Court and undermined its (and Congress’s) institutional legitimacy. And some legal scholars – and politicians – have contributed to the problem by often basing their support or opposition on whether a nominee’s perceived political views comport with their policy predilections.

How sad, and shameful.

***

Ketanji Brown Jackson’s hearings underscored how politicized, divisive, and, quite frankly, ridiculous the confirmation process has become. To be clear, Judge Jackson is eminently qualified to serve on the Court – and a person of great character and integrity. She graduated from Harvard University and Harvard Law School. She clerked for Justice Stephen Breyer. She is a respected judge on the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and the American Bar Association determined, as it did with Justices Kavanaugh and Barrett, that she was “well qualified” to serve on the Court.

But these facts didn’t stop the confirmation hearing from devolving into a political circus.

For example, Senator Marsha Blackburn asked Judge Jackson to define ‘woman.’[1] Senator Ted Cruz questioned Judge Jackson regarding her views on critical race theory, and whether she agreed with the views espoused in Ibram X. Kendi’s book, “Antiracist Baby.”[2] Whatever one’s views on critical race theory, questioning Judge Jackson on this issue was inappropriate – and entirely irrelevant. Also, Senators Tom Cotton and Lindsey Graham attempted to characterize Judge Jackson as too lenient on sex offenders (a claim that was quite misleading and inaccurate).[3] And Senator Cory Booker, who, while objecting to Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation, declared that “this is the closest I’ll get to an ‘I am Spartacus’ moment,” delivered an impassioned speech that seemed a bit too contrived and inauthentic – a criticism that has plagued Booker for years.[4]  

Despite this nonsense, Judge Jackson performed admirably at the confirmation hearing and her testimony raised no issues concerning her qualifications, experience, or character, particularly her judicial temperament. As such, the Senate should confirm Judge Jackson.

Unfortunately, however, the hearings were only one component of this political soap opera.

***

What’s equally disheartening is the predictable behavior of some scholars who often support or oppose a nominee based solely on ideology.[5] Their support or opposition is not based upon the nominee’s qualifications, experience, or character, but on whether they believe that a particular nominee will reach outcomes that they support. As Ilya Shapiro explained when discussing Robert Bork’s failed nomination:

When Justice Lewis Powell unexpectedly announced his retirement in June 1987, it set the stage for what people already recognized was a pivotal moment in the fight for the Supreme Court. The Robert Bork nomination represents the moment when the scales fell from conservative eyes over what they perceived were unfair tactics in defeating a nominee who would finally, finally, start reversing the activism of the Warren and Burger Courts. And not because the nominee was perceived as unqualified, unethical, too much of a crony or assorted parochial concerns that had sunk nominees in the past. This was purely about ideology.[6]

Such an approach is intellectually dishonest and contributes to politicizing the rule of law and the Court, and to undermining these scholars’ credibility. Indeed, some law professors at Notre Dame (and approximately 5,000 lawyers) signed a letter opposing Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation to the Court, citing reasons so flimsy and ideologically-driven (i.e., they didn’t like the outcomes that they speculated Barrett would reach on certain issues) that it begged the question of whether they truly embraced ideological diversity and eschewed the politicization of the confirmation process.[7] Unfortunately, when law students witness their professors supporting or opposing nominees based on ideology, it sends the message that ideology trumps intellectual honesty (and the rule of law), and that implicit (or explicit) biases trump impartiality. Put simply, disagreeing with a nominee’s political views or the outcomes that a nominee may reach in particular cases is no reason to oppose that nominee’s confirmation.

As they say, elections have consequences.

To be clear, it’s certainly appropriate to reject a nominee based on their judicial temperament, but not based on their judicial philosophy. I vehemently disagree, for example, with living constitutionalism, which I believe is a fundamentally dishonest and outcome-driven approach to constitutional interpretation. But that disagreement would never cause me to oppose a nominee. The real question should be whether a nominee’s rulings – particularly those with which you disagree – are based on a reasonable interpretation of a constitutional provision or statutory text (even if you disagree with that interpretation). In other words, are such rulings legally defensible? Do they reflect a good-faith effort to interpret text, precedent, and history, or do they evince a desire to reach outcomes that comport with a nominee’s policy predilections? If the latter, that would be a reason to oppose a nominee. But opposing a nominee because you disagree with their interpretive philosophy, opinion of Roe v. Wade, or support for “substantive due process” is unwarranted and unfair.

