Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Tuesday's news and notes

1.  Bryan Garner has a list of words you should not use in legal writing.  Here are a few from the article:
and/or Is it a word? Is it a phrase? American and British courts have held that and/or is not part of the English language. The Illinois Appellate Court called it a "freakish fad" and an "accuracy-destroying symbol." The New Mexico Supreme Court declared it a "meaningless symbol." The Wisconsin Supreme Court denounced it as "that befuddling, nameless thing, that Janus-faced verbal monstrosity." More recently, the Supreme Court of Kentucky called it a "much-condemned conjunctive-disjunctive crutch of sloppy thinkers."
If a sign says "No food or drink allowed," nobody would argue that it's OK to have both. (Or includes and.) And if a sign says "No admission for lawyers and law students," would you argue that either could go in alone? You'd be thrown out of court.
The real problem with and/or is that it plays into the hands of a bad-faith reader. Which one is favorable? And or or? The bad-faith reader can pick whatever reading seems favorable.
I've done lots of drafting since 1987, the year when I learned how unnecessary and/or really is. I've drafted court rules, jury instructions, model contracts, car warranties and many other documents. Never once have I needed and/or. You won't either. Kill it.
herein Old-style drafters say they stick to their ways for reasons of precision. They like the here and there words—apparently unaware of the ambiguities they're creating. The problem with herein is that courts can't agree on what it means. In this agreement? In this section? In this subsection? In this paragraph? In this subparagraph? Courts have reached all those conclusions and more. Use ordinary English words: in this agreement may be two extra words, but it's more precise.

2.   The Supreme Court isn't going to change its access policies (big surprise).  From Tony Mauro:

The U.S. Supreme Court has “no plans to change” its practices on access to its proceedings, a court spokeswoman said in a letter on March 21. Court public information officer Kathy Arberg was responding to a March 9 letter from the Coalition for Court Transparency, a new group of media and public interest organizations pressing for “policies that will help the public better understand [the court’s] important work.” Addressed to Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., the coalition letter urged the court to allow camera broadcast of court proceedings or, as an “intermediate step,” same-day release of the audio of oral arguments. Under current practice, the audio of oral arguments is released on the Friday of the week in which they occur—too late to be useful in same-day or next-day news coverage. Arberg’s letter notes that “the audio recordings of all oral arguments are available free to the public on the Court’s website, wwww.supremecourt.gov, at the end of each argument week. The written transcripts of oral argument are available on the Court’s website on the same day an argument is heard. There are no plans to change the Court's current practices.” The letter was addressed to Bruce Brown, executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, a leader of the coalition. Brown said on Monday, "I am appreciative that the Supreme Court responded to our coalition’s letter. I do believe that the smallest of changes to the court’s institutional practices would increase the public’s understanding of and appreciation for the court’s work. I hope that this marks the beginning of a dialogue between the court and those of us who care deeply about press freedom and increasing transparency at our most important judicial institution.” The statement from the court came the same day that a forum on the subject of transparency at the Supreme Court took place in Washington. Co-sponsored by the coalition, New York University and the Reporters Committee, the discussion was the second in a series that went beyond issues of broadcast access to look at ways the court could respond to Information Age demands for greater openness from government. Concerns ranged from the justices’ failure to explain their recusals, to the secrecy that sometime surrounds their public appearances and speeches. Georgia State University College of Law professor Eric Segall objected to the court’s practice of not revealing which justices voted for or against granting review of incoming petitions. “That is an incredibly important vote, and there is simply no reason why we shouldn’t know it,” he said.

3.  P.J. O'Rourke has filed a great and funny brief in the Supremes (access it here).  The NY Times covers it:

That is the point Mr. O’Rourke and the libertarian Cato Institute made in their cheeky, hilarious and quite possibly counterproductive brief. They said they were “unsure how true the allegation is given that the health care law seems to change daily, but it certainly isn’t as truthy as calling a mandate a tax.”
Truthiness, the brief explained, is a characteristic of a statement made “from the gut” or because it “feels right” but “without regard to evidence or logic.” The reference to “calling a mandate a tax” is, of course, a nod to Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s 2012 opinion upholding a central part of the Affordable Care Act.The guidebook for Supreme Court lawyers does not address whether it is a bad idea to mock the chief justice of the United States as you seek his vote, but that does seem to be the consensus view.The actual legal question before the justices is, as is so often the case at the court, a preliminary one. Here it is whether the anti-abortion group is entitled to sue at all. On the one hand, the Ohio Elections Commission said there was probable cause to think the group had violated the law. On the other, the matter fizzled out after Mr. Driehaus lost the election.
The federal appeals court in Cincinnati dismissed the suit, saying the group no longer had anything to worry about. In earlier decisions, courts have upheld the law.But that was before United States v. Alvarez, a Supreme Court decision issued the same day as the health care ruling. It struck down a federal law that made it a crime to lie about receiving military decorations, and it cast doubt over the constitutionality of the Ohio law and similar ones in 15 other states. Mr. O’Rourke connected the dots on the first page of his brief, assuring the justices that he, his lawyers, his family members and his pets “have all won the Congressional Medal of Honor.”


Anonymous said...

Careful David, Judge Middlebrooks is not going to be pleased with your criticism. From the Standard Eleventh Circuit Jury Instructions:

Controlled Substances: Conspiracy
21 U.S.C. § 846 and/or 21 U.S.C. § 963"

Of course, this just confirms what we all know - that our drug laws use meaningless imaginary works to stick it to defendants.

But hey, why should the US Atty's Office be permitted to be one of those bad faith readers?

Anonymous said...

I like O'Rourke on WWDTM but only when Paul Poundstone is kicking his butt.

Anonymous said...

Can someone tell me why anyone cares what Garner has to say or write?

Anonymous said...

Because grammar and/or usage matters, damn it. That's why.