The following is an instruction guide for briefing cases that I copied from the John Jay College of Law’s web site and then edited for our purposes. Student briefs These can be extensive or short, depending on the depth of analysis required and the demands of the instructor. A comprehensive brief includes the following elements: 1 Title and Citation 2 Facts of the Case 3 Issues 4 Decisions (Holdings) 5 Reasoning (Rationale) 6 Dissenting Opinion (if assigned by instructor) 7 Analysis Students frequently misunderstand the layout that is being described above and elaborated below. The point to a case brief is not only to give you the chance to analyze the case and summarize it, but it is also to make it very easy for you to find the information you need at a moments notice. So, if you were standing before a judge and using a particular case as precedent to persuade her, and she asks you to give her a case cite (so that she can have her law clerk call the case up right then and there) you want to be able to give it to her. If she then asks you to give her the factual background, you should be able to find and deliver that immediately. So I want your brief to follow the format laid out immediately above, and elaborated and explain below, in EXACTLY the format you see. So, you should actually have a set of paragraphs in the format (my commentary is in italics): 1. KELO V. NEW LONDON, 545 U.S. 469 (2005), 268 Conn. 1, 843 A. 2d 500, affirmed. 2. Facts: This case arose when… Your brief should include a summary of the pertinent facts and legal points raised in the case. It will show the nature of the litigation, who sued whom, based on what occurrences, and what happened in the lower court/s. The facts are often conveniently summarized at the beginning of the court’s published opinion. Sometimes, the best statement of the facts will be found in a dissenting or concurring opinion. WARNING! Judges are not above being selective about the facts they emphasize. This can become of crucial importance when you try to reconcile apparently inconsistent cases, because the way a judge chooses to characterize and “edit” the facts often determines which way he or she will vote and, as a result, which rule of law will be applied. The fact section of a good student brief will include the following elements: ▪ A one-sentence description of the nature of the case, to serve as an introduction. ▪ A statement of the relevant law, with quotation marks or underlining to draw attention to the key words or phrases that are in dispute. ▪ A summary of the complaint (in a civil case) or the indictment (in a criminal case) plus relevant evidence and arguments presented in court to explain who did what to whom and why the case was thought to involve illegal conduct. ▪ A summary of actions taken by the lower courts, for example: defendant convicted; conviction upheld by appellate court; Supreme Court granted certiorari. You may not be able to figure all of the above out from the case you are reading – just write up what you are able to find and don’t go on a “snipe hunt” for things that are apparently not there! 3. Issue: Was New London’s proposed use of Kelo’s property a “public use” within the meaning of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment? I only want you to identify the main issue of the case, so if you spot more, don’t worry about them. Of course, for your first case brief I just gave you a gift – feel free to copy and paste! 4. Decision: Justice Stevens wrote the opinion of the court and stated that the City’s use of the land it was taking was… Here, I only want you to brief the actual opinion of the court, which will be the first opinion in the case and should be labeled as something like, “Justice Stevens, writing for the majority…” Don’t bother with concurring opinions or dissents here. Keep this brief, and only discuss the decision of this case – you will be explaining the court’s rationale later. 5. Rationale: The Court stated that, while in the past no Takings case had been based on… The reasoning, or rationale, is the chain of argument which led the judges in either a majority or a dissenting opinion to rule as they did. This should be outlined point by point in numbered sentences or paragraphs. 6. Separate Opinions: Justice O’Connor stated that… I will usually only ask you to brief the main opinion and, sometimes (as in the Kelo case) the dissent. Here you would focus mostly on the decision and rationale in one section since all the other details should be the same for all opinions. 7. Analysis: This case completely changed the understanding of the Takings Clause… Here you should evaluate the significance of the case, its relationship to other cases, its place in history, and what is shows about the Court, its members, its decision-making processes, or the impact it has on litigants, government, or society. It is here that the implicit assumptions and values of the Justices should be probed, the “rightness” of the decision debated, and the logic of the reasoning considered.
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