The Supreme Court: How To Keep Up

The Supreme Court can seem like an institution that is both very important and utterly incomprehensible.  They decide cases that shape our law and society, but only a few know how they work, and even fewer can interpret their decisions.  After all, they do call it "The Marble Palace": beautiful but remote.

True, it can be overwhelming, even to someone who went to law school.  The cases are by their very nature complicated, both procedurally (how they got there) and substantively (the issues and law they are arguing about).  Few lawyers really engage in appellate practice: many never argue even one appeal.  I'm lucky to be an appellate lawyer, starting with my clerkship and extending on through my practice, including filing paperwork (though not arguing) in three cases in the Supreme Court.  But you don't have to be an appellate (or any kind) of a lawyer to keep up.  Really!  

First, remember that you can click on the links on this blog to get the relevant documents, like the calendar, opinions, or commentary.  The byline of this blog is "Legal Education for Everyone": that's what those links are for.  I'm am giving away my sources: that's the idea.

For example, today the Supreme Court issued its argument calendar for the session beginning November 27, 2017, and it rounds out my "Big Seven" cases (and of course more).  Anyone can follow the Court's calendar and argument calendar here.  (Remember though that the number seven was based on the cases that we knew had been granted, and what I (and Georgetown Law) thought were the big seven: much more could be on the way.  Some may show up in my "Cases on My Radar" feature. And some may not).

This coming Monday we are likely to hear the results of the conference held today, which could result in some major grants.  I'll post on that Monday, with links.  If you (like me) want to keep up with all things Supreme Court there is no better place to start than SCOTUSblog. While not an official Supreme Court website, I can think of no better, one-stop place to keep up on everything from petitions to opinions to first-rate commentary.  One of the features you are sure to like is the "Plain English: Cases Made Simple" tab on the site which does exactly what it promises: makes complex cases understandable, in plain English.

When opinions come down (that is to say when they are issued), make sure you go to the official U. S. Supreme Court site and click on the "Opinions" tab.  The full opinion-- the majority, concurrences, and dissents--appears the day of issuance or shortly thereafter.  When opinions start to come down, I'll post about how to read them: (for example, what is a concurrence in the result?)

And a thought about reporting.  I have newspeople that I trust to give me an accurate summary, free of partisan bias, but I don't need one hand to count them.  And I know where to find biases--on both sides--that I respect.  But a point about newspaper/TV coverage.  It is a summary, most often written "on deadline", with a word or time limit.    Imagine trying to digest a 60 or 100-page opinion (the majority, concurrences, dissents) for a 4:00 PM deadline (or sooner for TV) when the opinion comes out at 10:00 AM and having only so much column space/airtime.  Those who can do this work well are to be greatly admired but keep in mind those limitations as you read or listen.

Next up: Monday: the order list and a case about your cell phone.


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