***

Finally, the confirmation process should be about the nominee as an individual, not as a member of a group. While increasing the Court’s diversity is a vital and laudable objective, President Biden made a mistake when he indicated that he would only consider nominating a Black woman. President Biden should have simply nominated Judge Jackson because she is eminently qualified and incredibly accomplished. She has impeccable character. In short, her qualifications, experience, and character are second to none.

And as stated above, Robert Bork, who was also incredibly accomplished, should have been confirmed.

Likewise, Brett Kavanaugh was rightly confirmed, as Senator Susan Collins argued in her speech supporting Kavanaugh’s confirmation.[8]  

The same is true for Justices Sonya Sotomayor Amy Coney Barrett, Neil Gorsuch, Elena Kagan, Samuel Alito, and John Roberts. What reasons – besides those reflecting ideology, bias, and politics – justified voting against any of these nominees? None.

Remember the days when the United States Senate confirmed Antonin Scalia by a vote of 98-0 and Ruth Bader Ginsburg by a vote of 96-3? Both were among the most outstanding justices in the Court’s history and their confirmation enjoyed bipartisan support. They were also friends, which shows that you can disagree with someone and still maintain a healthy relationship.

Judge Jackson deserves bipartisan support too. The time has come to stop politicizing the confirmation process and the Court. She should be confirmed.

 

[1] See Myah Ward, Blackburn to Jackson: Can You Define ‘The Word Woman’? (March 22, 2022), available at: Blackburn to Jackson: Can you define ‘the word woman’? - POLITICO.

[2] See Dani Di Placido, Ted Cruz’s Bizarre ‘Antiracism Baby’ Tirade Backfires (March 24, 2022), available at: https://www.forbes.com/sites/danidiplacido/2022/03/24/ted-cruzs-bizarre-antiracism-baby-tirade-backfires/.

[3] See Linda Qiu, Critics of Jackson’s Child Sex Abuse Sentences Backed Judges With Similar Records (March 25, 2022), available at: Critics of Jackson's child sex abuse sentences backed judges with similar records - The San Diego Union-Tribune (sandiegouniontribune.com).

[4] See, e.g., Chris Smith, He Seems So Hammed Up: Cory Booker Battles Rivals Who Say He Has An Authenticity Problem (January 25, 2019), available at: “He Seems So Hammed Up”: Cory Booker Battles Rivals Who Say He Has an Authenticity Problem | Vanity Fair.

[5] For example, 850 female law professors signed a letter supporting Justice Jackson’s nomination. But only a fraction of that number supported Amy Coney Barrett. Why? Ideology.

[6] Ilya Shapiro, The Original Sin of Robert Bork (September 9, 2020), available at: The Original Sin of Robert Bork | Cato Institute. (emphasis added).

[7] See, e.g., Susan Adams, Hundreds of Notre Dame Faculty Sign Letters Opposing Amy Coney Barrett Nomination (October 14, 2020), available at: Hundreds Of Notre Dame Faculty Sign Letters Opposing Amy Coney Barrett Nomination (forbes.com); Alliance for Justice, 5,000+ Lawyers Sign Open Letter Opposing Amy Coney Barrett SCOTUS Nomination, (October 9, 2020), available at: 5,000+ Lawyers Sign Open Letter Opposing Amy Coney Barrett SCOTUS Nomination — AFJ.

[8] See Brit McCandless Farmer, Why Susan Collins Votes “Yes” on Brett Kavanaugh (October 7, 2018), available at: Why Susan Collins voted “yes” on Brett Kavanaugh - 60 Minutes - CBS News.

