Before the current limit was established in the 1990s, briefs were capped at 50 pages, a rule dating back to when attorneys used typewriters. According to a 2,600-word “short history” of the last rule change prepared by a University of Pennsylvania law professor, lawyers were skirting the page limit by squeezing the space between lines, letters and words. So they decided a word limit would better discourage verbiage.
A judicial advisory committee made up of judges, lawyers and law professors selected by Chief Justice John Roberts now says that page-to-word conversion miscalculated how many words were in an average 50-page brief. The committee conducted a study finding that a typical page runs about 250 words. It did a new calculation—250 multiplied by 50—to come up with the 12,500 limit.
Lawyers say they’re skeptical of that logic. “Identifying a purported mathematical error that occurred 15 years ago does not provide a sound basis to change current policy,” wrote the Council of Appellate Lawyers, a nationwide group affiliated with the American Bar Association.
Michael Gans, clerk of the Eighth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in St. Louis, who oversaw the word-count study, says the process couldn’t have been more painstaking. It was carried out by a high-school graduate who interned at his office and spent a recent summer in a cubicle counting every single word of 200 printed-out briefs that served as the sample.
“I felt sorry for her, but that’s what she did all summer,” Mr. Gans said. “She still wants to go to law school.”
“It is harder to write a short opinion than a long opinion,” said Judge Silberman. “Perhaps that explains why some lawyers object. I think the computer is a bit problematic. It’s too easy to write too much.”
Justice Sotomayor spoke yesterday at Davidson:
She told a basketball court of seated students that she’d spoken at “countless” colleges and universities, and Davidson was the first school to seat students “front and center.”
Pointing to alumni and townspeople in the bleachers, she said: “Generally those guys are down here.”
The students cheered.
Sotomayor, the court’s third woman and first Hispanic justice, spoke honestly about her life and how her experiences have affected her nearly 25 years as a judge.
She was raised in public housing projects in New York’s South Bronx, primarily by her mother when her father suddenly died when she was 9.
After high school, she earned a scholarship to Princeton University, where “when I arrived, I thought I was an alien – not in a different land, but in a different world.”
“The people there had a better education than I did then,” she said. “They were taking spring breaks and flying places and they were traveling to Europe. Europe was a place I thought I’d never see.”
She said the current court could use more diversity of experiences. All its justices went to Ivy League schools, most are from the Northeast and none were defense lawyers before they took the bench. Few were small firm practitioners and many were academic lawyers. None, except for Sotomayor, had state government experience.
“That’s a bad thing,” she said. “We’re being asked to make decisions that affect every aspect of life. We’re reviewing state criminal law convictions every single day. It’s valuable to have someone there who can explain some of that.”
Oh yeah, and two terror brothers pleaded yesterday before Beth Bloom. From Paula McMahon:
Two brothers from Oakland Park pleaded guilty to federal terrorism charges Thursday, admitting they plotted a terrorist attack on landmarks in New York City and later assaulted two deputy U.S. Marshals while in custody.
Raees Alam Qazi, 22, and Sheheryar Alam Qazi, 32, both pleaded guilty in federal court in Miami to one count of conspiring to provide support to terrorists and conspiring to assault two federal employees. The younger brother pleaded guilty to an additional charge of attempting to provide material support to al-Qaida.
The Qazi brothers, who wore beige prison scrubs and were handcuffed, shackled and under tight security in court, both said "Guilty" when asked how they wanted to plead. They said little more than "Yes, ma'am" and "No, ma'am" in response to the judge's questions. Both men have thick beards, Sheheryar Qazi's hair was closely shaved and the younger brother's hair is about the same length as when he was arrested.