Tuesday, June 2, 2009

I think I know what you mean...

I think the U.S. Supreme Court has gotten a little sloppy in its opinion-writing of late. Today, I had to cite two recent cases. I know the holdings of these cases. I've read them both, I've read commentary on them. I know what they stand for. In my written issue, I had already presented the two cases with a clear, concise statement of the holding. All I needed to do was add in the pinpoint cite. (That's the specific page number of the case that contains support for what I have written.)

In both of these cases, I couldn't find a pinpoint cite. I could not find a clear statement of the holding. For one case, I had to cite a range of 4 pages. From reading the full four pages, one can clearly see that the court found the statements to be testimonial. But they never actually wrote that sentence! It would have been so easy. Like this, court: The statements were testimonial. See? Four words. Easy.

The second case was even worse. My pinpoint cite would have looked like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure cite. First, go to page 3, then read the second paragraph of page 7, which directs you back to page 6, and then finally the last sentence of page 9. When you put it all together in that order, it becomes clear that the holding of the case is exactly what I say it is. I was able to condense the central holding of the case into one sentence. Why couldn't the court?

If I were Queen of the Court, I would make it a rule that each controlling opinion must have an introductory or concluding paragraph that clearly sets out the holding of the case. Such a rule would eliminate any confusion about what the actual holding of a case is. All the lower courts throughout the land would know exactly what you meant. And it would really help out all the lawyers who are required to provide pinpoint cites in their motions and briefs!

1 comment:

DBB said...

yes, terribly annoying, that is. But one would have to think it was done deliberately. Like they don't want to come out and say it.

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