Justice Scalia on Well-Written Briefs

Slate's blog on legal issues.
April 1 2008 2:44 AM

Justice Scalia on Well-Written Briefs

Like a fair number of other people , I'm completely captivated by Bryan Garner's videotaped interviews with Supreme Court justices on effective brief-writing.  There's no shortage of insights to be gleaned from these discussions -- particularly from the Chief Justice.  Of all of the interviews, however, Justice Scalia best summarized what's at stake in brief-writing with an anecdote from his D.C. Circuit days (roughly three and a half minutes into his first interview segment ):

Let me say first of all how important lawyers' briefs are.  One of the happiest events of my life was when I was sitting on the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit, we had a lot of administrative law cases, which tended to be long cases with many briefs, and I remember one case we had, involving standards for automobiles.  And there were a lot of intervenors and amici and what-not, and I read brief after brief, and I was really getting pretty punchy.  

And I picked up this one brief, and all of a sudden it really captured my attention: Everything was so felicitously put, it was elegant, it was crisp, you could see where the writer was going.  

And I said, who wrote this brief?   And I turned over the front and it made me so happy to see that it was one of the best lawyers in Washington.  And it made me very happy to know that you can tell the difference, you can really tell the difference.

(From what I can tell, he's referring to Center for Auto Safety v. Peck , 751 F.2d 1336 (D.C. Cir. 1985).  I won't try to guess which brief was his favorite.)

Brief-writing is the most-enjoyable part of my enjoyable job.  What I wouldn't give to someday write briefs that impress judges as much as the unnamed intervenor's brief impressed then-Judge Scalia.

A Side Note:   Justice Scalia and his interrogator, Bryan Garner, are collaborating on a book on effective advocacy: Making Your Case .



The Irritating Confidante

John Dickerson on Ben Bradlee’s fascinating relationship with John F. Kennedy.

My Father Invented Social Networking at a Girls’ Reform School in the 1930s

Renée Zellweger’s New Face Is Too Real

Sleater-Kinney Was Once America’s Best Rock Band

Can it be again?

The All The President’s Men Scene That Captured Ben Bradlee

Medical Examiner

Is It Better to Be a Hero Like Batman?

Or an altruist like Bruce Wayne?


Driving in Circles

The autonomous Google car may never actually happen.

The World’s Human Rights Violators Are Signatories on the World’s Human Rights Treaties

How Punctual Are Germans?

  News & Politics
The World
Oct. 21 2014 11:40 AM The U.S. Has Spent $7 Billion Fighting the War on Drugs in Afghanistan. It Hasn’t Worked. 
Oct. 21 2014 5:57 PM Soda and Fries Have Lost Their Charm for Both Consumers and Investors
The Vault
Oct. 21 2014 2:23 PM A Data-Packed Map of American Immigration in 1903
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 21 2014 1:12 PM George Tiller’s Murderer Threatens Another Abortion Provider, Claims Right of Free Speech
  Slate Plus
Behind the Scenes
Oct. 21 2014 1:02 PM Where Are Slate Plus Members From? This Weird Cartogram Explains. A weird-looking cartogram of Slate Plus memberships by state.
Oct. 21 2014 12:05 PM Same-Sex Couples at Home With Themselves in 1980s America
Future Tense
Oct. 21 2014 4:14 PM Planet Money Uncovers One Surprising Reason the Internet Is Sexist
  Health & Science
Climate Desk
Oct. 21 2014 11:53 AM Taking Research for Granted Texas Republican Lamar Smith continues his crusade against independence in science.
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.