How To Brief A Case

The following guide is very important and you should follow it closely as if your grade depended on it (Since it does.)

A quick note: some of the cases you will be briefing will be in your text, some you must look up on the internet. Here are two internet sites for looking up cases:


http://www.justia.com/

http://www.law.cornell.edu/supct/index.html

A brief is about 400 words long and consists of six parts:

I. Name and Citation:
The name of the person appealing the lower court's decision, the appellant, precedes the name of his or her adversary, the victor in the lower court, the appellee. Law suits are adversary proceedings; thus we place a v. for versus between the names of the parties.  You should note that every time a case is appealed at a higher court, the appellant or appellee may switch places, depending upon who won at the lower court level. When this occurs, the title of the case reverses, i.e., Smith v. Brown may become Brown v. Smith.

I. llustration:
Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).


II. Key Facts:

When making their decisions, judges  apply the relevant law to the facts of the particular case.  The object in part 2 is to present the key facts: i.e., the facts that determine the court's decision.  Your summary of the material facts should be no more than 150 words.
Illustration:
Linda Brown, a Negro minor, was denied admission to the a school attended by white children under a law of the state of Kansas permitting segregation according to race. Through her legal representative.  Linda Brown seeks the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of her community on a non-segregated basis.

III. The Issue:

Judicial decisions are the product of the law and the facts. In a brief the writer
introduces the relevant law in the form of a legal question or issue.  The issue
must be stated as a one- sentence question that can be answered yes or no.  Because many Supreme Court decisions require interpretation of the Constitution, the issue is often a constitutional question.  Be careful to specify the particular article or amendment and section or clause of the Constitution in dispute. Getting the issue right is one of the more difficult parts of your assignment. In almost all cases, you should reduce this section to one issue, not two or three. A common mistake is to list the real issue, and then include one or two other questions as separate issues, when, in fact, these questions are part of the reasoning, not separate issues.
Illustration:
Does legally-imposed segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though physical facilities may be equal, deprive the minority children of the "equal protection of the laws," guaranteed by section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment?

IV. Holding and Vote:

The holding of the court is its resolution of the issue, either yes or no.  Because
appellate courts are collegial bodies, unlike trial courts over which a single judge typically presides, decisions are reached by a show of hands.  You will find in the reports an indication of how each member of the court voted.  Note how many answered "yes" and how many "no" to the legal question.  Also tell who wrote the opinion for the majority.
Illustration:
Yes (vote 9-0) (Opinion by Chief Justice Warren).

V. Reasoning:

Getting the reasoning right is probably the most difficult part of the brief. Unlike executives and legislators, judges must give reasons justifying their decisions. Because future courts, under the rule of precedent, must decide cases presenting the same factual and legal situations as past cases, the higher court's rationale provides lower courts, as well as the public, with critical legal guidance.  Your summary of the reasoning of the majority of the court justifying its holding is the most important part of the brief. You must confine your summary to the essential reasons and omit all obiter dicta, statements that are not necessary for the decision of the case. The reasoning section should not exceed 200 words.  A common mistake students make is to "overquote." You should identify the important passages in the brief, but you should paraphrase these statements, putting them in your own words. If you do find it appropriate to quote in some brief way--and you may find this effective--be sure to place in quotation marks any passages drawn directly from the text of the opinion.
Illustration:
Segregated schools can never provide Negroes with equal educational opportunities, even if the Negro and white schools are equal in buildings, curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other "tangible" factors.  Such segregation of white and black children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the black children, an impact that is greater when it has the sanction of the law.  It "generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."  Studies by Dr. Kenneth Clark and other social psychologists show conclusively that racial segregation adversely affects the self- concept, motivation, and achievement of Negro children. "Separate educational
facilities are inherently unequal.  Therefore, we hold that the [appellant] and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the equal protections of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment."

VI. Separate Opinions:

Those judges who disagree with the majority can file separate opinions.  If the judge agrees with the court's holding but not with its reasoning, he or she can write a concurring opinion, explaining why the reasoning is inadequate.  If the judge voted to decide the case differently, he or she can submit a dissenting opinion, explaining why the court's holding is erroneous.  In a brief the writer usually only mentions separate opinions and does not summarize them.  This is because only the majority opinion, or opinion of the court, has the force of law.  Because the Brown opinion was unanimous, there are no separate opinions, and you would place a "none" in part 6. 
Illustration:
None.

Please note: By contrast, in the case,  Milliken v. Bradley, 418 U.S. 717 (1974), a sharply divided Supreme Court held 5-4 that a desegregation plan that bused black children from Detroit into thewhite suburbs could not be sustained under the Fourteenth Amendment's equal protections clause.  In your brief of the Milliken case, you would provide the following informationin section 6:
Illustration:
(a) Justice White wrote a dissenting opinion, which was joined by Justices Marshall,
Brennan, and Douglas.
(b) Justice Marshall wrote a dissenting opinion., which was joined by Justices White,
Brennan, and Douglas.
(c) Justice Douglas wrote a dissenting opinion.
Finally, proofread your brief well and correct any spelling or grammatical errors.
Here's what the entire brief should look like, then. Please send it as an attached file (virus free, please):


CASE BRIEF

Submitted by Suzie Student, SS# 123456789

I. Case Citation: Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954).

II. Key Facts: Linda Brown, a Negro minor, was denied admission to the a school attended by white
children under a law of the state of Kansas permitting segregation according to race.
 Through her legal representative.  Linda Brown seeks the aid of the courts in obtaining admission to the public schools of her community on a nonsegregated basis.

III. Issue: Does legally-imposed segregation of children in public schools solely on the basis of race, even though physical facilities may be equal, deprive the minority children of the "equal protection of the laws," guaranteed by section 1 of the Fourteenth Amendment?

IV. Holding: Yes (vote 9-0) (Opinion by Chief Justice Warren).


V. Reasoning: Segregated schools can never provide Negroes with equal educational opportunities, even if the Negro and white schools are equal in buildings, curricula, qualifications and salaries of teachers, and other "tangible" factors.  Such segregation of white and black children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the black children, an impact that is greater when it has the sanction of the law.  It "generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone."  Studies by Dr. Kenneth Clark and other social psychologists show conclusively that racial segregation adversely affects the self- concept, motivation, and achievement of Negro children. "Separate educational
facilities are inherently unequal.  Therefore, we hold that the [appellant] and others similarly situated for whom the actions have been brought are, by reason of the equal protections of the laws guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment."


VI. Separate Opinions: None

 

 Finally, several terms and concepts should be understood. Although nine justices typically decide a case, only four need to agree to hear the case in the first place, hence, the phrase, "Rule of Four." Once a case is heard, additional parties may file briefs in support of one side or the other; these are called "amius curiae" or "friend of the court" briefs. From the beginning to the end of a case before the court, the various law clerks of each of the justices may play an enormous role in decided which cases will be heard; and, in writing the opinions of the court. The opinion represented a majority of the justices is called, not surprisingly, the "majority opinion"; the opinion of the minority, the dissenting opinion. An opinion that agrees with the Holding of the court but with a different Reasoning, is called a concurring opinion.

Obergefell v. Hodges (2015)


© Hank Edmondson 2012