Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A Clean, Well-Written Argument

Simplicity is praised and inner thoughts revealed by the nation's Supreme Court Justices in a series of video interviews which have been made available on the internet.

The growing popularity of those videos and the comments made on them were featured in a recent article from Law.com (click here for their story). Some samples:

Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., for example, thinks lengthy citations to Web sites that are now common in briefs are an "obscene" distraction "with all those letters strung together," though he does not offer an alternative. Another bias: Roberts thinks the word "which" should be avoided almost every time. "It slows me down; it starts to sound like one of those old 19th century contracts -- ‘which' and ‘wherefore.'"

Justice Stephen Breyer seconds that emotion. "If I see [a brief that is] 50 pages, it can be 50 pages, but I'm already going to groan." On the other hand, he says, "If I see 30, I think, well, he thinks he has really got the law on his side because he only took up 30."

Justice Anthony Kennedy, it turns out, hates when lawyers turn nouns into verbs by tacking on "-ize" at the end, as in "incentivize." Such showy, made-up words, he sniffs, are "like wearing a very ugly cravat."

And Justice Antonin Scalia can't stand it when briefs refer to a precedent "and its progeny." He growls, "I think it was wonderful the first time it was used. It is trite now. Terribly trite. Get some other expression."

Typographical errors are a credibility killer, Scalia adds. "My goodness, if you can't even proofread your brief, how careful can I assume you are" in citing relevant cases?

Scalia also thinks that lawyers are wasting their time when they write a summary of their argument at the beginning of a brief. "I mean, why would I read the summary if I'm going to read the brief? Can you tell me why I should read it?"

But if you skip the summary to please Scalia, you risk annoying Justice Clarence Thomas. He tells Garner the summary section is the most important part, acting as a preview "like giving you, you know, what's going to be on TV next week."

1 comment:

  1. Actually, I need to learn how to write a 3 page argument for my Philosophy 5 course. Can you refer me to on-line examples? The options my instructor provided make me want to write an essay, not an argument. Therefore, I'm clear that I remain forever baffled.