March 27, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Current Affairs, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (5)

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Why Standards of Review Matter

    When the Supreme Court hear oral arguments yesterday in Berger v. North Carolina State Conference of the NAACP, the discussion seemingly centered around dry procedural minutiae and one of the banes of legal writing courses—the appropriate standard of review to answer the question. But the case demonstrates both the importance of those standards of review, and the way that procedural nuance can mask surprisingly broad political and policy subtexts.

    The case concerns North Carolina’s new voter ID law, which the North Carolina NAACP has challenged as unconstitutional. The North Carolina attorney general, a Democrat, is defending the law, but Republican state legislators in North Carolina seek to join the lawsuit to defend the statute’s constitutionality. The legislators argue that the attorney general was not sufficiently representing their interests because he was primarily seeking clarification on which voting law to enforce—without forcefully defending the constitutionality of the new voter ID law.

    Despite the seemingly mundane procedural posture of the case, the political subtext and repercussions are broad. Republicans want to see the voter ID enforced immediately, while Democrats did not support it from the outset. North Carolina’s Democratic governor initially vetoed the voter ID law, and Republican legislators passed it over his veto. Some of those same Republican legislators, now dubious that a Democratic attorney general truly seeks to uphold the voter ID law, believe they must intervene to preserve their interest in asserting that the law is constitutional.

    In a twist that should draw the attention of appellate attorneys and law students, the case may turn on the deference owed to the lower court, and thus the standard of review that ought to apply. Because the lower court ruled against the Republican legislator’s effort to intervene, the Supreme Court must decide whether to follow that lower court decision. Republican legislators argue that the Court should apply de novo review, allowing the Supreme Court to consider the legal issue afresh without any deference to the lower court’s ruling. They claim that the Supreme Court should not simply review the lower court’s ruling for an abuse of discretion—meaning that the lower court’s decision was so arbitrary and capricious as to hardly be a legal ruling at all—because their decision refusing to allow intervention was purely legal, not the kind of fact-driven decision best left to lower courts. But opponents respond that the Republican legislatures seek a ruling of whether their interests are adequately represented by the state attorney general—an inherently fact-specific inquiry to be made by lower courts with a closer relationship to the parties and a better view of the facts involved.

    A debate over standards of review may appear immaterial. Judges, after all, might reach whatever ruling they prefer irrespective of that standard, either by manipulating the standard they apply or by simply applying the correct standard more or less rigorously. But this case illustrates the ways in which the standard of review, when contested, can have a meaningful impact on the outcome of litigation. In many ways, it drove the direction of oral arguments, where Justices wondered how strong an interest the Republican legislators really had and whether other groups of legislators might also want to join the suit. Those questions, though framed as a legal inquiry, also contain a clear factual subtext; they require close examination of the details of every case where such intervention is a possibility. How the Court frames those questions—as either legal inquiries subject to de novo review of factual ones subject to review for an abuse of discretion—seems likely to control the outcome. The case thus provides a ready example of standards of review playing a crucial role in a case with broad political and policy implications.

March 22, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Legal Profession, Legal Writing, Moot Court, Oral Argument, State Appeals Courts, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 19, 2022

Oral Argument Prep While Managing Life Too: Make a One-Sheet and Keep Your Sense of Humor

My first-year students participated in a traditional 1L moot court competition this week, making their first oral arguments.  As I helped guide the students through this rite of passage, I answered many anxious questions about content, presentation style, appropriate “court suit” fashion, and more.  In answer, I stressed the need to be prepared and flexible, and most of all, to enjoy the process.  My overall advice:  make a one-sheet, place the sheet in an organized binder to support a professional and successful argument, and don’t buy a new suit just for an argument.   

I stress the one-sheet because it worked for me.  Also, as a former state and federal appellate law clerk, and then an appellate specialist for years, I saw many oral arguments fail over lack of preparation and complicated podium notes.  Instead of fancy folders or notes, I suggest  students distill the argument to one piece of paper.  The process of making this one-sheet, in law school and practice, requires advocates to know their record and case law very well, and to create argument summaries taking no more than a sentence or two.  Plus, even if you drop one piece of paper, you can quickly pick it up and continue, unlike scattered index cards or multi-page notes. 

