Brief citation 101

My post from yesterday about the incomplete and confusing (to me anyway) citations in numbered paragraph 3 of the Attorney General’s letter “Re: Physician Hospitals of America v. Sebelius, No. 11-40631 is, by far, our most-read posting on this blog.  Now that the mystery about the cites has been solved (they are in fact citations to Solicitor General briefs and we now have copies of all four of them, copies supplied to us by the Department of Justice), I’ve taken down the post to prevent my confusion from spreading to others.   But for our readers who might be new to legal research and legal citation, let me offer a few definitions from one of my most favorite reference books, Fox, Elyse H. The Legal Research Dictionary: From Advance Sheets to Pocket Parts. 2nd ed. [Chapel Hill, N.C.]: Legal Information Services, 2006.

First, brief. 

A document submitted to the court by a party to the litigation to persuade the court to accept a legal proposition advanced by that party.  Briefs include a statement of jurisdiction, a summary of the case (2), history of the proceedings, statement of facts, a summary of the legal issues presented, summary of argument, argument, the relief requested, conclusion, and table of authorities. . . . An amicus brief is a brief submitted to the court by a non-party to the litigation. . . .

Next, citation and citation manual

A reference that unambiguously identifies the location of a specific opinion, statute, rule, law review article, or other type of legal publication. . . . Appropriate citation consists of the name or title of the source . . . Citation guidebooks dictate proper form.  Citations use standard formats to for identifying authority to lead the legal researcher to the source material quickly and accurately.  Citation format generally applies to all types of legal writing.  Also called cite.  See also citation manual, parallel citation, medium-neutral citation.

citation manual

A manual or guidebook that prescribes the standard form of citation to be used in citing authorities in legal writing.  Various citation manuals exist: probably the most widely used manual is A Uniform System of Citation (the Blue Book). . . .

So now, turning to the so-called bluebook, let us take a look at how it says briefs should be cited:

Rule 10.8.3 (p. 106):

In general, all court filings follow the same general form.  The full name of the document, as it appears on the filing, must come first, . . . followed by a pinpoint citation, if any.  . . .

. . .

Always include the docket number, whether parenthetically (when there is a reported citation) or as the citation (when there is no reported citation):

> Brief of Petitioner-Appellant at 48, United States v. Al-Marri, No. 03-3674 (7th Cir. Nov. 12, 2003).

. . .

Bluebook metastasis

Here’s a great article by Richard Posner:  “The Bluebook Blues, ” 120 Yale L. J. 850 (2011).

The Bluebook: A Uniform System of Citation exemplifies hypertrophy in the anthropological sense.  It is a monstrous growth, remote from the functional need for legal citation forms, that serves obscure needs of the legal culture and its student subculture.

Judge Posner has a short manual for his clerks (written, as the judge notes, chiefly by Stanford Law School’s alumnus Scott Hemphill, now a prof. at Columbia) which includes an appendix on “citation formats.”  The appendix is reproduced in the article and starts with clarity and commonsense:  “No parallel citations in cases; statutory provisions do not need years, unless the point is to identify an old law . . . ”

Here at Stanford I can’t count how many times law students have come to the reference desk confused about what year to assign to a United States Code citation.

Read the short book review article – you’ll enjoy it!

10 Essential Web Sites for Litigators

Genie Tyburski at The Virtual Chase has put together this great list, and we’re pleased and delighted to see Justia listed as a “top 10” web site for litigators.

Justia: Relatively new to the legal Web scene, Justia deserves mention for several reasons. It stands alone in offering a free keyword-searchable database of federal district court filings. You will find court opinions from 2004 to present as well as other filings. (See also: Free Case Law Databases)

Other offerings worthy of special mention include a database of federal appellate court opinions, RSS feeds for monitoring civil court filings by the type of lawsuit (Select any available topic and go to the bottom of the page to find the feeds.), RSS feeds for tracking federal regulations, and a blog search engine for law-related blogs.