As part of my preparation to teach the one-sheet approach to oral argument this year, I once again read many blogs and articles to see if I could add any new advice.  I found a very helpful ABA Journal piece which perfectly summarized my appellate practice life before full-time teaching.  In A Working Mother's 32-Step Guide to Preparing for Oral Arguments, author, law professor, and former Dean Sarah Gerwig-Moore provides a humorous and helpful discussion of oral argument, especially the concerns of being an advocate, mother, and woman in an appellate court setting.  See ABA Journal, Nov. 18, 2019,

https://www.abajournal.com/voice/article/a-working-mother-prepares-for-oral-argument

I suggested my students read Gerwig-Moore’s piece, and many told me the humor helped them keep their argument preparation in perspective.   

Given how much my students enjoyed Gerwig-Moore’s 32-steps, I am also sharing them here.   Gerwig-Moore explained her preparation for a Spring 2019 law clinic oral argument in the Supreme Court of Georgia “that would decide an important question regarding the scope of issues cognizable in habeas corpus proceedings.”  See id.  As so often happens, her “oral argument coincided with a truly insane week or two of sports and other obligations for [her] sons.”  She explained, “[s]ometimes you just have to laugh to keep from crying. And—just as in baseball—there’s no crying in court.”  Id.

Here is Gerwig-Moore’s lighthearted summary of her oral argument preparation:

      1. Reread all briefs and entire case record, making notes and highlighting.
      2. Reread all laws cited. Realize you might need the full 150-year history of the statute—ask team to track that down. As they’re researching this, realize the milk in your refrigerator might be 150 years old.
      3. Reread every case cited in all briefs and make notes. Ask your team to create charts of cases and facts so you can see each one at a glance. Make sure to ask very nicely.
      4. Slice up your brief for the first draft of an outline.
      5. Slicing up the brief reminds you to slice up food. Your children need to eat. Cook dinner! Leave dishes in the sink.
      6. Question absolutely everything—even your own name. Stay up too late.
      7. Wake up too early. Wonder if dark circles under your eyes make you look too shrill. Consider buying undereye concealer.
      8. Decide on a few key record items you will need to memorize. Make breakfast for children while reciting these. Scowl when sons remark that this isn’t fun. Consider smiling more with record recitations. Scowl again.
      9. Let at least three people down. (These are likely to be close friends or family members.)
      10. Anticipate questions from the bench. Arrange mock arguments with colleagues who don’t mind insulting you. Consider inviting archrivals, too. Or your teenage offspring. They’ll definitely insult you.
      11. Feed pets. Feed children. Eat leftovers. Deposit dishes in the sink.
      12. Moot the argument. Send follow-up assignments to team. Thank team! Donuts are a good way to thank people! Consider bringing some donuts to work but then forget.
      13. Consider wardrobe. Pantsuit? Skirt suit? Dress? Clothes should be flattering—but not too flattering. It should be comfortable—but not too comfortable. Assess work shoes to decide which will help you see over the podium but not actually tip you over in court. Don’t even get started on all the ways you can mess up your hairstyle strategy.
      14. Simultaneously wish you were both much, much taller and much, much smaller (see musing above re: shoes).
      15. Reread everything.
      16. Hem your suit—and I am not making this up—while on a conference call, while sitting in your car watching your son play lacrosse.
      17. As you are sewing, notice your nails haven’t been done in months. Wonder how many people will actually notice your hands. Resolve not to be too demonstrative with hands while in court.
      18. Do all your other work and errands and at least one ridiculous extra thing (can you say “homemade” cookies for your kid’s class, anyone?) you committed to months ago.
      19. Try to see the case from opposing counsel’s perspective. Consider adopting this tactic with your children, but then (metaphorically) hit them with the ol’ “Because I said so.”
      20. Check in with client.
      21. Buy the best lipstick your credit card can handle. This is unquestionably Pirate by Chanel. Case closed. (See what you did there?)
      22. Be serious but not too serious. Be confident but not too confident. Be yourself but not too much of that either (e.g., suit sleeves should cover your justice tattoos).
      23. Eat one vegetable. Make children eat two vegetables. Pat self on back for being health guru.
      24. Reread everything. Condense argument down to a one-pager.
      25. Ponder a twist on the Dorothy Parker classic: Justice makes spectacles of women in spectacles (which cause issues with limited peripheral vision). Decide to wear contact lenses.
      26. Read notes from team. Wax philosophical on the notion that all team members are working with the same richness of the experience of your work.
      27. Whiten teeth. Sharpen fangs. Consider optics of fangs. Stow them in a tiny pocket right next to your heart.
      28. Reread everything.
      29. Decide you hate your suit. Wish that suits of armor were still a thing.
      30. No—not sigh—breathe.
      31. Reread everything. Boil down outline to one word and the dancing woman emoji.
      32. Set four alarm clocks. Or is it alarms clock?

Id.  Gerwig-Moore added a fun postscript, and if you want to know how the argument ended, please check out her article

I wish you all great oral arguments, with one-sheets and humor as your guides. 

March 19, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Humor, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, March 12, 2022

Appellate Oral Argument Tips

Nearly all lawyers and law students are familiar with the conventional advice regarding how to perform and maximize the persuasiveness of an appellate oral argument. For example, law students are taught to develop a persuasive theme, begin with the strongest argument, know the record, the law, and the standard of review, concede (or reconcile) unfavorable facts and precedent, never attack the adversary or lower court, never misrepresent the facts or law, and craft a compelling narrative.

This is good advice that can certainly enhance the persuasive value of an argument, increase the likelihood of success, and ensure that an advocate maintains credibility with the court. But do these techniques always work? No.

Below are several tips that attorneys should consider when preparing for an appellate oral argument.

1.    Begin by addressing the weaknesses in your argument.

Conventional wisdom suggests that you should begin with your strongest and most persuasive arguments. But that doesn’t always work.

Appellate judges aren’t stupid.

They know the law.

They know the record.

And they know what your strongest arguments are – and they probably don’t care.

Rather, they are concerned with the weaknesses in your argument and, during questioning, will probe those weaknesses with precision and consistency. So why adopt the predicable and formulaic approach of beginning with your strongest arguments? Indeed, some appellate judges probably aren’t even paying attention to you when you do so.

For example, in Maryland v. King, where the Court considered  whether a cheek swab of an arrestee's DNA violated the Fourth Amendment, the oral argument began as follows:

[Petitioner’s attorney]: Mr. Chief Justice, and may it please the Court: 11 Since 2009, when Maryland began to collect 12 DNA samples from arrestees charged with violent crimes 13 and burglary, there have been 225 matches, 75 prosecutions, and 42 convictions, including that of Respondent King.

Justice Scalia: Well, that's really good. I'll bet you, if you conducted a lot of unreasonable searches and seizures, you'd get more convictions, too. (Laughter.)

Justice Scalia: That proves absolutely nothing.

[Petitioner’s attorney]: Well, I think, Justice Scalia, it does, in fact, point out the fact that -- that the statute is working, and, in the State's view, the Act is constitutional.

Justice Scalia: So that's its purpose, to enable you to identify future criminals -- the perpetrators of future crimes? That's the purpose of it? I thought that that wasn't the purpose set forth in the -- in the statute.[1]

The Petitioner’s attorney probably and understandably believed that beginning with an argument about the statute’s efficacy would be persuasive.

The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, however, are very smart and perceptive. After reading the briefs, they are aware of your strongest arguments. They know the record and the law. They know, in many cases, how they are going to decide a case before an oral argument begins. And they have identified the weaknesses in your argument.

Accordingly, in some instances, begin by immediately addressing the weaknesses in your case. In other words, cut out the bullshit and get straight to the heart of the matter. After all, as an appellate advocate who has prepared extensively for oral argument, you probably know the questions – and concerns – that the judges will raise. Thus, why not begin by addressing those concerns and, in essence, preempting their questions? Doing so will enhance your credibility and your argument’s persuasive value. 

2.    Appellate courts care about their institutional legitimacy and your argument should reflect that reality.

The justices on the U.S. Supreme Court, along with judges on lower federal and state appellate courts, live in the real world. They understand that their decisions can – and often will – engender substantial criticism from the public, which can undermine the Court’s institutional legitimacy.

That’s why judging is a political, not merely a legal, endeavor. It’s also why the Supreme Court (and lower federal and state appellate courts) will render decisions based in part on perceptions about how the public will react to a particular decision.

Thus, when presenting your argument, be sure to provide the court with a workable, fair, and equitable solution that will produce an opinion that maintains an appellate court’s institutional legitimacy. Think about the opinion that the court will ultimately write. Would your argument result in an opinion that the court would embrace and that the public would find credible? If not, your chances of winning decrease substantially.

3.    The law isn’t everything – convince an appellate court that it is doing the right thing by ruling in your favor.

When judging moot court competitions recently, many, if not most, law students based their arguments primarily, if not exclusively, on precedent, emphasizing favorable case law and striving mightily to distinguish or reconcile unfavorable precedent. And to a substantial degree, these arguments were well-presented and persuasive.

But judges aren’t robots. They are human beings. They have emotions and biases. Perhaps most importantly, they want to reach decisions that enable them to sleep at night with a clear conscience.

That’s in part why courts have an on-again, off-again relationship with stare decisis. When judges believe that a prior case was wrongly decided, or will lead to a result that they find unjustifiable, they can – and often will – overturn precedent. And even though they will cloak their analysis in legal jargon, you can be sure that their decision is based on the fact that they believe they are doing the right thing.

To be clear, precedent is important. But it’s the beginning, not the end, of the inquiry.

For that reason, advocates should always consider the equities in a given case and appeal to principles of fairness and justice (and sometimes, emotion).

4.    Know who your friends are and target the swing justices.

Before oral argument, many appellate judges, after reviewing the record and reading the briefs, know how they are going to rule. And no matter what you say at oral argument, they aren’t going to change their minds.

Before oral argument at the U.S. Supreme Court, for example, you need to identify the justices that will likely support or oppose your position. Most importantly, you have to identify the swing justices and tailor your argument – and responses to questions – to those justices. For example, in Obergefell v. Hodges, legal scholars almost certainly knew that Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito would not vote to invalidate same-sex marriage bans. They also knew that Justice Kennedy was the swing justice and that the Petitioner’s arguments should focus on getting his vote.

To be sure, in many oral arguments before federal appellate courts, you will not know before the argument which judges will support or oppose your argument. But as the oral argument progresses, you will usually be able to identify the judges that support you, the ones that don’t, and those that are undecided. When you do, tailor your argument to the undecided, or swing, judges.

5.    Be conversational and relatable, not confrontational and rigid.

Again, when recently judging moot court competitions recently, it became quickly apparent that many of the competitors’ demeanors were excessively formal and impersonal. The rigidity with which the arguments were delivered – along with the defensive reactions to the judges’ questions – made it difficult, if not impossible, to have a genuine conversation with the advocates.

That approach is a mistake. An oral argument should be a conversation, not a confrontation.

Accordingly, when arguing before an appellate court, relax. Show the judges that you are a human being. Show the judges that you have a personality – and even emotion. Be conversational. Be confident. Be relatable. Be likable. Watch actor Edward Norton’s oral argument before the U.S. Supreme Court in The People v. Larry Flynt and you’ll get the point.

Judges – like all people – may be more likely to agree with a litigant that they like.

Of course, you should always be professional and respectful. But if you come across as a robot, you will appear inauthentic and preclude the type of connection with the judges that excellent appellate advocates achieve.

6.    Think of the one thing that you want to say – and say it in a way that the judges will not forget.

This needs no explanation.

Watch Matthew McConaughey’s closing argument in A Time to Kill.

 

[1] Maryland v. King, 569 U.S. 435 (2013), Transcript of Oral Argument, available at: https://www.supremecourt.gov/oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/2012/12-207-lp23.pdf. (emphasis added).

March 12, 2022 in Appellate Advocacy, Appellate Justice, Appellate Practice, Appellate Procedure, Federal Appeals Courts, Law School, Legal Profession, Moot Court, Oral Argument, United States Supreme Court | Permalink | Comments (1)